Sam Allardyce hoping Crystal Palace benefit from a rest
Crystal Palace boss Sam Allardyce is hoping that a fortnight's rest will have given his struggling side a chance to address their poor form.
The Eagles sit 19th in the Premier League ahead of Saturday's visit of fellow strugglers Middlesbrough - having taken just four points out of the 24 on offer since Allardyce was appointed in December.
The 62-year-old former England boss has never been relegated from the top flight and kept Sunderland afloat against all the odds last season.
But he has an uphill challenge to reproduce similar heroics in south London, although having not played for two weeks gave Allardyce a chance to get his players fitter and stronger ahead of the Boro fixture.
"We've tried to get them a little fitter in this period, with no game," he said.
"Physical and mental go hand in hand. The better you feel physically, the better you feel mentally.
"We've picked up a couple of knocks and injuries along the way, but we gave them a long weekend off to recover from that, and have built up this week towards a massive game against Boro.
"We have to finish on top of the bottom seven I'm thinking about. We need to live up to the expectation and pressure, and deliver on Saturday.
"This two-week break will hopefully have a major impact on us getting a massive result."
While Palace are struggling for home form, Middlesbrough have not won on the road in the league since August - but Allardyce sees Saturday's game as much more than a clash with Aitor Karanka's men.
"We were supposed to beat Sunderland here, lost 4-0. Supposed to beat Swansea, lost 2-1. It's not Boro we're playing against," he said.
"We're playing against ourselves here. We didn't cope mentally against Sunderland or Swansea, so we have to cope better to get our best game on the field tomorrow.
"If we do that, that might take care of Boro. There'll be little in it. Look at their record: if we produce our best, Boro are still very sound defensively, very solid.
"The result has always been the odd goal 20 times out of 25, so it will be tight."
Karanka claims Palace have no secrets going into the relegation scrap.
Karanka's side have an enviable record against other teams in the bottom six, taking 11 of 18 available points and losing just once, at home to Palace in September.
Winger Wilfried Zaha and centre forward Christian Benteke were on target for the Eagles that day and remain two of the most obvious threats in a team that builds around its wide men and their service for Benteke.
That Boro succumbed last time to dangers they were prepared for rankles with Karanka, who has warned his side not to let history repeat itself.
"We need to try and learn, especially from the game we lost at home," said the Spaniard.
"We lost that game to some things we knew about before the game. We know their style, we know the things we have to do.
"So I am positive but we can't forget that they are good players.
"The key players are the same, they have Benteke, Zaha, (Andros) Townsend, key men. The style can change a little bit, sometimes they play with three at the back, but if we make the same mistakes as last time it's going to be a problem.
"It is 11 v 11, we are competing well with everyone and I'm sure we'll compete with them."
Since the turn of the year Boro have seen off Sheffield Wednesday, Accrington and Oxford to move into the last eight of the FA Cup but have not tasted victory in the league.
Karanka is not too downcast by the club's position, particularly given the relative plight of a more expensively assembled Palace side with more Premier League pedigree.
"They are a direct opponent but one month ago they spent B#30million in the market," he said.
"You have players who've been playing a lot of years and a manager (Sam Allardyce) involved in the Premier League for I don't know how many years. And when you've spent as much money as they've spent this season and last season.but now they are our opponents and we are going there to win the game.
"We are in good position, we are in the FA Cup quarter-finals. If someone told us three years ago we were going to be living this moment, I don't think a lot of people would think we would be in this position now."