DESPITE ending a run of six consecutive away defeats with a hard-earned goalless draw at Burnley last night, Tony Mowbray has admitted his Middlesbrough players now have a battle on their hands to stay in the top six.
Brighton’s 2-0 victory at Championship leaders Cardiff City means Boro’s gap to seventh spot is now just two points ahead of Saturday’s visit of Millwall to the Riverside Stadium this Saturday.
Mowbray is hoping the effects of grinding out a point from Turf Moor and keeping a first clean sheet on their travels since October will help to get their promotion bid back on track after a woeful start to 2013.
“The bottom line, the bigger picture, is that this was a point that gets us moving in the right direction again,” said Mowbray, whose side recovered well from Saturday’s 4-1 defeat to Crystal Palace.
“They are all big games now, Saturday’s will be no different to this one at Burnley, but we know we are now in a fight to stay in the play-offs.
“It’s not rocket science.
When you look at the league, it’s tightening up. Over the last six weeks we have missed opportunities. But if we can win these next two home games then it would be great for us and we will be heading in the right direction again.”
After a very negative start in an attacking sense from Middlesbrough, Mowbray was satisfied his plan to keep Burnley and their 21-goal striker Charlie Austin at bay had worked.
Then, after introducing forwards Curtis Main, Mustapha Carayol and Ishmael Miller during the second half, the Teessiders’ could have actually clinched a first away win since Peterborough in early December.
“It was important to get back to basics,” said Mowbray.
“We got that sort of performance, honest hard working and full of endeavour. You could argue we lacked a bit of creativity but after the run we have been on it was nice to keep a clean sheet.
“Stephen McManus came in and formed a good partnership with Andre Bikey, which was nice. We brought more of an attacking edge in the second half after looking a tea, that was hard to break down.
“It was the plan to stay in the game, keep a clean sheet and try to change it from the bench. We had a couple of opportunities.
“What was pleasing was the concentration was high. We defended corners, crosses well. We did the job well. We were switched on defensively and kept a clean sheet.”
Boro have still only won one of their last ten matches away from home but there was a sense after the final whistle that confidence levels had been boosted, It could actually have been even better for Middlesbrough had referee Kevin Wright’s decision making not prevented them from having two giltedged chances on goal.
Inside the last 15 minutes Wright pulled play back for a free-kick when Carayol had been tripped after playing Josh McEachran in and then Miller looked to have been fouled in the area by defender Kevin Long.
Mowbray said: “The bottom line was we didn’t get a penalty, all the players in the dressing room thought we should have had one.
“Even when I looked at the referee’s face it looked like he thought he had missed it. He didn’t blow his whistle. I could see it playing havoc in his mind that he didn’t react to what was a foul in the box. We have to live with that.
Andy Halliday is the latest injury worry for Mowbray after he left Turf Moor with his ankle strapped. The Boro boss also revealed that striker Miller played despite fitness concerns, while Kieron Dyer was left behind nursing hamstring tightness.
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