TONY MOWBRAY has challenged his players to make sure Middlesbrough return to the Liberty Stadium as a Premier League club next season after missing out on a semi-final spot in the Capital One Cup.
Despite a positive display in South Wales last night, Boro were knocked out of the competition by Swansea City courtesy of an own goal from the otherwise outstanding Seb Hines nine minutes from time.
It was cruel on Hines - described as "magnificent" by his manager - and Middlesbrough, but now the focus must be on a positive response when Wolverhampton Wanderers visit the Riverside Stadium in the Championship this Saturday.
Loading article content
Promotion has always been the aim for second-placed Middlesbrough, but Mowbray feels his team can take plenty of positives from performances in the Capital One Cup.
"The boys have been saying in the dressing room 'let's make sure we come back here again next year'," said Mowbray.
"We now have to focus on picking up points in the Championship, take the positives from a performance against a team who have just beaten Arsenal 2-0 and whatever team I put out on Saturday will be competitive."
As well as running Swansea, who sit eighth in the top-flight, close, Middlesbrough should also remember the way they rightfully deserved to claim a 1-0 win at Sunderland in the previous round.
While there are still plenty of points up for grabs, Mowbray said: "This was a decent performance against a team in the top half of the Premier League. We have to put everything in to context.
"If we get out of the Championship then we can go in to the Premier League and not fear anyone. Fine margins win games and we have given Sunderland and Swansea good games this season. We had clear cut opportunities and yet they got the winner in an unfortunate manner.
"It was a front-foot performance. We made their keeper (Gerhard Tremmel) make a few saves in the first half and our goalkeeper (Jason Steele) never had to make too many.
"Even after Swansea went ahead, Seb went close with a header under the crossbar and Ishmael Miller put one across the face of the goal and we could have levelled things up.
"If we had gone through to the semi-final, we would have fancied ourselves over two games had we drawn Bradford, so that is disappointing."
When the squad return to Teesside today, Mowbray will carry out a body count.
Grant Leadbitter, Faris Haroun, Andre Bikey and Justin Hoyte all suffered hamstring problems, while Andy Halliday felt soreness in his Achilles.
Mowbray does hope to have Jonathan Woodgate available again for the visit of Wolves. But he said: "The negatives from this are the injuries, with a game in two days' time.
"We will have to see where we are. It was like a hospital ward in the dressing room, everyone has ice on. I am always concerned with a game in two and a half days.
"We have to find the same intensity against Wolves and they will know we have had a tough midweek game. This result has gone now, so we have to look to try to go again.
"We can't dwell on this. We didn't get through and it's back to our bread and butter. Whoever plays will be very competitive for the team and we have to get a result."