Middlesbrough are aiming to spoil Burnley’s promotion party this afternoon as the Teessiders look to continue their recent impressive form.
Burnley will clinch automatic promotion to the Premier League if they beat Boro at Turf Moor, and third-placed Derby fail to beat Huddersfield Town.
But Aitor Karanka’s in-form side can delay the celebrations in Lancashire if they earn a share of the spoils against a team that the Spaniard rates as the best in the Championship.
Boro beat Burnley at the Riverside on Boxing Day, and if theycan complete a league doubleagainst Sean Dyche’s men they will extend their winning run to four games – their best sequence of the season.
Karanka said: “It’s great for us to be playing against a team who can be promoted this weekend but we’re not going there to celebrate their promotion, we’re going there to win the game.
“Every team can learn from Burnley. The coach has made a very good team and the best thing for a coach is that the people can see the coach’s work on the pitch.
“I don’t want to say Burnley don’t have good players, because they do, but I think they are the best in the league as a team.”
Boro may go into the weekend in 13th place, but they have caused upsets against some of the top sides this season – winning against play-off contenders Derby and Reading, and taking points off Wigan home and away.
“We want to win the game because we beat them [Burnley] here, we beat Derby and we’ve beaten a lot of teams at the top of the table,” said Karanka. “We had an accident against QPR [losing 3-1 at home three weeks ago] but I’m very happy with my team and we go there knowing we’re capable of winning the game.
“The game on Boxing Day was one of the best performances since I came here. The most important thing is the team has improved since that day and the important thing is to be better every day than the day before.
“The best way to prepare for next season is to win the games at the end of this season, so I was concerned when we lost against QPR because we had a lot of games in front of us but my team have played well in the last three games and I’m very, very happy.” Boro have conceded just one goal in their last three games, all of which have ended in victories.
But Karanka will have to give his side a defensive overhaul, with young centre-backs Ben Gibson and Kenneth Omeruo both suspended after being sent off in the 3-1 triumph over Birmingham in midweek, while George Friend was injured in the same game.
Jonathan Woodgate replaced Friend when the latter had to be substituted against the Blues, and he is set to start this afternoon.
Karanka has also named Daniel Ayala in his squad, although he has been back in training for only a week after recovering from a long-term ankle injury.
“He’s been out for two-and-a-half months but I need to include him in the squad because I don’t have enough players,” said Karanka.
Young defender David Atkinson could also come into Karanka’s plans, although the head coach will think long and hard before handing him such a difficult debut.
Karanka added: “I need to protect the kid because I think it can be a good opportunity for him, but it will be a difficult game and you sometimes think you’re giving an opportunity and after the game it could be worse, so I need to think very carefully.
“But if not today, I hope David can play before the end of the season because he’s training very well with me every day and he deserves to play.”