MIDDLESBROUGH must “take heart” from their performance, despite exiting the Capital One Cup in cruel fashion last night.
Tony Mowbray’s men lost 1-0 to Premier League form side Swansea City, succumbing to a Seb Hines own goal nine minutes from the end of last night’s quarter-final.
Now Boro must gather themselves to kick on in their Championsghip promotion challenge, with Wolves due at the Riverside on Saturday.
“Cup competitions are about getting through to the next round, and we didn’t manage that,” Tony Mowbray admitted.
“It was a tough game, fine margins. I could easily be sitting here having won 1-0, or having lost 1-0.
“Credit to them. They are in the semi-finals of the cup and good luck to them.
“We gave a decent account of ourselves. It was a game we could have won. I don’t think there was any time when they cut us open.
“I think the team can take some heart that if we can get out of this division we are in, we can come into the Premier League and be positive.
“There is no respite for us, really. We will try to do a session in the morning before travelling back, then we have one day’s preparation and go again against Wolves, who were obviously a Premier League side last year.
“It’s a big ask, but we keep going.”
Swansea are through to only the third semi-final of their 100-year history, and manager Michael Laudrup admitted that his players felt the tension.
“It was a very tight game,” Laudrup said. “It wasn’t a brilliant game to watch for the neutral, but it was a tight cup game.
“Everybody had the right attitude, everybody wanted to win, but I think they wanted it too much (in the first half). When you want something too badly, you can’t do exactly what you usually do.
“Middlesbrough put pressure on us, but in the second half we came out and played much, much better. We were more relaxed and took control.
“When you are three games from a final you get tense, and that is what we saw tonight.
“Everyone can be proud we are in the semi-finals, but when you are there you want to go the next step and be in the final. Whoever we play next, it will be very special.”
Swansea, Aston Villa and Bradford are through to the semis, with Leeds hosting Chelsea in the last quarter-final next midweek.
Boro gave as good as they got for most of a low-key contest as both sides lacked a sharp attacking edge and laboured for long periods.
Skipper Grant Leadbitter went close with a 21st-minute effort that forced Swans goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel into a save low at his right post.
Nathan Dyer’s darting runs apart, Swansea produced little in the final third, much to Laudrup’s growing frustration as he prowled his technical area.
Tremmel was forced to react smartly to keep out another effort by ex-Sunderland midfielder Leadbitter, who was Boro’s best player.
Boro started the second half brightly, with Justin Hoyte peppering Tremmel’s goal from long range, and they continued to display greater energy, especially in the congested midfield area.
Swansea, in contrast, cried out for accuracy and urgency, and they finally started to string some attacking phases together, going agonisingly close on 75 minutes after Nicky Bailey was cautioned for bringing down Dyer.
Jonathan De Guzman took the resulting free-kick, and Jason Steele palmed it on to the crossbar, keeping Boro level, although pressure continued to mount with Michu a consistent threat.
Referee Probert then waved away Swansea claims for a penalty when Hines challenged Ki, and a game that had previously lacked an attacking flow suddenly opened up.
Boro could only survive such sustained pressure for so long, and the unfortunate Hines diverted the ball beyond Steele from a corner under pressure from Garry Monk.
SWANSEA: Tremmel, Tiendalli, Chico, Monk, Davies, Dyer, Britton, de Guzman, Shechter (Moore 55), Routledge (Ki 65), Michu. Subs not used: Cornell, Bartley, Graham, Rangel, Agustien. Goal: Hines 81og
MIDDLESBROUGH: Steele, Hoyte, Bikey (Halliday 64), Hines, Friend, Haroun (Smallwood 65), Leadbitter (Miller 82), Bailey, Ledesma, Jutkiewicz, McDonald. Subs not used: Leutwiler, Thomson, Emnes, Parnaby. Booked: Leadbitter, Bailey
Att: 15,048. Ref: Lee Probert (Wiltshire)