HIGH-PRESSURE games of huge importance have come with the territory in the festive month of December for Middlesbrough over the past few years – and have usually served the Teesside club pretty well.
This afternoon’s Riverside encounter with fellow Premier League strugglers Swansea City is the latest example and while it remains to be seen what transpires, one safe prediction is that it will be no place for the faint-hearted on what is likely to be an ultra-tense occasion.
Boro have, at least, been around the block several times in that respect in the run-in to the end of a calendar year.
Never moreso than last December when Aitor Karanka’s side negotiated with aplomb a treacherous programme of games against a host of high-flying Championship rivals and emerged in credit after beating the likes of Burnley, Brighton and Ipswich.
Derby were also overcome in a big summit meeting in 2014-15, another occasion when Boro emerged unscathed from a huge game with major ramifications.
Now Boro’s requirement is for survival points, with matters accentuated by back-to-back losses to Southampton and Liverpool, with the manner of both defeats being equally troubling in their own respect.
How the Teesside club could do with a reprise of the collective resolve that they showed this time last year – and also against the likes of Sunderland and Hull City already this season – when they stride out this afternoon.
Stand-in captain Ben Gibson is not one to gloss over the importance of events today and the need for a re-run of last year and heavy-duty pressure games versus derby rivals Sunderland and the Tigers today.
On today’s ‘six-pointer’ and the importance of getting over the line against a bona fide rival, Gibson acknowledged: “That is something we have learned from our previous two promotion campaigns.
“It is no different in this league – you have to pick points up from the teams around you.
“This weekend’s game against Swansea is one of those games, like the one against Hull, where you have to beat the teams in and around you.
“And if you cannot win, you have to make sure you do not lose.
“That is something we have (also) learned, and that does not change just because we are in the Premier League.
“We have to do exactly the same again. We have done it well up until now – we have got to do it again on Saturday.”
Amid the fallout of a sobering Wednesday evening when Boro were dismantled by an outstanding attacking performance from a rampant Liverpool side, the hosts did take one crumb of comfort.
Namely, that they did not have long to wait before being afforded the chance to get back in supporters’ good books and to cast aside the pain of a rare heavy defeat at the Riverside at a quick juncture – with a bigger game against Swansea on the horizon.
A game against another Welsh outfit on home soil famously proved fateful for one of Karanka’s predecessors as Boro boss in Gareth Southgate, whose tenure was never quite the same after a painful FA Cup quarter-final home loss to Cardiff in the Spring of 2008.
Karanka will be striving to avoid another potential watershed defeat this afternoon, while applying balm to the wounds of Wednesday night – and steadying the ship.
Despite the nature of midweek events, Gibson insists that Boro must now draw a line under it for everyone’s sake, with the defender pragmatic enough to realise that the odd bad day in the top flight is invariably part of the Premier League experience for every newly-promoted side.
He added: “We have to learn from it and quickly turn it around. There is no point sulking about it. We have to go and beat Swansea this weekend now.
“The only way to get it out of your system is to get back into training, get your head down, watch the game and think about what we could have done better and learn.
“We have to get ourselves recovered and right to go and get three points on Saturday.”