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Leicester will test us, warns Mowbray
8:00am Saturday 29th September 2012 in Sport
AFTER starting the season with three successive home wins, Middlesbrough manager Tony Mowbray is in no mood to take points for granted at the Riverside Stadium.
Leicester City, sitting a place above Boro in the Championship, are without a win on their travels this season and head to the North-East today well aware of their opponents' recent record on Teesside.
But Mowbray is not prepared to think that, after making a 100 per cent start to the home campaign, a fourth consecutive victory will be as easy as the statistics suggest.
There have been numerous changes to personnel over the summer, which could have influenced the recent turnaround in fortunes at the Riverside, where Middlesbrough won only eight of their 23 games last season.
But Mowbray said: "We are only three games in, it's too early to say if things have changed. After ten games, if we are still winning matches at home, doing really well, then I think I would be more comfortable answering the question.
"I would say this game is by far the biggest test so far at the Riverside this season. Leicester are a really high energy, counter-attacking team. They have speed in wide areas and it is a dangerous fixture for us.
"I don't want to say we are doing well at home, when I know that this is a really tough match for us. Just to win three games in a row at home doesn't make you a great home side.
"We have to build on that and make sure it continues. After ten games at home, taking us up to Christmas, we might have the chance to say if we are a great side at home. Not after three games."
That said, after victories over Burnley, Crystal Palace and Ipswich, something has changed already. Far too often last season the Middlesbrough fans were left frustrated by many failures to claim all three points.
Over the summer Mowbray, who has had little money to spend, has successfully changed the face of the squad by replacing departed players with those who suit his preferred playing style.
He said: "Retention of the ball is better. We have more players in the squad capable of keeping the ball. I think footballers who create scoring opportunities, like Kevin Thomson and Grant Leadbitter, who can control games with the ball, help the team.
"There's a different balance to last time around and hopefully that will help us win more matches at home. But it's too early to say whether attitudes have changed at home."
Middlesbrough, after the blow of losing winger Mustapha Carayol for up to five months with a knee injury, are four points adrift of leaders Brighton, who are two above Huddersfield.
Mowbray was an interested observer last Monday when Huddersfield went to Blackpool, who crushed Middlesbrough 4-1 six days earlier, at Bloomfield Road. Such a result further highlighted to the Boro boss the challenge of staying in the Championship's promotion race.
"I sat and watched Huddersfield beat Blackpool the other night and you'd have thought a different team played," said Mowbray.
"The team in orange was a different team to that which played us. Every team is well organised for every game. That's how tight it is in this division.
"Leicester come to us with foreign owners, they are paying decent salaries, they have spent a few quid and are a team with aspirations of being in the mix. I'm pretty sure of that."
Mowbray is likely to revert to somewhere near the team which won at Blackburn eight days ago.
That means Richie Smallwood having to settle for a place on the bench.
Smallwood scored in the 3-1 Capital One Cup win at Preston and is determined to keep plugging away to show he deserves a chance.
"There is a really good atmosphere around the squad, even among those that are not starting in the league games at the minute," he said.
"We all know that the team keeps changing, the bench keeps changing and those that come on keep changing, so I think that is helping everyone to realise our chance will come.
"Hopefully that chance will come soon and I would love more game time.
"I don't think the goal I scored will have a bearing on the team for Saturday, it'll be more about the performance of the team overall.
"Every day I work hard and hopefully I will get some minutes."