Middlesbrough V Man City at Riverside Stadium : Match Preview

29 April 2017

Agnew: Boro would not be first team to pull off great escape

Middlesbrough must take encouragement from other great escapes as they look to plot their own route to safety, according to their interim head coach Steve Agnew.

Despite Wednesday's win over Sunderland, Boro begin the weekend still six points adrift of 17th-placed Hull in the Premier League and with only four fixtures remaining, three of which come against teams in the top four, any successful survival bid would rank alongside the most miraculous seen in the division's history.

Two seasons ago Leicester were seven points from safety with nine to play while Sunderland have performed a few Houdini acts in recent years, notably when winning four in a row down the stretch in 2014.

And it is those types of stories that Agnew, speaking ahead of Sunday's showdown with Manchester City at the Riverside, wants his squad to cling to as they look for inspiration that the drop is still avoidable for them.

"It has happened in the previous seasons and we're in a situation now where we're off the back of a win and we're in good spirits," Agnew said.

"It's all or nothing. We're getting used to that, it was the same the other night.

"The players were amazing and they produced a performance that got us three points. It's the same again on Sunday.

"Back-to-back wins are very, very difficult for a newly-promoted team. If you can, and we'll be going out to do that, then it does take everybody's confidence to the next level."

Piecing together the sort of sequences which Leicester and Sunderland did in years gone by seems even more unlikely when considering Boro have failed to win successive contests all season.

It will be the third time they have faced City this term, even if it was Aitor Karanka in charge rather than Agnew when City won 2-0 at the Riverside in the FA Cup in March, and when Boro claimed a point at the Etihad in the Premier League four months earlier.

"We know we're playing against a top, top team with a top coach," Agnew said.

"We're aware how difficult it is. The three points that are at stake are something we're very much after and we're confident we'll put a performance on to hopefully match that."

Gaston Ramirez is free from suspension having missed the game against Sunderland following his dismissal against Bournemouth, while Agnew has injury concerns over Daniel Ayala, Victor Valdes and Grant Leadbitter.

Meanwhile, Pep Guardiola admits he cannot help wondering how City's campaign might have unfolded had Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero been firing in tandem all season.

City announced the signing of highly-rated Brazil striker Jesus last summer but the deal was not finalised until the January transfer window.

Jesus then made an immediate impact by scoring three goals from four starts but he broke a bone in his foot in February and only returned to action in Thursday's derby draw against Manchester United.

Aguero has scored 30 goals this season but, despite his efforts, City failed to mount a serious Premier League title challenge and crashed out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage.

Asked if things might have been different with more involvement from Jesus, manager Guardiola said: "Always I will have things in my mind what would have happened if I had been able to have Gabriel Jesus all season, but I will never know. I can imagine but I don't know.

"The other guys made a lot and in the last two months it is outstanding what we have done. Except Thursday, Sergio scored in the last 11 games one goal a game.

"His numbers are there, he's scored a lot of goals, but I would like to see him with another guy helping him, to take a lot of the pressure in that sense and both to be there in that position."

As if to underline the point, Jesus almost netted a late winner against United after coming on as a substitute. Jesus, returning after more than two months out, headed home but the effort was ruled out for offside.

He seems likely to continue his comeback with another appearance from the bench on Sunday.

Guardiola said: "We saw in his first game against Tottenham his impact in eight minutes. We saw on Thursday after three months out, in five minutes he created two chances and (scored) one goal - (but) for one centimetre it was no goal.

"I would like to know what would have happened in many games when we missed chances because he has this instinct in the box.

"Now we are so happy he is back and next season he will be there with us."

Goalkeeper Claudio Bravo is unlikely to play at Boro having been carried off on a stretcher with a calf injury in midweek.