Middlesbrough V Everton at Riverside Stadium : Match Preview

10 February 2017
Middlesbrough V Everton - view commentary, squad, and statistics of the game live.

Middlesbrough much stronger after last Everton battle - Aitor Karanka

Aitor Karanka will send Middlesbrough into Premier League battle with Everton thankful for the lesson they were taught when they met for the first time this season.

The two sides will resume hostilities at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday with Boro sitting just a single point clear of the relegation zone and knowing they need to end a run of seven games without a win if they are to fulfil their season's minimum aim of securing a second top-flight campaign in the wake of their hard-earned return.

Boro travelled to the blue half of Merseyside on September 17 having tasted defeat just once in their opening four league games and - despite taking the lead - lost 3-1 as Everton hit back in devastating fashion.

Head coach Karanka said: "We realised how difficult the Premier League was that day because we competed against Everton in the second half, but for 15 minutes in the first half, they were much better than us and we couldn't compete.

"After that game, we've improved a lot. It's difficult to score goals and create chances, but we're improving a lot, and we're competing against every team.

"We had a chance to beat Tottenham last week and we are more mature and more experienced now than then."

The defeat at Spurs - which came courtesy of a second-half Harry Kane penalty - means Boro have collected just three of the last 21 points they have contested and although they sit in 15th place level on 21 points with Leicester and improving Swansea, they are just two better off than basement boys Sunderland.

Perhaps more worryingly, they are five adrift of Bournemouth in 14th with a gap opening up and the bottom six in danger of being marooned.

Everton manager Ronald Koeman has not ruled out a strong finish to the season launching the club into Champions League contention.

A week ago the Dutchman had targeted Manchester United, one place and one point above them, as their immediate priority but with fourth-placed Arsenal now only seven points away he believes they could yet spring a major surprise.

Last season Koeman got Southampton into the Europa League with a late charge which saw them take 23 points from their final 10 matches to leap into sixth.

It will take something even more special to catapult Everton into the top four - where they have finished just once in the Premier League era - especially with the six other sides already battling it out among themselves.

But last weekend's 6-3 win over Bournemouth has raised confidence levels further and after taking 17 points from a possible 21 they certainly have the momentum.

"You have changed your opinion now," Koeman said when asked whether Champions League qualification was a possibility.

"You were always speaking about top six and now you're saying we need to talk about the first four.

"Everything is possible because everybody knows the Premier League is so tough, and it's not about the opponent you play.

"I did not change my mind (on this season's aim), it's step by step. If we don't win this Saturday, we'll talk about maybe the first eight. We need to be realistic.

"The next target now is the team above us which we need to catch.

"You can't compare Everton with Southampton. Yes, normally, my teams are always in a good state until the end of the season.

"That's what we try to plan: you have more possibilities to win the game if the team is really fit.

"With Southampton, we won seven of the last eight - if we keep that at Everton then, yes, maybe something special will be possible this season."