Mowbray's reign: Ship-steadying, mid-season collapses and firefighting - but the results were not good enough (From The Northern Echo)
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Mowbray's reign: Ship-steadying, mid-season collapses and firefighting - but the results were not good enough
TONY MOWBRAY’S near-three-year reign as Middlesbrough manager had a certain symmetry about it.
Under Gordon Strachan, attendances were down, wins were hard to come by, they were in the bottom half of the Championship and the team had lost momentum. Mowbray was appointed, hailed as a returning hero having started his career on Teesside nearly 30 years earlier.
He began with a defeat, to bottom team Bristol City. Albert Adomah scored for City. Two years and 51 weeks later, his reign ended with a defeat, to bottom team Barnsley. Adomah scored again, but this time for Middlesbrough.
Mowbray left with attendances down, wins again hard to come by, a team without momentum and once again in the bottom half of the Championship.
In between those two fixed points were raised hopes, crushing disappointments but glimmers of something special. Sadly, the special times were too few and too far between, and Mowbray’s mission to propel his hometown club from the doldrums of the Championship ultimately failed.
Four days separate the milestones of managerial departures since 2009 in Middlesbrough. On October 21, 2009, chairman Steve Gibson sacked Gareth Southgate. On October 17, 2010, Gordon Strachan resigned. And, on October 21, 2013, Gibson reluctantly showed Mowbray the door.
Mowbray’s reign, more than anyone else’s, was the one that the fans wanted to work the most. Middlesbrough’s supporters saw the work he did with West Bromwich Albion in getting them promoted in 2008 and expected the same brand of attacking football. It rarely materialised, but not for the lack of trying.
His first season, picking up where Strachan left off, was a case of steadying the ship. Following defeat to City, Mowbray lifted his side out of the drop zone with back to back wins against Crystal Palace and Scunthorpe United.
Activity in the transfer market was limited by the fact that Strachan had spent £7million on bringing in Kevin Thomson, Kris Boyd, Nicky Bailey and Stephen McManus having spent a combined £5million on Scott McDonald and Barry Robson the season before.
It was especially awkward for Mowbray having shipped out McManus, McDonald and Robson, the former on an initial loan, while Celtic manager. However, despite their large wages, the trio served Mowbray well in their time at the Riverside.
Adding defender Maximilian Haas and Merouane Zemmama to his squad, Mowbray guided Boro to 12th in the table having won their last four games of the 2010-11 season.
The momentum carried on into the new season, a blistering start which was set against a backdrop of firefighting, wage-slashing and squad rebuilding.
Out went Leroy Lita, Didier Digard, Willo Flood, Boyd and Andrew Taylor, and in came Faris Haroun, Malaury Martin and Curtis Main, while Mowbray gave a run in the team to rookie left-back Joe Bennett. It was October before Mowbray’s side would taste defeat in the league, against Nottingham Forest.
Third in the Championship table, Boro were expected to claim the first play-off spot with Southampton and West Ham United the favourites to go up automatically.
But as 2011 became 2012, Mowbray’s Middlesbrough stopped winning, and were made to wait until February before winning again, by which time they had dropped to eighth.
Another rally in form saw Boro go into the last game of the season, away at Watford, with slim hopes of sealing the final play-off spot. But they were beaten 2-1 and the dream had died.
For 2012-13, read 2011-12. Mowbray had another busy summer, signing 11 new players including George Friend, Jonathan Woodgate and Grant Leadbitter while releasing Barry Robson, Matthew Bates, Martin and short-term striker Bart Ogbeche.
Again, Boro began like a train. Again, Boro were near the top at Christmas. And again, the bell of Big Ben signalled like a death chime for Mowbray’s promotion hopes.
The 2013 collapse was even more dramatic than the season before. Boro won just three times after new year, ending the season in 16th having been third over Christmas and ten points clear of Nottingham Forest who were in seventh.
Middlesbrough’s collapse did little to inspire the supporters, and while Mowbray managed to raise his side a year earlier, the inability to win games seeped into the new campaign, and Gibson was forced to act with Boro having only secured two victories in 12 games.
The close season was a milestone for Mowbray, having, in Scott McDonald, moving out the final big-earner of the previous regime, in his place signing two players - Jacob Butterfield and Kei Kamara - to signal the building of a new squad. A squad, Mowbray believed, would gel together and go on to produce the kind of football which, before Middlesbrough, became his trademark.
Who knows why it didn’t work. Who knows why after promising starts to the season, Boro fell away two years on the bounce.
Gibson ultimately decided that the common denominator was the manager. While his firefighting work is to be commended, the results did for Mowbray, and today more than ever, it is the results that are the most important aspect.
Mowbray’s successor will inherit a team with a wage bill suitable for their current status, and may even have some money to spend in January.
If only Mowbray had taken over in such circumstances.
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