Middlesbrough boss plays down promotion talk ahead of Portsmouth opener

Middlesbrough Manager Tony Mowbray
Middlesbrough Manager Tony Mowbray

Middlesbrough boss Tony Mowbray isn’t thinking of the word ‘promotion’ – insisting that he just wants his side to be competitive, as they prepare for their opening day home clash with Portsmouth tomorrow (KO 3pm).

This time last summer, Gavin Strachan was at the helm and with the highest playing budget in the league and an influx of new players arriving – mainly from the Scottish Premier League, Boro sat as firm favourites with the bookmakers for the Championship title.

Despite getting it wrong last season, Mowbray is tipping the bookies to be right this time.

He told MailSport: “The obvious teams are there for everyone to see. West Ham have signed Kevin Nolan and some fantastic players along with Leicester City – so their only expectation will be to get out of this league, this year.

“Birmingham City are another big club, Blackpool play the right way and played some lovely stuff last season and I’ll expect Brighton and Southampton to be strong just as Norwich and Leeds where last season after they came up.

“I don’t want to use the word promotion and I should hope the expectations of our fans has been watered down in recent months after they’ve realised the size of the task we took on this summer in order to rebuild the club in terms of finances.

“I just want us to be competitive in every game, I want us to entertain the fans and hopefully get a feel good factor around the Riverside. And I want us to be difficult to beat away from home and fight for every point on offer and if we do that then we will be in there competing for the highest possible position.”

With Leroy Lita’s deal to Swansea being confirmed earlier this week that leaves Mowbray short of attacking options.

With no funds available for permanent transfers, Mowbray is confident that they have room for one or two loan deals after Lita’s £1.75 million deal.

He said: “There is the possibility after Leroy’s deal that we can take on a couple of salaries but that depends on the situation of the player.

“There will be no activity before Saturday, I’ve tried but nothing will materialise until after the game against Portsmouth.

“There are a few areas that we need to strengthen, our squad is a bit thin.

“’d like to strengthen our striking options, in the middle of midfield and down our left side.

“Last season we were inundated with left footed footballers but with Julio [Arca] and Andrew [Taylor] leaving and Kevin Thomson injured, it leaves us a bit light down the left flank.”

Boro will be without Thomson who suffered a broken leg during pre-season as well as goalkeeper Jason Steele who has a fractured scaphoid.

Meanwhile, Andy Halliday is a doubt with ankle ligament problems whilst Joe Bennett has shrugged off a hamstring strain and should start.

Boro didn’t have the best of pre-season campaigns although Mowbray is insisting that the fans shouldn’t judge the team until the season gets underway.

The club returned from an unbeaten pre-season tour of Slovenia where they recorded a win against Varazdin as well as draws against BB Istanbul and Turkish side Antalyaspor.

However, since returning home they have been beaten away against Carlisle and Darlington – shipping six goals in the process.

Tomorrow’s opponents Portsmouth will certainly miss last season’s top goalscorer David Nugent after his transfer to Leicester City.

But Mowbray is aware that their main threat could be from set-pieces although he isn’t worried despite conceding goals from set-pieces and crosses against Darlington and Carlisle.

He said: “I know that we are going to have big Hermann Hreidarsson in our box and I know Dave Kitson will be coming into our box so we are more than prepared to counter their threats and we will be ready for anything they have to offer.”

Boro (probable): Ikeme, McMahon, R. Williams, McManus, Bennett, Hoyte, Smallwood, Bailey, Robson, McDonald; Emnes.

Subs (from): Coyne, Hines, Bates, Martin, Miller, Kink, Grounds, Zemmama, Franks; L. Williams.