The manager of Middlesbrough, Gareth Southgate, will not allow the club's fight for Premier League survival to take precedence over their dreams of FA Cup glory. The Teessiders are languishing inside the relegation zone without a win in 14 League games. They face title contenders Liverpool at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday well aware that a failure to end that record could leave them in even deeper trouble.
However, Southgate knows just how infrequently the opportunity comes along for players at clubs outside the top four to win trophies, and he is not about to give up on the FA Cup as he prepares his troops for tonight's fifth-round replay against West Ham United.
The former England defender was in the Boro side which lost 1-0 to the Hammers at Villa Park in the semi-finals in 2006 a matter of weeks before leading them out for the Uefa Cup final against Seville, and he admits that tie was one that got away.
Asked if his job on the pitch that day was easier than his current one, Southgate said with a smile: "I don't know because I was struggling then to keep up with people, so I would say I am better served being where I am tomorrow than where I was that day.
"No, that's history. It was a game that, with everything that surrounded it, there seemed to be a bit of destiny about them getting through. We had our minds focused on the Uefa Cup, really, at that time, which was a missed opportunity in a sense. That's the way it was then – but tomorrow is completely different."
Boro drew 1-1 at Upton Park in the first game when only a late Herita Ilunga equaliser denied the visitors victory at the first attempt.
The winners tonight face a trip to Everton in the last eight, but having seen his side blow a gilt-edged chance last season when they lost at home to eventual runners-up Cardiff City in the quarter-finals, Southgate will take nothing for granted. Defeat by the Championship outfit marked a low point in the club's season, but taught them a series of valuable lessons, and he hopes they will be put to good use this time around.
Southgate said: "That was a game we got wrong, but we learnt a lot of lessons from that. We were stronger to the end of the season through that experience last year. But this is completely different. The year before, we got to the quarter-finals and we played Manchester United, so the draw wasn't kind to us that year.
"We know the route that's there to us now, but West Ham is all we are thinking about," added Southgate.
The disappointment around the Riverside as Cardiff celebrated an unlikely victory was palpable, and Boro's struggles this season have given their fans little to cheer.
That was not helped last week when some supporters received letters asking them to make less noise at games amid complaints from people sitting nearby, sparking a scornful response in the town and further afield.
Boro will be without midfielder Didier Digard, who has been ruled out for up to 12 weeks with knee ligament and thigh injuries after a crunching tackle from Boro old boy Lee Cattermole, and the cup-tied Marlon King, although Andrew Taylor could return from an ankle problem.Reuse content