Aitor Karanka has warned his Middlesbrough players that they cannot afford to think of Queens Park Rangers as a team on the slide.
The Londoners have spent much of the season in the top two, but a run of just two wins in their last nine games has seen them slip out of the Championship promotion places.
Harry Redknapp’s side also suffered its heaviest league defeat of the season this week, losing 3-0 against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough on Tuesday night – albeit after playing more than half the game with ten men following the dismissal of Republic of Ireland defender Richard Dunne.
But fourth placed QPR remain in the hunt for promotion – via the play-offs, if they are unable to close the ten-point gap between themselves and second place – and Karanka says they will present a stiff challenge at the Riverside.
“QPR lost 3-0 against Sheffield Wednesday and played with 10 players after getting a player sent off,” said the Spaniard.
“But if we think they will play like they did in the last game against Wednesday we are wrong.
“We need to think of them as a team fighting for the promotion places.
“They were in the Premier League last season and have experienced players and a very good manager and this makes it a very difficult game.
“We need to think about the game very hard and keep working the way we have been in our home games.”
Boro lost 2-0 at QPR in September, before Karanka took over on Teesside. But Karanka and Redknapp (pictured below) have crossed swords before, when Redknapp’s Spurs met Real Madrid – where Karanka was assistant to Jose Mourinho – in the Champions League quarter-final in 2011, with the Spanish giants running out 5-0 winners over two legs.
Karanka said: “I met Harry when Real Madrid played Tottenham three years ago and Jose Mourinho has a very good relationship with him. He has a lot of experience and is a very good manager.”
While QPR may be on a bad run having picked up only eight points from nine games, Boro’s form is no better with just nine points collected from their last 10 matches.
That run has included just one win and three goals scored, although they have drawn six matches and only suffered two defeats.
But it means Boro go into this afternoon’s game in 13th place in the table, 12 points adrift of the play-off places.
“People will say the team are not conceding goals and not losing games but I’m not wining and I want to win,” said Karanka. “I’m unhappy because I’m here to win games and it’s not enough to draw, when I don’t win, I’m not happy.”
Boro will be without Mustapha Carayol, who will miss the remainder of this season and the start of next after suffering cruciate ligament damage in last weekend’s draw at Bournemouth, while midfielder Grant Leadbitter begins a two-match suspension. Karanka said: “We have one player fewer through injury and another through suspension and we need to be compact and work hard. The other players have opportunities to play. I’m happy with them on the training ground.
“We have ten games to finish the season and we need to fight together.”
Forward Lee Tomlin missed training this week due to a temperature but is expected to be fit, however defender Jonathan Woodgate remains on the sidelines due to a calf injury.
“Lee should be fine,” said the head coach. “He’s had a temperature but I’m confident he will be fit.”
QPR are set to name ex-Newcastle defender Danny Simpson among their substitutes as he returns from the back injury that has kept him out since January.
But Jermaine Jenas (hamstring), Benoit Assou-Ekotto (back) and Karl Henry (flu) are all doubtful, while Kevin Doyle (knee ligaments) has been ruled out. Dunne will also be missing as he serves a one-match suspension following his sending off against Sheffield Wednesday.