TONY MOWBRAY has refused to shut the door on automatic promotion to the Premier League, but knows it will take a "magnificent" effort to achieve.
Mowbray's Middlesbrough travel to Huddersfield Town tonight looking to secure their second successive victory and their first back-to-back results in 2013, which could kick-start an unlikely push for the top two.
Victory against league leaders Cardiff City on Saturday means Boro are 11 points away from the automatic promotion places, a gap which is by no means beyond bridging.
And while Mowbray is aware there is an equal likelihood of defeat at the John Smith's Stadium, he will not rule out what would be a remarkable revival of fortunes.
"Everybody on a given day can perform to a level and beat anybody," said Mowbray. "It's fascinating. Cardiff were looking like they might win it, but the teams below might be thinking they can catch them.
"That was the frustration for us, that crazy six or seven weeks after Christmas, if we'd have done half-decently we might be in touch. That's how quickly it can slip away from you.
"You have to hope we can go on a magnificent run and see if we can catapult ourselves back into it.
"It can be done. Reading showed that. Reading were 11 points behind the second-placed team at one point. Then they won the league because they won eight on the bounce. You can do it if you put a run together.
"If we win tonight, we go to Bristol and win, Birmingham at home, there's four on the bounce. Then we've got four out of five coming in the next month at home - you could win nine or ten. You don't know.
"Or we could win two out of ten and finish 14th."
The close nature of the Championship creates curious situations whereby teams like Nottingham Forest - three points behind Boro -find the play-offs a realistic goal despite a tumultuous season where three managers have so far held the post of manager at the City Ground.
Middlesbrough are living proof that a good run in October can ultimately count for nothing if the wheels come off in January.
"My philosophy is never to get carried away, never to get over-excited, we know we can have Januaries and Februaries like we have had," explained Mowbray.
"Thank god we had the October and November we had. How's March and April going to go? I hope it goes really well.
"I said earlier in the season that we were only accumulating points. We won game after game after game in December.
"We're all very aware - whether you're at the bottom scrapping for points, or mid-table trying to pick up points - everybody's fighting for something. That's why the play-offs were brought in. It keeps the league going for a lot of teams.
"We have to finish the season strong. If we don't, we'll finish mid-table. If we finish strong, there's every chance we'll finish in the top six and who knows what the season will bring.
"Everybody has to play everybody. We've still got Forest to come here, we've still got Brighton to come here, we've got huge games that will come along, that will define our season.
"Every game that comes around we will be prepared, we will be ready. Walking out of the dressing room, banging the door, pumped up for it.
"Yet if the centre-half loses their man from a corner, or your goalkeeper slips over and concedes an indirect free-kick which they score from, what can you do? You prepare your team, you plan, you're ready, yet at every given moment your balloon can get popped."
Kieron Dyer, who scored Boro's first goal in Saturday's 2-1 win over the Bluebirds, is likely to be rested against Simon Grayson's Huddersfield tonight, while a late decision will be taken on Jonathan Woodgate, who has been out of action with a hamstring injury.
But Sammy Ameobi, who capped a fine debut with an equally-fine goal at the Riverside, should be involved after Mowbray was satisfied with the Newcastle loanee's contribution on Saturday.
He said: "Ameobi brings something different. We haven't got a Sammy Ameobi here already. We've got young players, yet we haven't got a young player who can do what Sammy does.
"As everybody's seen, he's a different type of footballer to what we have. There are no mixed feelings, I brought in the assets of a footballer who can help the team.
"There's a numbers game to be played, if one of our young players doesn't make the team then so be it. The job is to try and improve the team. I felt we needed a creative, ball-manipulating wide player and that's what we brought in."
Boro have not won away from home since defeating Peterborough in December, but Mowbray feels that his team were buoyed by the goalless draw at Burnley a fortnight ago, which halted their five-match losing run on the road.
And Mowbray said: "It wasn't very nice to watch, but we kept a clean sheet, we built confidence. Last season we went away thinking we could win every away game. We will await.
"The season will be finished before we know it but there's a lot of excitement to go."
More Middlesbrough FC News
- Press conference update: Damia Abella out for SIX months after snapping anterior cruciate ligament
- Boro skipper wishing Abella well amid 'serious' injury fears after fine start to life on Teesside
- Talking point: Karanka could have the team to deliver a long overdue promotion charge at Boro
- Boro facing anxious 48 hours over Abella injury after impressive win in Wales
- Match Report: Cardiff City 0 Middlesbrough 1
- Team news: Cardiff v Middlesbrough
- Karanka wants in-form Leadbitter to get a new contract at Boro
- Press conference update: 'We've got to treat Cardiff seriously' urges Boro boss
- FA await referee's report after Boro's tunnel bust-up
- Match report: Huddersfield Town 1 Middlesbrough 2