DESPITE being widely considered as a side with real hopes of promotion from the Championship this season, Middlesbrough boss Tony Mowbray insists he just wants his side to be competitive, as they prepare for their opening day clash at home to Portsmouth tomorrow.
This time last summer, Gordon Strachan was at the helm and with the highest playing budget in the league and an influx of new players arriving – mainly from the Scottish Premier League – Boro sat as firm favourites with the bookmakers for the Championship title.
It all went very wrong, and now Mowbray is looking to change his side’s fortunes.
“The obvious teams are there for everyone to see,” he said.
“West Ham have signed Kevin Nolan and some fantastic players, as have Leicester City. Both their expectations will be to get out of this league this year.
“Birmingham City are another big club, Blackpool play the right way and played some lovely stuff last season, and I’ll expect Brighton and Southampton to be strong just as Norwich and Leeds were last season after they came up.
“I don’t want to use the word promotion and I hope the expectations of our fans has been watered down in recent months after they’ve realised the size of the task we took on this summer in order to rebuild the club in terms of finances.
“I just want us to be competitive in every game. I want us to entertain the fans and hopefully get a feelgood factor around the Riverside.
“I want us to be difficult to beat away from home and fight for every point on offer and if we do that then we will be in there competing for the highest possible position.”
Since a fine ending to the last campaign when Boro climbed away from trouble, Boro have lost 13 players off their books and have brought in just four players – Malaury Martin, Curtis Main, Scott Dobbie and Wolves goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, on a one-month loan deal.
However, with Leroy Lita’s deal to Swansea being confirmed earlier this week, that leaves Mowbray short of attacking options.
Marvin Emnes, who has just signed a new four-year contract, Scott McDonald and Lee Miller remain the only three recognised strikers on offer for Mowbray, though 19-year-old Main will be hoping to continue impressing after netting four goals during the reserves’ 6-2 win against Chester-le-Street Town on Wednesday night.
Arsenal striker Rhys Murphy’s trial with the club has now ended and Mowbray won’t be making a loan move for the 19-year-old, who has now gone north of the border to train with Rangers.
With no funds available for permanent transfers, Mowbray is confident that they have room for one or two loan deals after Lita’s £1.75m deal.
He said: “There is the possibility after Leroy’s deal that we can take on a couple of salaries but that depends on the situation of the player. There will be no activity before tomorrow. I’ve tried but nothing will materialise until after the game against Portsmouth.
“There are a few areas that we need to strengthen as our squad is a bit thin. I’d like to strengthen our striking options, in the middle of midfield and down our left side.”
“Last season we were inundated with left-footed footballers but with Julio Arca and Andrew Taylor leaving and Kevin Thomson injured, it leaves us a bit light down the left flank.”
Mowbray is expecting a tough test from Portsmouth tomorrow.
He said: “I know that we are going to have big Hermann Hreidarsson and Dave Kitson in our box so we more than prepared to counter their threats and we will be ready for anything they have to offer.”