TONY Mowbray is calling on his stuttering side to end their alarming slump against Leeds tomorrow night.
Ailing Boro surrendered a lead to lose 3-2 at home to basement battlers Barnsley on Saturday and take their slide to five successive league defeats – their worst run since November 2000.
Next up on Teesside are Leeds, a side who have never lost at the Riverside and managed by Neil Warnock, who has never lost to a Boro side at any of his clubs in more than 20 years in the dug-out.
While stagnant Boro are still in a play-off spot, the pack are closing in fast behind them – and Mowbray knows the pressure is on against a side who will scent blood.
The Boro boss admitted: “There is a lot of pressure on us. There’s no question about that.
“It is the closest thing we have to a derby match in this division.
“They will bring a big following and there will be a big atmosphere and make no mistake, it is a big match.
“There is a lot of expectation on us. Our fans will demand and expect us to beat Leeds United and as a group, we will expect that to. That is the pressure we place on ourselves.
“We know there will be pressure on us from the crowd.
“Every back pass will bring a groan, the longer we do not score the tension will rise.
“We all have to stick together, the fans as well as the crowd.”
Boro need a positive result – and quickly – to end their New Year nosedive and reignite their faltering promotion push after five defeats on the spin in 2013.
The Teessiders were booed off after a dismal display against revived strugglers Barnsley.
They suffered an early set-back as Jim O’Brien scored on five minutes with a hugely-deflected shot.
Hoever, they clawed back into a commanding position as first Mustapha Carayol then Curtis Main – both making returns after long lay-offs with knee injuries – netted early in the second half.
Carayol burst clear and after his first low shot was blocked he slotted in the rebound from a tight angle on 50 minutes.
They were ahead on 62 minutes as a Rhys Williams cross clipped a defender and the goalkeeper as it squirted to the far post for Main to nod home.
Then, though, Boro pressed the self-destruct button as sloppy defending handed over the points.
First they failed to clear a harmless-looking long throw, leaving unmarked Scott Golbourne to head in a simple leveller on 69 minutes.
Then a slip and poor back pass from Seb Hines forced goalkeeper Jason Steele to handle in the box.
From the resulting free-kick eight yards out, Jason Scotland slammed home off the bar for Barnsley’s winner on 76 minutes.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Luke Steele; Friend, Bailey, Bikey, Hines, Leadbitter, Rhys Williams, Ledesma (Halliday 79), Dyer (Zemmama 79), Carayol, Jutkiewicz (Main 46). Subs (not used): Leutwiler, McEachran, Parnaby, Smallwood.
Booked: Hines, Rhys Williams.
Goals: Carayol 50, Main 62.
BARNSLEY: Lee Steele; Foster, Cranie, Kennedy, O’Brien (Scotland 63), Perkins, Etuhu, Golbourne, Delap, Dagnall (Hassell 79), Harewood (O’Grady 63). Subs (not used): Alnwick, Wiseman, Cywka, Mellis.
Booked: Foster, Etuhu.
Goals: O’Brien 6, Golbourne 70, Scotland 76.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire).