Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis is relishing, not fearing the Teessiders’ Sky Bet Championship run-in against their play-off rivals.
Fifth-top Boro go to seventh-placed Derby County tomorrow then host sixth-top Millwall before finishing the season at mid-table Ipswich Town on May 6.
Boro’s record against teams around them has been poor this season, and that record needs to change sooner rather than later,.
Asked if playing teams around the play-off places helps Boro, Pulis answered: “It helps me!
“I think it is fantastic.
“Going to Derby on Saturday is another game we have to puff our chest out, roll our sleeves up, get out there, get stuck in and enjoy it – enjoy the challenge.
“No taking a step back, no worrying about this, that or the other, just getting out there and really give it the best you’ve got.”
Boro leapfrogged Derby in the table last weekend following their 2-1 win against Bristol City, while the Rams succumbed to a shock 3-1 defeat at lowly Burton Albion.
Pulis wants his side to remain on the ‘front foot’ against Gary Rowett’s Derby side tomorrow.
“You can’t go to clubs and take your foot off the pedal, not in the Championship,” the former Stoke and West Brom boss told mfc.co.uk.
“Look at Derby’s result at Burton – you can’t do it.
“You have got to be on the front foot and psychologically always ready for tough games.
“We have to make sure we go to Derby and are doing what we did (against Bristol City) and what we did in the second half against Sheffield United.”
Boro welcome Grant Leadbitter back after the former Sunderland midfielder picked up a suspension for his red card against Sheffield United.
Pulis’s main injury concern is striker Patrick Bamford, who was knocked unconscious and stretchered off against Bristol City following a collision with Aden Flint.
After a hard-working performance off the bench last weekend, Britt Assombalonga may start even if Bamford is available.
Pulis switched to a four-at-the-back set-up against Bristol City, with success, so Pulis may well stick with that set-up at Derby.
Boro head to Pride Park Stadium a point above Derby having played a game more, and looking for just a second win on the road since January 20.
Pulis’s men have won just one of their last seven games away from the Riverside, but one defeat in the last four has put a play-off place in their own hands. Derby have managed just two wins in 12.