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Mowbray: 'We've struggled to cover for Faris'
FARIS Haroun might not boast the same lofty reputation as some of his team-mates, but Tony Mowbray admits Middlesbrough have struggled to cope with the absence of the Belgian midfielder in the last three weeks.
Haroun damaged his calf in last month's 1-0 defeat at Cardiff City and has missed subsequent matches against Bristol City, Huddersfield and Birmingham.
Two of those three games have ended in defeat, and Boro will be hoping to record only their third win in the last seven matches when they travel to Championship basement boys Peterborough United this afternoon.
Haroun is hoping to be involved at London Road after returning to full training this week, and Mowbray admits his energetic approach has been missed in recent matches.
"I've spent a bit of time this week analysing our results and performances over the last few months, and when Haroun has been on the pitch, we've generally been winning football matches," said the Middlesbrough manager. "That's not just down to Faris of course, but he provides a different ingredient to the team sometimes.
"The raw athleticism and energy he provides can aid some of the more technical players. It allows us to play some more creative players in the team because Faris adds such athleticism around the pitch.
"I think he's enjoying his football at this moment. At times we play him centrally and at times we play him wide, and while he's not been a direct replacement, at times he's doing a very similar job to the one (Barry) Robson did for us last season.
"Sometimes we've played him off the striker to press from the front because he can almost press like two men. It's great credit to him how physically he can go for 90 minutes. The distances he covers in a football match are quite phenomenal."
Haroun joined Boro on a free transfer in August 2011, having previously represented Genk and Germinal Beerschott in his native Belgium.
Boasting six full international caps, he attracted interest from a number of Championship sides, but eventually opted to move to the Riverside.
Since then, he has made 50 senior appearances for the Teessiders, and while he was a somewhat peripheral performer last season, he had been a much more integral presence this term before picking up his injury.
"He was somebody who was on our radar for a while, but he had a lot of options before he came here," said Mowbray. "He'd been to one or two other English clubs and had a look around, so we were delighted when he signed.
"Like a lot of foreign players, he's had some fabulous games and also found it difficult to make the transition at times. He's been here nearly two years now and that transition is probably why there's been spells when he's been out of the side.
"But at this moment he's making a big impact, or at least he was doing before he picked up the injury. Sometimes it takes players a while to totally integrate into things. When Faris first came, everybody could see his athleticism, energy and running power. He's had to fine tune the way we want him to play, but he's doing that well."
In Haroun's absence, Emmanuel Ledesma has filled the right-midfield berth with either Richie Smallwood, Nicky Bailey or even Scott McDonald shuffling to the opposite flank.
It will be interesting to see how Mowbray sets up his midfield when all his senior performers are fit, and with Peterborough rooted to the foot of the Championship table, there will be a temptation to field as attacking a line-up as possible this afternoon.
Nicky Bailey's role in front of the back four means Mowbray can afford to start with a plethora of attacking players, although the Boro boss will be taking nothing for granted even though Peterborough have lost eight of their ten Championship home games this season.
"We would hope to go there and win because of their league position and the results they've had, yet somewhere along the line they're going to bounce back," he said. "We have to make sure it's not against us.
"This league has shown that the teams at the bottom can very easily at times beat the teams at the top. We went to Charlton last month and beat them 4-1, then the very next game three days later they scored five against Cardiff. It's that sort of league, so let's go to Peterborough and try to have an organisation and a desire to get the points. But no game in this league is a given."