With just 10 games to go and 30 points left to play for, Middlesbrough face a season-defining fixture away at the Liberty Stadium as they take on Swansea City on Sunday. To stand any real chance of beating a straight relegation back down to the Championship, Boro need to build on their solitary win on the road and surely must go back to basics in order to do so.
This week's big news on Teesside is the return of former Real Madrid star and local lad Jonathan Woodgate into a coaching role with the first team. The move has drawn criticism from some sections of the support who fear a "jobs for the boys" approach is the same path the side were led down towards their last relegation from the top flight under Gareth Southgate in 2009.
Though his capacity for this new role is under fair scrutiny, it would be wise to remember the pedigree of knowledge, experience and Teesside steel that Woodgate will be adding to the dressing room. Having played alongside such luminaries and galacticos as Luis Figo, David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane, Woodgate knows good football when he sees it. The obvious fact remains, however, that the style of Middlesbrough's football shrinks in importance compared to the end result.
New caretaker manager Steve Agnew ended his first game in charge against Manchester United with the towering Rudy Gestede deployed up front alongside mainstay Alvaro Negredo. The direct approach caused problems for a creaking United defence, forced Chris Smalling into an error and allowed Gestede to slide the ball home from six yards out. Though the comeback was never converted into points on the board, it is this route, their route No. 1, which offers the best hope of salvation for a side struggling for goals.
Agnew, Woodgate and fellow new recruit Joe Jordan must acknowledge just how limited Boro are, both in their capacity and options with regard to attacking play, and maximise the physicality they have within their ranks. Squaring up against a Swansea side who looked woefully inept against a mediocre AFC Bournemouth outfit last time out, the duo of Gestede and Negredo can ask some serious questions and give Boro a glimpse of hope of getting out of the mess they find themselves in.
Given all of the cliched-but-correct concepts flying around in the build-up to the game -- the "six-pointer" shouts and "must-win" mantras -- most fans will be hoping for a return to form of their most experienced Premier League player, Stewart Downing. His well-documented relationship with Woodgate will do him no disservice in his hope for first-team regularity, but Downing must repay this renewed show of faith. A mere two seasons ago he ranked among the top flight's best performing midfielders, shining for Sam Allardyce's West Ham in the number 10 position.
However, if Boro do opt for two big men up top -- then it is out on the left wing, where Downing built his reputation and from where he can deliver delicious crosses of quality into the danger zones, that the local boy can regain his hero status.
All said, the Teessiders will be more than fearful of the attacking prowess within the Swans' ranks -- including the classy Gylfi Sigurdsson and the talismanic Fernando Llorente. Key defender Ben Gibson will need to draw on the adrenaline and confidence garnered from this week's England call-up throughout the game and ideally lead an injury-hit backline to their first clean sheet in five games.
A welcome return to the defensive solidity that underpinned the Aitor Karanka reign will give Steve Agnew's side an ideal foundation to force the game -- by any means necessary -- into the direct physical battle from which Boro can emerge as battle-scarred but victorious and reignite their fight against relegation.