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Boro ready to unleash the Leutwiler
TONY MOWBRAY will hand inexperienced goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler his first competitive taste of English football tonight when Middlesbrough head back across the Pennines for the third time in a row.
With first choice shot-stopper Jason Steele nursing a minor calf problem, Mowbray is keen to give the Swiss deputy an opportunity to shine in a Boro shirt in the Capital One Cup at Preston.
Leutwiler had found it difficult to make his mark in Switzerland despite earning caps for his country's Under-20s squad. After a number of pretty unspectacular loan spells, he was keen to try something new and was desperate to persuade Middlesbrough to give him a chance in the summer.
Following a successful trial, having been granted permission by Basel to come to the North-East for nothing, the 23-year-old impressed Mowbray enough to earn a contract.
"The fact he stayed here, took himself out of his environment, played in five games over five weeks for us speaks volumes for his character," said Mowbray. "He had a wonderful personality, did exceptionally well, looked capable, so we thought 'why not?' He is also only 23, still a boy.
"But he fitted in with the structure of what we were trying to do financially as well. Like a lot of the young players that are here, you hope they do well. Is (Mustapha) Carayol a bargain at 300k? Let's hope so. You try to bring in young players that punch above their weight.
"Leutwiler showed enough in pre-season to suggest he is worth giving a chance. He came through a recommendation. Gary Gill (European scout) brought him to us. When I told Gilly that we were looking for a second choice keeper, we had hundreds of options, but we liked him.
"We made some enquiries, his club had made up their mind and had we not signed him then he would have been Basel's third choice goalkeeper until the end of his contract next summer."
Leutwiler has been playing regularly for the development team since his arrival and has shown enough to warrant his inclusion at Deepdale where Mowbray is keen to see him tested in first team action.
He will be one of a number of changes for the third round tie, although the Middlesbrough boss insists he will still be naming a team strong enough to negotiate a date with League One opposition.
Jonathan Woodgate and Grant Leadbitter (both tight hamstrings) will both stay on Teesside to rest their muscles ahead of Saturday's visit of Leicester City to the Riverside Stadium. Neither Justin Hoyte nor Ishmael Miller (groin) will be included either.
Mowbray thinks Woodgate deserves his rest after playing three matches inside six days last week, including back-to-back trips to Lancashire to face Blackpool and Blackburn.
The Middlesbrough manager, likely to involve full-back Stuart Parnaby, said: "Woody wants to be in the Premier League and he deserves to be, he is trying to help this club get there. I would have to say, knowing the boy, the footballer, the man, he is not here for an easy life and to be back home.
"He had huge earning potential still and for him to be back here is not just for an easy life. Let's hope we can keep him fit and hope he plays a lot of football for us this year."
Woodgate's absence tonight means an opening for Seb Hines . The centre-back has been unfortunate to lose his place following the arrival of Andre Bikey, but Mowbray is keen to keep him happy.
"Bikey's experienced and I felt it was important for the team," he said. "Sometimes it's about positioning and reading of the game and more experienced players can do that better. That's my choice.
"Seb is a great lad. He played some of his best football for this club last season and yet finds himself out of the team. It's great to have somebody like Seb in the squad."
Another of Mowbray's summer recruits is set to make his return to the starting line-up tonight. Emmanuel Ledesma, signed from Walsall, has been left out for the last two fixtures and Mowbray is hoping the cup tie will help to bring the best out of him.
He said: "We are trying to bed Ledesma in to the way we are playing. We want him to play his best position and not try to do everybody else's work. With Ledesma, who has a lovely left foot, I just feel he needs coaching a bit more in to fitting in to the way we play."
* Mowbray, David Wheater , Bernie Slaven and Craig Hignett will be among the guests when Middlesbrough Former Players Association hosts Six Decades of Boro Stars on the night of Friday, October 26.
Tables are now available for what promises to be a great occasion for Boro fans of all ages, with a three-course dinner followed by a question-and-answer session with the ex-Boro players.
The night will also feature a prize raffle and special auction featuring many superb MFC-related items, several signed by past and present Boro heroes. The event starts at 7pm with dinner at 7.30pm.
Tables of ten are priced £350, with individual tickets £35 each. To book, call Middlesbrough FC sales team on (01642) 757657 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.