Michael Carrick has told his Middlesbrough players to be ready to seize their big moment as they attempt to ease themselves to within one game of the Premier League.
Boro welcome Coventry to the Riverside Stadium for the second leg of their Sky Bet Championship play-off semi-final on Wednesday evening, with Sunday’s first leg having ended 0-0.
The stakes are high as the sides prepare to meet for the third time in 10 days – they drew 1-1 at the Riverside on the last day of the regular season – and former Manchester United and England midfielder Carrick knows the tie could be decided by the finest of margins.
Asked what could make the difference in such a tight contest, he said: “No game of football is ever the same, but you’ve got to take your moments, take your chances and capitalise on them at the right time. That’s a big part of it.
“There are always momentum swings in games and you have to manage them right. There is never one thing that defines them – it can be a mistake, it can be individual brilliance or magic. Hopefully we get that and it goes our way.”
Boro have match-winners within their squad – striker Chuba Akpom goes into the game with 28 league goals to his name this season, although none in his last three, and loan signing Cameron Archer has scored 11 since his January arrival from Aston Villa – but head coach Carrick has put all his players on red alert.
He said: “It could be anybody. The boys have got to be ready – and they will be. Who knows who it might be? Expect the unexpected.
“Sometimes it might be someone no-one is expecting or would put a bet on being the one to make a difference. Everyone has got to be ready.”
Boro are looking to end a six-year exile from the top flight, but Carrick does not view the quest for a return as pressure.
He said: “We don’t see it as a pressure, we see it as a privilege. It’s a great position to be in and so we’ll try to relish it and embrace it.
“But we have to remember that we do have a job to do. We’re not coming to just enjoy the occasion, there is business to take care off and there is a way of going about that.
“We’ve got to stay level-headed and focus on our performance because that’s what will get us the result. Your mentality and your mindset is the most powerful tool.
“There are plenty of people with skills, attributes and abilities, but in the end, at this level, the difference can be what’s going on between your ears.”