FIVE weeks ago Middlesbrough were a club in crisis. Fast forward to Saturday March 5 and three successive league victories have all but guaranteed Premiership survival.

The club are two wins from an FA Cup final appearance and on Thursday, Boro have a mouthwatering UEFA Cup tie against AS Roma.

Where Middlesbrough looked to be heading towards a disastrous season end, it could now turn out to be one of the most successful in the club's long history - a fact not lost on Gareth Southgate.

"The opportunity is there for us to have a really strong finish and it is a good time to be coming in to a run of form," said the Boro skipper. "We have to keep that going and see where it takes us."

Southgate insists 'there is no magic formula' to the club's dramatic turnaround in fortunes in recent weeks. He says confidence and hard work are key.

"We've been working hard collectively as a team," he said. "We've been keeping clean sheets again, which has always been the basis of things here, although it hasn't been the case this season.

"The midfield looks a lot stronger, which has helped, and confidence is another important factor. If you know you can beat a team like Chelsea then you go out every week expecting to win.

"Prior to that we didn't know where a win was coming from. We won at Sunderland but those ten or 12 games over Christmas were soul destroying. We were in front in a lot of them and gave away late goals.

"We've gained more confidence and now we go into games expecting to win and that change of mindset is very encouraging."

It will come as no surprise to supporters to learn that Boro's winning streak seems to have coincided with the return of George Boateng to the side.

The Teessiders were in contention for a Champions League slot last term before the Holland international limped out of action. Consequently Boro's form plummeted and it only recovered when the 30-year-old returned to McClaren's side after a three month absence.

Since Boateng returned to the fold against Chelsea, after eight week's out, the Teessiders have lost only once in six.

"He is a key player for us," insisted Southgate. "You only need to look at our poor record in the last two seasons when he has been injured.

"But the set up of our midfield looks stronger and we're hard to play against and that gives us an opportunity in defence to do our own job."

The experienced defender also praised matchwinner Mark Viduka.

"It must have been frustrating for him to be out of the side recently and he's been ill as well so that hasn't helped," added Soutgate. "But he showed his quality and he showed how well the other lads have been playing because we have that quality on the bench."