MIDDLESBROUGH boss Tony Mowbray knows his squad is almost on its knees – but is banking on his players to lift themselves for a big FA Cup mission.
Injury-ravaged Boro entertain in-form Sunderland at the Riverside tomorrow night for the televised fourth-round replay (kick-off 7.45pm).
Many observers felt Boro’s best chance of cup progress was by winning at the Stadium of Light, where Sunderland looked a little off-colour in the 1-1 draw 10 days ago.
Boro’s chances appear to be receding by the day as their injury crisis grows.
Front-line stars Nicky Bailey (knee), Scott McDonald (knee) and Barry Robson (hand) were already certain absentees along with Bart Ogbeche (hamstring).
Marvin Emnes and Faris Haroun (both hamstring) lasted only 57 minutes between them in Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace and neither will be risked on a cold Teesside night tomorrow.
Mowbray has been boosted by the return of Julio Arca after suspension, but is well aware of the size of the task facing Boro.
“If Faris and Marvin don’t make it – and there’s a fair chance they won’t – it takes a lot away from us when we are already missing a lot of players,” said the Boro boss.
“We have a few players who’ve had injury issues throughout their careers and to keep asking them to play every three days is very difficult to do.
“Mentally and physically it caught up with us on Saturday (against Palace).
“And it doesn’t get any easier.
“The positive is that Julio is free from suspension and he should bring a lot of experience into the side. Sometimes in adversity when you think you are really stretched you can find a performance that belies that.
“So we’ll look forward to it,” he added.
Arca will be a certain starter tomorrow against his former club.
The 31-year-old has missed the last three matches – all draws – and further down the age scale, there is likely to be a start for teenage striker Curtis Main.
Mowbray admits that several Football League clubs have inquired about taking the 19-year-old on loan, but says he will be going nowhere – except out onto the field in the red no 25 Boro jersey.
“There are teams clamouring to take Curtis on loan,” revealed Mowbray.
“At the moment he’s staying with us because he’s in and around the first team. The time has come for Curtis to get on to the pitch.”
Main, from South Shields, will especially be looking forward to a crack at Martin O’Neill’s Black Cats tomorrow night – because he’s a Newcastle United fan.