MENTION Oxford United to older Middlesbrough supporters and thoughts will invariably turn back to two famous home victories of yore.
The U’s visits to Boro may been infrequent over the years but two results still reside in club folklore.
The last arrived at the end of the 1997-98 season when Paul Merson-inspired Boro clinched promotion with a joyous 4-1 final-day Riverside win.
Another late-season epic came in May, 1967 when Boro ended their 12-month stint in the third tier thanks to an identical 4-1 success over Oxford in front of an official Ayresome Park crowd of 39,683 – with the actual figure believed to be many thousands more.
The emotion on that day was relief and there will also be a fair bit of that around – albeit in front of a comfortably smaller crowd – if Boro can secure another convincing victory today.
The FA Cup has yielded Boro’s two sole victories of an otherwise barren 2017 – against Accrington Stanley and Sheffield Wednesday – and a drama would lurch into a full-blown crisis for beleaguered Riverside chief Aitor Karanka if U’s follow up their shock triumph over Newcastle United with another north-east scalp.
If Boro avoid an unceremonious fall and can muster a few goals in the process, it would at least provide something to take into the critical business of league survival when Premier League business recommences.
On the importance of today’s events for Boro – seeking to book their place in the cup quarter-finals for the first time since 2009 – Karanka said: “We want to win this game as the FA Cup is an amazing competition and we are in a good position to keep going.
“But we have to go to the pitch with the right attitude.
“Yes, we have had some luck, as we are playing at home – we have a lot of demanding games to play at home in front of our crowd and that is important.
“Sometimes you think it might be easy, but ask Newcastle or other teams when playing against lower-league teams.”
On the threat posed by the visitors, he added: “Oxford are dangerous, they have good players. When you analyse them, you feel it wasn’t a coincidence they beat Newcastle 3-0.
“They have players who scored good goals, play good counter-attacks and have a young Spanish player up front who I know in Toni Martinez.”
Boro full-back George Friend is back in contention, having not played since damaging a calf muscle against Accrington.