Middlesbrough boss plays down play-off hopes ahead of Millwall clash

Middlesbrough's Daniel Ayala
Middlesbrough's Daniel Ayala
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AITOR Karanka has tempered any hopes Middlesbrough fans may have about a last-gasp push for the Championship play-offs, writes CHRIS BELL.

Four wins in as many games has moved Boro to within six points of sixth-place Reading – opponents on Tuesday – with four games left.

Tomorrow third-bottom Millwall come to the Riverside (kick off 3pm) desperate for points before the season concludes with games against the Lions’ relegation rivals Barnsley (home) and Yeovil (away).

Form is irrelevant at this stage of the season and that is why Karanka refused to build up his team’s chances of sneaking into the coveted two remaining spots that eight teams are chasing.

“I am enjoying the time with the team and I prefer to enjoy that than think about the difficult chance (of the play offs),” he told BBC Tees.

“I understand our supporters but I need to be realistic and say that it is very, very difficult.

“But we will play all the games to win.

“In football you never know.

“At the end of the season we can see where we are.”

The Spaniard’s tune did not alter when he was quizzed on the Teessiders run-in, insisting that focus will not stretch beyond the weekend’s game.

“The players have to think that tomorrow is the last game and that we need to win,” he said.

“This is the best way to respect the league because we don’t have chances to get promoted or relegated.”

Millwall have collected eight points from their past four games but come up against a Boro side who have found their goalscoring touch after a barren late-winter period.

Karanka continued: “We need to be working in the same way and if it’s possible to play the same way we did at Christmas

“We need to win the games and to keep working hard.

“Clean sheets are the most important thing because when you are a team like that you are going to score goals.”

Daniel Ayala and Ben Gibson are both suspended but George Friend should reclaim his spot at left-back after recovering from muscle damage.