Middlesborough manager Tony Mowbray celebrated two years in charge of his hometown club on October 26th. Chairman Steve Gibson has had the sense to do what so many modern owners and chairmen are reluctant to do. He has offered his clubs manager time and patience. And it’s reaping its rewards.
When Mowbray took over from Gordon Strachan in 2010, the North Yorkshire side were not in the rudest of health, lying 22nd in the Championship table. However Mowbray led the side to mid-table safety and a twelfth place finish. The following season saw further improvements and if it wasn’t for a mid-season dip, Middlesborough would easily have finished in a promotion play-off position.
Finishing one place outside of the play-offs in seventh is a cruel way to finish a season’s toil. But Mowbray is growing his side with the introduction of a plethora of youngsters during his tenure. And with that his team are growing into the league. A win in Friday nights game with Sheffield Wednesday will see Mowbray’s charges overtake Crystal Palace at the leagues summit; at least until Saturday when Palace travel to Peterborough’s London Road Stadium.
Tony Mowbray might have been an imposing centre back in his playing days with Middlesborough, Celtic and Ipswich town, but his philosophy on the style his team’s play is far from gruff. Patient build up play takes priority over any quick fix long ball approach. Sometime he was happy to stand firmly by as recently as early October when a 2-2 home draw with Derby County was met with some disapproving sounds at the Riverside Stadium.
Aware of the rumblings of discontent Mowbray commented in the games aftermath, “I understand fans wanting the ball punted up to the strikers, but if it keeps breaking down and they break on you it’s also disappointing when the ball ends up in your net. We’d rather keep the ball and let the opposition get frustrated than them keep attacking on the changeover of possession.”
But there is a backbone to this side as there is to the man. The huddle that precedes all of Celtics games was instigated by Mowbray when he was Celtic captain in the early 1990’s. Dismissing that it was introduced as a show of solidarity in the wake of the death of his wife, Bernadette, Mowbray said he introduced it to generate spirit and togetherness in the side. Either way he was at the epicentre of what’s now an indispensable element of the Glasgow clubs pre-game ritual.
The huddle was used by Mowbray’s side in an early season win over Burnley in August, for the first time since he joined the club. However on this occasion the huddle was post match. The club had bounced back from a recent defeat away to Barnsley and in the aftermath of the Burnley win Mowbray instigated an on field huddle before he and the team broke and applauded the team’s fans.
Mowbray explained later, “The people of Teeside should know that the players and management are going to do everything they can to make them proud.”
“The people of Teeside need to know that this young group of players we’ve got are together with them. Our job is to play for the people of Teeside and make them proud.”
Middlesborough have not lost since a late September defeat at home to Leicester. Since then they have recorded two draws including the Derby match and won six. Amongst the victories was an impressive dislodging of North-East rivals Sunderland from the fourth round of the league cup.
Tomorrow night’s game sees no fresh injuries and the visit of a Sheffield Wednesday side that lie in 20th position on 15 points. A result of any kind is paramount for Dave Jones side. A defeat though is the most likely outcome for the visitors.
And with that will come the opportunity for Middlesborough to sit, temporarily at least, at the leagues summit. With little to criticize in approach, content and style, their continued success would be a sound template for teams and in turn clubs who are willing to do things the right way and patiently.