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Leadbitter thinks Boro can keep on rising
THREE wins from three matches over Christmas have closed the gap to the play-off places, but Middlesbrough midfielder Grant Leadbitter is not banking on a promotion push just yet.
Boro brought the curtain down on a woeful 2013 with a third straight win on Sunday when two goals from Leadbitter and one from Albert Adomah secured a 3-0 win over play-off contenders Reading.
The mini-revival has widened the gap to the relegation zone to ten points, just weeks after there were increased fears that the Teesside outfit could get dragged in to the mess.
But collecting nine points from nine has suddenly got Middlesbrough fans daring to think about the top half of the table again after seeing some signs of real progress under Aitor Karanka recently.
Leadbitter admits a top six place could still happen in the Championship, knowing how Middlesbrough now sit just six points shy of sixth-placed Ipswich Town.
But the former Sunderland midfielder is not getting carried away. He said: “You have to get on with your own job, you can't afford to think about the others really and what they are doing.
“When you are not losing games, before you know it you can find yourself right in the mix. That's what we have got to do and what we have to think about.
“You can't look too far ahead or at what has gone wrong before, we have to just try to focus on winning one game, then the next, and the rest will take care of itself.
“We have always done well against the league's better sides, in my time here we have come unstuck against teams who have come and parked the bus. They have tended to sit behind the ball. When the top teams come the games take care of themselves and that's what we have to try to do at Bolton, take it to them.”
Bolton sit three points below Middlesbrough ahead of the trip to the Reebok Stadium tomorrow. As things stand that could prove to be Shay Given's last appearance for the club.
Given's loan deal expires the following day and Karanka has admitted that talks are continuing with Aston Villa in the hope of striking a deal.
The 37-year-old has brought some stability to the side and his experience has also been a huge factor in the dressing room as well as on the pitch.
Leadbitter, a boyhood Sunderland fan who used to watch him in action during his Black Cats days, said: “Shay has been unbelievable, his voice has been brilliant on the pitch and in the dressing room. Everyone is buying in to his ways and fighting for their place.
“I was on the terraces, the Fulwell End at Roker Park, when Shay was there. Look at his career. Jason Steele will learn from Shay too, that's for sure. We all can learn from Shay. Look around the place, Shay is a top keeper and everyone listens when he talks.
“Jason Steele is a top keeper. Shay has come in to help the team out while we have been without Jason and it has helped everyone to have someone with that experience.
“He has kept three clean sheets in the last three games and we have won three. In the middle of the pitch you can hear Shay's voice and that's always a good side.”
The three victories over Millwall, Burnley and Reading have given Middlesbrough's season a real boost after months of struggle which cost Tony Mowbray his job in October.
During the last week there has been a real improvement in their attacking output, with more shots being taken at the opposition's goal and a greater willingness to be creative in the final third.
Leadbitter said: “Freedom in your play and the way you express yourself as a team on the pitch comes with winning games. You can see the confidence and we have an extra spring in our step at the minute, but we have to keep winning games to be successful.
“Everyone here has been together a while now but we haven't been winning games. That's all that has been lacking. Confidence comes from that and we have to keep working hard in training and make sure it happens.
“We played well against Reading, we played well on Boxing Day, nothing has changed in the club, it's the same players, but we need to keep climbing up the table. We have to move on and make sure 2014 is a better year.”
Leadbitter is likely to partner Richie Smallwood in the middle tomorrow after Dean Whitehead picked up his fifth yellow card of the campaign. He serves a one-match ban.
Jonathan Woodgate's thigh problem will be assessed to see if he can return, while Marvin Emnes had to be withdrawn against Reading with an ankle knock.
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