MIDDLESBROUGH will head to Nottingham Forest today after giving themselves a lifeline in the battle for promotion, and Ryan Shotton insists the players were never going to concede defeat in their Premier League pursuit.

While frustrations grew among the fans during a six match losing slump that saw Boro drop out of contention for a top spot two and out of a play-off place, there has been something of a turnaround in the last three matches.

Middlesbrough have restored defensive stability, despite enduring an injury crisis at the back, by keeping clean sheets in three consecutive wins and now the aim will be to maintain that against Forest this afternoon.

Middlesbrough can’t afford further slip ups because Bristol City still have a game in hand, to be played at Millwall tomorrow week, and only have a point cushion over the Robins below them.

Shotton strongly believes Middlesbrough can keep going because he doesn’t feel things were as bad as they seemed when they suffered the horrible run of losses.

“We were disappointed dropping out of it, now we have to build again,” said Shotton.

“We knew it was mathematically possible and said ideally we have the best fixtures so if we win our games we get back in.

“There’s no reason we can’t get in and stay in. We knew everyone can’t win their games.

“Teams have a game in hand but they’re tough. So many teams are playing each other, we knew if we stay strong and defensive we’d get the goals and it would pay off.

“You can never give up. Mathematically you can never give up. Losing those games that we should have won, going to Swansea and not playing well enough and losing, but you have to pick yourself up – that’s what winners do. We just have to kick on, carry on.”

Middlesbrough’s recent run of clean sheets means Darren Randolph has 19 and that is more than any other team in the division, albeit the same as Sheffield United’s Dean Henderson. It is a fantastic record, particularly when it includes that recent six-match slump of conceding.

Shotton said: “We had to go back to that. We said six games we lost, we didn’t deserve that. We went back to what we know, the manager has done that to make sure we’re solid.

“We’ve got the players to do it. We’re very happy with the three clean sheets, we have to go again on Monday.

“It’s not that we changed much. It’s the fact sometimes you might come away from certain things and you don’t get the luck.

“We went back in training and said, right, go back to two or three months ago, where we knew what we had to do. We reminded ourselves of what we were doing (defensively) and needed to do it again and it seems to be working.”

The last of those clean sheets arrived against Stoke City on Good Friday, when Britt Assombalonga’s second minute goal proved enough to claim maximum points.

That was despite a backline that had lost Dael Fry as well as Daniel Ayala and George Friend, so midfielder Paddy McNair, who has played at the back before, had to start his first league game since Boxing Day.

McNair, who was arguably the pick of Boro players, is in line to keep his place for the final three matches if he can maintain those standards.

Shotton said: “Paddy was brilliant. As I say, we look after each other, he’s looked after himself, gone away on international duty and done brilliant. Everyone sees how well he stays fit. He was ready, he stepped in perfectly well.

“He will be (a massive player). Dani, Dael and George are out. We have to patch each other up and look after each other.”

Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis has suggested he might freshen things up at Forest but it is hard to picture how he could tinker with his backline, unless he asked Stewart Downing to play left wing-back ahead of George Saville. That would mean Shotton continuing on the left of a three at the back.

He said: “I played for Tony at Stoke and he knew I could play right-back. I joke to the lads I played left of a front three and up front when I was younger at Stoke. I’ll play anywhere. As long as I’m on that pitch giving everything, I’m happy.”