The Middlesbrough and Blackburn views on Tony Mowbray plus what Sunderland fans can expect from new boss

Sunderland appointed Tony Mowbray as their new head coach last week – but what can fans expect from him?

The 58-year-old left Blackburn at the end of last season, after more then five years at the club, while he has also managed West Brom, Celtic, Middlesbrough and Coventry.

To find out more, we caught up with Boro writer Anthony Vickers and Blackburn writer Elliott Jackson to ask about Mowbray’s tenure at both clubs.

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Middlesbrough

New Sunderland head coach Tony Mowbray. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

How is Mowbray remembered for his time at Boro?

AV: “You have a wonderful man and deep football thinker to deal with there, and stand by for some very long and considered answers to transcribe.

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“I think Mogga is one of the few people who are universally admired, respected and even loved at Boro. His presence as a player was crucial at a time of historical existential threat during the liquidation crisis, both as a rock of a player to build the young team around and as a leader. When he left it was universally accepted with resignation and goodwill but it was also assumed he would be back as a manager one day.

“When that day came it was in the period of cash-strapped confusion after the Caledonian cul-de-sac of Gordon Strachan. He took over a team that was drifting towards relegation, that was shapeless, unbalanced and one that was stymied by a clutch of highly-paid misfits Strachan had signed from Celtic - ironically many players Mowbray had sold - creating a diplomatic headache.

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“While it ended sadly, Mogga being booed off at Barnsley was a truly sad and traumatic emotional conflict, he left largely with respect for a job well done. He had rebuilt on next to no money, somehow led that team to two play-off pushes that fizzled out and steered Boro through a spell of financial choppy waters. He left Aitor Karanka with the basis of a promotion team. Most Boro fans now accept he did a good job in difficult circumstances.

What was his style of football like and his preferred system?

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AV: “He likes 'good football,' open, attacking passing play, aiming to entertain the crowd and show something of the spirit of the club, the town and the people. He sees it as a holistic process.

“There was no set shape or formation though. One of the main criticisms was that he 'over thought' the tactics and the system would change to suit games and circumstances. The emphasis on attacking did leave them a bit open at times.

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Sunderland have a young squad - do you think that will suit Mowbray?

AV: “The squad he took over at Boro was quite 'experienced' with a few old heads but he was never scared to put youth in. Luke Williams, Ben Gibson, Adam Reach, Rhys Williams, Seb Hines were all regulars as teenagers. He trusted them and treated them as full-fledged men.”

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Do you think he'll be a good fit for Sunderland?

“There are no guarantees in football so I don't know if he will be a success but you are getting a man who will treat the job and the club with respect. You will get honesty, integrity and professionalism. And you will get a genuinely nice bloke.”

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Blackburn

How is Mowbray remembered for his time at Blackburn?

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EJ: “I think there's no doubt Tony Mowbray will get a great reception when he arrives next month. The fan base was split on his exit but there is universal respect for what he achieved at Blackburn and rightly so.

“Perhaps it was the right time to part ways after five years, that's where opinions differ. Nonetheless, he took over a sinking ship, patched them up, developed players and left the club in a far better position than he inherited.”

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What was his style of football like and his preferred system?

EJ: “This is a difficult question to answer because it varied throughout his tenure. In some seasons Rovers played with lots of technical players and tried to dominate possession.

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“In others, they played with fast attackers and on the counter-attack. It was more dependent on the players in the squad than a distinct style from the manager.

“You can look at that in two ways really. Personally, I see it as a positive that Mowbray was able to adapt the style to fit the players available.

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“Last season was a 3-4-3 with a false nine for the majority of the campaign, including a six-game winning run at Christmas. He did deviate back to a 4-3-3 towards the end of the season though.”

Sunderland have a young squad - do you think that will suit Mowbray?

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EJ: “Absolutely, this was a major skill especially during his time. He was quite well backed in his early years but after the pandemic hit, the club had to cut back on their spending.”

“Rovers have a Category One academy and so it was critical to develop young talent. John Buckley, Lewis Travis, Ryan Nyambe, Darragh Lenihan all came through the ranks and improved as players during his time.”

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Do you think he'll be a good fit for Sunderland?

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EJ: “I think he will steady the ship after Alex Neil's traumatic exit, yes. He's perhaps not the most sexy appointment but he will be a good figurehead and spokesperson for the club in good and difficult times.

“Mowbray should continue the good work that Neil did at the Stadium of Light. Whether he's able to go that one step further and achieve promotion, remains to be seen.”