Steve Agnew is convinced Middlesbrough can maintain the North-East’s recent record of miracle Premier League relegation escapes.
Neighbours Sunderland have developed a reputation for coming alive at this time of year by staging improbable late-season rallies to cheat the drop in each of the last FOUR seasons.
But with David Moyes’ rock bottom side nine points adrift and seemingly doomed, it’s left to their regional rivals Boro to carry the area’s Houdini hopes. The second-bottom Teessiders are in major trouble themselves, six points from safety after a four-month, 14-game winless streak that sees them in danger of an immediate return to the Championship following promotion last May.
Agnew has taken inspiration from Sunderland’s acts of escapology, and a similar amazing feat by another of his old clubs Leicester City the season before they became Premier League Champions last year. Boro host Arsenal on Monday, and the caretaker boss said: “You can get improbable results and late rallies at this time of the year. It’s happened in recent seasons with both Sunderland and Leicester.
“They have shown that with one win, like the one we’ve been waiting for, it can literally change lots of things and it can also affect other teams around you in the table as well. That’s what we’re aim to do. There is no fear within this group of players, they’re ready for Arsenal, and we know we need to win a game sooner rather than later so all our efforts continue to be geared towards that.”
As a rookie starting out in management, the 51-year-old insists he can’t understand the on-going criticism from angry Gunners fans aimed at boss Arsene Wenger, who is at the opposite end of the career spectrum. “It’s the nature of the beast, but some of the flak aimed at Arsene is way over the top,” he added.
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“Unfortunately, it comes with the territory and I’ve had it right form being a young player all the way through my career. It only makes you more determined to succeed.
“Arsenal have had a couple of away defeats of late and we need to try and take advantage of that. We’ve all been to the Riverside on a night match and there’s always a fantastic atmosphere so we need to start the game on the front foot and give the fans something to latch onto and cheer about.” Boro are without ineligible Arsenal loan defender Calum Chambers, but both George Friend and Gaston Ramirez are back after injury lay-offs. Agnew added: “It’s good to have them back, because you miss players like George and Gaston when you’re struggling to win games.”