Saturday 27 May 2017

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

Interim Middlesbrough head coach Steve Agnew is confident relegation can be avoided
Interim Middlesbrough head coach Steve Agnew is confident relegation can be avoided

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."

Agnew firmly believes Boro will get themselves out of trouble over the remaining 11 games of the campaign, although the statistics are damning.

They are without a win in the league in 10 attempts since December 17 and have scored only 19 goals all season, the fewest of any side in the division.

Alvaro Negredo has contributed six of those with Gaston Ramirez adding two more, and Agnew acknowledges Spaniard Negredo, on loan for the season from Valencia, represents the club's best chance of escaping their current difficulties.

He said: "The record this season would suggest that. Negredo is the top goalscorer and we need goals. But we need others to chip in and Gaston's capable, as are quite a number of other players."

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