Southgate admits Middlesbrough face relegation battle

Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate offered no excuses for his side's abject second-half performance after their 3-0 defeat to Aston Villa and warned that his players had to face up to a mighty battle in order to haul themselves away from the relegation zone.

Only Sunderland's dramatic capitulation to Everton prevented Southgate's men from sliding into the bottom three for the first time this season and the Boro boss knows things need to change soon.

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Southgate said: "The players know my feelings. I am somebody who likes to defend them publicly at all times, but on afternoons like today it is difficult to do that.

"We quite simply have to do better. We are where we are because we deserve to be. Somehow, which is beyond me, we have managed to stay out of the bottom three so we are very, very lucky that that has happened.

"I'm the manager and I'm a fighter. But they've got to fight and scrap now because it's a collective that gets us out of it. They know I will give absolutely everything for them.

"It's going to be tough because we are going to get hammered externally and we deserve to be. So we have got to take that on the chin and it's how we react that's the important thing."

Southgate once again pointed to his side's lack of effectiveness at both ends of the pitch as the reason for their sorry decline after looking promising early in the first half.

"We have to improve massively at either end of the field," Southgate added. "We were bright in the opening spell but you need to take your chances when you get them. We keep going a goal down and giving ourselves a mountain to climb."

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