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Promotion still the aim says Mowbray
TONY MOWBRAY has every intention of leading Middlesbrough in to the Capital One Cup semi-final tonight, but admits Wembley would mean nothing without a Premier League return.
The Boro boss is wary of making any wild predictions ahead of a trip to the Liberty Stadium, knowing Swansea City have shown in the top-flight this season that they will be a difficult hurdle to overcome.
With the prospect of reaching the last four of the League Cup for the first time since the club's historic 2004 success in the competition, Mowbray is hungry to deliver in South Wales.
But, while devising a plan capable of surprising Michael Laudrup's team, the Middlesbrough manager insists the priority still has to be ensuring they climb out of the Championship this season.
Whatever team he names will be selected with progression in mind, even if there will also be thought given to the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers in the league on Saturday.
"We will be picking a team that can go to Swansea and win the game but we have to be mindful Wolverhampton is on Saturday," said Mowbray, who has also taken the decision to stay in South Wales rather than travel back to Teesside after the game.
"We are not moaning because we want to give it our best shot in the League Cup but we also know we have the Wolves game coming up. We are doing our best to get this club in the Premier League, we are striving every day.
"That's why I am talking about how important the Wolves game is at the weekend because, whilst it is nice to have a good run in a cup competition and get the plaudits, it would be a wasted season come May if we don't finish in the top two - or top six to give ourselves a chance. It would be a wasted season for a club with the ambition to get back to the Premier League as quickly as we can."
That said Mowbray knows how much the Capital One Cup means to Middlesbrough. He was at the Millennium Stadium in 2004 to watch Gareth Southgate lift the trophy above his head after beating Bolton in the final.
Eight coaches have been laid on for supporters to make the trip from the North-East to Swansea, with more than 650 away fans expected to be inside the Liberty tonight.
Mowbray would love nothing more than to reward those supporters with a semi-final berth, but is not expecting such an outcome to arrive easily.
"I have to say the task in front of us is a huge one, so you temper your excitement," he said. "You prepare your players the best you can, you make them positive, send them out ready. I would imagine Swansea are pretty odds on to get through.
"I won't allow any of my players to think of a semi-final because we face a Swansea team who have just beaten Arsenal and West Brom. They have got some good players so we have to be at our very, very best."
Left-back George Friend is in contention to play tonight after coming through training following a hamstring tear. Both Faris Haroun and Jonathan Woodgate, however, face late checks after feeling stiffness after Saturday's 3-2 win at Peterborough.
Both Woodgate and Haroun could be in line to face Wolves, so Mowbray is having to treat all of his players fairly even if there could be players desperate to play in both.
A push to the League Cup final ultimately hindered Cardiff's promotion aspirations last season and that is something Mowbray feels his squad could cope with.
"Your job is to take the positives in to the group rather than tell them how tired they should be," he said. "Psychologically you have to keep everyone feeling fresh.
"I couldn't tell you sitting here if Cardiff had enough number of players to cope with a run to the final and a push for promotion. Let's see how we go. Let's see who I play on Wednesday and then Saturday.
"If there's a striker who doesn't play on Wednesday night then there's a fair chance he will play on Saturday. If they want to be angry, be angry. I might tell them in advance that they will play on Saturday.
"It's not because players are dropped it's because you are utilising the squad. You pick players, combinations to win matches. As long as they understand that then I think it works fine. Generally this season it has worked."