MICHAEL Beale says Tony Mowbray fully deserves the warm reception he's sure the former Sunderland boss will receive from the away end at St Andrew's this afternoon - and hailed the now Birmingham manager for exceeding expectations during his time in charge of the Black Cats.

But the current Sunderland head coach insists he doesn't feel any extra pressure despite being tasked with following in the footsteps of popular Mowbray, who led the Wearsiders to an unexpected top six finish last term.

Ahead of today's reunion, Sunderland are just a point outside the Championship's play-off places and Beale is confident they can again extend their season beyond 46 games, but he admits more consistency is needed after last weekend's impressive victory at Plymouth was followed by a no-show at Huddersfield.

Mowbray was sacked in December after disagreements with Sunderland's hierarchy but wasn't out of work for long, with Birmingham swooping for the Teessider after dismissing Wayne Rooney.

"I don’t think Tony has anything to prove to the Sunderland fans or the people here," said Beale.

"I think our fans will show their class and he didn’t get a chance to say goodbye either so that’s natural and then we’ll play the game and we’re Sunderland versus Birmingham.

"It’s a big game. The niceties which I think should happen before the game will definitely happen and then it’s about us going there and getting a result."


After last season's top six finish - secured thanks to a final day victory over Preston - supporters inevitably want a repeat this time around but Beale has no problem dealing with the weight of expectation.

"That's always here because we're a Premier League club playing in the Championship," he said.

"We've just spent four of the last five years in League One. We know where we want to go. It's really important we push towards that.

"Tony exceeding expectations and the confidence he's given the group, that hasn't put me under any pressure, that's put me in a good place.

"What I would say is we have to remind ourselves that if that (Preston) game would have gone the wrong way on the last game of last season, we'd have ended in a different place. I took over a team that was three points outside the play-offs, now we're a point outside after a defeat. There's 14 games to go."

Sunderland's squad is largely unchanged from when Mowbray left the club a couple of months ago.

"It’s clear that he knows our players," said Beale.

"Maybe there’ll be one or two playing that will have a point to prove to him as well, you don’t know.

"These are the lovely things that happen in football. What I would say is that there’s a lot of respect for Tony Mowbray here at Sunderland and I think the fans will show that and the players will show that to him and the staff that worked with him before the game and then it’ll be a right ding-dong battle, I’m sure.

"I've watched Tony's teams for a number of years. He's been in the league a long time, he has a lot of experience and knows how to play in this league. His project down there is different to the one we took on here.

"Tony is a coach a lot of people in the game have respect for. I certainly have, as has everyone here at Sunderland, but that has to get pushed aside on Saturday afternoon."

Beale is relishing the run-in and his aim is to stay in touch with the top six between now and the March international break - before hopefully kicking on after that stoppage.

He said: "Every team in this league has something to play for. The league is relentless.

"We’ve got one or two lads who are a bit sore, we’ve got one or two we need to check on in terms of selection so that will give opportunities to one or two others, maybe.

"It’s going to be a squad game when you play three games in a week and have the travel we’ve had. It’s not a time for us to be down or debate the last game anymore. That last game has gone, we can only respond on Saturday afternoon with a stronger away performance than we showed on Wednesday.

"I don't think everything will be perfect in the next 14 games but we can't get too high or too low. The last performance wasn't at the level the players and fans wanted, we have a chance to respond."