Hull City have a chance to turn the relegation scrap into a free-for-all for the run-in if they can successfully defend their KCOM Stadium pitch and come away with three points against Middlesbrough on Wednesday.
Heading into the midweek action, the Tigers (7-6-17) are at the top of the drop with 27 points, and this six-point belter against 19th-placed Boro (4-11-14) - four points back - looms large for both. Despite being 18th, Hull are only seven points behind 10th-placed Southampton entering this matchday, and three points here would make many teams nervous.
It would also essentially condemn the Teessiders to the drop after their jump from the Championship last season. It has been a trying campaign for Middlesbrough, who are last in the Premier League with 20 goals scored and enter this match winless in their last 12 top-flight contests (0-5-7).
Boro failed to help themselves Saturday at fellow relegation-battler Swansea City, grinding out a scoreless draw in Wales. Late substitute Rudy Gestede narrowly missed a header wide in second-half stoppage time, denying Middlesbrough a sorely needed win and also extending a staggering stretch of fruitless labour in which he has not recorded a match-day winner in the Premier League in 39 contests dating back to his time with Aston Villa last season.
"The big man was kicking himself but he's been brilliant since he came in," defender Ben Gibson told the team's official website about Gestede. "I thought he changed the course of the game when he came on and was a big threat. We know if we're stuck we can put it up there and he'll hold it up there for us.
"We have to start winning football matches but this is a big week and it was important not to start that week with a defeat. We defended well so we'll take it and move on."
Middlesbrough are 0-7-7 in league play outside Riverside Stadium since opening the season with a 2-1 victory at Sunderland. They have not scored away from home in 473 minutes since Grant Leadbitter's strike at Old Trafford on New Year's Eve, and that stands as their solitary goal in their last eight road matches.
Hull City, meanwhile, are 4-2-0 at home in their last six after rallying to defeat West Ham United 2-1 on Saturday. Andrew Robertson started the comeback with a goal shortly after halftime, and Andrea Ranocchia headed home a corner by Kamil Grosicki five minutes from time to provide a win that has boosted morale and hope.
"We can maybe drag other teams into the mix who didn't think they were in trouble," Robertson told The Times. "Other teams have got a harder run-in than us, so we've just got to focus on the games and knock them off one by one."
Coach Marco Silva changed the course of the game by introducing Grosicki at halftime, and the Poland international delivered with assists on both goals. Hull City are 6-2-6 since Silva's arrival, and the Portuguese manager knows the fight is long from finished to stay in the top flight for next season.
"It was important that we took three points from this game, but now we must rest and then prepare for our next battle," he told the team's official website. "We have a tough game against Middlesbrough to come on Wednesday. They are in the same battle that we are, but we want to keep our home run going."
Middlesbrough won the reverse fixture 1-0 on a goal by Gaston Ramirez on the hour mark. The teams combined for just six shots on target, though the Teessiders held a 16-6 edge in shots overall. The teams have split their last eight contests overall, with Hull City winning the last three played at KCOM Stadium.