John Obi Mikel admits there’s a nervousness about Boro when they play at the Riverside – but has called on his teammates to be fearless on home turf in the remaining weeks of the season.
Boro ended a run of four straight defeats at the Riverside with a much needed victory over play-off chasing rivals Hull City on Saturday and will look to build on that when Stoke City head for Teesside this Friday.
Boro’s home form has let them down throughout the season and the five teams who have picked up fewer points in the division in their own back yard are all in the bottom six in the Championship fighting against relegation.
Boro, on the other hand, still harbour hopes of a top six finish and closed the gap on Bristol City to just one point over the weekend thanks to Britt Assombalonga’s winner against the Tigers.
After the game, manager Tony Pulis admitted his players get nervous at home, which was echoed by John Obi Mikel, who again captained the side in the absence of George Friend.
Boro’s fans have been critical of the style of play and approach this season, particularly at home.
But Mikel insists Boro are trying to play “the right way” and is urging his teammates to be bold and confident in possession and not scared of making mistakes.
There is nerves,” admitted the former Chelsea midfielder.
“Fans want to see….it’s not normal that you play football games without making a mistake. It’s normal to make mistakes. We have to accept it, they don’t want to see us give the ball away.
“But we can’t play a game without giving the ball away as a team. It happens. That’s why we know we can’t get upset with the fans. They have their opinion. We want to play well and want to score goals.
“If you look at the way we play, we try to play the ball. That’s important. It’s the right way to play, but doing that you will make mistakes. We have to keep doing what we’re doing, creating chances and if we take those we will win games.”
Mikel added: “I wouldn’t say to the fans to come and not (criticise). They have their opinion, if they want to scream that’s fine. But we as players shouldn’t let it affect us, we have to keep doing it and playing.
“We are creating lots of chances, if we take them we’ll win two or three nil every game. There are nerves but we are professionals and we have to deal with it.”
The missed chances that Mikel refers to were again a theme in Saturday’s game, with Boro spurning a number of opportunities to put the game out of sight of Hull in the first half.
Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher were both guilty of missing chances, and yet the strikers have scored the goals that have secured two big wins for Boro against Bolton and Hull after the dismal defeat at Swansea a little over a week ago.
Mikel sees what the strike duo are capable of in training so takes every possible opportunity to encourage the pair and bring the best out of them week in, week out.
“I keep speaking to Britt all the time and Fletch,” he said.
“They have to continue. As an experienced player I always talk to them on the pitch.
“They need someone to say to them, ‘keep going, keep playing, if you make a mistake don’t put your head down’.
“That’s exactly what they need. You see Fletch scoring (at Bolton) and (against Hull) Britt got the winner.
“We have to keep encouraging them and talking to them. They’re great lads and they want to learn. They’re doing exactly what they have to do.
“Sometimes it’s not going in but they have to keep doing it.”