Middlesbrough V Man Utd at Riverside Stadium : Match Preview

18 March 2017
Middlesbrough V Man Utd - view commentary, squad, and statistics of the game live.

Agnew: Boro can be driven on by memory of tough promotion campaign last season

Steve Agnew is convinced his Middlesbrough players will not allow the club to slip out of the Premier League because they remember how tough it was to get there.

Boro spent seven years in the wilderness after losing their top-flight status in 2009, but eventually secured their return under Aitor Karanka at the end of last season.

Ten months after establishing himself as a hero on Teesside, the Spaniard's reign drew to a close this week with the club sitting in 19th place in the table and in serious danger of making a swift return to the Sky Bet Championship.

His assistant Agnew has been placed in charge and will have the chance to prove himself over the coming weeks, and he is confident he can count on a fighting spirit within the dressing room.

Asked if Premier League football was too precious to allow it to slip away at the first time of asking, he said: "Yes, absolutely, and that is the feeling that you get from the group. They know how difficult that was (to win promotion).

"I have spoken to them about that and that is something that will drive them on to be where we need to be at the end of the season."

The desperation to keep Boro, who face Manchester United at the Riverside Stadium on Sunday, in the Premier League is all the more acute for local boys Ben Gibson, the nephew of owner and chairman Steve, and Stewart Downing, who returned to his home-town club two summers ago to aid a fresh promotion push.

However Agnew, who served as Karanka's assistant for two-and-a-half years, thinks those men who have been part of the squad for several years and who suffered the heartache of play-off final defeat in 2015 are just as central to the ongoing rescue mission.

He said: "It's not just Ben and Stewart being from the area, but because there have been a number of players who have been around the club and achieved the success of last season, it's a bigger group than that.

"The core spirit from that group is very, very infectious and determined."

Meanwhile, Phil Jones believes Manchester United have "more than enough" to cope with key absentees and their testing fixture schedule at Boro.

Jose Mourinho's men arrive at the Riverside Stadium in search of a much-needed victory, having drawn eight times during a 17-match unbeaten run in the Premier League.

United head to the north east after progressing to the Europa League quarter-finals on Thursday, although Paul Pogba and Daley Blind were forced off during the narrow last-16 second-leg win against Rostov.

Pogba will definitely miss the trip to Boro along with suspended pair Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ander Herrera, but Jones is confident United will have the wherewithal to head into the international break with an important victory.

"Maybe it wasn't a sparkling performance the other night, but it was one that was pleasing and positive and we're through to the next round," Jones said.

"Middlesbrough have just sacked the manager as well so it will probably be even tougher than what it would have been.

"But we've got more than enough to cope with that. We have strength in depth in this squad and that's why we need everyone.

"There is always an added incentive for everyone playing Manchester United as it is, but when you sack the manager it's even more of a boost for them.

"Especially for the ones who have not been playing in the squad who can force their way into the team and impress.

"It will be a tough game, but we need to be ready for it."