As much as the Chelsea mauling was a real sobering affair, as things stand, I’m rather positive about Boro right now.

Of course, missing out on Wembley is a blow, but the fact we were even in with a shout as we entered the 2ndleg at Stamford Bridge is ridiculous. Not half as ridiculous as some of the defensive errors that gifted The Blues a 4-0 half-time advantage, but you’ll find no serious criticism from me. After all, this is a side that has been coached a certain way for some time now, and in the main the style Michael Carrick has drummed into his side has been successful. So, whilst Carrick, his players and the excellent travelling support wouldn’t have expected the self-sabotage to be quite on the scale it was, the idea that we at least tried to stick to our principals was admirable.

I’m not so sure the 4,000+ Boro fans would’ve enjoyed a backs to the wall, kick and rush approach for the full 90 and possibly beyond anyway, and at times we knocked the ball about with real confidence and class.

But alas, it wasn’t to be.

In true Carrick style, it’s time to park the exciting cup run we had, shift focus, and get back to “taking each game as it comes”. Some may consider his approach to press conferences rather mundane, but I love the level-headed, unshakable persona he gives off. Whilst some journalists, along with fans with a penchant for crisis, like to look for issues, Carrick straight bats them away with ease.

And it’s his cool, calming influence that’ll stand his players in good stead come 12 noon today.

For its Sunderland that rock up at the Riverside, and what better game to overcome cup disappointment than to get a win in the Tees-Wear derby?

If we rewind the Boro clock 26 years(wow), the Mackems came to town and left with absolutely nothing, a ruthless Robson-inspired Middlesbrough dispatched them 3-1, and that was just three days after booking a third appearance at Wembley following the defeat of Liverpool.

Ok, the parallels aren’t quite there this time around, but the game represents a real opportunity to jump-start what is sure to be a relentless run-in to the end of this season.

And Wembley is still a possibility for us. The play-offs are most definitely attainable, but we have to string a run of form together, something akin to the likes of which97/98 Boro achieved to make that happen.

Admittedly, given the injury/absentee list, it’s been hard to achieve the desired consistency over a lengthy period, but with players to come back and hopefully another addition or two by the time you read this, then we should have a squad that’s more than capable of seeing us inside the top six come May.

Some of that might depend on whether we managed to hang on to Morgan Rogers, but arguably (and this isn’t a criticism whatsoever) he’s not been consistently brilliant in the league, and nor should we have expected that, much like many of us didn’t expect to see Aston Villa table multiple bids for him.

If he’s lining up for us today, fantastic, but if not then his departure might have given us the opportunity to strengthen much further than we could’ve anticipated at this stage of the campaign (on top of both Luke’s, Ayling and Thomas, great additions for us).

Either way, his staying or leaving doesn’t seal our Championship fate, far from it.

Cliché it might be, but 18 ‘cup finals’ await, starting this dinnertime. The three-point gap to the top six will likely have widened, but don’t bet against us channelling 1998 Boro to see off the Mackems to secure a memorable league double.

Come on Boro!
Ian Smith