With 20 games to go and five points off the play-offs, Tony Mowbray says it’s all to play for as Rovers return to Championship action on Saturday.

Mowbray’s side exited the FA Cup at Birmingham City last weekend, a third defeat in a row which stretched their winless run to five games after a disappointing festive period that saw them collect just two points from a possible 12.

However, the manager still sees reason to be optimistic after a previous run of five wins in six catapulted them back in to play-off contention after a slow start.

Mowbray accepts that more than half the division will be eyeing a strong second half of the season to push their own top six ambitions, with Middlesbrough and Reading among the form sides in the division.

Rovers host a Preston side this weekend who also claimed two points from their last four matches and a win for the home side could move them level on points with North End.

And seeing reason for optimism after a hectic, and disappointing run, Mowbray said: “The season will now level out, once you get past halfway you’re almost starting to count the games down. I think it’s there for everyone in this division.

“Take away the bottom six teams and everyone above six off the bottom will think if we can put a run together, as Middlesbrough have, that’s what can happen.

“We did the same, find a run of results that catapult us to the cusp of the play-offs, to the point when we were three points off third.

“The last four games haven’t gone as we would have planned or wanted, but if we can swing that back over the next few weeks in to positivity and win some football matches then we’ll be right in the mix with a dozen other teams to try and make sure we’re pushing hard for the top six.”

After their home game with Wigan was moved back 48 hours to December 23, it meant the Birmingham cup tie was Rovers’ fifth match in 13 days.

It has been a testing schedule, and one which has taken its toll on the squad.

The cup defeat also means that after the Preston game on Saturday, Rovers have just one more to play in January.

And questioning the busy December fixture list, Mowbray said: “I’m not sure why we would do that. Is it because we’ve done it historically?

“My father-in-law said that as an Ipswich fan they used to play on Christmas Day and Boxing Day against the same team.

“But football has changed so much since then, the game is so much faster, the game has moved on, it’s quicker and faster, the pitches are better, the boots are lighter, the sports science investment is different now.

“I don’t know why we play all of those games over such a short period of time over the festive period. Is it money? People can go home and go to football matches so we can cram them in to stadiums.

“The question from the professional is, what about the footballer?

“Newcastle highlighted it, three substitutions in the first half through muscle injuries and one more just after the start of the second half so they played with 10 men.

“I’m not sure why the authorities cram so many games in to December and then we’ve got all the free midweeks in January, other than commercial reasons.

Mowbray rotated his squad, with 28 changes in five matches before making just three against Birmingham.

Preston boss Alex Neil took a different approach, making nine for their FA Cup defeat to Norwich.

And Mowbray added: “How hard do you drive the players? What are the demands on the players?

“Every manager rotates their teams and if you don’t win when you rotate your team then you leave yourself open to criticism.

“Yet you have to balance off a different opposition, the mentality of your own squad and the ability to trust people to play and at some stage you have to give them a chance to perform.”

“Sometimes it can be a real positive when someone is almost angry about not being picked and not playing and then you go to them ‘there’s your chance’ and hopefully you get a really impressive, aggressive performance from that player that surpasses where you think he might be because he’s trying to prove a point on why he should be playing.”