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Mowbray lifted by Bradford's heroes
TONY Mowbray will draw inspiration from Bradford City's Capital One Cup exploits as he attempts to guide Middlesbrough to Wembley for the FA Cup final.
But the Boro boss will also cite the Bantams' remarkable League Cup wins over Arsenal and Aston Villa as proof that his own side cannot afford to take this afternoon's FA Cup fourth-round clash with Aldershot lightly.
Bradford pulled off one of the biggest cup shocks of all time this week as they secured a 4-3 aggregate win over Villa to book a place in next month's Capital One Cup final against Swansea.
The Yorkshire club are languishing outside the play-off places in League Two, but they find themselves one game away from Europe, a scenario Mowbray feels should inspire all of this weekend's FA Cup participants.
"For Bradford to beat a Premier League side over two legs to reach the final of a major cup competition, that's some feat," said the Middlesbrough manager. "Those lads ply their trade in the bottom division, but they've shown what's possible.
"What an achievement. It's very rare that something like that happens. It can perhaps happen a bit more with a Championship team getting to a final - Millwall did it recently in the FA Cup - and I think teams in our division think they can make an impact in cup competitions.
"But for a team from the fourth division to get to a final is unbelievable really. It gives everybody hope."
It also suggests that the gulf between League Two and teams in the Premier League and Championship is far from unbridgeable, something Boro will have to be mindful of as they entertain Aldershot this afternoon.
Two years ago, the Teessiders crashed out of the FA Cup at the hands of Burton Albion, and while they have subsequently seen off Walsall, Shrewsbury, Bury, Gillingham, Preston and Hastings in cup competitions, they have been involved in enough tough encounters to anticipate a stiff test later today.
"We've had five away games in this season's League Cup and four of them were against lower-division teams so we know what to expect at the weekend," said Mowbray. "We managed to come through them all, but they were all tough football matches. Bury, Gillingham, Preston - they're tough games.
"You're fully aware how tough those games are going to be. This will be no different - it's not a case of just turning up and passing them off the pitch to win 3-0, it's going to be a tight football match.
"Every set play is going to be difficult because they're a big, physical side. They've got some decent individuals who can hurt you if you're not at your game. You know for a fact they're going to work extraordinarily hard and work for a cup upset."
Aldershot are only two points off the relegation places in League Two and have won just four of their 14 league away games this season.
Nevertheless, Mowbray has scouted them as he would have any other team, and has seen enough to expect a threat if the visitors are able to raise their game on their visit to the Riverside.
"They're honest, hard-working professionals who give everything," he said. "It's a big game for them against a team in the Championship so we're ready for a tough afternoon.
"I've watched a few of their matches and while they're at the wrong end of the division, on any given day they're capable of raising their game. If that's going to be this weekend, we have to make sure we have enough ammunition to beat them."
While Justin Hoyte and Scott McDonald are unavailable through injury, and loanee Josh McEachran will not be considered for selection, Mowbray will not be making wholesale changes this afternoon.
Lukas Jutkiewicz is set to return to the starting line-up in attack, while Adam Reach could also feature.
Connor Ripley signed a new three-year contract yesterday, but the youngster will not be involved as Mowbray is reluctant to leave Jason Steele out of his starting line-up.
The England under-21 international won the Player of the Year award at this week's Middlesbrough Disabled Supporters' Association awards ceremony, and Mowbray has been delighted with his progress this season.
"It's a natural maturity of the boy," he said. "He's still very young for a goalkeeper, and so I think the improvement and progression we've seen is a natural one of him filling out and maturing through minutes on the pitch.
"Lots of aspects of his game have tightened up or got sharper - his distribution has been very good this year and his presence in the box has also been impressive. Were delighted he's developing as a young goalkeeper and hopefully there's a lot more developing still in him."