Stoke City v Middlesbrough: Boro out to avoid an unwelcome case of deja vu

Aitor Karanka retains faith in Middlesbrough's players despite their long run without a win.
Aitor Karanka retains faith in Middlesbrough's players despite their long run without a win.
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MENTION Stoke City to Middlesbrough supporters and they are likely to recall quickly a grim episode in their inexorable slide towards Premier League relegation in March, 2009.

A late goal from Ryan Shawcross earned the struggling Potters the points as the visitors went down to their eighth successive away reverse in the top flight and extended their wretched overall sequence to one win in 18 league matches.

Unfortunately for the Teesside club, there are clear parallels with the present day, with Boro without a Premier League victory in nine games and similarly in serious relegation trouble – with head coach Aitor Karanka starting to suffer in the way Gareth Southgate did eight years ago.

As with 2008-09, brief respite has also arrived in the form of a run to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, but it is league business which remains the club’s priority.

Without a league win since December 17, Boro – and the increasingly beleaguered Karanka – are in grave need of a positive result this afternoon, more especially after a pitiful performance last time out against relegation rivals Crystal Palace.

For the second March running, the Spaniard has come under fire at the start of the month – with his aim very much being to silence the growing dissent – just as he did 12 months ago.

Karanka is striving to remain positive and insists that he firmly believes that his players can secure the club’s seasonal aim of safety, just as they held their nerve to clinch promotion in a tense end to last season.

He added: “It starts from me as a coach because if I am the first one who goes on to the pitch with my head looking at the floor, they are going to feel the same.

“I trust them, I have said always that I trust them and that’s the only way, to trust your players, because they have shown me a lot of times that I can trust them.

“I said at the start of the season that we were going to be fighting until the last day. We have another 12 games and until the last day, I will be, and the team will be, working and trying to do our best.”