Middlesbrough boss Michael Carrick has told his players to embrace the challenge of walking into the lion’s den at Chelsea with a place in the Carabao Cup final at stake.
Boro head coach Carrick saw his team secure a 1-0 first-leg lead at the Riverside Stadium on Wednesday evening, which will send them to Stamford Bridge on January 23rd with something to defend.
The Sky Bet Championship promotion hopefuls had to endure a tide of pressure on their own pitch to emerge with a clean sheet, and they can expect an onslaught on a night when a repeat would send them to Wembley.
However Carrick, whose side lost 1-0 to Chelsea’s Premier League counterparts Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round at the weekend, said: “It’s embracing it.
“The last two games the boys have coped very, very well with Villa at the weekend and tonight, this being different because it’s obviously a lot further on in the competition and there was much more of an opportunity in this one with the expectations, the hope, the challenge that they faced.
“I couldn’t have hoped or asked for anything more. I keep saying the next one is a totally different one, it’s a new challenge totally.
“The boys will be ready for it and we’ll be ready to perform. We’ll look forward to it and embrace the challenge because it’s an unbelievable challenge and position that we find ourselves in.”
Hackney’s 37th-minute strike, which came after Isaiah Jones had made the most of Dan Barlaser’s fine through ball, ultimately settled a game in which Mauricio Pochettino’s expensively-assembled side dominated possession, but failed to make the most of the chances they created with Cole Palmer passing up no fewer than three himself.
Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo alone cost in excess of £220million, but along with Conor Gallagher, got little change out of a Boro midfield of Hackney, Barlaser and Jonny Howson to leave Carrick purring.
Asked if it was his best night yet as a manager, the 42-year-old former Manchester United and England midfielder said: !It’s as proud as I’ve been, I have to say again, of the players.
“Knowing what they’ve put in and how close a group they are and seeing the stadium supporting the lads right to the end when they needed that bit of help for the last 10 minutes or so, standing there and seeing that made me hugely proud, so it was a good night for that, a really good night for that and hopefully we can create some more of them in the future.”
Pochettino was measured after a disappointing night on Teesside, during which he admitted the Blues had been punished both for their mistakes and their profligacy in front of goal.
The Argentinian said: “I am disappointed because I think we deserved a different result, but sometimes you don’t play well and you win.
“For us, it’s like we need to play well, we need to score goals. We play well, but sometimes we are not clinical enough and sometimes we are punished. That is the process in this moment we are in.
“Always when you are building a team, this kind of scenario is tough because you not only need to play well, but you need to deserve and have some luck.”