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Boro hurting from new year slump
THREE defeats from three Championship fixtures in 2013 has been a new year slump to hurt Middlesbrough's squad - including manager Tony Mowbray.
But with just three points separating Boro from the second automatic promotion place, there is no sign of panic coming from inside the club's Rockliffe Park training headquarters.
Losing to Derby, Watford and Leicester City has frustrated everyone on Teesside after a solid first half of the campaign which had them in contention for top spot.
Middlesbrough's form has been inconsistent since they recorded their last draw of the season so far, a goalless affair at Nottingham Forest on November 6.
During a run of 14 league games they have won six and lost eight, recording back-to-back wins just once in that time when they defeated Blackburn and Blackpool over Christmas.
But there is a determination in the Middlesbrough squad to address that run, although accepting the second tier of English football will be full of greater twists and turns along the way.
"There are another ten or 15 clubs in this division with similar ambitions to Middlesbrough, that's why it is such a tough division," said midfielder Grant Leadbitter. "They will all want to get promoted. It doesn't just happen.
"I can only speak for the last six months that I've been here and the club is ready for the Premier League and the players we have here have to produce. If we win enough matches in the next 18 games then it will happen. We need to take advantage of the position we are in and see the job over the line.
"Without a doubt we are all pushing to get back to the Premier League. There are Premier League players here, many of us could perform in the Premier League and we all want to prove that.
"That's a million miles away at the minute. We are fifth in the Championship and 13 points adrift of Cardiff. Can we catch them? It's a challenge. A big challenge."
Leadbitter is not the most vocal member of the Middlesbrough dressing room, but at 27 has the experience of what is required to overcome a disappointing string of results.
Middlesbrough are due to return to FA Cup action on Saturday when Aldershot travel to the Riverside for the fourth round tie. A week later the focus will be on sealing a return to winning ways in the league at Ipswich.
But Leadbitter thinks the manager's eagerness to succeed has rubbed off on the players and the dip in form will soon come to an end.
"I'm sure the manager is hurting like everyone at the club is when we have lost a few in a row," said Leadbitter. "It just hasn't been happening for us, even in the games when we have been playing well.
"We can't afford to lose when we are playing well. That's not putting extra pressure on us it's just a fact. We can't afford to lose another handful of games.
"Personally I think there has been three or four games where we have not played well and won. We are doing things right. But the games where we have dominated we have lost four or five of those and we can't afford to do that any more."
Mowbray is in no great rush to add to his squad this month but is keeping his options open in case a deal comes up which he feels could kick Middlesbrough on.
But one player unlikely to get a short-term deal is Barry Robson. The midfielder, who left the Riverside at the end of the season, has left Vancouver Whitecaps and has asked to train with Middlesbrough.