Fighting disaster give us the edge, says Southgate

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The Independent Online

Gareth Southgate is convinced Middlesbrough have a psychological advantage over their fellow relegation candidates – because they have been staring disaster in the face for weeks.

The Teessiders remain three points adrift of safety as a result of Saturday's 0-0 draw with Fulham, which came a week after they had rekindled hopes of a fightback with a 3-1 win over Hull.

Their prospects of survival have been done few favours by the fixture list – they head for Arsenal on Sunday before entertaining Premier League champions Manchester United at the Riverside Stadium on 2 May.

However, with derby rivals Newcastle a point and a place worse off and Blackburn and Hull having been dragged back into the mix, with Sunderland still hovering precariously above the relegation places, there is much still to play for in the remaining five games of the season.

Southgate freely acknowledges that his side will probably have to get a shock result from one of the next two games, and win at St James' Park on 11 May, to give themselves hope.

However, he believes the experiences of the last two seasons, when Boro have struggled – last season they secured their Premier League status only on the penultimate weekend of the campaign – and the fact they have been entrenched in the bottom three for some time, gives them an edge over some of their rivals.

"We have been where those teams are in recent seasons, so we know how that feels in some respects," he said. "In a strange way, we have got less tension about us because we have faced the worst possible scenario, being where we are, and we have realised we can handle that. If you can handle that, you can look forward and see what we can go on and achieve."

Southgate has remained commendably calm throughout a difficult season and particularly during the depths of a run which has brought just two league wins in 21 attempts.

That sequence of fixtures has yielded just 14 points from a possible 63, and Boro need a much bigger percentage return from the final 15 if they are to pull off a great escape.

However, the manager insists setting a points total for safety is a waste of time. He said: "It's pointless trying to work out how many points you are going to need. For me, it's a futile exercise. There's enough energy needed to win your matches and prepare your team, and everything else will take care of itself."

Southgate has had no qualms in entrusting the club's fate, to a great extent, to academy graduates. Six men who have emerged from the junior ranks have started each of the last two games, although the manager acknowledges that experience is every bit as important as local pride and hunger.

He said: "It can work either way. They are the younger members of our group, but you need confidence as much as you need experience, and you need hunger, you need drive, and we have got to get the balance right. We have got players with talent and everybody at the moment is pulling in the same direction. Whoever has to go into the side is ready to perform and ready to try to pull this club through this."

One man who could yet play a part is midfielder Didier Digard, who managed 65 minutes of the reserves' 2-0 win over Manchester City on Tuesday night, having returned from thigh and knee injuries.

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