Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

YOU Decide Who Faces the Drop; THE BIG PICTURE

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

YOU Decide Who Faces the Drop; THE BIG PICTURE

Article excerpt

Byline: ANTHONY VICKERS

AFTER FA Cup heartbreak, Boro must bounce back and claw their way out to safety in the closest relegation battle in years. Could they get dragged down? With Derby and Fulham as good as down, who will be the third team to go through the trap-door?

BATTERED Boro must now dust themselves off ready for a cut-throat relegation battle.

We must sweep aside the debris of shattered dreams and broken hearts after the Cardiff debacle and immediately focus on the next 10 games because being dragged through the trap-door would be an unmitigated disaster.

The nagging fear is that any kind of FA Cup exit hangover will have debilitating impact on their form and jeopardise Boro's top flight status.

Gareth Southgate's side do not have the kind of healthy cushion needed to protect them if they go into a tailspin after what has been a disastrous, season-wrecking week.

Two defeats have thrown the season into chaos. Had they won against Reading and Cardiff, Boro would have been a healthy seven points clear of the Royals now, with a game in hand, all but safe and planning for Wembley.

Instead, a Reading side that looked favourites to go down are just one point behind and look to have the fire needed to survive while the FA Cup defeat has left Boro in disarray and the season poised to descend into back-biting, despair, finger-pointing and anger.

But the recriminations can wait.

Boro have 10 games to save the season and it is the players who let us down against Cardiff that will have to do it. It sounds trite and cliched but it is time to concentrate on the league.

And let's be honest, Boro now look increasingly vulnerable.

A pointless return from games away at Aston Villa tomorrow and Arsenal on Saturday will make the Riverside rumble with Derby a must-win game. In the aftermath of Cardiff many hurt supporters were swearing they would not go to that one and predicting a sub 20,000 crowd - yet arguably it is a bigger game with far greater implications and where the team need a crowd to sting them into action.

Boro also face Bolton and Sunderland in six-pointer basement battlers where the war will be won or lost. …

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