For details on how to contact our editorial and commercial departments, click here
Mowbray hopes ping-pong will get Boro back on song
TONY Mowbray has unveiled an unlikely weapon in his ongoing battle to salvage Middlesbrough's season - ping-pong.
Saturday's 1-0 defeat to Birmingham made it just one win in the last nine matches for Mowbray's misfiring men, a run of form that has left them five points adrift of Leicester, who occupy the final play-off place.
Boro's players have appeared devoid of both confidence and inspiration in the last few months, but with eight games remaining, there is still time for them to claw their way back into the top six.
Mowbray will use the international break to refocus minds and foster a renewed sense of togetherness.
And instead of focusing on the Championship standings, he will be instructing his players to concentrate on a different kind of table.
"We've started a table tennis tournament in the changing room," said Mowbray, who now has an 11-day break before he leads his side back into action at Wolves. "It's actually Kieron Dyer's doing and he's probably the worst player."That's actually got all the lads together in a good way and it's little things like that which might help us get out of this rut."
The packed Championship schedule means a free midweek is a rare occurrence, let alone the best part of a fortnight without a game.
Given their desperate form, the current break could not have come at a better time for the Teessiders and Mowbray is determined to draw a line under recent disappointments as he prepares his side for a final promotion push.
With Justin Hoyte Jonathan Woodgate and Lukas Jutkiewicz having only recently returned from injury, the next fortnight provides a welcome opportunity to get some key players back up to full speed.
More importantly, however, it also creates a window for restoring morale and reminding Boro's players of the performance levels that briefly took them to the top of the Championship table at the start of November.
"I think we've just got to get the lads together in training and bring out the spirit we had in the first half of the season," said Mowbray. "Now we've got a lot of lads back fit I think we can do that in a really good way."We've got a really good set of lads here so I think we'll be able to sit down and assess what's gone wrong, and try to put it right in the last eight games of the season."
* Middlesbrough have released eight players from their academy system. Goalkeepers Shane Bland and James Montgomery, defenders Paul Weldon and Kyle Oliver, midfielders Curtis Edwards, Jarrett Rivers and Dylan McGlade and striker Adam Garrity have all been told their futures lie elsewhere.
At the same time, the club has agreed academy deals with ten new scholars. Callum Cooke, Matthew Elsdon, Dael Fry, Callum Johnson, Jordan Jowers, Nathan McGinley, Nathan Plews, Junior Scobie, Josef Wheatley and Matthew Wyke will all join the Rockliffe Park ranks in the summer.
The current agreements with Lewis Sirrell, Matthew Waters, Jimmy Warnett and Kieran Weledji have been extended by a year, while Boro have taken over the scholarship of Jonathan Burn, who was previously with Sunderland.