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Mowbray senses new connection with the fans
Final Score: Middlesbrough 2 Bolton Wanderers 1
IT has taken longer than he would have wanted, but Middlesbrough manager Tony Mowbray can finally sense the emergence of a new bond between the club and its long-suffering supporters.
Last week marked the second anniversary of Mowbray's appointment as Boro boss, and he was able to celebrate the landmark in style at the weekend as a 2-1 victory over Bolton Wanderers made it four wins on the bounce.
On the pitch, things are going as well as at any time during his reign, with the Teessiders nestled in third position just three points adrift of Championship leaders Cardiff City.
But it is off the field where the greatest progress is arguably being made. After years of festering negativity, there is a growing sense of optimism and a renewed willingness to support the club's attempts to regain its Premier League status.
Friday's announcement of a cut-price ticket deal was well received, Saturday's crowd of more than 16,000 was the biggest gate at the Riverside this season and the atmosphere as Boro overhauled a one-goal deficit in the second half was as passionate as anything since the top-flight era.
“It's about trying to create a bond,” said Mowbray, who watched Scott McDonald come off the bench to score a second-half double. “I hope when people were driving home or walking to the bus after the game, they were able to enjoy what they had seen. I hope they enjoyed the hard work and effort that was on display.
“In the second half in particular, you could feel a real connection between the team and the fans. The supporters were the 12th man. It was probably one of the few times when I've sat on that bench and thought, 'Wow'. They really lifted the team.
“It was raucous, and reminded me of when I was a fan. It was like supporting the Boro of old with 'Come on Boro' echoing around the ground – the same chants I would have been shouting on the Holgate End 40 years ago.
“That's what football is about. Sometimes you can say the supporters need the team to lift them off their feet, and I think the work rate of the team and the closing down encouraged the fans to get behind them. Together, the fans and team on the pitch got the job done.”
Given the competitiveness of the Championship, Mowbray is not about to get too carried away by his side's winning streak.
But having endured some difficult times since replacing Gordon Strachan in October 2010, the former skipper afforded himself a rare moment of satisfaction on Saturday evening.
“This isn't really a job to enjoy because the burden of having to win is always on your shoulders,” he said. “The expectations of the town are there on your shoulders. When you don't win, the disappointment weighs very, very heavy. But when you do win, you must enjoy it otherwise there's no point doing the job.”
When Mowbray was skippering Middlesbrough in the 1980s, Bruce Rioch was the man in charge in the Ayresome Park dug out.
The 65-year-old, who also managed Bolton, was a guest of honour at Saturday's game, having previously visited Boro's Rockliffe Park training ground on Friday, and Mowbray was delighted he was treated to one of the Teessiders' best displays of the campaign.
“I'm pleased he saw our team play reasonably well,” he said. “You don't need me to eulogise about Bruce any more – he's the guy who inspired me to think about football. He's a wonderful man.”
The only downside to the day from a Boro perspective was a hamstring injury to Marvin Emnes. The full extent of the problem will be assessed later today, but the Dutchman is unlikely to feature in tomorrow's Capital One Cup tie at Sunderland.
Jonathan Woodgate failed a late fitness test on his thigh at the weekend, and is also expected to be a spectator on Wearside.
“We're frustrated Jonathan didn't make it,” said Mowbray. “He trained (on Friday) and when we did our work on the shape and organisation of the team, he was in the side.
“I've got to praise the attitude and approach of Seb Hines, who initially wasn't going to start. I pulled him in an hour-and-a-half before kick-off and told him he was playing, and for him to get his mind into the right mindset and perform as he did was fantastic.”