Middlesbrough boss starting with a "clean slate" as Richardson signing is confirmed (From Darlington and Stockton Times)
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Middlesbrough boss starting with a "clean slate" as Richardson signing is confirmed
HE has been in his role for more than two-and-a-half years, but when Middlesbrough kick off the Championship season at home to Leicester City today, Tony Mowbray feels it is the first time he will be starting with a “clean slate”.
Having inherited a bloated, overpaid squad from Gordon Strachan, Mowbray has spent the majority of his tenure attempting to move on a clutch of high-earning players in order to create some much-needed space on the wage bill.
The departure of Scott McDonald and Stephen McManus this summer means that process is now complete, and while the Middlesbrough hierarchy have run into problems as they have attempted to recruit a number of targets in the last few weeks, there is a shared confidence the squad will be much stronger by the time the transfer window closes next month.
Frazer Richardson became Boro's third summer signing when he joined as a free agent yesterday, but the 30-year-old defender, who can play at right-back or centre-half, is not available for today's game.
Talks with Bristol City over winger Albert Adomah remain ongoing, but the Ashton Gate club are still to grant Boro permission to discuss personal terms with the Ghanaian, who could now be involved in the Robins' League One opener with Bradford.
The two clubs are close to agreeing a fee of just over £1m, but there is a dispute over the way in which the payment will be structured.
Further discussions are planned for the weekend, and Boro will hope to exploit the fact that Bristol City have already signed former Newcastle striker Marlon Harewood as Adomah's replacement.
It has been a summer of upheaval on Teesside, and the transition remains far from complete. But with the new campaign beginning today, Mowbray feels Middlesbrough are in a better position than at any other time in his reign.
“It's almost like we've got a clean slate for the first time now,” said the Boro boss. “That was why we took some tough decisions in the summer. We let players go that some of the supporters might have liked and can't understand why we did it, but we had to clear some space otherwise we would just have been plodding on with the same group.
“Sometimes, in order to change things around, you have to create a financial hole in the team that you can fill. That's what we've done, and it's why I would be hopeful that a few players are going to be coming in.
“Why so late? Well we've only just created that hole in the last couple of weeks. We've been working very hard since then to try to fill those holes, and hopefully the new signings we bring in will help get the team into the Premier League.
“It would be nice for everybody for that to happen. We really feel as though it's the first time we can properly start to build. Hopefully, the team is given an opportunity to grow.”
The departure of 11 senior players since the end of last season, with only Dean Whitehead, Jozsef Varga and Richardson arriving in the other direction, has led to a mounting sense of anxiety throughout the pre-season period.
Given the parlous way in which they finished last season, and the fact the squad is now even more stretched, can Boro really hope to mount a promotion push this term?
Mowbray understands the concerns that have been voiced by supporters and pundits alike in recent weeks, but insists it would be wrong to make judgements before the club's recruitment drive is complete.
More signings will arrive – he is sure of it – and once they do, there is a quiet confidence that Boro will be capable of confounding the gloomy pre-season predictions.
“There is a financial reality at work in this league, but we still have an expectation,” said Mowbray. “We're happy to be under that national radar.
“When people are compiling odds (Boro are 33-1 for the Championship title), they're generally looking at who's been spending money and strengthening. They look at the relegated teams and think about whether they can bounce back.
“I understand why we're not on the radar because we have let players go. We seem to have weakened our squad, and yet I feel those tough decisions had to be made for us to be able to bring in the footballers we want to move forward.
“We're almost at the low point of where we're going to be. But once we strengthen, maybe the odds and predictions will change. And anyway, what matters is out on the grass.
“Starting against Leicester, I think we have a decent team. Although I accept those 11, 12 or 13 players I think can do a job aren't going to stay on the pitch for 46 games and we've still got to add three or four more footballers to strengthen the squad.”
Of the players currently at Mowbray's disposal, centre-half Seb Hines is the only long-term absentee as he continues to recover from a bout of summer surgery. Hines is around six weeks away from a first-team return, meaning Ben Gibson will deputise for the first-choice defensive pairing of Jonathan Woodgate and Rhys Williams.
Meanwhile, Boro have signed Norwegian defender Birger Solberg Meling and Teesside-born midfielder Bradley Halliday, both 18, to their development squad.
Left-back Meling was formerly with Viking FK, while Redcar's Halliday was previously with the Academy as a youngster.
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