ALMOST 12 months to the day since Middlesbrough successfully negotiated a key London assignment, they are desperate for a case of deja vu.
It was on February 27 last year when the Teesside club, suffering a late winter wobble in a promotion charge that had looked like turning into a procession at the start of the new year, got back on track with a 2-0 win at Fulham.
This time around, Boro face another huge encounter across town at relegation rivals Crystal Palace and while head coach Aitor Karanka is keen to sidestep all talk of it assuming ‘cup final’ status, he acknowledges its importance.
Boro have had some massive matches in the capital since the Spaniard took over, with their automatic promotion hopes ending in 2014-15 with a tumultuous final-day loss at Craven Cottage, with crunch fixtures at the likes of Loftus Road and Vicarage Road also leaving their mark.
This afternoon’s instalment is a further addition to that list as Boro seek to claim some respite at the foot of the table with a first victory in nine Premier League matches against a direct rival.
Karanka, who is the only manager in the bottom six who remains in charge from the start of the season along with Sunderland’s David Moyes, said: “It is a big game. One thing clear is we must not treat this as a final. We have more games.
“We are competing well in the last games, the last game against Everton in the league was good. That is the main thing.
“We have played with teams that are top 10 in the table. Playing against those we still had chances to win the games.
“We could have equalised against Tottenham. We now have chances to play against teams in our position, so I am confident.
“The aim was always to finish the season and play next season in Premier League, the aim is the same.
“We are in a good position, we are in the quarter-finals in the FA Cup and if someone said three years ago we would be in this position, then I don’t think people would be unhappy.”