Play without fear at Villa Park on Tuesday night, and a trip to Wembley could be the reward for Boro.
That’s the message from legendary former Boro skipper Tony Mowbray ahead of our Play-Off semi-final second leg against Aston Villa.
The Villans have the upper hand, after a narrow victory in the first leg on Saturday. But the captain of Boro’s last Play-Off winning side knows there’s a long way to go.
Just two years prior to that Play-Off campaign, in 1986, the gates to Ayresome Park had been padlocked shut, and the club was wound up – seemingly on the brink of extinction.
By 1988, Boro were in the hunt for a second successive promotion and a remarkable return to the top flight.
Having missed out on automatic promotion to Villa on the final day of the regular campaign, Bruce Rioch’s side had to showed real grit to overturn a 2-1 deficit from a first leg defeat to Bradford City, and went on to beat First Division Chelsea in the final.
Mogga says the message from that experience is that Boro’s players will have to lean on each other if they’re to succeed.
“The players will be a mixture of nervous and excited,” Mowbray says.
“It’s been a long, long season and they’ll know what’s at stake.
“Football is all about the team spirit, the togetherness, and how tight things are in the dressing room.
“Back in the days you’re talking about, we had a really tight group that had been in liquidation. Pallister, Parkinson, Ripley, Cooper, Pears, Hamilton – everyone was driving each other on to get the job done.
“Football’s changed a lot since then and Boro have made some big signings in recent years, there’s a more diverse group of players.
“But I’m sure Tony [Pulis] will have them together and ready for this game. There’s nothing to fear.”
Mowbray was watching on at the Riverside on Saturday and saw little to separate the two sides.
“Boro have to be positive. It’s very much in the balance and Villa will be nervous as well,” he says.
“One set play was the difference and who’s to say Boro aren’t to score the first goal this time.
“There’s a really expectant crowd at Villa Park and the players have to play on that, play on the mental side and believe it can all turn sour for them. Boro have been to Villa Park and won this season.
“It’s a one-off football match now and they have to get the job done.
“Villa have the goal, but if they do sit back, Boro have got some players who can play on the front foot. Adama Traore has to get on the ball as much as he can, and with the quality of someone like Stewart Downing - you’ve got players who can hurt anyone on their day.
“There needs to be a winner, and who’s to say it won’t be the Boro. I think that’s what they have to believe. It was such a tight game at the weekend and I’m sure this one will be just as tight as well.
“Let’s just hope Boro can get the goal, and anything can happen. It’s the Play-Offs and I’m sure that’s the kind of game it will be.
Some of Mowbray’s best playing memories came against Aston Villa, from scoring an Ayresome Park winner in that promotion battle in 1988, to sealing semi-final victory and Boro’s first match at Wembley in the Zenith Data Systems Cup in 1990.
“The league game, I think it was the first Division Two game live on The Big Match, on ITV,” he recalls.
“I scored the winner, a diving header, and everybody keeps sending me pictures of it! This big blond flick I’ve got as I’m flying through the air.
“The Zenith Data games stick out as well. David Platt was playing for them. They were big games.
“What I will say is that Villa Park is a great arena to go and play football. The team should be looking forward to it. A massive crowd the Boro tickets will be sold out, it’s what footballers want.
“You have to go and express yourself on the big stage, and I’m sure Boro have players that will step up to the mark on the night, and make Teesside feel proud – and give us that day out at Wembley at the end of the month to look forward to.”
Mowbray is celebrating promotion to the Championship with Blackburn Rovers this season – but as much as he’d enjoy returning to the Riverside once more as a manager, the Boro fan inside him would prefer to see his boyhood team back in the top flight.
“I’d rather we didn’t come back next year with Blackburn to be honest!
“I’m a proud Teessider, and I’ve supported Boro all my life since my Dad first took me to Ayresome Park.
“It’ll always be the first result I look for and I’m just hoping they are in the Premier League.
“Steve Gibson is a fantastic guy, I sat behind him the other day and I can feel the nervous tension because he is so desperate for his club to do well.
“Teesside has had some tough times and the football is where the people can go and be united. It’s amazing to see the Riverside so energised, the drums beating and the flags flying.
“Teessiders need some joy and the Premier League is where they can get that.”