THERE will be a sense of tension and nerves for Middlesbrough supporters with over 5,000 making the trip across the Pennines for arguably their biggest game of the season against Preston North End.

A result against the Lilywhites and what happens at Sheffield United or Luton’s game stands between Boro and a place in the Championship play-offs. For manager Chris Wilder, he admits the players are relishing the challenge of a game and a task that has ‘nice pressure’ attached to it. 

Only a victory will do for Boro who sit two points off the top six. A depleted Luton Town host Reading while Sheffield United are at home to league champions Fulham. Millwall, who sit three points off the pace, hold an outside chance as take on already promoted Bournemouth. 

Final day pressure if not something that Wilder is immune to. He’s been involved with relegation scraps where it felt like a different type of pressure on the day which makes him well equipped for the demands of this afternoon.

“There’s a natural pressure of having something to play for on the last day” said the Boro boss.

“But I was at Northampton and when I took over we were bottom of the Football League and needed a win on the last day of the season to stay up. I think when people talk about pressure, that’s an incredible pressure to have. On a whole, from a football point of view, from a financial point of view, from a players’ futures point of view. 

“There’s not that type of pressure on us tomorrow and in a way, it’s a nice kind of pressure to have on your shoulders. I’ve had other times with really important games to get out of division or make sure you stay in one, as a player as well as a manager. You have to deal with that and play your game.”

Boro’s five match winless run saw them lose the chance to seal their own fate but back-to-back wins in pressurised games against Cardiff City and Stoke City have given them a fighting chance. 

Wilder continued: “That’s the one thing I was really impressed with on Saturday, we played our natural game and didn’t get caught up in anything. I think we did against Cardiff until the goal settled us down. We played some decent stuff that night. 

“We have to get the balance right between the intensity of our play and understanding what’s at stake, but from an emotional point of view, keeping those emotions in check because if your head gets scrambled you’re not going to give your best.”

With plenty of permutations attached to the game, it could be one of those afternoons where the game plan needs to be thrown out of the window to get the result. 

Wilder acknowledges that he will be keeping track of results elsewhere and will throw caution to the wind if needs be. As for the players, he wants them to just be thinking about the task at hand. 

Wilder added: “They need to play with clear minds. I think you’d see, from a tactical approach more than anything if we had to go chasing something. 

“We want to win a game of football, and hopefully that will be enough. But if off the back of that anything has to happen then we’re professional enough to try and make that happen. But this is a tough game, let’s get that straight. 

“Preston have had a fabulous home record for quite a long time and I’ve always felt it’s quite a difficult place to go. I should imagine their home record would be top ten this season, possibly even top six. So it’s a difficult place to go and get a result, and we have to be at our best to go and get that result.”

BORO XI: Daniels; Dijksteel, Fry, McNair; Tavernier, Jones, Howson, McGree, Crooks; Watmore, Sporar