Hull City maybe be the Championship’s league leaders, but for Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka, they are a Premier League club in the wrong division.
Steve Bruce’s Tigers were relegated from the top-flight last season, but have responded in the perfect fashion to their demotion, sitting joint top on goal difference alongside fellow relegation team Burnley and Brighton.
Boro are a point adrift in fourth and a win in Humberside tomorrow could see them top the league’s standings.
Karanka is wary of Hull, citing their Premier League capabilities.
“They are not Rotherham or Charlton, they are a big team, a Premier League team with a Premier League manager,” he said.
“It will be difficult, as the last two home games (wins against Charlton and Rotherham) were.
“It is as important as against Rotherham or Charlton last week.
“Hull are fighting a little with us, but there are three points (to win) and we have to go there thinking it’s another game.
“Both of them (Hull and Burnley) have everything: good players, a better squad than last season, players with experience and managers with experience and who know how to get promotion.
“They know about the Championship and both of them are really difficult opponents.”
Apprehension is intertwined with excitement ahead of the clash with Hull. Fans and players alike are, inevitably, geed up for the tussle.
But Karanka has sought a more relaxed approach, looking at the wider picture.
“I used to be a player and when I am thinking of my team as a supporter it’s not the same to play against the bottom of team as it is against the top,” he admitted.
“But it is the same: we prepare the same as we did against Oldham in the Cup and against Manchester United. The work is the same but I can understand it’s not for the players and the fans.
“After the game we’ll have another six months to keep fighting.
“We have to keep our feet on the floor.
“We are doing really well and we can’t forget, we were struggling two weeks ago.
“I say always we have to keep working because it’s a tough league. We are now in a good position and Saturday is an important game.”