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Mowbray relishes selection dilemma
THE return to fitness of Jonathan Woodgate has provided Tony Mowbray with a selection dilemma, but it is one that the Middlesbrough manager relishes.
Woodgate would normally be one of the first names on Mowbray’s teamsheet, but the emergence of Ben Gibson means that the 33-year-old centre-half might not see an instant return to the line-up for the trip to Barnsley tomorrow.
Gibson, who was given his first league start against Queens Park Rangers in place of suspended Rhys Williams, kept his place in the team when Woodgate limped off at Loftus Road and has since been sidelined with a calf injury.
In that time, Gibson has scored his first goal for the club and followed that up with a composed display at the back during Boro’s 4-1 win over Yeovil Town.
Mowbray put his plans to bring a loan defender in on the backburner such were the quality of Gibson’s performances, and is impressed with the competition for places in his back four.
“The emergence of Ben was always going to be one when we had to wait and see, when his opportunity came, how he would do,” said Mowbray, who is also able to select Seb Hines after his successful rehabilitation from injury.
“We always knew he was going to be a good player, that’s why we didn’t let him go out on loan this season, and yet it was difficult for me to think that a 20-year-old is going to come in and play regularly at centre-half in the team, in a team with ambitions of getting out of the division.
“It’s with great credit to him that he’s put my mindset at this moment in time that maybe he can do the job. We have got competition there.
“We’ve got Woodgate, we’ve got Seb Hines, Rhys Williams. Ben’s given us a pleasant scenario to contemplate.
“We haven’t been over-pushing the loan side, the boy deserves the opportunity to keep his place. If he continues to do the job he’s been doing, then we’ll be more than happy.”
After Boro’s win against The Glovers, the first in ten games following a slow start to the season, Mowbray is confident his side can continue to make progress in their first game back after the international break.
“On the back of the game against Yeovil there was a good feeling around the building, yet we lost four or five on international duty,” said Mowbray. “It’s been good for the last ten days for those who were here, they applied themselves well.
“They know, despite the draws we’ve been having, that the team has been functioning pretty well and they remain pretty confident. We now have to look forward of course, and there’s two games between now and the next international break where we have to take maximum points.
“They are gelling together. The work we’ve done on the training ground together has given us an understanding of the expectations week in, week out. Without making it an excuse, there have been a few new signings, new players into the building, getting used to the demands and getting into the formation we want to play, that does take time on the training ground.
“The fine details come together. I feel as if it’s starting to come together, there have been good signs, hopefully when it clicks into gear we’ll be off and running and we’ll find a string of results that will propel us in the right direction.”
Having started the last two seasons like a train, 2013-14 so far has been a departure from the norm, but Mowbray would much rather end the season strongly rather than start strongly.
Mowbray said: “You have to win football matches to creep in the right direction. The last two seasons we won a lot of football matches early on and found it difficult to win after new year.
“This season, while we haven’t lost too many games, we’ve found it difficult to get the three points. We’re solid enough. When you’re not losing games it doesn’t erode the confidence too much.
“The belief in the squad is still pretty strong, it’s still high, that we can have a good season. We have to build it up. If we can finish the season strong it’s much better than starting strong. We hope to build some momentum so we can be strong after the new year, then we’ll see where it takes us.”
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