Middlesbrough boss Steve Agnew insisted his side can still beat the drop despite staying six points adrift of safety following a controversial 2-2 draw with Manchester City.
Boro looked set for the three points they desperately needed after Alvaro Negredo’s first-half opener, but a debatable penalty converted by Sergio Aguero changed the course of the game.
Agnew was angered by the way City substitute Leroy Sane won the penalty which led to a frantic finale in which Calum Chambers restored Boro’s lead before Gabriel Jesus headed an equaliser.
The result leaves Boro in deep trouble with three games to go – and they could be even further away from safety by the time they face a daunting trip to champions-elect Chelsea next Monday.
Agnew said: “I think the performance today just showed the determination and fighting spirit of the squad and the group of players I’ve been working with in the last few weeks, and that was evident against one of the top teams in the country.
“I think the message has been the same in recent weeks – it’s one of being organised and disciplined. We’ll continue to do that and I’m very, very confident we will get the results we need.”
Boro had produced one of their best performances ot the season against Pep Guardiola’s side, who were bolstered by the return of Jesus to the starting line-up after 10 weeks out with a foot injury.
They overcame a torrid start in which Sergio Aguero and Aleksandar Kolarov both came close, and deserved their lead in the 27th minute when former City man Negredo fired home after George Friend knocked back a Stewart Downing cross.
Ciity grabbed their equaliser when referee Kevin Friend pointed to the spot after Sane fell under the challenge of Marten de Roon, a decision of which Agnew said: “I thought (Sane) went down very, very easily – and looking at the referee’s position, was he in the correct position to give it (the penalty)?”
Boro reclaimed the lead when Chambers prodded home after a mighty goalmouth scramble, but City were not done and snatched a point with six minutes to go when Jesus rose unchallenged to head home from an Aguero cross.
Guardiola believed his side deserved more than just a point as they clung onto their top four spot – but immediately looked ahead to the three consecutive home games which will make or break their season.
Guardiola said: “Now we have three games at home and those three games will decide whether we deserve next season to be in the Champions League or not.
“Today it was in our hands to fight for the third position and we have dropped that position. Now we have got to win games and make some good results at home.”