FOR THE second time in just over three years, Middlesbrough and Hull City are pitted together in a potentially seminal fixture that has a definite look of ‘do or die’ about it.
Back in March 2016, Boro – in Aitor Karanka’s first game back at the helm after a brief spell on gardening leave – got their season back up and running in the nick of time following a last-gasp 1-0 home win over fellow automatic candidates Hull City thanks to a dramatic late winner from substitute David Nugent.
It proved the catalyst for Boro finishing as runners-up to Burnley in 2015-16, while that night on Teesside effectively ended the Tigers’ top hopes when the play-offs had been beckoning.
Today both are craving participation in the end-of-season lottery and a defeat for either this afternoon would represent a fatal blow in all likelihood.
Boro kept their outside hopes alive with a much-needed midweek win at Bolton Wanderers, with back-to-back home games with Hull and Stoke City now representing the perfect juncture to remedy their poor Riverside form – where they have won just three home league matches since the end of August.
The morale-boosting victory in Lancashire also took away some of the sting from the ire among disgruntled Boro fans who have been critical of manager Tony Pulis following a horrific run of six successive defeats.
When the players cross the line they have to focus – irrespective of surroundings and if the supporters are 100 per cent behind you – and they will be if we win a game of football.Tony Pulis
The Boro chief, whose deal expires in the summer, said: “Supporters pay their money, they have a right to do what they want. What we have to do is affect what we can do and that is the performance, the result.
“When the players cross the line they have to focus – irrespective of surroundings and if the supporters are 100 per cent behind you – and they will be if we win a game of football.
“We have to be mentally ready to perform and win games.
“We have to make sure we concentrate, play well through the pitch, we have to be more clinical. The other night we played really well and scored two.
“We have played as well as that and not scored the goals.
“It is been one of my biggest gripes since I joined the club 14 months ago.
“We have played well enough, created chances, but not always been as clinical as we would hope.”