After a woeful 4-0 defeat against Bournemouth, Middlesbrough look almost certain to be playing in the Championship next season, just a year after they were promoted from it.
The defeat and the performance on the south coast saw their chances of survival written off, becoming the second team destined for the drop along with Sunderland.
But mathematically there’s still a chance they could stay up.
They’re nine points off Hull City in 17th, and twelve points off Burnley in 16th. With five games left to play there are 15 points available, meaning a there’s still the faintest of chances they could do the impossible and stay up.
If they are to pull it off, here are a few players who’ll need to be on form during the final weeks.
Ben Gibson will leave Middlesbrough at the end of the season if [when] they're relegated. (Source: Sky Sports) pic.twitter.com/LKeYORluD8
— Transfer News Live (@DeadlineDayLive) April 25, 2017
While all the focus this season has been Burnley’s young English defender Michael Keane, Ben Gibson can consider himself unfortunate not to be in the same conversation when it comes to promising home grown centre backs. The team around him have crumbled, despite the foundations he’s tried to lay at the back.
Even so, 2017 has seen the native Teessider called up for England and become a transfer target for Manchester City and Liverpool.
He’s a rare breed too, as half decent left-sided English centre backs are hard to find. Gibson has the potential to be more than half-decent, and should remain at the top level, even if Middlesbrough don’t.
He'll need to continue his impressive form in the final games if his side are to stand a chance of staying up.
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) April 25, 2017
Read More: Can Middlesbrough Beat the Drop
The former Sevilla and Manchester City striker is Boro’s top scorer in the league this season with eight goals.
He also leads their assist charts with four, but the fact his side have only scored 23 goals all season is one of the main reasons they find themselves in this mess.
They’ve taken the fewest shots of any team in the league with just 305, and also have the lowest shot accuracy in the league at just 40 percent.
The 31-year-old Spaniard will have to hone his scoring instincts and reach double figures well into the teens if he’s to help keep his side up.
— Premier League (@PremierLeague8) April 15, 2017
Until recently the solidity in the Middlesbrough defence was making up for a lack of attacking threat.
Having conceded just 28 goals by the end of February — giving the team the sixth best defense in the league at that time — they undid all this hard work and shipped a total of 15 goals during March and April.
Positioned behind this suddenly shaky defence, Víctor Valdés is one of the players in the squad who can offer experiences from the very top of the game, and though a relegation scrap will be new to him he could help instil a winning mindset.
He’s also likely to be called upon to make a few saves before the season is out, and big saves at big moments can turn games, and seasons.
If he's able to return to the side following the rib injury he, his presence could be vital.
The stats show Boro's forgotten winger Viktor Fischer must play his part in the run-in https://t.co/MdREREg7Cp
— TeessideTimes (@Teesside_Times) March 31, 2017
Viktor Fischer, Patrick Bamford and Adlene Guedioura all watched the sorry defeat at Bournemouth from the press box. By the end of the game the players, and the journalists around them, may have been wondering why they weren’t on the pitch.
Fischer has rarely feature since signing from Ajax last summer, despite being considered a young player with a bright future during his time at the Dutch club.
He suffered a bad hamstring injury in 2014 which kept him out for over a year, and for a player whose strengths were dribbling and movement this was a debilitating knock.
However, on signing for Boro it was hoped that he would get his career back on track but he’s never really been given the chance to.
In these final games he could be a useful wildcard for the bench, and especially as they have little to lose it might finally be time to give Fischer his chance.
Adama Traoré has become a cult figure in the world of statistical analysis due to his outstanding dribbling ability but poor end product.
He’s without doubt the best dribbler in the league and manages 8.4 successful dribbles per 90 minutes, which is far more than the likes of high profile dribblers Eden Hazard (4.5) and Alexis Sanchez (2.9).
However, his final action is severely lacking. He only has one assist so far this season, and even compared to his Middlesbrough team-mates he’s a lowly sixth in the team when it comes to key passes with an average of just one per 90 minutes. He also averages less than one shot per game.
Should his chance creation ever match his ability to beat a man then he’ll be one of the best players in the game. As it stands, Boro caretaker manager Steve Agnew may as well throw him into the mix and hope that some of these forays past opposition defenders can lead to chances for Negredo.