Steve Agnew is convinced Middlesbrough will be better prepared for life back in the Sky Bet Championship than derby rivals Sunderland.
The Teessiders joined the Black Cats in slipping out of the top flight on Monday evening when a 3-0 defeat at the hands of champions-elect Chelsea finally ended their faint survival hopes.
Manager David Moyes claimed on Thursday that Sunderland would be the “biggest club in the Championship” next season, but Agnew believes the knowledge and experience Boro gained from their successful promotion campaign last time around will stand them in better stead.
He said: “Yes, I think it does because if you look at the accumulation of games played in the Championship for a number of players, then it has to be a head-start on players who haven’t. So yes, I’d see that as an advantage.
“We are quite fortunate in many ways because I think we have got 12, possibly 13 players who have a promotion on their CV. So from that point of view we have a strong squad.
“And also, we have 23, 24 contracted players, so everybody is together. I think that’s really, really important because the success over a few years has been built on a core spirit and that’s something I think is vitally important that we keep together.”
Nobody on Teesside will need reminding that relegation in 2009 signalled a seven-year exile from the top flight, and head coach Agnew admits a repeat of that simply cannot be countenanced.
He said: “Middlesbrough Football Club is a Premier League club, in my opinion - the infrastructure, the training ground, the stadium, the direction from the top - and we have fallen short.
“But there’s only one aim and that must be to return back to the Premier League as soon as we possibly can.”
Agnew was handed 11 games in which to try to fend off relegation following Aitor Karanka’s departure in March and was confident salvation was achievable.
He was as disappointed as anybody when his rescue mission failed, but the pain will serve to reinforce him for what lies ahead, with his own future as yet uncertain.
He said: “Obviously when it happens it’s devastating. It’s not what we are in the game for. We are in the game to be successful.
“When it’s the opposite it is devastating and difficult to accept at the time. But you have to be strong enough and big enough to move on and be ready for the next challenge.”
Meanwhile, Boro have been handed a £20,000 fine, suspended for 12 months, after admitting a Football Association charge of failing to control their players during the 2-2 Premier League draw against Manchester City last month.
An FA statement said: “Middlesbrough have been fined £20,000 after admitting an FA misconduct charge following their game against Manchester City on 30 April 2017.
“The club failed to ensure its players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion, contrary to FA Rule E20.
“Following an independent regulatory commission hearing, the fine has been suspended for one year.”