JONNY HOWSON insists that Middlesbrough’s promotion goal is still firmly in their own hands even though early season aspirations to finish in the Championship’s top two have pretty much gone.

Despite three straight wins Boro are still 12 points adrift of an automatic spot with only nine matches remaining so if Premier League football is going to be secured in May then it will almost certainly have to be done via the play-offs.

The chances of Middlesbrough finishing in the top six have received a huge boost following a run of four wins from five unbeaten fixtures, leading to them building a three point cushion over seventh-placed Bristol City.

Under Tony Pulis there has certainly been a momentum shift and there is a sense that the players are really starting to buy into the fact that things can still be achieved this season, having waited so long to break back into the play-off zone.

Now Middlesbrough, who head to Brentford this Saturday, are looking to continue the recent resurgence and carry on winning as they look to preserve their top six spot between now and the end of the season.

Howson, signed from Norwich last summer, feels the mood within the camp has started to change in recent weeks and he thinks the Middlesbrough squad has to make sure the recent run of good form is merely the starting point of getting over the line to achieve what is demanded.

He said: “It was possibly a big afternoon on Saturday, looking at the result. But the real message before the game was don’t come off the pitch, with respect to Barnsley in their position, after our two wins in the week, and slip up.

“We wanted to follow up the previous wins and keep the momentum going. We couldn’t let it slip and we have made sure we didn’t do that. There are twists and turns to come, we have to stay focused on next Saturday.

“I wouldn’t say the belief has never been there because I think it has. We have been through a couple of sticky periods but there has always been a long way to go.

“We might have wanted to challenge for the top two spots earlier season, we know that, but that’s football. We can still achieve what we wanted earlier in the season, and that’s promotion, it’s still in our hands. Football is funny, when you have the right mind-set, confidence, and will to win then you can go a long way.”

Middlesbrough have certainly started to show all of those traits. Despite suffering the blow of conceding late to draw at Sunderland, Pulis has since seen his team defeat Leeds, Birmingham and Barnsley.

Those nine points have meant swapping places with Bristol City in the final play-off spot and the fact they Middlesbrough have started to get in the scoring groove has really raised optimism on Teesside.

The three goals scored against Barnsley on Saturday took Middlesbrough’s recent tally to 13 goals in five matches, having scored three times in four of their last five games.  Howson, playing a little further forward recently, is enjoying being part of an attack-minded side which looks to get the ball forward and out wide to the likes of Adama Traore and Stewart Downing.

“Traore and Downing out wide have different qualities,” said Howson. “I have had Adama and his pace closer to me, he can create space to fill. Downing on the other side has a bit of everything, can beat a man or come inside, it’s a good balance. It makes our job in the middle easier when you have two players like that.

“It is coming good, you can see that by the goals we are scoring. I think we had a couple of games, certainly here when the gaffer came in, where we couldn’t score.  “I remember the Fulham game in my head, we missed a few chances and those are going in for us now. You need luck, confidence for the front lads. If they can get a few goals then it helps the team. We just want that to continue.

“When you have people like Adama and Patrick in the team, hitting form, Patrick’s goal sums his luck up, how it goes in off his knee. That can happen in football because when things are going for you those go in, when they don’t then it probably goes wide or hits the post. We have terrific lads here.”

Bamford’s 53rd minute goal, when Downing’s deep cross was missed by goalkeeper Nick Townsend and bounced off the striker’s knee before finding the net, effectively wrapped up the points after first half strikes from Daniel Ayala and Traore.

Regardless of the position and the form Middlesbrough are now in, though, Howson does not think anything can be taken for granted; after all he has experienced all the highs and lows of a play-off push.

The former Leeds and Norwich midfielder, who actually helped the Canaries beat Middlesbrough in 2015 at Wembley, said: “I have been in the play-offs a few times, I have lost in semis, lost in the final and won in a final, there’s no easy games in the play-offs.

“The teams in there are there for a reason and deserve to be there for a reason. We have to make sure we get there first rather than look too far ahead. I know that the teams in there at the moment are all good teams, that’s the case every year because they deserve to be there.

“What I am happy about is that we are starting to show what we are about. You can’t get too carried away, or take your focus on what is in front of you.  “Things are going well at this moment in time but there are a fair few games to be played between now and the end of the season. We can’t take our focus of things.”

Howson, who was nursing a hand injury sustained in the first half on Saturday over the weekend and will be monitored, hopes to be fit for the trip to Griffin Park this weekend.

But he does sense Middlesbrough’s confidence is breeding from the good run of form and the approach from Pulis in the dressing room.

He said: “Sometimes you need a couple of wins in a row to get the confidence going, everyone knows the experience the gaffer has of being in the situation, he gets his message across and at this moment in time it is going well. There will be twists and turns to come.

“When you are playing in a winning side you always enjoy it, you want to be in the starting 11 and the quality we have in the squad it is enjoyable.  “With regards to the team, when you get a few wins, the confidence builds and it is good at the moment. Bottom line is I want to be successful this season and that is a possibility.”