Birmingham City v Middlesbrough

Birmingham v Middlesbrough

Boro manager Aitor Karanka has watched his side go unbeaten in each of their past eight games

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Second-placed Middlesbrough are waiting on the fitness of left-back George Friend before Friday’s trip to Championship rivals Birmingham.

Boro, who are level on points with leaders Burnley and third-placed Brighton going into the final two games, have no other injury worries.

Birmingham could be without goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak (broken nose) and right-back Paul Caddis (calf).

Dutch midfielder Maikel Kieftenbeld returns after a facial injury.

Boro are under intense pressure in the three-way battle for Premier League promotion, admits manager Aitor Karanka.

His team will go top of the Championship if they avoid defeat at St Andrew’s, with Brighton hosting fifth-placed Derby and Burnley entertaining mid-table QPR on Monday.

Boro, who were relegated from the Premier League in 2008-09, face Brighton at the Riverside on the final weekend.

“I would like to be excited if I was a neutral. It’s nice to be in our position, but there’s a lot of pressure,” said the 42-year-old Spaniard.

“This season it will go right to the end again. Any team that wins promotion will be because they deserve it.

“We are fighting against two really good teams. If we win at Birmingham and win next Saturday we’re in the Premier League so it’s about us.”

‘Blues have duty to perform’

Birmingham have won just once in their last 10 games to drop out of play-off contention, and are now battling to hold on to a top-10 spot.

Blues boss Gary Rowett insisted they have a duty to themselves, and to the integrity of the league, to perform.

“We could look after ourselves and go and pick four youngsters to play, but the nature of the game means we will go as strong as we can,” he said.

“I’m not using any excuse for our poor points tally over the last eight games, but we want to stay in the top 10 and we want to say we have finished the same or higher as last season.

“We want to say we have made some progress. It’s important for us as well.

“It’s the first time we haven’t nothing definitive to play for. For 76 games, up until the last eight, we’ve always had something – whether it’s to climb the table or to prove people wrong.”

Match facts

  • Birmingham have lost just one of their last 15 home league games against Middlesbrough, winning nine (D5).
  • Boro’s only clean sheet in their last 11 league trips to St Andrew’s came in a 3-0 win in August 2005, with Mark Viduka scoring a brace and Franck Queudrue adding a third.
  • The Blues are winless in five home league games (D2 L3), conceding exactly two goals in each of their last four at St Andrew’s.
  • Jordan Rhodes has scored three goals in his last three league games for Middlesbrough, having scored just twice in his first 13 for the club.
  • Aitor Karanka has won all eight of his Championship games on Friday, keeping six clean sheets in that run.

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