AS Tony Mowbray plots a way of inflicting a FA Cup shock on under-fire Chelsea counterpart Rafael Benitez, the Middlesbrough manager last night claimed the best way to emerge through difficult times was to remain single-minded.

While Benitez is having to contend with incessant calls for his departure from Blues fans opposed to his appointment, the former Liverpool boss has also had to warm up for the trip to Teesside by playing down reports of a rift with his players.

Such a situation will be of little concern to Mowbray, who has been focused on trying to guide Middlesbrough out of their own run of poor form.

Loading article content

As a former club captain and local sporting hero brought up in nearby Saltburn he tries not to listen to criticism directed his way from fans on Teesside - even though he could soon find out what was being said through the connections he already has in the area.

Rather than spend time thinking about those questioning team selection or the way he has his team playing, Mowbray has the club's best interests at heart and is desperate to lead the club through brighter times.

"I've had criticism at every football club," said Mowbray. "Show me a manager who hasn't. Look at Jose Mourinho, one of the best managers in the world, a great coach and manager, but there's 78 per cent of Real Madrid fans who want Michael Laudrup as their next manger. How is Mourinho feeling today?

"The harshness of it from the people who criticise. Is it they think the manager doesn't care, it's not his team, it's not his club? But I do care passionately and why would I listen? Put it this way, why would I listen to his opinion or her opinion. You either fail or succeed doing it your own way.

"You hopefully have owners who understand you are moving the club forward. You are stuck with players who you inherited, who you can't move on because of wages.

"You have to wait (to change the team around). To mix in with that we have, some free transfers, someone who cost a few hundred grand form Bristol Rovers and more free transfers. We're making a team, not with £50m centre-forwards or £40m midfielders. We're building a team with free transfers at a level we can afford."

A £50m striker, Fernando Torres, and hugely expensive forwards such as Juan Mata and Eden Hazard are exactly who Middlesbrough will come up against tonight.

In the grand scheme of things, with promotion back to the Premier League the overwhelming priority, an attractive FA Cup tie with Chelsea's international names is a nice distraction from the Championship.

But Mowbray, knowing a quarter-final trip to Manchester United awaits the winners, knows an heroic night against a Premier League big gun could actually boost his aims to revive the club.

"You take ownership of the club you're at," said the former Hibernian, West Brom and Celtic chief. "You take ownership as a manager, you take ownership of the staff. The sooner we get to the Premier League the more secure their jobs are.

"I can see it in their eyes. The woman in the laundry - everyone. The buck stops here with football managers."

He added: "You would like to bring them (all the fans) all in and show them that you get in here when it is pitch black, you go home at night when it is pitch black - and yet your centre-half on a Saturday doesn't mark the guy who scores and you are losing 1-0. It's back to the drawing board, you take the flak and that's the game. It's easy when you are winning!"

Mowbray's focus clearly has to be on his own affairs. He is, though, sympathetic to Benitez's cause, knowing how the Spaniard has been on a hiding to nothing at Stamford Bridge since taking over from Roberto di Matteo.

"I was manager of Celtic and that brings pressure, managing Chelsea is the same, you are expected to win every game," said Mowbray. "If you don't, whoever the manager is, you have people telling you, you picked the wrong team.

"For instance, you make decisions for your family. How are you going on holiday. Are you going to take the car or the train, or will you fly? You're making decisions all the time.

"If you decided to go in the car and hit a ten hour traffic jam on the M6 it doesn't look like a good decision but you didn't know that was going to happen ten hours ago.

"You make your decision, you stick by them and if you get beat, yes, you beat yourself up, everyone will tell you what you did wrong but you've made the decision for the right reasons."

As well as being without the new signing Sammy Ameobi, who is cup-tied, and Josh McEachran, who is on loan from Chelsea, Middlesbrough will not have Jonathan Woodgate available tonight.

There is a chance Woodgate, who must continue to be careful with problematic hamstrings, will be fit to face Cardiff on Saturday.

More Middlesbrough FC News