Steve Agnew has admitted keeping Middlesbrough in the Premier League would be the biggest achievement of his life.
Former Sunderland midfielder Agnew was installed as the club’s interim head coach on Thursday after Aitor Karanka’s reign on Teesside drew to a close after almost three and a half years.
As he took up the reins, Boro lay in 19th place in the league, three points adrift of safety and without a win in 10 outings, but he is confident he can pull off a rescue mission.
Agnew, who has drafted in the hugely experienced Joe Jordan as his number two, said: “It would be the biggest single achievement of my life. I sit here and I keep using the word ‘confident’, and I do believe we will stay in the Premier League.
“I think I’m capable of delivering it, the players are capable of delivering it and I know we have got the support of everyone else in the club, and the supporters will play a massive part in that.”
Boro host Manchester United at the Riverside tomorrow before a break of 14 days.
Asked if there is enough to engineer an escape with rumours of splits in the dressing room being rife in recent weeks, he said: “Absolutely, yes.
“The players understand where we are and what we need to do to get out of the situation we’re in. But they also realise that we’ve played some really, really good football, we’ve played well against a lot of the top teams, so they are more than capable.”
Agnew, who was Karanka’s assistant, launched his coaching career at Boro’s Academy back 2003 and is currently in his third spell at Rockliffe Park having also worked at Leeds, Hartlepool and Hull.
He feels he has served his apprenticeship and admits he would have been close to looking for a management role in his own right had Karanka’s downfall not handed him an unexpected opportunity.
He said: “It was very, very close for me. It’s not ideal, the circumstances, the way it’s happened, but yes, it was around the corner.
“I have waited patiently and I am very, very confident that I will be successful.”
Chairman Steve Gibson will give Agnew the chance to prove he is the right man for the job on a longer-term basis as he continues to assess his options in the search for a permanent replacement with their initial conversation brief and to the point.
Agnew said: “He was as brief as, ‘Get on with it, enjoy it and organise the team for the weekend’, and that’s as much as I wanted to hear. I didn’t go into anything more than that and that’s where I am with it all - and quite relaxed with that.
“I have to be honest, it was a really difficult day yesterday, a very emotional day, but then today the players have trained well and we look forward to the weekend.”
One of Agnew’s first tasks will be to reassure those members of the squad alienated during the death throes of Karanka’s tenure that they still have a role to play.
Stewart Downing in particular having found himself out of favour with the Spaniard.
He said: “Stewart is a Middlesbrough boy. He and loves the club, he was born and bred in Middlesbrough and it’s his town club. He’s a talented footballer.
“Stewart is somebody I have known a long time, so I know how he works and he’s a big part of the rest of the season.”