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Middlesbrough Comment by Paul Fraser
WHEN the final whistle had blown at Hillsborough back in May, a hint of a smile appeared on Tony Mowbray’s face. Despite ending the season with another defeat to Sheffield Wednesday, that the misery was over was clear.
In the final few months of a puzzling campaign, Mowbray had become a manager scratching away in a desperate bid to find answers to his team’s decline from promotion contenders to relegation candidates.
Just three wins after the turn of the year put paid to any hopes of staying in the mix for a Premier League spot, so by the time things had been wrapped up at Hillsborough there was relief all around.
He sent his players on their summer break and had them back to work in late June, with a determination to erase the memories of last season and learn from them.
While it is easy to make excuses for such a horrendous finish, an extensive list of injuries undoubtedly disrupted Boro’s form. That is why Mowbray has brought in experienced medical expert Bryan English and fitness chief Adam Kerr from Arsenal in a bid to avoid a repeat of the problems suffered.
But the Boro boss is acutely aware much more than that is required if his team is to stand any chance of competing for a top-six place.
For a start, bearing in mind how a sizeable squad was stretched many times last season, Mowbray has seen his pool of players severely reduced.
While that could help maintain a better team spirit, losing 11 players within the last six months is an indication of the changes that have taken place.
Scott McDonald, the club’s highest earner, was a decent goal threat regardless of how his pay packet was perceived and he has left for Millwall without being replaced so far.
Experienced defensive cover in the shape of Andre Bikey and Stephen McManus is no longer available. Despite the best efforts to bring in new blood, it has been a real battle to get deals done.
Hungarian Jozsef Varga and former Stoke man Dean Whitehead have strengthened the midfield following the departures of Julio Arca, Kevin Thomson and Josh McEachran.
The pair have looked strong in pre-season.
But Mowbray remains eager to further bolster his squad – he needs as many players equipped to handle the Championship as he can get his hands on.
This is not a season he can afford to rely heavily on youth.
Since taking over from Gordon Strachan in 2010, this will be the third season Mowbray has been in charge of from the start.
Given the apathy around the Riverside in recent years, there is a real sense that this has to be the year when the fans are given something to shout about as they enter a fifth successive year outside of the Premier League.
Mowbray, a fans’ favourite as a player, knows he has to deliver – whether or not he has the squad he wants, which is still
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