Matthew Bates admits that Middlesbrough's derby against Newcastle United, which is one of the biggest games in the club's history, will be the defining moment of the season.
Bates and his team-mates head for Newcastle on Monday evening for a meeting which would give the victors a genuine chance of Premier League survival, but almost certainly condemn the losers to the Championship.
A draw would suit neither side with both currently three points adrift of 17th-placed Hull City, who face Stoke City at the KC Stadium on Saturday, and a point further shy of Sunderland, who could find themselves back in real trouble should they lose at Bolton Wanderers.
Bates, 22, who has been employed both in central midfield and at right-back in recent months, needs no reminding of just what is at stake at St James' Park.
"Newcastle is probably one of the biggest games in the club's history, it's that big. The players know it and the manager knows it, and we will go there to try and get the three points," he said. "The loser of the game might possibly go down. I'm not sure if mathematically it will mean that, but it could mean that.
"At the minute, everything is going against us and it has become difficult. But we have got to keep ourselves going and keep working hard," Bates said. "There are three games to go and we maybe need six or seven points out of them. But it's obtainable and that's what we have got to look at."
Seven of the last nine games between the two sides have finished all square, including the last four on Tyneside. However, Newcastle have won seven of the most recent 15 meetings home and away, and Boro's last win at St James' came in March 2001 when Alen Boksic's first-half double secured a 2-1 victory.
"We normally give a good account of ourselves up there and the derbies mean a lot to the local lads. We have got a lot of them in the team and it can spur us on," Bates said. "It's unfortunate that it's two north-east teams down there, but that's the way it is at the minute.
"It's a dog-eat-dog war and we have got to get the three points as much as they want them. It's a case of who wants it more and who can produce more quality on the night."
After the short trip up the A19, Boro welcome Aston Villa to the Riverside Stadium and then travel to West Ham United on the final day of the campaign, and they will hope they still have something to play for when they run out at Upton Park.
Bates, whose side lost 2-0 to Arsenal and Manchester United in their last two Premier League games, told the Evening Gazette: "We have had two tough games and the three games coming up are easier.
"We have got to stay together and play with that determination and attitude. The better class has to come out as well. There are three games to go – we need to play as a team, score as a team and defend as a team. Hopefully we can get the points that we need.
"We aren't going to give up and while it's not impossible to stay up, we will always give it a go. We are still very confident in the dressing room. We know it's going to be difficult, but without confidence, there is no point going into the last three games."Reuse content