Boro boss sticking to his guns

First published in Sport The Northern Echo: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Football/Golf Writer

TONY MOWBRAY has defended Middlesbrough's approach to the Championship this season, with the meticulous manager intent on delivering promotion playing his way.

Boro climbed to within a point of the top six with a 2-1 win at Watford last Saturday, but the result was far greater than the performance.

There are hopes that last weekend's win will give the injury-hit squad the lift they crave after ten matches. After the international break they travel to Brighton on October 20 and then Hull visit the Riverside Stadium three days later.

Boro are in need of a significant run of good form if they are to boost the dwindling attendances at home games, where more and more fans are staying away.

And while Boro's crowds have been declining in the years building up to Mowbray's arrival, there was a new league low set at the Riverside of 13,377 for the draw with Derby County on October 3.

Mowbray is keen to see that figure go up, but admits he is unwilling to make his team more direct if he feels it will damage the chances of winning matches in the Championship.

The manager said: "I understand fans' frustrations, they get it at Old Trafford, believe me. I have been there and heard the fans chuntering away at Old Trafford. It can be the same anywhere.

"Football is what it is, there's a balance between having the ball and having a threat. I don't see that punting the ball up to the centre-forward and relying on taking the second ball is a type of football that will take anybody, anywhere.

"There is a balance to be had. Sometimes you have to keep the ball, sometimes you have to play it forward. We want to play it forward, we want to play in to strikers and support them. You can't always do that when you are up against teams with eight, nine players in the way.

"You sometimes have to keep it, move it to the side and wait for something to open up. I understand that sometimes supporters just want the ball played up front, but if it keeps breaking down when you do that, and the opposition keep breaking on you, then it is also disappointing when the ball ends up in your net.

"Thinking like that, we would rather keep the ball and get the opposition frustrated than see them attack all the time after we have lost the ball. There's a balance and I understand that."

Boro have only lost one of their last five matches and the defeat to Leicester at the end of September remains their only home reversal in five fixtures this season.

The make-up of the Championship is such that Mowbray does not think it is possible to predict two teams to finish in the automatic promotion places. Both Brighton and Hull - Boro's next two games - are both contenders in his mind.

He is optimistic both Kevin Thomson and Stuart Parnaby will be available for selection for the next game after returning to training following respective knee and jaw problems.

Mowbray is keen to have them both back because of ongoing worries surrounding Jonathan Woodgate, Justin Hoyte and Merouane Zemmama, who are all still struggling with hamstring trouble.

Goalkeeper Jason Steele and club-mate Josh McEachran are hoping to figure for the England Under-21s' Euro 2012 qualifier with Serbia in Norwich tonight.

The pair were part of the squad which warmed up for the match by heading to the Norfolk Arena on Wednesday to watch Kings Lynn and Rye House in speedway action.

Steele, who was also part of Stuart Pearce's Team GB Olympics squad in the summer, said: "It's all-action, isn't it? It got us out of the hotel for a couple of hours, a bit of fresh air. It was something different, something new to take on board. Everyone really enjoyed it."

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