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Mowbray geared up for Championship finale
THERE will not be any ear-pieces, nor a smart phone on the Middlesbrough bench at Vicarage Road this afternoon. Tony Mowbray, however, is fully expecting to hear from fans if the last game of the season is to be a memorable one.
The Boro squad travelled down to Watford yesterday in preparation for the 46th and final game of the 2011-12 Championship season. A league campaign which started with a 2-2 home draw with Portsmouth on August 6 will be decided on the last afternoon's play.
Mathematically, it's simple enough. Middlesbrough need to defeat the Hornets and, only then, will they need Cardiff City to lose a little further south at Crystal Palace. If those two results marry up, Boro will have sneaked into the play-offs and set up a two-legged semi-final with either of West Ham or Southampton.
The Boro camp are optimistic about their chances. What Mowbray has been keen to stress, however, is that his players need to focus on their own jobs rather than worry about Cardiff.
"It only affects our intensity of trying to get a win at what time the noise comes that Palace have scored and whether they're one up or two up," said Mowbray. "We have to get a win so if it's 85 minutes, we're 0-0 and they're getting beaten, you charge everybody forward to get in their box - you need a goal. That's what football is. The fans will transmit that but there'll be nobody on our bench with an earpiece in.
"We have to win anyway so what can we do different? We'll still be charging forward trying to get a goal. What difference is it going to make if we had an earpiece in or whatever? We have to win regardless.
"If Cardiff are winning 2-0 am I going to say, 'Listen lads, just forget it. Tell me our score afterwards, I'm going for a pint!' If we're 1-0 up we might sit on a 1-0 and bring everybody back, but that's still irrelevant to their score.
"We might be 1-0 up after two minutes and never cross the halfway line again - do a Chelsea and put nine men in the box for the next 88 minutes. We won't, but the potential is there!"
With Watford sitting comfortably in mid-table, there is an argument that their players will not be as desperate to perform. Mowbray dismissed such a notion and is confident Palace will be out to defeat Cardiff too.
He said: "I've not been in touch with anyone at Palace. Palace are a professional organisation that will want to win. It's the same with Watford. You win your last game you can jump six points. You can finish tenth and have that on your CV."
Mowbray's experiences of last day drama in management have been positive. He secured UEFA Cup football at the end of his first season in charge at Hibernian, while he also guided West Brom to the Championship title two years later.
Mowbray said: "At Hibernian we were happy to lose 1-0 to Rangers and they were happy to win 1-0 because that got them the title. Celtic fans would have been desperate for us to get a goal so they'd win the title, but we sat in and were quite content to lose 1-0. That was quite dramatic in Scotland.
"At West Brom we won the league on the last day at QPR but we'd got promotion a game or two before then. That's not overly-dramatic. Still it was nice for the fans, the first time in 88 years they'd won the trophy despite going up and down quite a bit."
The fact Middlesbrough had been contenders for an automatic promotion place for much of this season has blotted this campaign slightly. Mowbray thinks things should be kept in perspective.
He said: "We set ourselves such a good platform in the first half of the season. Our media department always seemed to be telling me we'd broken another record - wins away from home or the longest unbeaten run, or most away wins on the bounce in the history of the club. On the back of those record-breaking four months it is a bit disappointing to be sitting here on the outside of the top six.
"Last season we were scrambling every week to make sure we didn't get sucked into that bottom three, watching over our shoulder. We finished so strongly we finished 12th and felt relatively comfortable, yet the reality was we were always looking over our shoulder.
"To spend the whole season in the top six, you'd have to say is progress. Which season would you prefer? You'd prefer to be at the top end most of the season. Let's wait and see how it finishes, but I think you'd say it's progress."