ON Thursday, Tony Pulis travelled to Alnwick Castle to get away from the pressures of the Championship promotion race. While there, he wandered around the grounds that were used as the backdrop for Hogwarts in the first two Harry Potter films.

Tomorrow, he will be hoping the experience has rubbed off. When he leads his side into action at Rotherham United, the Middlesbrough manager will be hoping to engineer a bit of promotion magic. Forget the Philosopher’s Stone though, this is a quest for the elusive final play-off spot.

“We’ve got a great chance now,” said Pulis. “And really our task is very simple. People are talking about Derby against West Brom and the Bristol City-Hull game, but we’ve just got to concentrate on our game.

“There’s only one thing we can affect, and that’s our game against Rotherham. We’re looking for the players to give it their best. We’ve got a full allocation of away support going there, and it’ll be a fantastic afternoon. The players just have to really step up now and give it everything.”

The odds are stacked slightly against Middlesbrough, with Derby taking a one-point lead over the Teessiders into their game against West Brom, but having looked like they were out of the picture when they suffered six successive defeats in March and April, at least Pulis’ side have given themselves a fighting chance of securing a play-off place as they head into their final game.

Their side of the equation is simple – while a draw would theoretically be good enough if Derby were to suffer an extremely heavy defeat, the reality is that only a win would give Boro a chance of finishing in the top six – so there will be no need for frantic messages to be passed around the dug-out.

Pulis did not even watch Derby’s midweek draw with Swansea City, so while others might get caught up in the permutations of what is or is not happening tomorrow afternoon, the man in the opposition dug-out at The New York Stadium will be a picture of calm.

“I’ll be worried about what’s happening on the pitch, but that’ll be the end of it,” he said. “I’ve never been one for worrying about things you can’t control.

“We just have to go out and win the game, and then after that, what will be, will be. Win the game, then come off the pitch and see what’s happened. That’s the message I’ll be giving to the players.”

If it is to be the play-offs, Boro will leave South Yorkshire with their sights set on a semi-final first leg at the Riverside against either Leeds United or West Brom next Saturday tea-time. If they miss out, there will be an immediate post-mortem into what has gone wrong during the current campaign.

Given that Middlesbrough started the season vying for favouritism to win the Championship title, with an expensively-assembled squad that was the envy of plenty of other teams in the division, some fans regard even a position in the play-offs as an underachievement. Norwich City and Sheffield United won automatic promotion with squads assembled at a fraction of the cost that has been lavished on the current group of Boro players.

However, Pulis counters any criticism of this season’s efforts with a reminder of the financial constraints he has been operating under since he replaced Garry Monk 18 months ago. Players have been sold, the wage bill has been trimmed, and he has worked with Steve Gibson to try to balance the books, knowing there will not be a penny in parachute payments if Boro are still in the Championship next term.

“It all depends on which way you look at it,” said Pulis, when asked whether the current campaign had been a success. “If you look at it from a financial point of view, then we’re £40m in profit from sales since I came to the football club, and we’ve cut the wage bill by a quarter or a third.

“The playing staff have been reduced by about nine, and that’s got us into a position where we’re in line with Financial Fair Play. We’ve done all of that, and still have a chance of getting into the play-offs.

“If you look at the other side, Derby have spent a fortune and Aston Villa have spent a fortune. Lots of other teams in the division have spent loads of money.

“We played Nottingham Forest the other week – we’d sold players for over £50m, Nottingham Forest had bought players in that squad that played us for over £56m. So there was a £100m deficit in what the two clubs had done this season. But nobody talks about that. That’s fact.”

Ultimately, of course, the final verdict on Boro’s season will hinge on whether they make it into the play-offs.

Pulis has no new injury problems to contend with this afternoon, and is likely to name the same side that beat Reading seven days ago.

None of Boro’s long-term absentees are fit to return, and Pulis has conceded they are extremely unlikely to feature, even if a play-off campaign was to extend the season to the end of this month.

“I don’t think they’ll be available,” he said. “We’ll go with what we’ve got, and see where that takes us. The players know what’s at stake – it’s up to them to go out and do the business now.”