Middlesbrough v Tottenham Hotspur: Chris Wilder looking to slow down Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min

Chris Wilder says Middlesbrough must cut out the sloppy defensive moments particularly at the start of matches and hopes that at the very least, the sight of two of the Premier League’s best attackers at the Riverside tonight might sharpen the focus.

Tottenham Hotspur are in town for an FA Cup fifth-round tie against a Boro side who have already knocked Manchester United out on penalties. Wilder has warned his team they will be “heavily punished” if they defend as they did at Barnsley on Saturday.

The Reds took a 2-0 lead inside 16 minutes, extending it early in the second half, and held out for a 3-2 win. It was Boro’s second defeat in three games, having also let Bristol City take the lead in the seventh minute at Ashton Gate. Even in the 2-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion, it was Jayson Molumby who opened the scoring, after 28 minutes.

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Tottenham scored three first-half goals at Leeds United on Saturday, two inside the opening quarter of an hour. In Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min they have the two players who have created most Premier League goals for each other.

Middlesbrough's Matt Crooks scores his side's opening goal during the English FA Cup fourth round soccer match between Manchester United and Middlesbrough at Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, England. (AP Photo/Jon Super)

With Steven Bergwijn an alternative and Spurs’ fixture schedule so hectic, it is possible Son could be rested but Kane rarely is.

“We’re trying to get to the bottom of it because it’s poor and it gives us a mountain to climb,” said Wilder of his team’s defensive issues. “We’ve talked about it.

“Is it a mentality? It can’t be going forward because we’ve got just under a third of the season to play.

“There’s individual stuff that needs to be worked on but that only can be worked on with time on the grass and unfortunately we don’t have it.

Middlesbrough players celebrate winning the penalty shoot-out after the Emirates FA Cup fourth round match at Old Trafford, Manchester. (Picture: PA)

“We had 68 per cent possession on Saturday and we dominated the ball against West Brom (57 per cent) and Bristol City (63 per cent) but to only get three points from the nine was disappointing and it was down to the start of both games.

“You win things and you’re successful with a solid defensive record. Any team that wants any success has got to keep clean sheets and minimise mistakes.

“I think we all understand if somebody gets the ball out of their feet and puts one in the top corner from 25, 30 yards you can’t really do anything about that but we’re conceding some really poor goals at the moment.”

On Kane and Son, he added: “They’re incredible players - movement, ability, work ethic, playing at the top of their game for that amount of years deserves an enormous respect. That’s why they’re world-class players.

Middlesbrough boss Chris Wilder. (Picture: Tony Johnson)

“Dael Fry’s going to have to do better than he did against Carlton Morris, no disrespect.”

That Boro’s last two defeats have come against bottom-half sides, dragging them to eighth in the Championship, two points outside the play-off places, suggests a team which might lose focus against lesser lights. That, at any rate, cannot be an excuse this evening.

“It shouldn’t have been an excuse on Saturday but there’s a reason I’ve been brought into the football club,” said Wilder. “Unfortunately you need time on the training ground when you’re coming into a football club in the situation we did at the time we did. At my previous club (Sheffield United), even in the Premier League we didn’t have a record of getting beaten by fours and fives every week, we gave ourselves an opportunity because there was a structure defensively. I’m just as much about keeping the ball out of the back of the net as sticking it in.

“Going forward has been good and we’re always trying to be better but you’re not going to get your rewards for dominating games and having more shots and crosses if every time the ball goes to the other end you make individual mistakes or the ball goes in the back of your net too easily.

How do Middlesbrough slow down Harry Kane. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“They (Spurs) will have the majority of the ball tonight as Manchester United did.

“In those sort of games your levels of intensity and concentration do go up a notch certainly and they will have to or we’ll get heavily punished.”

When he said he meant no disrespect to Barnsley striker Morris, he meant it, stressing: “I’ve followed him through England (Under-19s) and Norwich and he had a bad knee injury so he’s restarting his career but he’s a talented boy I believe can play a lot higher.”

Oliver Skipp, Lucas Moura, Rodrigo Bentancur and Japhet Tanganga are still injured for Spurs, so any team changes will be more about rotation than injury. Boro have Matt Crooks, who scored their equaliser at Old Trafford in the last round, back from suspension. Fellow midfielder Riley McGree is a doubt and Wilder promised: “no chances taken” with another important league game at home to sixth-placed Luton Town on Saturday.

Last six games: Middlesbrough LWLWDD; Tottenham Hotspur WLWLLW

Referee: D England (Doncaster)

Last time: Middlesbrough 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1, January 5, 2020, FA Cup third round.