AFTER the biggest crowd in three-and-a-half years turned up to watch Middlesbrough hit top spot in the Championship last night, Tony Mowbray challenged his group of players to make sure they stay in the automatic promotion mix.
While a victory for Crystal Palace at Peterborough United this afternoon would see Boro drop back down to second place, Mowbray knows his squad have shown enough during a nine match unbeaten run to suggest they can stay in the top two.
But the Middlesbrough boss is keen to ensure they continue to build on what they have achieved so far, particularly after a crowd of 28,229 helped create a real feel-good-factor around the Riverside Stadium.
The club's stay-away fans made the most of significantly reduced ticket prices of £12 for adults and £7 for concessions to almost double the attendance from the season's average. And Mowbray said: “First and foremost it was great to have such a big crowd for us to play in front of, so a big thank you must go to the supporters and the chairman (Steve Gibson) for making it happen.
“That's what I know the Riverside as and that has been missing. This club, these supporters, had 11 years in the Premier League and hopefully the supporters have gone home satisfied after tonight. We are top.”
He added: “I know we are top of the table, I am happy we have averaged two points a game up to, but we are going to have to do that for another 30 games to go up. If we can do that we will be in the shake-up.”
Mowbray has given his players a three-day break to refresh ahead of the build up to next Saturday's trip to promotion contenders Cardiff City.
But the Middlesbrough manager is intending to go to run the rule over defender Ben Gibson, on loan at Tranmere, in action against Oldham in League One today.
He will still be reliving in his mind last night's football, with Middlesbrough comfortably recording a 3-1 victory which he was hoping would be the case on such a big night for the club.
“We picked the team to deliver. A lot of people could have scored goals in that team and there were five changes from the team that drew with Nottingham Forest,” he said. “I felt we needed to be positive and threaten the opposition.
“It's natural to want to do well when the fans were turning out like that. At times it has been very difficult, it's a 35,000 seater stadium, we have had 13,000s, 15s, 14s, it's woefully empty and yet we are appreciative of those who pay their hard earned money to come and watch. Thankfully we got the right result for them all.”
After hitting half-time with a one goal lead courtesy of Justin Hoyte's thunderbolt, Middlesbrough were rocked at half-time when captain Jonathan Woodgate suffered a calf problem.
“Woody has tweaked it,” said Mowbray. “Nobody is more disappointed than Jonathan. If we could get 20 odd games from him this season then he will be a real bonus for us, he is a high quality footballer. He knows his own body.”
But after Gateshead-born Gary Madine's equaliser was surprisingly allowed, despite standing a yard offside, Middlesbrough responded with two further goals from Ishmael Miller and Lukas Jutkiewicz.
The defeat keeps the Owls at the wrong end of the table and manager Dave Jones said: “We committed football suicide, why? We didn't get away with it. Their first goal was their first attack.
“The crowd started to get a bit frustrated because Middlesbrough couldn't break us down but they didn't have to, we broke ourselves down by trying to pass across. That's why we get frustrated.”
Former Boro captain Matthew Bates is training with Bristol City in the hope of securing a deal after agreeing to a parting of the ways at Middlesbrough following injury.