TONY Mowbray insists Middlesbrough are right to be targeting promotion this season, but claims it would be wrong to ignore the financial constraints that leave the club at a disadvantage compared to a number of their rivals.
Boro head to Crystal Palace tomorrow looking to cement their position in a play-off place after Tuesday's welcome win over Leeds ended a run of five successive defeats.
The Teessiders have been in the top six since mid-October, but with the Premier League's parachute payments having long since ended and average crowds at the Riverside struggling to top 15,000, they do not boast one of the top six wage bills in the Championship despite chairman Steve Gibson subsidising their spending by up to £1m a month.
The club two places below them in the table, Blackburn, spent £11m on two players in the summer, while Palace, banked £15m when they sold Wilfried Zaha to Manchester United last month, yet can still call on the services of the youngster in the remainder of the season.
Those figures are out of Middlesbrough's league, and while Mowbray is adamant that should not be a barrier to promotion, the club's financial background provides some useful context to the struggles of the last six weeks.
"We're right to have the expectation, but you have to look at the resources that other clubs have as well," said Mowbray, who has reduced Middlesbrough's wage bill by more than half since he replaced Gordon Strachan two years ago.
"Blackburn look as though they're finally coming good, but they bought an £8m striker (Jordan Rhodes) that's been playing well. Resources matter in football.
"This club is four years out of the Premier League and doesn't have the parachute payments now. The crowds are what they are, and with financial fair play coming in, the lower the crowds, the lower the budget and the lower you can spend on players.
"That might mean you have less chance of getting out of the league, but regardless of all that, this club should always be targeting promotion from this division."
Ultimately, it comes down to expectation and the question of what is a realistic target for Middlesbrough, a club with a rich recent history, but one that failed to get back into the Premier League when the parachute payments were rolling in.
It should not be forgotten that Mowbray has had to part company with most of the high wage earners that were on the books when he arrived.
He had to recruit from the lower leagues last summer, while other Championship clubs were plundering players from the Premier League.
Yet there is still strong support from the boardroom - Gibson would have been willing to fund a loan move for Stewart Downing had Liverpool been willing to release the winger last month - and the last few seasons prove that financial figures are not the be all and end all.
"The relegated teams might not have been ripping the league up, but they probably have a near £30m budget from their Premier League days," said Mowbray, whose own wage bill is believed to be closer to the £12m mark. "We don't have that any more, but we've been working with that all the time I've been here.
"The club probably had a go with the last manager and spent some money, but the remit since I've been here has really been to readjust. We're doing that, but we're trying to win football matches and be successful at the same time.
"Every club has its own ambition and expectations. Where are Middlesbrough's? I think we're right to think that we should be competing for the top six.
"If you have a great run, you can do what Reading did and do even better. I'm pretty sure that neither Reading nor Southampton had the biggest budget in the league last season."
Kieron Dyer and Seb Hines are available for tomorrow, but Jonathan Woodgate misses out with a muscular injury while Curtis Main is suspended following his dismissal against Leeds.
Meanwhile, Brazilians Marcos Beltrame Rhoden and Rafael Peireira are training with Boro's development squad after moving from Juninho's club side, Ituano, at the start of the week.