Middlesbrough visit survival scrapping Coventry City tonight (KO 7pm) looking to kick-start their flagging Championship play-off hopes.
Boro really need to win to keep up with the pace of the play-off pack after a week in which the balance tipped against them.
A late leveller against form-side Cardiff on Saturday earned a 1-1 draw and a precious point for Boro but other results swung against them and the gap to the top six is now five points with other teams clawing ahead with some momentum.
That followed a bruising 3-1 Riverside defeat to a Bristol side in free-fall that took the steam out of a brief upturn
Now, as the season heads into the final straight, Neil Warnock knows his side have to start winning games to barge back into it.
“The play-offs are a long-shot for us now but we’ve just got to keep trying,” he said, admitting his patchy team must find a rhythm.
“In the last ten days or so it’s understandable that the fans won’t know where we are or what to think really,” he said.
“I think someone pointed out last week the only thing consistent about us is that we’re inconsistent. You want to try managing them! You think you know what you’re going to get and then something else happens.I’d be a wealthy man if I could tell you why.
“Over the last 13 games we’ll have to look ahead, try things and see if different players can do a different job. That’s what I’ll be doing.”
Coventry were promoted last term and have made a decent first of it despite being homeless and playing at Birmingham City.
Mark Robins’ side pulled off a coupon-busting win over high-flying Brentford last week and drew with Blackburn last time out to move five points clear of the relegation zone so may have a spring in their step.
“I saw them beat Brentford recently and I couldn’t believe how well they played,” said Warnoc. “I know it’ll be difficult. But that’s the case everywhere you go.
“I like Mark, he’s a good, young manager. Credit to him for keeping them going. I think they’ve got a good chance of staying up and that’s a real feather in their cap. What we’ve got to do is make sure it’s as difficult for them as it is for us.”
The Boro boss was encouraged by a decent display against Cardiff and the chance to give some key players precious game time.
Cardiff had won seven on the spin but Boro largely stifled them and did well to claw from behind in a spirited second half.
Much missed midfielder Marcus Tavernier returned, new boy Nathaniel Mendez-Laing got 70 minutes and defender Grant Hall got another run out as he is nursed back after a long injury lay-off.
“It was nice to get Tavernier back on the pitch at the weekend, ” said Warnock. “We’ve missed his enthusiasm and running. He lasted the game which I didn’t expect him to, so that’s a big plus. He gives everybody a big lift, and not just on the pitch.
“Mendez-Laing getting some more minutes was another bonus. And Grant was really good again at the back in his second game back too. I thought he did an excellent job.”
And he was also encouraged by two key players nearing a return in Yannick Bolsie and Ashley Fletcher – although the Coventry clash will be too soon for them.
“Yannick’s training quite well,” he said. “I’m hoping he’ll be involved at some stage on Saturday. And Fletch’s due to do some hill running. Once we’ve got this week out of the way, we’ve got a free midweek so he might be available for Stoke.”
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