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Middlesbrough-Bournemouth Preview

Premier League relegation will be the matter at hand when Bournemouth host Middlesbrough at the Vitality Stadium on Saturday.

But while Eddie Howe's hosts have a fairly firm grasp on their Premier League status, Boro are clinging on to the top-flight by their fingertips.

Struggling Middlesbrough (4-12-16) have not won in their last 15 league games (0-6-9), scoring a paltry seven goals in that stretch to leave themselves floundering in 19th place.

The gap to safety is six points going into the latest matchday, though Boro do have a game in hand, yet the players are still hopeful after putting in a much-improved performance in a 2-1 loss to Arsenal on Monday night.

"Everyone's got something to play for, the boys at the top are fighting for the league title and we're fighting for survival," defender George Friend said. "Arsenal are competing for the Champions League and we really gave them a game. We go to Bournemouth with a lot of confidence, and we still have that game in hand as well.

"We've got a great group in the dressing room and we'll stay strong. We always said we would be happy to finish 17th. We knew it would be tough but it's still in our hands."

Friend's positivity is commendable and the sound bites will be welcomed by his coaching staff, but unfortunately for Middlesbrough their survival is not in fact still in their own hands. Boro require teams above them to drop points if they are to stay up - and those teams are currently showing much better form.

A glance at the fixture list isn't encouraging for Boro either, with games against Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool still to come before the end of the season. So that makes matches against the likes of Bournemouth (9-8-16) even more vital.

Unfortunately for Boro, Saturday's game is also important for the home side. The Cherries are 16th, still involved in the relegation scrap but knowing that one win could be enough to see them safe - not that manager Howe is willing to accept such maths at this early stage of the run-in.

"You're not going to put those words in my mouth," Howe said when asked if one win would be enough. "We're looking for as many points as we can."

Bournemouth were hammered 4-0 by Spurs last time out and have not won in four matches.

Howe will also have to cope without the services of Arsenal loanee Jack Wilshere, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a hairline fracture to the fibula.

"It is a big blow to lose Jack," Howe said "We have loved working with him since he arrived at the club last August. He has made a huge contribution to our season, both on and off the pitch.

"We wish him a quick recovery and thank him for his effort and professionalism while he was with us."

Andrew Surman, Callum Wilson and Adam Federici are also out for Bournemouth, but midfielder Dan Gosling may return from a knee injury.

Boro are without Fabio da Silva, while goalkeeper Victor Valdes is a doubt with a rib injury.

Middlesbrough won 2-0 when these teams met at the Riverside earlier in the season. That was Boro's first win over the Cherries in the last five games in all competitions.

Updated April 20, 2017

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