MIDDLESBROUGH may be in a decidedly healthy fourth spot in the Championship table, but manager Tony Mowbray is not satisfied.
The Teessider, mindful of how Boro disappointingly fell away in the final stages of last term to miss out on a play-off spot, admits improvement is required from his side to last the course this time around.
Today’s test against sixth-placed Watford is the sort in which they slipped up at this stage of the season 12 months ago.
The omens 12 months on look slightly better for Boro, who will be chasing their sixth successive victory at the Riverside in all competitions, but their boss knows plenty of work lies ahead.
Mowbray, whose side disappointingly lost 3-1 in a poor Championship display last time out at Derby County, said: “I think we are probably going to have to be slightly better in the second half of the season than we were in the first half. We cannot afford to lose as many games, let us put it that way.
“I think we are trying to push on, get better and win more matches and yet we know how hard that is. I fully believe we can do that if we keep the core of our players fit, and fingers crossed this time next week, there will not be too many unavailable for us.”
Mowbray feels Watford are among a host of sides capable of finishing in the play-offs come May in a division which seems to become more wide open by the year.
He said: “I do not think we discount anybody. You don’t need to look any further than Reading last year, who were mid-table coming up to Christmas and won 17 out of 19 games and catapulted themselves to the top.
“You look at some of the teams – Wolves, for instance, they have just changed their manager and are talking about reaching the play-offs – and they are 18th in the table (before last night).
“You just need to win three or four games on the bounce and see where that takes them. I do not think we can sit here and discount anybody.
“We realise how tough it is and we just keep going. Watford is another chance for three points for us. When I look at the other fixtures this weekend, nobody has any easy games.”