TONY MOWBRAY reckons the Riverside Stadium’s latest South American is ready to light up Middlesbrough’s Championship promotion charge.
Emmanuel Ledesma did not arrive with the same reputation as some of those before him, but the bargain buy from Walsall is starting to find his feet on Teesside.
Mowbray knows all about the club’s previous ability to attract Brazilian internationals like Juninho and Emerson, while they have also had Argentines Julio Arca and Carlos Marinelli in their ranks.
But now Ledesma, who has struck up a strong friendship with injured compatriot Arca, is starting to show that it is not necessarily previous achievements that make a good player.
The 24-year-old was tormentor- in-chief on Friday night when he laid on Middlesbrough’s first two goals in the 3-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday that briefly took them to the top of the Championship.
“Manu (Ledesma) has always shown that eye for a pass even though he over-elaborated at times through pre-season,”
said Mowbray. “He has always shown that side of his game.
“Even at Bury in the Capital One Cup in August he put in a terrific cross for Scott McDonald to score.
“It was also his cross against Bolton that allowed McDonald to score. He has soft feet, he’s nice on the ball and can feel the eye for a pass, like we saw for Justin Hoyte’s goal on Friday.”
Ledesma spotted Hoyte on the overlap down the right side to roll an excellent weighted pass for the fullback to meet it with a terrific drive that flew into the top corner.
The former Walsall, QPR and Genoa man then teed up McDonald for Middlesbrough’s second, even though Ishmael Miller pounced just before it crossed the line to get his name on the scoresheet instead.
Boro’s coaching staff have been working on the training ground to improve that side of Ledesma’s game and the player has impressed everyone at the club with his willingness to learn.
“He’s a centre-forward, he’s a second striker, we quite like him as a wide right player because he has a wonderful left foot. He can play anywhere up there,” said Mowbray.
“He is another player who is a goal threat from wide, which we have. We had goal threats all over the pitch the other night.
“Manu is a joy to work with, he comes in every day with a smile on his face. That’s good because he doesn’t quite understand every word we are saying.
“He is a wonderful talent, has a great work ethic, helps the whole team with his running back.”
Crystal Palace returned to the top of the Championship on Saturday and Cardiff moved back to within a point of Boro with a 2-1 victory over Hull. And with Boro set to face the Bluebirds at the Cardiff City Stadium this weekend Mowbray is keen to start the next block of fixtures in style.
“We have had a game every three days, but we have come out of a seven-match block with six wins and one draw,”
said Mowbray, who has serious concerns over the calf problem sustained by Jonathan Woodgate.
“That run was a huge credit to the players, now we move on and try to make sure our good form continues. The players are not robots, we have had to change things, rest players and I think that has helped us. That run is over now, let’s go again.”
For that to happen Mowbray fully expects his players not to hold grudges with one another over situations that may occur over the course of the season.
On Friday night, McDonald was angry with Miller for pinching what he felt would have been his goal and the Aussie was clearly animated in the minutes after that incident.
But Mowbray said: “Mc- Donald is a goalscorer, he scores different goals to our other players. He was sure it was going in, Ishmael didn’t think it was.
“Scott would probably have done the same, they are both fine and we get on with it. I understand strikers want to score goals but I’m not overly fussed. Scott is enjoying his football, has been scoring goals and there will be more goals for him in the coming months, I’m sure.”