WITH their FA Cup adventure over, Middlesbrough turn their attention back to the league when they travel to Fulham on Friday night, and Adam Clayton claims the last six weeks proves the Teessiders are capable of forcing their way into the play-off picture in the remaining four months of the season.

Despite their cup exit at the hands of Tottenham last night, Boro will travel to Craven Cottage in a buoyant mood having lost just one of their last eight league matches.

They maintained their fine festive form with another accomplished showing against Derby County last weekend, and while Duane Holmes’ stoppage-time equaliser was a blow, they find themselves just eight points off the play-off places with 19 games still to play.

As recently as mid-December, they were just two places above the relegation zone, but having hauled themselves into the relative security of a mid-table position, Clayton insists their sights are firmly trained on the top six.

“I think you have to be looking at the play-offs,” said the midfielder, whose return to the starting line-up at the start of December has broadly coincided with the upturn in form. “I think in this league, and I’ve been in it long enough, there’s always a team that comes from behind.

“We’re not going to get carried away and say we’re definitely going to get into the play-offs, but if we keep the form we’ve got and keep playing how we’ve been playing, then we’ll have a chance.

“We didn’t go to West Brom and Preston, who had the best home records, and nick it, we went there and played really well. We were unlucky not to win again on Saturday, and the way we’ve put together this run of results tells me that we have got a chance.

“We’ve just got to stay on top of our game, keep playing the way we have been, and not get complacent. You can fly up this league, you can see from the last month what four or five games can do. If we put another run like that together, we’ll be in and around it.”

Since moving to Middlesbrough in the summer of 2014, Clayton has been involved in some notable highs and lows. His first season on Teesside ended in play-off final defeat to Norwich City, his second culminated in the joy of promotion under Aitor Karanka and his third saw Boro crash out of the Premier League under the caretaker control of Steve Agnew.

He was also a key part of the side that made the play-offs under Tony Pulis, so knows exactly what it takes to succeed in the second tier. The current Boro squad is the most youthful he has been a part of, but while it took a couple of months for results to improve under Jonathan Woodgate, the potential within the current group of players is as high as anything he has experienced during his time in the North-East.

“We’ve got some top players,” said Clayton. “I really genuinely think that when we’re playing well, this is one of the better teams that I’ve played in in the Championship. The potential within our group is very good – the likes of (Marcus) Tavernier, (Djed) Spence, (Hayden) Coulson, we’ve got a lot of good players who are waiting to burst onto the scene and be top Championship players.

“I’m very excited for what we could be this season if we keep to what we’ve been doing in the last five or six games. There’s no reason why we can’t carry it on. It was always coming. From within the dressing room, we always knew we were only a couple of wins away from getting that confidence to go on a run. We’ll keep our feet on the ground, but have a real good go at it.”

Boro made a decent fist of things last night, recovering from the blow of conceding two sloppy early goals to cause Spurs some problems in the second half. Ben Liddle became the fifth academy product to make their full senior debut this season, loan signing Lukas Nmecha showed flashes to suggest he could be an astute acquisition in attack and goalscorer George Saville impressed after coming off the bench in the second half.

There was an inevitable sense of disappointment in the dressing room at the final whistle, but also some deserved pride at Boro’s efforts over the two ties.

“We’ve played a team that were in the Champions League final last season twice. We took them all the way at home, and although it was a tough first half away, it was always going to be,” said Clayton, who left the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium clutching Christian Eriksen’s shirt and joking, ‘He asked me for mine’.

“We dug in after that, and although we don’t like losing, as the gaffer said if you’re going to lose, that’s the way to do it, fighting and giving everything. I thought Rudy (Gestede) might have got on the end of that one at the end and tapped it in, but it was a very good performance and we’re fully focused on Friday now.

“Ultimately, that’s the bread and butter and that’s what we want to do well with. We’ve kicked on in the league and had a really good festive and New Year period. We’re looking up again, and hopefully we can go to Fulham and have a good result.”