Boro v Pool: Two form teams collide

Tony Mowbray
Tony Mowbray
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LAST time Blackpool played at Middlesbrough, Gordon Strachan was in the midst of an inglorious reign.

Strachan arrived with a big reputation in October 2009, replacing Gareth Southgate, under whom the club had been relegated.

Boro were fourth-top when Southgate got the boot, so his sacking was controversial.

Nevertheless Strachan was hailed the saviour and immediately set about shelling out millions of pounds (£10m in a year to be precise) in a bid to get Boro back in the Premier League.

To say it didn’t quite work out would be putting it mildly.

Pool did the double over Strachan’s men that season, following up a ridiculously easy 3-0 win at the Riverside with a 2-0 victory back on the Fylde.

While Ian Holloway’s men went onto win promotion, Middlesbrough – with a budget rumoured to be 10 times higher – struggled to a mid-table finish.

Strachan stayed on but quit when Boro started the next season poorly and slipped to 20th in the Championship.

Enter Tony Mowbray, who set about rebuilding things, led the club to a top-half finish, and has started this campaign impressively, lifting Boro to the play-off places.

Needless to say, the manager – who arrived at Boro after a nightmare spell at Celtic – is delighted with the way things are going.

“We’ve got 30 points from 16 games and that is good,” Mowbray said.

“Any team that has aspirations of doing well has to win the majority of their games at home. We’ve won back-to-back games at the Riverside, and we have an opportunity against Blackpool to win three on the bounce at home.

“We are 15 unbeaten at home. Within that has been too many draws but to go 15 unbeaten isn’t a bad stat.”

Hard to argue with that but Middlesbrough really ought to be doing well. They have spent more than most in the Championship and have the likes of expensive former Celtic trio Barry Robson (£1.25m), Scott McDonald (£3.5m) and Stephen McManus (£1.5m) among their ranks.

McDonald was a relieved man in the last game against Watford, scoring his second goal of the season and ending a drought which had stretched 10 games. The Aussie, who plundered 51 goals in 88 league games for Celtic, was top scorer last term with 14.

Robson is doing rather better, bagging six goals from the centre of midfield, but that’s not quite as good as Marvin Emmes. The 23-year-old Dutch striker – another big-money signing, £3.2m from Sparta Rotterdam – has netted 10 goals and is the main threat, not least because of his pace: he used to be a 100m sprint champion in the Netherlands.

There is a familiar face at right back – Tony McMahon, who spent a brief loan spell at Blackpool during Simon Grayson’s reign.

“The Championship is a really exciting division to be in,” said McMahon. “Every weekend someone from the bottom seems to win against a team from the top so the table is all over the place.

“There are no easy games. We know that. Every week is hard and there is no let up.

“We just have to keep clocking up the points and if the teams above slip up then we have to take advantage.”

Former Celtic man McManus is at the heart of the back four, but there could be a weak-link in goal where the inexperienced and largely untested Jason Steele is first choice.

Midfielder Rhys Williams – a key man for Boro – is a doubt after injuring his knee on international duty with Australia. If Williams starts, he is likely to be the only Middlesbrough survivor from Pool’s win at the Riverside in December 2009.