Bates relishing Black Cats test
Middlesbrough captain Matthew Bates says Sunday's FA Cup derby against Sunderland is a chance to show his side can compete with the best.
Sunderland are currently one of the Premier League's form sides having been revitalised under new boss Martin O'Neill, with ex-Boro midfielder Lee Cattermole playing his part as captain.
However, Boro are hoping to join them in the top flight soon, and Bates is keen to show the gap in quality is not as big as some might think.
"We have aspirations to get to the Premier League and this is an opportunity to prove to people we can play," the 25-year-old told his club's website.
"The gaffer's said to us, 'Let's go up there and see where we are and if we are where we want to be or if we're not'. There might be a few shocks and a few pleasant surprises.
"We're going there as underdogs, there's no doubt about that, but sometimes that's not such a bad thing. The pressure's got to be on them being at home and being a Premier League side and we're looking for a cup upset."
Bates feels that the home-grown talent in the Middlesbrough squad will serve them well, as many will be playing for the local bragging rights.
"We've got more local lads in our squad than they have and it will mean that little bit extra to us local boys," he said.
"But everyone out there will know what it means. Everyone in our team will be up for it and it's a big occasion for all of us. We're all really looking forward to it and let's hope we can pull off a shock.
"It's a huge game, especially for the fans. There'll be a great atmosphere, we've got 3,000 going and we could have probably sold that 10 times over."
After ending the year in impressive fashion, Boro's league form has dipped at the start of 2012 with three successive defeats.
Bates believes that the tie is a welcome distraction from the pressures of the league, and is looking forward to the one-off cup clash.
"Promotion has to be our priority but this is a great game to be in as a player and it brings that extra buzz for the players and the fans," he said.
"It's a totally different game and we can go there without even thinking about the league. I'm sure if we can get through this tie we can get a nice cup run going.
"But we know it's going to be a tough game and we'll really need to perform well to beat a good team like Sunderland. Let's just hope we put on a good performance."
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