TONY Mowbray has defended the decision to allow Danny Graham to leave Middlesbrough as Watford’s top goalscorer returns to the Riverside today.
Graham was an exciting prospect at Boro, but struggled to break into the side when it was a Premier League force and, after several loan moves, signed for Carlisle United in 2007.
The 25-year-old flourished in League One, scoring 37 goals in 91 league starts for the Cumbrians before joining Watford for £200,000 two years later.
He has gone on to become one of the most feared goalscorers in the Championship with 23 goals this season in a mid-table side, and is precisely the sort of player Mowbray is struggling without.
Boro would love to bring Graham, who began his career with Chester-le-Street in the Northern Premier League, back to the region in the future.
But Boro’s financial problems mean that is highly unlikely and their boss does not worry about what might have been. Mowbray said: “Danny’s had a fantastic season and is hitting the target regularly. The test is doing it year in, year out.
“He takes up very intelligent positions on the break and is obviously a very, very talented finisher. When the ball drops to him he generally puts it in the back of the net. But at the time it was probably the right time to let him go for the sake of his career.”
Watford’s arrival on Teesside will also be a strange experience for Boro midfielder Andrew Taylor, who spent the first six months of the season on loan at the Hornets before Mowbray (pictured right) brought him back.
He said: “Watford tried very hard to sign him in the last window. He went there on loan and did exceptionally well. I’m pleased he’s still here and performing for us.
“He’s been very consistent in what haven’t been very open and attractive games, where we’ve had to be disciplined and organised and work very hard.
“It’s a little frustrating for him at the moment because he’s got bags of quality with the ball and can pick a good pass. As we move on as a team, hopefully those qualities will come to the fore.
“He speaks very highly of his time at Watford – the team and the work ethic they have. Hopefully he’ll be able to celebrate putting one over them.”
Boro have managed to claw themselves away from the drop zone in the last fortnight and there is a seven-point gap between themselves and third-bottom Scunthorpe following the win over Derby and a hard-fought point at Portsmouth last weekend.
But Watford have won their last two games 3-0 to move to within striking distance of the play-offs – and Mowbray has warned that Boro are still not in the position to breath easily in the league.
He added: “We can’t afford to rest on our laurels, the points we’ve got at the moment won’t be enough to keep us out of the bottom three. Games are running out and we want to keep that gap.
“We have to keep working very, very hard to pick up points and if we do that we should be okay. It would be nice to get another three points in the bag before the international break.”
Mowbray’s preparations for this weekend have not been helped by the loss of striker Leroy Lita to a hamstring injury, which will mean a new partner for Scott McDonald.
The former Reading man could miss the rest of the season with a tear and that means Mowbray will turn to either Marvin Emnes or Merouane Zemmama, with Kris Boyd and Lee Miller out on loan.
He will, however, have experienced defender Stephen McManus on the bench after an ankle injury, while full-back Joe Bennett will play with a lightweight cast protecting a chipped bone in his wrist.