HIS Middlesbrough side sit fourth in the Championship and are heading in the right direction to secure a play-off place, but Tony Mowbray admits performances need to improve in the second half of the season.

Boro are in a great position going into the final 20 games and a steady first-half campaign has given them the perfect opportunity to achieve what they failed to do last year, but the Boro boss has revealed he wants to see more from his players.

Undoubtedly, Mowbray is pleased with the position his side find themselves in going into tomorrow’s home game against sixth-placed Watford, but with form having tailed off towards the end of last season, he is keen to stress that now is the time to step it up a gear.

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Boro’s last league game ended in a 3-1 defeat at Derby County and the Boro boss admits his side can’t afford to lose many more games if their position is to remain intact.

“I think we’re probably going to have to be slightly better in the second half of the season than we were in the first half,” Mowbray said.

“We can’t afford to lose as many games. I think we are trying to push on, get better and win more matches and yet we know how hard that is.”

Reading shot to the top of the Championship after being mid-table at Christmas and 17 wins in 19 games saw Brian McDermott’s men crowned champions.

Mowbray added: “I don’t think we discount anybody.

You don’t need to look any further than Reading last year.

“You look at some of the teams. Wolves, for instance, they’ve just changed their manager and they’re talking about reaching the play-offs and they’re 18th in the table.

You just need to win three or four games on the bounce and see where that takes you.

“We realise how tough it is.

Watford is another chance for three points. When I look at the other fixtures this weekend, nobody has an easy game. Cardiff are at home to Ipswich, you’d think they would beat them and yet you might have thought that when they played Peterborough the other week.”

Mowbray is set to welcome back some of his injured players after Andre Bikey, George Friend, Seb Hines, Emmanuel Ledesma and Josh McEachran trained this week.

The squad has been depleted in the last couple of weeks with 14 players in the treatment room and the likes of Marvin Emnes, Julio Arca and Mustapha Carayol are all some way off returning.

Mowbray added: “There are still a few missing. Emnes is unavailable as is Arca, Carayol and a few others, but it’s healthy to see some of them back training this week.”

A lengthy injury list hasn’t tempted Mowbray into the transfer market and he has revealed he will only be do so if an opportunity arose to land a player that could really make a difference.

Mowbray is not concerned about losing his key men.

“My philosophy has always been every player has a price and that’s why you have scouting systems, because I might be sitting there with two players that I really fancy and if I had some money I really think they could help our team, and yet how do I get the money?’’ he mused. “I might have to sell him and if I have to sell that player to get them then I’ll do it.

“I’ve been there very early on in my coaching career. Ipswich sold on Kieron Dyer for £7m. To add two or three players and lose one sometimes makes sense even if that one player is someone people might think you can’t lose.

“I like to try and find players that can really make a difference.

You build a squad in the summer and do you tinker with it in January? The squad building is done, but teams at the bottom of the Premier League or top of the Championship might spend some money to get them over the line.”