TONY MOWBRAY has denied his Middlesbrough side are in crisis, despite losing every single league game this year.
Boro welcome Leeds United to the Riverside Stadium tonight having lost all five Championship games in 2013, the most recent a 3-2 reverse to Barnsley on Saturday.
But Mowbray is determined to stay positive, mindful of the fact that promotion to the Premier League is still an achievable target, with the Teessiders in sixth position, two points ahead of seventhplaced Brighton, with victory tonight potentially cutting the gap between secondplaced Leicester to three points.
“If it’s a crisis, it’s great to be in a crisis in the top six, it’s great to be in a crisis three points off promotion, it’s great to be in a crisis in the fifth round of the FA Cup, possibly having Chelsea coming to town,” said Mowbray.
“You tell me. I’ll tell you how we are after the last 16 games. If we finish in second place this will probably be perceived as a blip.
“What’s the ambition of the club? What were the expectations?
“How many players did we lose, how many did we bring in? I can reel off where we signed our players from, how much money we spent.
“What is the expectation?
Our spending compared to Hull, Leicester, Cardiff. We created an expectation with the signings from Walsall, on a free, Ipswich, on a free, George Friend, relegated with Doncaster, £100,000, Mustapha Carayol, handful of games, major signing of the year, £300,000.
“It’s a crisis in someone’s mind if they want it to be. In my mind we’re doing fantastically well. We’re in the top six. We haven’t won for a few weeks and we have to get back to winning ways as soon as we can.”
Brighton are in league action this evening and could leapfrog Boro with a win at home to Blackburn Rovers, but Mowbray is insistent on looking up the table, not down.
“You either look at things in life and in football positively or negatively,” said the Boro manager. “Yes, if we don’t beat Leeds we’ll have teams coming up behind us – but if we do win, we’re three points off second.
“I’d rather worry about promotion than the teams behind us. That’s my mentality to the players. People are saying we’ve five defeats on the bounce, but hang on a minute – cup games don’t count now?
“We’ve actually won one, lost two, we’ve won two cup games in those five defeats.
I’m trying to find the positives.
We have to keep working hard and it will change for us.” Mowbray admitted that his side were bearing all the hallmarks of a team in freefall, but believes the close nature of the Championship will ensure that his team will not be out of sight.
He added: “You can’t disguise it, you can see the anxiety, particularly when you’re losing to Barnsley after five minutes. Sometimes you get a feeling everything you do doesn’t seem to work.
“Automatic promotion is very much still our aim and our goal, yet there’s the surrounding frustration of the last month. Maybe that is compounded by the fact that we had a similar dip last year.
Is it going to be the same this year?
“Let’s judge us after the next 16 league games. Hopefully we can clinch that second spot. If not, we’ll get ourselves ready for a play-off competition.
“Anything less than that will be disappointing.
“The fine margins is what I put it down to. Doing your job or not doing your job. Your man scoring from a corner, you missing a gilt-edged chance.
“The fine margins between three points and no points in this league are there every week. There’s not many teams in this league that are so dominant, where games are out of sight.
“It’s the fine margins which can go your way. What is the difference? Extra bit of concentration, extra focus. Doing your job. It will turn. If we couldn’t highlight reasons, we’d be just hoping for a win.”
Mowbray will oversee a Boro team against Neil Warnock’s Leeds, where the former QPR manager will hope to continue his unbeaten record against Boro.
And Mowbray knows that a Yorkshire derby is always guaranteed to get the blood pumping.
“Whenever Middlesbrough play Leeds it’s a fiery contest regardless of who their manager is,” said Mowbray.
“Leeds is a big club, big history, striving to get into the Premier League, with their 30,000 crowds. They’re not far off the play-offs, that will be the ambition – to come in and close the gap. That’s the competition we’re in. The first game I thought we played well at Leeds but we didn’t punish them and we paid for that late on, we’ve got to change that this time.”
Meanwhile, Warnock has underlined the importance of an away win for the play-off chasers tonight. He said: “None of the top six won over the weekend. That shows that the closer we get towards the end of the season, nerves and all sorts can come into play.
“I don’t think Middlesbrough are the only team to chase. But, equally, we can’t afford to get left behind so the game at the Riverside is important to us.”
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