GARETH Southgate believes Boro’s triumph in their “must-win” basement battle with Hull will pile the psychological pressure on their relegation rivals.
Second-bottom Boro grabbed a Premier League lifeline as they beat their vulnerable visitors 3-1 to claw back within touching distance of the teams above them.
And boss Southgate insists Boro now have nothing to lose as the cut-throat basement battle hots up – but that others could crumble and offer the Teessiders the chance to scramble clear.
Stuttering Sunderland are just two points above them while fragile-looking Blackburn, Hull and Portsmouth are now only four ahead and could easily be dragged back into it.
“There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done, “ he admitted.
“But winning that game has given us some hope.
“We always said that one win could change things dramatically and it has. It has changed the table and it has changed the mentality.
“We know that we have nothing to lose now but all the teams above us have and the pressure is all on them now. We have to make sure that pressure builds on them in the weeks to come and that if they falter we are in a position to take advantage.
“We know that psychology is hugely important in these situations.
“We have been there in the last few years looking over our shoulders with a few games to go and in some ways it is more uncomfortable than where we are now.
“When you are in that situation there are a lot of nerves because you know one slip can be fatal, and it brings a pressure that not everyone can deal with.
“We don’t want to be where we are but we have nothing to lose now. We know that one win means we are still in it, we have a cause to fight for and that the town has rallied around us.”
The crowd certainly got behind the team. A special cheap ticket deal and a healthy away contingent of 3,750 Hull fans ensured the Riverside was packed, and Boro did their bit to ignite a cracking atmosphere with a dream start.
Boro went ahead in the third minute as a Hull attack broke down, and when the ball was played forward quickly out of defence Marlon King knocked it on neatly to send Afonso Alves surging down the inside right channel.
The Brazilian drilled in a low shot and when keeper Duke could only parry it fell for the unmarked Tuncay at the far post and the Turk slotted home from an acute angle.
Boro piled on the pressure but Hull broke out to level on nine minutes as a half-cleared corner fell to former Boro record buy Nicky Barmby to chip into a crowded box where on-loan Manchester United striker Manucho climbed unchallenged to head home the leveller.
A few weeks ago soft-centred Boro may have crumbled at that, but instead they responded with spirit and a sustained spell of pressure.
And Boro were back in front on 29 minutes as persistent Tuncay won a corner, and when Tony McMahon drilled in a low flag-kick fellow academy graduate Matthew Bates shrugged off his marker to dart forward and stab home from 10 yards to claim his first goal for the club.
A frenetic game then became scrappy and littered with fouls as nerves and frustration crept in.
Boro had the best of the chances, with Stewart Downing putting a free-kick just over and Alves and McMahon both having powerful efforts charged down.
Then Downing beat the offside flag to burst free into the box, only for Duke to save well at the near post from his stinging low shot.
Boro have form when it comes to leaking late goals and there were some jitters at the back as twice keeper Brad Jones fumbled routine balls into the box to spark furious scrambles, and David Wheater had to stoop to head off the line then unmarked Dean Marney headed narrowly over the bar.
But they sealed it in stoppage time as a poor clearance from Duke fell to Boateng 25 yards out, and when the alert Jeremie Aliadiere flew in to tackle him the ball rolled free and ex-Hull loanee Marlon King scooped up the loose ball and skipped into the box to drill home the third.
“It was a deserved win and crucial win and we must take strength from it and believe we can drag ourselves clear,” said Southgate.
“We just have to hope we have enough time and enough games left.
“We have to go into the very tough fixtures that are coming up and play with the same pride and strength and belief. It will be tough but now we have hope.”
MIDDLESBROUGH: Jones, McMahon, Wheater, Huth, Taylor, Bates, Aliadiere (Emnes 90), Downing, Sanli, Alves (Adam Johnson 77), King. Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Hoyte, Shawky, Riggott, Walker.
Booked: Sanli, Bates, Taylor.
Goals: Sanli 3, Bates 29, King 90.
HULL CITY: Duke, Ricketts, Zayatte, Turner, Dawson, Fagan (Boateng 71), Mendy (Marney 46), Ashbee, Barmby (Folan 62), Geovanni, Manucho. Subs Not Used: Myhill, Halmosi, Kilbane, Featherstone.
Booked: Ashbee, Ricketts, Boateng.
Goals: Manucho 9.
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire).