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Boro can compete with big spending Forest says Mowbray
NOTTINGHAM Forest could climb in to the automatic promotion places tonight, but Tony Mowbray thinks Grant Leadbitter stands as much chance of playing Premier League football with Middlesbrough next season.
Forest have invested heavily in their squad since the end of last season and manager Billy Davies made numerous offers to land Leadbitter, including a deadline day final verbal offer in the region of £3m.
But Middlesbrough stayed strong and resisted the overtures from the City Ground, while the player himself is thought to have been reluctant to leave Teesside after just one season under Mowbray.
Forest are widely regarded with the bookmakers as the second favourites for the Championship crown behind Queens Park Rangers, while Middlesbrough are 80/1 in some places to finish top of the pile.
But Mowbray has seen nothing in the opening five matches of the season to worry him. Despite losing 3-1 at Ipswich Town on Saturday, he thinks Middlesbrough have the players to compete with the likes of Forest over the course of the next eight months.
“Forest have some very talented players, but we should be in and around them,” said Mowbray. “They have ambition, but we have to do our talking on the field and not talk about others.
“If you look at the ProZone stats, there’s us, Forest, QPR, Derby up there ... from the stats from the first five games, we are top of everything, we are right up there with all of those. We will continue to be there because of the way we are playing.
“The other teams see those stats as well and will realise we will be there or thereabouts. We need to turn those crosses, passes, shots into goals. We have to come up with a formula to do that.”
Middlesbrough have undoubtedly made progress in terms of the way they play, with the team playing with greater fluency and looking more capable of retaining possession in the opening five matches.
Leadbitter has been a key component of the system and had Forest increased their last offer for him before the transfer deadline day on September 2 then he could have been lining up against Boro tonight. Mowbray, though, was in no rush to lose him.
The Middlesbrough manager said: “Grant has a good working environment to stay in, I would say. He appreciates the way he is treated here. The bottom line is he didn’t decide anything, the club did. We did.
“We will decide which players we sell and those we keep. That will always be the case. The bottom line is we are not in a position where we wanted to sell our best players. The only scenario where he might have been sold is if we could have spent the money on other areas of the pitch. That didn’t happen, that’s fine. We will keep going.
“They (Forest) tried to sign him. Every player has his price, but we are not daft, we are not giving away our best players and they were made aware of that. Grant is good as gold, he gets his head down and gets on with it. The phone is ringing for our players, which shows we are doing something right, they are good footballers. It’s not a bad thing when the phone rings.”
Losing to Ipswich at Portman Road brought an end to a four match unbeaten run, but Middlesbrough have still only won one of their opening seven matches – including the Capital One Cup defeat to Accrington – this season, losing three.
Mowbray is satisfied with the progress being made, while knowing the horrible defensive errors cost his side dearly in Suffolk.
He said: “There is a level of control now, generally. The frustration is that the shape of the team is good, we are just not winning games. It was hugely disappointing at Ipswich.
“As a coach, you highlight the mistakes. The players responsible know; they sit squirming, the know they should not have done this or that. The secret of that is to learn and not do it again. You have to trust the players to learn from their errors and not do it again.
“I think teams have not particularly hurt us. But you can highlight little things, look at Ipswich, and the finer details have cost us. We are doing OK. On paper it suggests we were well beaten, but the reality is they worked harder to get a result.”
Mowbray will not tinker with his team too much and is happy with Jonathan Woodgate’s fitness even though he will be playing three games in a week. Hungarian Jozsef Varga trained again yesterday after recovering from the hip problem which prevented him playing at Ipswich.
Middlesbrough: Steele; Richardson, Woodgate, Williams, Friend; Whitehead; Adomah, Leadbitter, Butterfield, Carayol; Jutkiewicz.
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