Win or bust! Middlesbrough have 90 minutes to keep Premier League dream alive… or face the consequences
22:05 GMT, 27 April 2012
Middlesbrough manager Tony Mowbray will sit at his desk on Monday
morning and he'll either be planning for this season's play-offs or for
Saturday's game at Watford, and events at Crystal Palace, will
determine whether he will be preparing for a play-off meeting with West
Ham or Southampton, or for the start of the next campaign.
Pressure point: Middlesbrough boss Tony Mowbray
If Cardiff City win or draw at Palace, Boro's season is over. If Cardiff should lose, and Boro fail to win, they will miss out on sixth place and the Championship play-offs.
But if Boro emerge victorious at Vicarage Road, and Cardiff lose, they will grab the last available play-off place and will face the team which finishes third. West Ham and Southampton are the other two clubs fighting the final matter in the Championship this weekend.
Mowbray said: 'Potentially it could be the last game for some of these players. I think there are ten players in total who are out of contract and some we feel should go and try elsewhere with their career and with others there are financial expectations that won't probably meet what we will want to give.
'That's the whole of football really, outside the Premier League. Budgets are coming down. It's a very difficult time for out of contract players to pitch where they want to be. There is some talking to do.
Boost: Boro kept their play-off hopes alive by beating Southampton
'The players are fully aware that if we make the Premier League then discussions over contracts might be a lot easier.
'A few conversations would have to wait a little longer if we do reach the play-offs.
'We will be back in Monday regardless. That will be the day they are told what their summer programmes will be and I will sit down with those out of contract and give them my thoughts.
'Recruitment will be key for us. There will have to be some little diamonds pinched from a beach of pebbles. That's our job. To find players with for very little money who can make a huge impact.'
After spending most of the season in the top six, Boro's recent blip could not have come at a worse time.
But their home form has cost them dearly throughout the season. They have won just 10 games at the Riverside, often in front of sparse crowds, and in 2012 scored 21 goals in as many games.
Finances have been limited but six
figures were given to Coventry for Lucas Jutkiewicz in January and the
Polish striker has managed just two goals in 18 games. Not the return
which was going to take Boro back to the Barclays Premier League.
Mowbray said: 'We set ourselves such a good platform in the first half
of the season. Our media department always seemed to be telling me we'd
broken another record – wins away from home or the longest unbeaten run,
or most away wins on the bounce in the history of the club.
'On the back of those record-breaking four months it is a bit
disappointing to be sitting here on the outside of the top six now.
High point: Middlesborough have spent most of the season in the top six
'In August before a ball was kicked after finishing 12th last year on the back of winning the last four home games, those 12 points were massive. That season we were scrambling every week to make sure we didn't get sucked into that bottom three, watching over your shoulder. We finished so strongly we finished 12th and felt relatively comfortable, yet the reality was we were always looking over our shoulder.
'To spend the whole season in the top six you'd have to say is progress. If we' d lost the last four games of this season we'd probably have finished 12th again. Which season would you prefer You'd prefer to be at the top end most of the season.
'Let's wait and see how it finishes, but I think you'd say it's progress.
'You want to win the league but we've been flirting with the play-offs all season. I'd have to say it's an improvement and we're moving in the right direction. If I'm sitting here in a year's time and we're disappointed on the last day that we're going to be second or third, again I think that would be progress.'
Progress or not, Mowbray's immediate plans will be decided by events on the final day of the season.
More than 2,000 Boro fans will make the journey south and will no doubt keep their manager informed of events in the capital.
Mowbray himself has no plans to plant a radio or phone on the bench to get regular updates. But he is obviously relishing the prospect of a thrilling final day.
He added: 'The fans will transmit what's happening but there'll be nobody on our bench with an earpiece in.
'We have to win anyway so what are we doing differently We'll still be charging forward trying to get a goal. What difference is it going to make We have to win regardless.
'If they're winning 2-0 am I going to say, 'Listen lads, just forget it. Tell me our score afterwards, I'm going for a pint!'
'If we're 1-0 up we might sit on a 1-0 and bring everybody back, but that's still irrelevant to their score. We might be 1-0 up after two minutes and never cross the halfway line again – do a Chelsea in Barcelona and put nine men in the box for the next 88 minutes. We won't, but the potential is there!
'You'd have to say Watford with Chris Iwelumo up front might cause more problems to Chelsea. They'd have played different to Barca, they'd have put balls in the box. We have to find a way to win.'