Opposition view – Middlesbrough

We catch up with Robert Nicols from Boro fanzine Fly me to the Moon ahead of this Sunday’s crucial relegation six pointer…

Since you beat us in December you have failed to collect any wins in the league. What’s gone wrong?
Yes we appeared to be going in very different directions back in December – we looked to be in a fairly strong position coming into 2017 but things just turned from bad to worse in January and continued in a downward spiral into February, before we knew what was hitting us we were bottom three and sinking fast.

Aitor Karanka was trying to win a mini league with the relegation zone clubs but we paid the penalty for his mounting caution. We could defend as well as anyone but all that defensive organisation meant we did not get players into position to create opportunities never mind take them. We were left looking to 0-0 our way to safety, clinging to our goal difference advantage.
When other clubs, notably yourselves, Palace and then Leicester went on a revival our die had already been cast, we couldn’t or wouldn’t change course and we had forgotten how to score let alone win.

Aitor Karanka has paid the price with his job. Is this the right decision and are you sorry to see him go?
Like most Boro fans I am sorry about him losing his job after all he has achieved at Boro. Seven years we were in the Championship and he changed all that. But under Aitor we had realistically lost all hope of staying up because he was not prepared to budge one inch from his game plan. We were going to go down with a whimper.

Are you happy with Steve Agnew taking charge or should you have made a more permanent appointment by now?
Personally, I think it is a really good appointment. We are outside the transfer window now so a new man cannot add to the squad. Agnew knows the players and he is best position to motivate and mould them into a Premier survival team. the addition of former club captain, Jonathan Woodgate should forge a real bond between players and management, another very good move.
We need to see how he can get on in the last ten matches. If Agnew can save us he will have earned a permanent contract.

Who’ve been your star performers and who needs to up their game?
Ben Gibson has recently earned his call up to the full England squad just reward for stepping up a level this season and looking every inch the seasoned Premier defender that he isn’t, it is his first season at this level.

Midfielder Adam Clayton has toiled and toiled for the cause, no blade of grass is left undisturbed by his ceaseless running.
We need to see goals and real match winning performances now from Alvarro Negredo and hopefully Stewart Downing can provide the pin point passing that Gylfi Siggurdsson offers you.

This is a big game to say the least at the bottom of the table. Do you feel this is a must win for your side and how do you see the situation at the bottom?
Yes it is a must-win. You are probably the only team we can catch now. We need to win to plant seeds of doubt in your minds and take some momentum into our game away at Hull on Wednesday and then home to Burnley on Saturday. This week is absolutely make or break for us, starting with a huge game at Swansea.

What do you make of Swansea and which players if any do you fear?
I was surprised to see Swansea struggling. Or rather I was surprised to see a club with a philosophy being taken apart quite so thoroughly by new owners apparently ignorant of what you stood for. The management changes have been quite horrendous but Paul Clement has done remarkably well to pull so much of that back.

You obviously have some really class acts. Llorente is phenomenal in the air and taking up the challenge of being another great Swansea goalscoring centre forward. Gylfi SigurĂ°sson is a tremendous player. I fear his vision and all round game.

Predict the score and where both teams will finish…
Am hoping like mad we can win 2-1 and then there is a glimmer of daylight for us. Then I am going to predict you will finish 3rd from bottom and we will be 4th from bottom. But I am keeping more fingers and toes crossed than ever before. It should be some game on Sunday.