Michael Carrick has urged Middlesbrough supporters to dream of Carabao Cup glory even if he is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
Head coach Carrick, 42, will send his Sky Bet Championship side into semi-final, second-leg battle with Premier League Chelsea on Tuesday evening knowing they could be just 90 minutes away from Wembley and in with a chance of repeating their 2004 triumph.
Carrick, who enjoyed a glittering playing career during which he won 12 major trophies with Manchester United, insists he and his players must treat the occasion like any other match, but can understand the excitement of the club’s supporters.
He said: “Part of football is creating hopes and dreams and the passion and excitement, the dream, the fairy tale. I was exactly the same when I was purely a supporter. That is what it should be.
“It is very different when you are in it. You have to be concentrated and a bit more business-like. But that doesn’t take away the buzz and excitement and the passion to do well. It is just slightly different.
“But certainly the supporters should be dreaming and making the most of it and wanting to play the very best because that is the beauty of football.”
Boro’s Carling Cup success 20 years ago was their first and last major honour, but they head into the game at Chelsea holding a narrow, but deserved, 1-0 lead courtesy of Hayden Hackney’s strike at the Riverside Stadium.
He said: “We know what it would mean to get through and have some success – I’m not playing that down at all – but I don’t know what will happen going into this game where it could swing both ways.
“Hopefully there is more to come after this and we can also achieve success in different ways. It’s great, it’s a fantastic experience and to sample it and have that sense of opportunity more than anything and seeing how we all deal with it.”
Carrick, who has fitness doubts over wing-back Isaiah Jones and midfielder Jonny Howson but is expected to include Villa target Morgan Rogers in his squad, is a veteran of the fierce rivalry between his former club United and Chelsea and has both medals and scars to show for it.
“I’ve had some good nights at Stamford Bridge, had some setbacks, so a bit of mixed feelings, really.”