JUGGLING the demands of a promotion assault and a cup run can be a struggle.
Middlesbrough found that to their cost last term when falling agonisingly short in the race for the Premier League despite recording one of the shocks of the campaign in knocking Manchester City out of the FA Cup.
Further south, Sheffield United suffered a similar fate after losing in the League One play-offs at the end of a campaign that also brought a place in the Capital One Cup semi-finals.
Boro’s priority this season remains winning promotion and Aitor Karanka’s men, who sit second in the Championship, have started in promising fashion.
Tonight, though, the focus switches to knockout football and the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers in a third-round tie that offers an excellent chance of progressing.
Karanka, whose side bowed out at this stage a year ago against Liverpool at Anfield on penalties, said: “Now we have more options, and this season we are stronger than last season.
“It (the squad) is stronger and more experienced. So I have to try to put the best XI out.”
Boro may hand a debut to Carlos De Pena, the Uruguayan who moved to the Riverside on deadline day. He has been an unused substitute twice, in the wins over MK Dons and Nottingham Forest, with Karanka calling for patience as the newcomer settles.
Despite that, Karanka appears ready to sanction De Pena’s debut tonight against a Wanderers outfit who sit 18th in the table. He added: “Wolves have good players, a good team, a very good manager.”
Last six games: Middlesbrough LWWWWW, Wolverhampton Wanderers LLWWLD.
Referee: K Wright (Merseyside).
Last time: Middlesbrough 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 1; April 14, 2015; Championship.