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Mowbray hoping history repeats itself in promotion chase
TONY Mowbray is hoping history repeats itself as he attempts to guide his Middlesbrough side to promotion this season.
The Teessiders might have endured a difficult start to the year, losing five games in a row before securing a much-needed win over Leeds on Tuesday, but Mowbray only needs to look back to his playing days to see that a rocky turn of the year is no barrier to promotion.
Back in the 1987-88 season, a Middlesbrough side with Mowbray as skipper failed to win five matches in a row before the end of January.
Having topped the table at the start of December, they slipped to fifth position before recovering to a cement a play-off place in the final few weeks of the season.
Their play-off campaign ended with a two-legged win over Chelsea, and with the current Boro side lying sixth ahead of this afternoon's trip to Crystal Palace, Mowbray is hoping for a similarly strong finish this time around.
"There's lots of examples of Boro being nowhere but coming late to achieve something at the end of the season," said the Middlesbrough manager. "We were in a very similar position in the season I went up to the First Division as a player.
"We were 11 points off the top two when we got to this stage of the season, but still got promoted at the end. We were struggling for a result round about this time of year, but ended up going up via the play-offs.
"Let's be judged on where we are at the end of the season, like we were in '88. I would be very disappointed if we didn't accrue more points and finish higher in the league than we did last year."
To do that, Boro will have to improve on their form since the turn of the year, although Mowbray has been keen to downplay suggestions that the recent five-game losing run was representative of a deep-rooted malaise.
Boro are not clicking as well as they did in the early months of the season, but remain well placed ahead of their trip to Selhurst Park, and aside from leaders Cardiff City, no one else is stringing together a long sequence of positive results.
The Teessiders continue to boast a healthy four-point gap to seventh-placed Brighton, and with this season's Championship more competitive than ever, Mowbray is urging his club's players and supporters to retain a sense of perspective in the remainder of the season.
"We can probably afford to lose six or seven more matches, win eight and still qualify for the play-offs," he said. "Nobody remembers how you achieve promotion if you do it.
"Swansea are sitting in the top eight in the Premier League at the moment, and no one mentions the fact that they only scraped out of the Championship in sixth position.
"If we were to win the play-offs at a canter, who's to say that in two seasons time, we couldn't be sitting in the top eight of the Premier League? If we did that, nobody would be talking about how we got there."
A win today would improve their position further, although the omens are hardly positive with Boro having lost six of their last seven matches on the road.
That sequence includes a desperately disappointing 4-0 defeat at Ipswich, although it also features narrow defeats at Birmingham and Leeds in matches that could easily have ended in a Middlesbrough win.
"We have two very tough away games coming up, and we haven't really picked up enough points this year away from home," said Mowbray, who will also take his side to Burnley on Tuesday "We see these two games as an opportunity to try to reverse that trend.
"We need to try to find a way to win football matches away from home. We've won five in the league and four in the cups away from home, but we would like to have won a couple more.
"There have been games we felt we shouldn't have lost but came away with nothing, so maybe we need to start looking at a formula that better ensures we start collecting points away from home."
Today's game pits Boro against the side directly above them in the league table, and Mowbray is quick to identify Wilfried Zaha as Crystal Palace's biggest threat.
The 20-year-old scored when Palace knocked Boro out of the Carling Cup last season, and has been loaned back to Selhurst Park following last month's £15m move to Manchester United.
"He's got all the assets you need to succeed," said Mowbray. "He's got speed, power, a change of direction and pace, and goals - that's not a bad catalogue of assets to have as a footballer wanting to play in the Premier League.
"He's going to play for Manchester United, and he'll be introduced slowly and be in the perfect place to get advice from the likes of (Ryan) Giggs and (Paul) Scholes.
"Zaha is going to a club where the influences around him will ultimately give him every chance of being a top Premier League player."