Belfast Telegraph

The pressure is on as title race hots up, admits Boro boss Karanka

Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka admits they are under intense pressure in a three-way shoot-out for promotion.

Second placed Boro will go top of the Sky Bet Championship with one game left if they avoid defeat at Birmingham on Friday to put the spotlight on Brighton and Burnley.

The trio are currently locked on 87 points at the top of the table, with Brighton hosting Derby and Burnley welcoming QPR on Monday.

Middlesbrough face Brighton at the Riverside on the final day next week in what could be a winner-takes-all showdown.

Karanka's side are unbeaten in eight games, but the former Real Madrid assistant knows they face increasing scrutiny.

He told the club website: "I would like to be excited if I was a neutral. It's nice to be in our position, but there's a lot of pressure.

"This season it will go right to the end again. Any team that wins promotion will be because they deserve it.

"If we win it would be nice to have eight days to rest, but we have to think about Birmingham first and be prepared. We've done nothing yet. We're in a massive position and I am really proud to be here. We have to keep going.

"We are fighting against two really good teams. If we win at Birmingham and win next Saturday we're in the Premier League so it's about us."

Birmingham have won just once in their last 10 games to drop out of play-off contention after threatening to gatecrash the top six for most of the season.

They are battling to hold on to a top-10 spot, but could be without goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak (broken nose) and Paul Caddis (calf).

Boss Gary Rowett insisted they have a duty to themselves, and to the integrity of the league, to perform.

He said: "We could look after ourselves and go and pick four youngsters to play, but the nature of the game means we will go as strong as we can.

"I'm not using any excuse for our poor points tally over the last eight games, but we want to stay in the top 10 and we want to say we have finished the same or higher as last season.

"We want to say we have made some progress. It's important for us as well. It's the first time we haven't nothing definitive to play for. For 76 games, up until the last eight, we've always had something - whether it's to climb the table or to prove people wrong."


From Belfast Telegraph