AS he wanders Asda shopping for potatoes, Middlesbrough supporters try to catch Tony Mowbray’s eye, and tell him promotion to the Premier League this year is in the bag.
Hang on, he says. For while the Teessiders’ manager admits going up must be this new season’s aim, and insists he has built a side as much for the here and now as for the future, he also heeds caution.
The Championship becomes more competitive by the year, and particularly now, given the undiluted strength of those relegated from last term’s top flight.
All Mowbray promises then is that Boro – who kick off their campaign at Mido’s Barnsley today – will strive to be equally competitive, “at the right end of the table and giving it our best shot”.
Finish above Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers and Wolves, he adds, and they should be where they desire.
“That’s got to be the goal, promotion,” said Mowbray, whose only absentee is Lucas Jutkiewicz.
“I would never sit here and say we’re building a team for next year or the year after. We will be as competitive as we can be this year, and I would hope that will be very competitive.
“For that to happen a few things have to click into place. A few players have to hit the ground running, and a few have to achieve their own targets and the targets that we might set them.
“Yet at the same time, as I walk the streets people are talking as if promotion’s a certainty this year.
“I’m trying to say to them ‘Well hang on a minute’.
“For a start, we lost our player of the season (Barry Robson) last year, and we’ve lost a few others. We’ve brought a few free transfers in, and a few from lower leagues.
“Explain to me how that relates to promotion.
“It’s a tough league. The three that have come down this year, there are no Portsmouths among Wolves, Blackburn and Bolton.
“I haven’t seen the betting but I would only imagine they are right up at the top, all three of them. And you’d have to say the likes of Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds United and Blackpool have all been there or thereabouts.
“They are big clubs in this division, and I think we’re just another one that has to be in there competing, and making sure we’re at the right end of the table and giving it our best shot. So I think any teams that finish above those three relegated teams will have had a pretty good season.”
Mowbray was hoping to finalise a deal for FC Basel’s Swiss goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler by the weekend, and admitted a striker remains his outstanding priority after a summer of much change at the Riverside.
“Whether we’re getting there, time will tell,” he said.
“Building football teams to where you’re happy as a manager is not an easy process because you have lots of obstacles in the way.
“That’s why I think there was an opportunity this summer with 10 out of contract, to try and utilise the salaries that were being released. We had to make some sort of savings from those salaries but we’ve used the excess to bring players in. I’ve brought players in who fit a little bit more with the philosophy that we have.
“We’ve worked hard just about every day for six weeks and it all culminates on Saturday at Barnsley.
“They’re at home, they’ll be very determined. They’ve signed Mido, so they’ve shown a little bit of ambition. I like their manager, Keith Hill’s a good coach and always has his teams playing in an expansive manner, trying to pass the ball.
“We’ll have to be at our best, and be organised to hopefully go there and get the points. There’ll be a big following from Middlesbrough, and we hope to go there and impose ourselves on the game.
“But there are no easy games, as we found out last year in this division.”