GIVEN the itinerary that Middlesbrough face in a keynote January, you would expect their looming FA Cup fixture against Sheffield Wednesday to be firmly bottom of their priorities.
While the club’s home encounter with Leicester City on Bank Holiday Monday represented a big one to start 2017 with, forthcoming league fixtures against Watford, West Ham and West Brom also represent major games amid the club’s Premier League survival quest, with tomorrow’s home game with the Owls being a side issue for many of a Boro persuasion.
Equally, the more shrewd observers might not be so quick to downplay the importance of the tie.
The morale boost of a comprehensive victory for a side who are far from prolific on the goal-scoring stakes would be considerable.
In addition, it will perhaps not be lost upon some that Boro’s worrying winter slide last season from a position of real strength began after a limp FA Cup third-round exit to Burnley.
For many, their subsequent run of one victory in seven matches had its roots in that poor loss to the Clarets as gaining automatic promotion ended up being a real struggle.
Coach Aitor Karanka is likely to be pragmatic in terms of selection, with supporters likely to get their first glimpse of new signing Rudy Gestede following his £6m move from Aston Villa.
Jordan Rhodes, subject of endless speculation about his future, may also be handed a rare chance to shine against the club where his father Andy works as goalkeeping coach.
On the prospect of Gestede making his bow, Karanka said: “Rudy will be a really good player for us. He gives us something different and I am pleased he is here so early in the window. I will have to think, but I don’t think he will start on Sunday.”