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Middlesbrough manager Tony Mowbray sings praises of Hartlepool striker Steve Howard
TONY MOWBRAY believes that last night's 2-2 draw at Hartlepool United was a great test of things to come from the forthcoming Championship season.
The Middlesbrough manager witnessed another swashbuckling performance from Pools striker Steve Howard, who led the hosts' line well - and admitted that players of Howard's style will be a regular sight in the coming months.
"I think the issues around the game were very evident," said Mowbray. "Stevie Howard is a big unit and he causes problems for teams at any level.
"There are going to be some teams in the Championship this year with those types of players, you think of Kevin Davies at Bolton and Darius Henderson at Milwall, similar types of footballers which we need to deal with better than we did tonight.
"I felt we controlled the game pretty well at times, but credit to them they were competitive, did what they do well which gave us problems, but it was a decent exercise for us."
Pools scored either side of Boro goals from Scott McDonald and Adam Reach, with Tony Sweeney and Sam Collins opening and closing the scoring in a high-tempo pre-season run-out.
Pools manager Neale Cooper fielded an unchanged starting XI following on from Friday's 1-0 win over Sunderland, with Cooper keen to give his preferred team the maximum amount of time on the pitch.
Cooper said: "It was a different test to Sunderland, they had players dropping off and were a constant threat. The lad Ledesma was a real talent. We kept going in the second half, dug in a bit, but we got the goal.
"I didn't want to make any changes, that was the team I put out last Friday and it'll most likely be the same team on Saturday against Hull. I want the lads to get game time together."
Boro started brightly, with new signing Emanuel Ledesma showing pace and trickery, going close on 12 minutes with a curling effort.
Seconds later, they did take the lead when Sweeney rose highest to nod Luke James' cross beyond Boro goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler who played the first 45 minutes.
Boro were fielding four trialists in total, including Swiss stopper Leutwiler, with Carlos Rodrigo Correa starting in the centre of midfield with Dudu and Romeo Castelen playing the second half.
And it was former Dynamo Kiev man Correa - recommended to Mowbray by Juninho - who helped the visitors back into the game, when he threaded a ball through to McDonald who held off the challenge of Neil Austin to slot past Scott Flinders on 34 minutes.
The turnaround was completed two minutes later when McDonald released Reach inside the area, where the former Darlington loanee juggled the ball on to his stronger left foot and neatly finished past Flinders.
Mowbray fielded a different XI for the second half, with Dudu and Castelen both featuring, while George Friend, who signed on Monday from Doncaster Rovers, made his first appearance for the club in the centre of defence.
Grant Leadbitter forced a decent save out of Flinders on 51 minutes when his low shot was parried out by the Pools stopper, while at the other end, Howard's glancing header flew wide of Connor Ripley's post on 63 minutes.
Neither side looked likely to score again until Pools won a corner on 80 minutes, which centre-half Collins headed home from Monkhouse's centre.
Cameron Park drew a fine stop from Flinders on 83 minutes, while the Boro winger fired the rebound over the bar.
Monkhouse spurned a fine effort three minutes from time after Howard's knockdown, but the Pools winger could only skew his shot wide of the post.
Marvin Emnes could have won it at the death when he beat the offside trap, but found Flinders in top form again to tip over the bar.
Pools, meanwhile, sold 3,838 season tickets before last night's deadline for reduced price £155 tickets. More will be added to the total when telephone and internet sales are completed and around 200 were sold yesterday. Chief executive Russ Green said: "I think we were all realistic enough to know that we perhaps wouldn't hit the same figure we did last summer, but to come close to 4,000 again is brilliant.''
HARTLEPOOL (4-4-2): Flinders, Austin, Collins, Hartley, Horwood; Franks, Walton, Sweeney, Monkhouse; James (Poole 77), Howard. Subs (not used): Humphreys, Baldwin, Nish, Holden, McHugh.
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): First half: Leutwiler (Ripley 46); Smallwood, Hines, McManus, Hoyte; Haroun; Correa, Thomson, Reach; McDonald, Ledesma.
Second half: Ripley; Bailey, Friend, R. Williams, Halliday; Castelen, Dudu, Leadbitter, Park; L. Williams, Emnes.
Sub (not used): Main Att: 3,663 (1,916 Boro)