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Mowbray hoping to repeat successful template from West Brom
TONY Mowbray is following the cut-price template he established at West Brom as he attempts to guide Middlesbrough to promotion.
And with his side sitting third in the Championship ahead of tomorrow's trip to Charlton, the Boro boss is hoping the end result is the same.
After his first season at the Hawthorns ended in the disappointment of a play-off final defeat, Mowbray set about dismantling his team and assembling a new side formed from signings who, initially at least, were hardly household names.
Graeme Dorrans moved from Livingston for £100,000, Youssuf Mulumbu arrived from Paris St Germain for £125,000 and Jonas Olsson moved from Dutch club Nijmegen for £900,000.
All three are still established members of West Brom's first-team squad, and all three helped Mowbray's side secure the Championship title in their first full season in the Black Country.
The parallels to this season are obvious, with Mowbray once again scouring the transfer market for bargains and signing the likes of Stuart Parnaby, Andre Bikey, George Friend, Emmanuel Ledesma and Mustapha Carayol on either free transfers or for cut-price fees.
Tuesday's Capital One Cup win over Sunderland was the new-look Boro side's fifth successive victory, and while the season remains at a formative stage, Mowbray is hoping the similarities with West Brom's title-winning campaign endure.
“There's a similar pattern to the extent that we've changed the team in each instance,” said the Boro boss. “In both situations, we've pretty much changed a whole team. In the first season there (at West Brom), we got beat in the play-off final by Derby, and the following summer, we basically changed the whole team. Thankfully, we won the league the next year.
“The pattern is the same in terms of the players we've been trying to sign. When we got promoted at West Brom, we had a team of new, young footballers who had never really been in the Premier League. Quite a lot of them are still there doing well now.
“A question in my mind is whether the likes of George Friend, Grant Leadbitter, Mustapha Carayol and Lukas Jutkiewicz – players we've brought in here – are good enough to play in the Premier League for Middlesbrough somewhere down the line. Hopefully, we'll find out.
“When you sign footballers, you have to look past today if you can. You're buying players to try to get you somewhere, but also to try to keep you there as well.”
The impact made by Parnaby and Bikey is particularly notable, as the pair were both without a club before signing for Middlesbrough.
Parnaby spent an entire year out of the game, while Bikey was a free agent throughout the summer, but the last few weeks has seen the pair produce a string of impressive defensive displays.
Mowbray was always confident they had the ability to make an impact at Championship level, and feels there is merit in recruiting players with an obvious point to prove.
“They're hungry footballers because they realise how close they came to not having a career and maybe not being able to pay the mortgage,” he said. “There's no necessity for me to try to motivate or energise them because they're hopefully loving every minute of playing in the team and making sure they don't find themselves in the same situation again.”
Bikey's performance at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday was especially impressive as he marked the previously free-scoring Steven Fletcher out of the game.
The Cameroon international might be prone to the occasional rush of blood, but Mowbray feels his defensive qualities make him more than capable of succeeding at a higher level than the one at which he is currently performing.
“When he switches off, you can understand at times why he was without a club,” he said. “But when you see the raw power, strength, leadership and knowledge, it's almost a crime he's playing in the Championship with the attributes he's got.
“It's a crime that was probably committed by himself, but I don't see many better in terms of strength, composure and reading of the game.
“I have to keep him switched on and persuade him that he's almost like a protector of the team. It's almost like a paternal thing because he has all the attributes to do that.”
The identity of Bikey's defensive partner at the Valley tomorrow remains uncertain. Jonathan Woodgate will not be part of the squad that travels this morning, but Seb Hines will be given every opportunity to prove his fitness despite damaging his knee on Tuesday.
Ishmael Miller sustained a hamstring injury on Wearside and is unlikely to feature, but Lukas Jutkiewicz is available again after returning to training this week. Kevin Thomson and Luke Williams are also back in training and in contention for a place in the squad.