MUSTAPHA CARAYOL believes the outcome of this afternoon’s game with Leicester City will give Middlesbrough a fair indication of what they can achieve this season.
The Teessiders are on a run of their own, though, and will go to the East Midlands full of confidence and looking to stretch their own unbeaten record to seven league games.
They also take on Pearson’s men knowing they have already beaten a team at the top after then leaders Burnley left the Riverside empty-handed on Boxing Day.
Such form has catapulted Aitor Karanka’s side from the lower regions to within five points of the play-off places and Carayol believes today’s result will give everyone at the club an idea of how far away they are from competing at the top.
“We’ve got a tough game against Leicester, but at least we’ll get to see where we’re really at and how far away we are,” said Carayol, who was at Outwood Academy in Acklam to lend his support to Tees Valley Wheelchair Sports Club alongside Lukas Jutkiewicz on Wednesday.
“We’ve already shown we can beat the top teams but in this league anyone can win on their day. We definitely won’t go into the game fearing Leicester. We’ve got enough quality to compete and I’m sure the gaffer will want to take the game to them and try to get another win.
“If we both go and attack it will be a really open game and I can see it being a high scoring game either way.”
Boro’s form of late is a far cry from that in the early weeks of Karanka’s reign. They have kept five consecutive clean sheets in the league, but Carayol insists the squad were always capable of producing such a run even when they flirted with the relegation places for a few weeks.
He said: “I don’t think a lot has changed, except the results. We stuck together when things weren’t going well.
“Everyone started to panic and say we might struggle and end up fighting relegation, but we never really panicked because we didn’t think we were playing that bad. We weren’t getting goals and our defenders weren’t playing as well as they would have liked, but now we’re scoring and keeping clean sheets and that has helped a lot.
“Everyone is enjoying their football at the moment and when that is the case everything comes off for you. At the moment we’re going the right way about our business on the pitch and hopefully at the end of the season we’ll be where we need to be.”
A result this afternoon would further strengthen Middlesbrough’s top-six credentials, but the Gambia-born winger insists the squad won’t start thinking about the play-offs until the season is a bit further down the line.
“We’re still not looking at the league even though our form has improved,” said Carayol. “We’ve just got to concentrate on ourselves and worry about our performance levels.
“Then we see where we are come March and I think that would be the right time to look at the table and know what we’ve got to do. We’re not going to win every game, but if we can put ourselves in a position then anything is possible and in March and April we can make a big push.”
The 23-year-old’s double at Blackpool took his tally to for the season to seven, two behind leading goalscorer Albert Adomah, and having already smashed the target he set at the beginning of the season Carayol has had to re-evaluate his end of season aim.
He said: “These games are the ones you want to play in. At the beginning of the season I aimed to beat my total of four last season, so I’m happy I’ve got seven.
“Hopefully I can get to ten and then maybe 12, but I’m enjoying scoring at the moment. I’m not too happy I didn’t score against Charlton, but if I get opportunities to score this weekend I’ll do my best to take them.”