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Monday, 29 August 2011

The View Outside The Premier League: Middlesborough Start Smoothly


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Five games into the Championship season and Tony Mowbray's Middlesbrough are unbeaten and playing good football. For the previous two seasons Boro were expected to make the promotion pace, but for this campaign the Teesiders started under the radar.

Last year Gordon Strachan's revolution stalled after he brought in a bagful of Scottish stars. A year earlier Gareth Southgate was replaced when it appeared the ex-England man couldn't deliver an immediate return to the top flight.

Now Boro are progressing under the reassuring presence of Tony Mowbray - one of those managers who go against type from the image of their playing days. A rugged, uncompromising centre-back, Mowbray sends out selections who keep the ball on the deck, play possession football and rarely clatter the opposition. He built his reputation at Hibernian and West Browich Albion for nurturing talent.

The Mowbray style has certainly been congenial to the likes of Marvin Emnes - a skilful Dutch forward who always seemed to find English football passing him by under previous management. Now under Mowbray he's begun the season like a house on fire and can't stop scoring.

Mowbray's tenure at West Brom went a little sour when he refused to compromise these beliefs - even his admirers at the Hawthorns were crying out for him to introduce some steel to a midfield that was easy on the eye but too simple to power through. But he seems to have the right fit for the Riverside. It helps to be a Boro legend of course but Steve Gibson's early decision to fire Southgate was something of an aberration. In general, managers get time to implement their ideas at Boro and it's fair to say that the previous managers did leave Mowbray with some talented players to work with.

In the current crisis at Celtic Park, boss Neil Lennon might wish he still had Scott McDonald, Barry Robson and Steve McManus; Matthew Bates, Seb Hines and Tony McMahon form a link to the superb youth sides developed early after the Millennium and Julio Arca is the sort of old sweat this division needs.

Possibly just short of the depth to reach the automatic places, Boro should have a shot at the play-offs and under Tomy Mowbray the Riverside fans will see plenty to enjoy across the 2011/12 season.

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In the Blue Square Premier Grimsby Town posted a first win of the season in midweek but fell at home to Darlington on Saturday. The Mariners are just above the bottom four and their situation is becoming more and more the norm for sides dropping from the Football League.

Teams like Lincoln City, Darlington and Colchester United all achieved instant returns to League Two in the 1980s and 90s, but with the Blue Square teams nearly all full-time professional now, immediate promotions are rare. The Blue Square is now full of ex-League sides - Grimsby, York, Luton, Mansfield, York, Cambridge, Kidderminster, Lincoln and Darlington are all in the mix. More ominously, the likes of Scarborough and Rushden have imploded financially and are no longer at this level.

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Both of the 100 per cent records in the Championship fell on the same day which says something about how competive the division is. Southampton were a bit aggrieved about their 3-2 defeat at Leicester City but they still did enough to show why they are on the pace.

Charlie Austin's brace gave Burnley their first win at Derby County whose own fans may have been thinking that the Rams have over-achieved in their lightning start. A good effort though by Eddie Howe's squad after their second Carling Cup tie that went to extra time in midweek.

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Rochdale are still without a win in five games after a home loss to Hartlepool. There's concern among Dale fans after Keith Hill left in the summer after taking the club out of League Two (4th Division) for the first time since 1974 and then keeping them up comfortably. It's been a difficult baptism for Steve Eyre.

Dale's next two matches are both away, at Stevenage and Bury. It's vital that they get something from those games or the gloom will begin to settle on Spotland.

Hugh will be back next Monday with his views on the major happenings in the Football League.

Related Articles:

The Saints keep marching on

Super Kevin Phillips rolls back the years

Yeovil are up for the fight

AFC Wimbledon and Crawley have eyes on promotion

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Hugh Larkin

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