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Mowbray wants no repeat of Sutton scare
TONY MOWBRAY is hoping to avoid the sort of fairytale story he once feared was on the cards when Middlesbrough suffered an FA Cup scare to non-league opposition during his playing days.
A year before one of the greatest giant-killing acts ever recorded in the competition was delivered by Sutton United against top six First Division side Coventry City, Boro almost fell first.
In January 1988, Sutton stunned English football by forcing a replay when they scored a late equaliser to cancel out Gary Pallister's first half bullet header. In front of almost 6,000 fans at Gander Green Lane, Boro could have lost it as the non-league outfit pushed late for a winner.
And even the Ayresome Park replay three days later did not go completely to plan, with only Paul Kerr's winner separating the teams as Boro clinched a fourth round place.
Sutton used the experience to go one better the following year, knocking out the 1987 FA Cup winners.
With the memories of such afternoons in Mowbray's thoughts, the Boro boss is desperate to ensure his players are well aware of the importance of being focused against opponents who should be intent on springing a surprise.
"I remember playing for Boro against Sutton United in the FA Cup third round in the 80s," he said. "We played them the year before they beat Coventry. It was a struggle. They were both close games. I can remember it and we just about stayed in the cup that year at Gander Green Lane. It was a close one.
"It was amazing really. It was the year before Sutton beat Coventry, one of the great cup shocks, as Coventry were in the top-flight at the time. We just about got through the tie, but a year later cup history was made.
"It is incredible how these non-league clubs sometimes get a feel for a competition and go on a run. It can be done. It's all about adrenaline, organisation, a bit of luck."
That Boro team of 25 years ago also included the likes of Bernie Slaven, Mark Burke, Gary Hamilton, Colin Cooper and Stephen Pears.
When Hastings United get their third round tie underway today, Mowbray will also have to call on local youth.
Luke Williams, Adam Reach and Richie Smallwood are among those most likely to start, while untested teenagers Bryn Morris, Andre Bennett and Paul Weldon could on the bench.
Mowbray heads into the tie with more than a full team of injured absentees, including four of his preferred centre-backs. But the manager understands, despite the injury list, there can be no excuses for a defeat.
Middlesbrough, with designs on promotion to the Premier League this season, should still be able to make light work of the Ryman Isthmian League opposition.
"I know I will be sitting on the bench knowing that every misplaced pass will get a groan from the crowd and every time Hastings get into our box I'll feel they will score," said Mowbray, on the wrong end of a defeat to Burton Albion two years ago as Middlesbrough manager.
"That's what it's like when you play non-league clubs. Hastings will be a threat. We played Shrewsbury a year ago and they outplayed us even though we got through it. Thankfully we are not at their place."
During Mowbray's time in Scotland with Celtic he had to get used to being touted as the much-fancied favourites week in and week out in the Scottish Premier League. In football, he says, take nothing for granted.
He said: "There are a lot of vagaries in football and you are always susceptible because anyone can score against anyone in this game. Bradford scored and beat Arsenal. Arsenal players are on £150,000 a week and Bradford had some players who are on £250 a week, but it didn't make any difference as Arsenal still got beat. It can happen.
"I was a hot favourite at Celtic every week, but then so is Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United every week. Celtic lost to Hibs the other week. This was the team that beat Barcelona in the Champions League so that just shows what can be done.
"The week after beating Barcelona they got beat at home by Kilmarnock in front of 50,000 fans.
"That's football. How can you beat Barcelona then draw 1-1 with Arbroath?
"I would say Arbroath would be a similar side to Hastings, with total respect to the lower divisions in Scotland. That tells you what human beings are and how they get up and down for football matches."
More than 1,000 fans are expected to make the trip from Sussex to Teesside and more then 100 supporters turned out to watch their pre-match press conference alone.
Mowbray, aware that Hastings have drawn six league games in a row, said: "Is this their cup final?
"They are here a few days and hopefully they won't enjoy the Riverside too much.
"We have to make sure we ask questions they don't get asked week in and week out in their league. We just have to ensure it is not a fairytale story for them."