Play-offs now the goal after Boro’s sad slump

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MIDDLESBROUGH manager Tony Mowbray may have been left to rue a third defeat in his side’s last four Riverside matches on Wednesday, but he is remaining steadfastly positive.

Boro’s slump continued by virtue of a 2-0 FA Cup exit to a lavishly-assembled Chelsea side – to continue their wretched sequence in 2013 – but Mowbray took plenty from his side’s collective efforts and believes they can take that into today’s tough encounter with runaway leaders Cardiff City.

The fortunes of both clubs have gone in totally opposite directions since their meeting in South Wales in early November.

Immediately prior to that game, the Teessiders were in second spot, one place and one point above the Bluebirds, who are now 19 points and six places above Boro, who have tumbled outside the play-off positions to seventh.

Boro’s poor streak is leading to increasing disgruntlement among fans, currently witnessing a re-run of last season when the north-easterners fell away meekly from the top six after a positive first half of the campaign when they looked automatic promotion candidates.

But Mowbray has come out fighting ahead of the arrival of the Championship frontrunners.

He said: “There are no teams in this league that we feel should be beating us.

“On Wednesday night, I said ‘well done’. We worked hard and got undone by a goal that was deflected and one moment of brilliance from (Eden) Hazard.

“In my mind, let’s use it as a stepping stone because on Saturday we have a big test against Cardiff.

“I will never say after a defeat, I am pleased with them, but they worked extremely hard against Chelsea and we have to take that into the Cardiff game.

“We have got 12 games left in the season. We have fallen off the pace over the last six weeks and we have got to get back to business. We have got to get back to winning football matches, our only ambition is to get out of this league. The top two looks beyond us now, but we have got a great chance of finishing in the top six.”

Boro, who have won once in their past nine league games, could be without central defender Andre Bikey, who aggravated a hamstring problem on Wednesday evening.