Tony Mowbray ready to end week of Middlesbrough soul-searching with Birmingham win (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Tony Mowbray ready to end week of Middlesbrough soul-searching with Birmingham win
MIDDLESBROUGH have used a full week on the training ground to air their grievances, take stock - and refocus the efforts on their ailing promotion battle.
Back to back defeats at Huddersfield and Bristol City last week lost Boro ground in the race for the play-offs, with momentum favouring Brighton and Hove Albion and Nottingham Forest.
And, with the criticism of Boro's implosion reaching a peak in the wake of Boro's 2-0 defeat to the Robins, Mowbray has taken full advantage of his side's first blank midweek in more than a month.
“We've talked about how great it was to have a game every three days,” said Mowbray.
“But it's only great when you're winning, the games can't come fast enough. We lost two last week.
“To recover from those huge disappointments it's been important to take a gulp of air, to sit and talk and discuss it, to rebuild belief and hopefully we'll see that this week.”
Amid the soul-searching, Mowbray is at least comforted by the squad and staff are united in their goal to make a return to the Premier League from which they were relegated in 2008.
“They are human beings,” said Mowbray. “Some are vocal, some are a little bit quiet and introverted, but that doesn't mean they don't care as much.
“I'm sure you know we've got players who have a lot to say, just as we have players who care just as much but don't say as much.
“I feel the disappointment with the group, I feel their hurt, I feel their intensity in training, their concentration in training.
“The continuous message with me is that you must train like you play, concentration, intensity, you have to be at it.
“You can't just flick a switch and hope it happens for you.
“It's frustrating. The supporters are feeling the frustration, the staff are feeling the frustration, the players are feeling the frustration. The reality of it is that we're still very much in there.”
Middlesbrough under-18 coach Colin Cooper insisted earlier in the week that Mowbray was working hard to get to the bottom of their sudden loss in form, and Boro's manager admitted that any answers he could think of would sound like excuses – and that the only answer is to stay positive and hope the form will turn the right way.
“”As a manager you search for the answers,” said Mowbray, whose side face Birmingham City this afternoon. “Why, for 25 games, were we right at the top, two points off the top, second in the league, we might have topped it for a week or so, always in the top six.
“You search for the answers, sometimes they come across as excuses so you don't discuss them too much. I don't want to sit here and talk about a run of injuries, or key players unavailable, players coming back with a lack of confidence.
“The reality is that we have to win football matches, the mindset at the moment is that we beat Cardiff in the last home game who are riding high, we believe we can beat anyone in this league but we've taken two knocks since Cardiff. It was tough to take at Huddersfield and Bristol City.
“The next opportunity is in front of us this weekend. Birmingham were in the Premier League only recently, they've still got Premier League footballers in their squad, they're a big city club with high expectations, so we're expecting a tough game.
“There's everything to play for. As a group we need to remain positive, to believe we can do it.”
Mowbray will today assume the role of pantomime villain having managed the Blues' rivals West Bromwich Albion, but the manager is well aware of the challenge Lee Clark has in the West Midlands.
“If you've lived in Birmingham as I have for three years as West Brom manager, you'll know they're a club with huge expectations,” said Mowbray, who will see Curtis Davies line up today, a player he sold from the Baggies to Aston Villa for £12m before moving across town to Birmingham.
“A lot of their supporters expect the club to be in the Premier League, yet they find themselves mid table in the Championship with the frustrations of having to sell their players, reduce salary levels, try and find good enough players to get up the league.
“It's something that we're going through ourselves. We had a good chance in the first half of the season but I don't think Birmingham have been in and around it, at this moment I'm not sure whether they're looking over their shoulders or feeling they can get in the play-offs.
“I don't know what their mentality is, other than I know the expectation of that club having lived in that part of the world for a while. They're all tough games.
“We beat the top team one week then lost to the bottom team a week later. This is the next really tough game but one we can get the three points and push on.”