Middlesbrough news

Southgate: Boro facing make-or-break fortnight

April 5, 2009

Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate has admitted if his side do not win one of their next two matches they will be relegated from he Premier League.

Saturday's 4-1 defeat at Bolton Wanderers was their ninth successive away defeat - the club's worst run since the Second World War - and leaves the Teessiders five points from safety.

Hull and Fulham are the visitors to the Riverside in successive Saturdays but Southgate has said if his side cannot get at least one win in that fortnight their 11-year stay in the top flight will be over.

"We have be realistic, they are crucial for us," he said. "We have to go and beat Hull at home and if we can do that things can turn around - where there is light there is hope.

"But to be able to do that the level of performance has to be better than yesterday.

"We know exactly where we stand and, in no uncertain terms, the players have been left knowing exactly where they stand.

"They know my feelings on things but I am manager of the football club and I have to take responsibility for results and performances.

"We are where we are over 31 games because of the things we saw at Bolton and that's my responsibility as a manager and I have to take that on board and take the flak for the players."

Next weekend's match against Hull takes on huge significance and Southgate has told his players they have to at least show some fighting spirit if they are to have any chance to safeguarding their top-flight status.

"We have to be bang on when we go at home against Hull next week because that is a game we have to win," he added.

"It is inevitable confidence is low when we are in the position we are in but what we have got to do over the next seven games is make sure the very least we do is play with passion, pride and attack teams."

One of Middlesbrough's main problems is their lack of potency up front. Gary O'Neil's goal at the Reebok Stadium yesterday was their first in 679 minutes on the road and, in total, they have scored just 22 in 31 games.

"In a nutshell that is why we are where we are," Southgate said. "We are the lowest scorers so we have missed too many and yesterday we looked like conceding when Bolton were putting the ball into our box.

"Football is a very simple game; you have to do both sides of the game right."

Defensive frailties were evident as early as the eighth minute when, firstly, Matthew Bates allowed Ricardo Gardner to go past him too easily.

When the cross came in from the left Emanuel Pogatetz failed to deal with it and, from close range, Kevin Davies scored his 12th league goal.

O'Neil equalised seven minutes before half-time when Afonso Alves combined with Tuncay Sanli to thread a ball into the penalty area.

However, a minute before the interval Johan Elmander was given too much time in the penalty area to set up the unmarked Gary Cahill for Bolton's second.

In the 78th minute Robert Huth inexplicably ducked under an inswinging Matt Taylor free-kick which crept in at the far post and Ricardo Gardner added the fourth five minutes from time.

The victory lifted Bolton up to 37 points and with such struggles going on at the foot of the table they appear to be safe.

A weight has certainly been lifted from the shoulders of manager Gary Megson but he does not want his players to ease up.

"When you are a professional footballer there is a difference between the first part of the season and this part," he said.

"There is such an intensity to be successful it's untrue and it can inhibit you at times but it has gone okay for us."

Megson praised his players for their efforts but urged against complacency.

"They have been pushed right the way through the season and I think they owe it to themselves to finish strongly," he added.