Glenn Moore: Mowbray manages to rebuild Boro in an age of austerity

The Football league column: Mowbray has slashed costs and raised funds with Wheater, Boyd and Lita all moving on

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The Independent Football

Football clubs often appoint one of their own. The theory goes that a former player knows the culture of a club, and starts with a fund of goodwill among supporters. That applies from Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool to Andy Hessenthaler at Gillingham.

It can pay off, as Dalglish's first period at Anfield highlighted, but it does not always work. Hessenthaler has been fired once at Priestfield and was under pressure again prior to Saturday's 6-1 victory at Hereford. Neither 449 appearances, nor last season's Carling Cup victory at Liverpool, kept Ian Sampson in a job at Northampton.

In the Championship five clubs are managed by ex-players (Keith Millen at Bristol City, Dougie Freedman at Crystal Palace, Simon Grayson at Leeds, Sean Dyche at Watford and Tony Mowbray at Middlesbrough). Grayson and Mowbray's previous jobs were also at clubs they played at, but while it was Grayson's success at Blackpool which persuaded Ken Bates to bring him back to Elland Road. Steve Gibson decided to install Mowbray despite the latter enduring a difficult time in Glasgow.

While Mowbray was a popular player at Celtic, he was a legend at Middlesbrough. A local lad who captained the team at 22, "Mogga" was at the heart of Boro's recovery from bankruptcy in 1986 to reach the top flight. As at Celtic he took over from Gordon Strachan, but the difference was Strachan, a multiple title-winner in Glasgow, had struggled on Teesside. When he walked into the Riverside 11 months ago Mowbray inherited a team which was 22nd in the Championship and weighed down by a wage bill which was about to become unsustainable with the end of the club's Premier League parachute payments.

What has followed has been remarkable. Mowbray has slashed costs and raised funds with David Wheater, Kris Boyd and Leroy Lita heading the list of those moved on. There has been minimal investment in new players with the only fresh face among this season's starting XI being goalkeeper Carl Ikeme, on loan from Wolves.

Yet Boro, having finished last season with four straight wins after easing clear of relegation, went top of the Championship on Saturday night after winning 1-0 at Crystal Palace despite Joe Bennett's dismissal.

Bennett is one of four graduates from Dave Parnaby's highly regarded Rockliffe Park academy, which evokes fond memories of Mowbray's era when austerity forced a reliance on local youth. The others are a latter-day "Mogga" in 24-year-old Stockton-born centre-half and captain Matthew Bates, plus Rhys Williams and Tony McMahon. In the wings are the likes of Seb Hines, Richard Smallwood and Luke Williams.

As significant is that three of the Celtic players sold by Mowbray to Strachan, Scott McDonald, Stephen McManus and Barry Robson are now playing key roles. "When you spend more time with people, there are things you realise and a mutual respect grows" said McDonald recently. "I have really taken on board what the gaffer is trying to do. We're really enjoying his philosophies."

Part of Mowbray's approach is to entertain to attract fans. In recognition of local hardship Gibson has pegged season ticket prices for the sixth successive season, but even in the top flight sell-outs were rare. However, while Boro have scored six goals in three games at home this season, they have only won one.

That will need probably to improve if they are to go up this season but Mowbray is in no hurry. He was at Ipswich when the club tried to move too fast after a successful debut season back in the top flight and said: "The message from me is to try to build your football club from the bottom, block by block, so when you do get to the Premier League, the group will have been together three, four, five years. The aim is to sustain Premier League football for this town."

Easier said than done in the modern era. Even Arsenal find it difficult to hang on to players and Mowbray will find it hard to keep his team together if they do not go up. Bates and Rhys Williams have been watched while the renaissance of Marvin Emnes, the 23-year-old Dutch striker who was loaned out when Mowbray arrived, but whose winner at Selhurst Park was his eighth of the season, will have been noted.

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