TONY MOWBRAY thinks Scott McDonald could give Middlesbrough the extra spark required to stay in the promotion mix this season after watching the two-goal Aussie striker torment Huddersfield Town.
McDonald scored a goal in each half – either side of an Emmanuel Ledesma free-kick - as Boro returned to third in the Championship with a straight-forward 3-0 win at the rain-soaked Riverside Stadium.
The brace took the former Celtic man's tally to seven goals since his return to the first team fold at Watford in early October.
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McDonald had looked to be on his way out of the club before that, but now he has tuned in to the way Mowbray wants to rotate his squad to compete in the Championship.
And, after returning to the starting line-up last night after missing Saturday's 3-1 defeat at Bristol City, McDonald delivered in front of goal to highlight how he can help Middlesbrough's bid to stay in the hunt for a top two place.
“Scott has come back in to the fray,” said Mowbray. “What he brings as well as his goals is a work ethic, a successful team has a work ethic from the front.
“People can talk about his goals but a coach's eye sees the unselfish side ... the tackling, the tracking back he does for the team. It was a real honest performance from him.
“Even when Scott wasn't playing, the goals were coming from different parts of the team. It is 18 different players who have scored for us this season.
“But to be successful you need players to get in to double figures and I am confident Scott can get us to a healthy tally this year.”
After the frustrating defeat to Bristol City, Mowbray admitted he was disappointed with some of the work his front two - Ishmael Miller and Lukas Jutkiewicz – did out of possession.
He was far more satisfied last night by McDonald and Jutkiewcz's contribution. Rather than single out too many individuals, though, the Middlesbrough manager was more impressed with the overall response to losing on Saturday.
“It was important to get back on track,” said Mowbray. “We have aspirations to stay around the top two, had we lost this we could have found ourselves out of the top six.
“Now we can look forward to Friday night, at Birmingham City, and look to cause Birmingham problems. We have been doing well on the road. The league is still very tight.”
He added: “Any win is a good win in this league. It shows the confidence has not been too dented. At Cardiff when we lost we all know how well we played. On Saturday the belief was there but we didn't have the quality to beat them. We will put these points in the bag and go again.”
While McDonald's goals helped Middlesbrough along last night there was also another notable display from winger Emmanuel Ledesma.
The 24-year-old, a free agent signing after leaving Walsall in the summer, has really come to life in a Middlesbrough shirt during the last ten matches.
And Mowbray said: “He is learning the game. He is young in terms of the level of football he is now playing at. At times he has to be cleverer with the ball, but there are some classic situations where he is doing things really well.
“We watched him last year for Walsall and he spent the first few games on the bench with us. He is now playing at a higher level, nobody has questioned his talent, we have seen flashes of his talent. We are pleased with him.”
Midfielder Grant Leadbitter will return to the squad for Friday's trip to St Andrew's after suspension, but it is unlikely any of Jonathan Woodgate, George Friend or Faris Haroun will return.
There was also a late concern surrounding the fitness of Andy Halliday last night. The Scottish full-back impressed as a left-back but then was taken off in the closing stages as a precautionary measure after feeling tightness in his hamstring.
Mowbray said: “I don't think it's too bad. He just didn't want to get injured so we took him off.”