Steve Agnew sends Middlesbrough into tonight’s Premier League relegation clash with Sunderland admitting he did not expect the season to come to this.
Back on August 21, promoted Boro collected three points for the first time since their return to the top flight when they beat the Black Cats 2-1 at the Stadium of Light.
They have won only three league games since, however, and none since December 17 to leave themselves nine points adrift of safety with only 15 more available.
Aitor Karanka, the head coach who guided the club back into the big time, has been replaced in the short term by former Sunderland midfielder Agnew, and he knows time is running out fast, particularly in the wake of Saturday’s 4-0 drubbing at Bournemouth.
“Back in August, it was a terrific performance and we thoroughly deserved to win the game,” Agnew said.
“Moving on from August to now, April, of course there’s lots of negativity towards the second half of the season and we haven’t got the wins that we needed, so it’s a massive disappointment.
“But we have to remain focused and we have to enjoy the challenge ahead, and that’s what we will do (on Wednesday night).
“The first thing is we need the three points; secondly, the players are determined to put on a show for the supporters; and thirdly, there has to be a reaction after the disappointment of Saturday.
“We have to win the game and that’s what we will be setting out to do. Three points is the target.”
The Black Cats are the only Premier League club worse off than Boro - they have three points fewer, although a game in hand - and defeat for either at the Riverside Stadium would edge them to within touching distance of the trapdoor.
Agnew admits confidence is low on Teesside, but firmly believes there is still hope. He said: “Well, if you look at any team that hasn’t won since December, then obviously the confidence is in the balance. We have to keep working away at it, and we have, and will continue to do that.
“What I have seen from Sunday is a very focused group that is determined to put a show on for the supporters in a North East derby.
“There will be 30,000 Teessiders in the stadium with a good following from Sunderland, so the passion and the energy that will come from the Middlesbrough fans is everything that the players will need.”