WHILE delighted with his side’s recent goal-scoring streak, Middlesbrough boss Tony Mowbray will be hoping to stem the flow at the other end ahead of QPR’s visit to the Riverside this afternoon.
These past two weeks have seen Boro smash in six goals, but the fact that they only came away from the Swansea and Millwall games with three points was due to the fact they let in as many.
In fairness, Mowbray has had to shuffle his defensive pack – particularly in the centre. January saw the departure of David Wheater to Bolton while club captain Matthew Bates is currently sidelined with an injury.
This has meant that Mowbray has had to throw youngsters Seb Hines and Jonathan Grounds in to tread water in some very choppy waves. Given the team’s current predicament at the bottom end of the Championship, never has the term sink or swim been more aptly coined.
However, sharp though the learning curve might be for Hines and Grounds, Mowbray insists that they have a great chance to carve a fine reputation for themselves.
He said: “The performances over the last month have been pretty good. However, they do say that sometimes the result is an imposter as I felt we played better in the 4-3 loss to Swansea then we did in our win at Millwall.
“You can’t say we’ve not been entertaining these past two weeks – six goals in and as many out. But we only got three points from those two games instead of six.
“At this moment, bearing in mind where this club is, we need to win matches and get points on the table.
“We need to get ourselves in the position where we can start to build again. Yet as we move on, I do hope the team’s brand of football is something that we continue to talk about.
“Obviously we would like to make things easier on ourselves by continuing to keep scoring goals while tightening things up at the back. But you have to take into account that we’ve had to make a lot of changes in the centre of defence.
“We’ve lost David Wheater and Matthew Bates is injured so that leaves the two youngsters (Jonathan Grounds and Seb Hines). We’ve had to throw together two boys with very little experience and sometimes that can hurt the team – not by lack of desire or effort but just a lack of experience. There are two very honest guys, but I used Andrew Davies as a third centre-half last week as we needed a presence at the back.
“In an ideal world, youngsters like Seb and Jonathan would be given some time to get experience and become more streetwise with each passing game but the situation at the moment demands that they do so quickly – that’s football.
“You throw them in and if they learn the lessons quickly, then a youngster can build a career for himself. But that’s how football works. A few years ago we had Ugo Ehiogu and Gareth Southgate at the back. We then went on to Wheater and Bates and some would have thought what a come down.
“But now we’ve moved down to Hines and Grounds and they now have to build their reputations. When the opportunity comes, they have to grab it.”
A tough test awaits not just those two but the Boro team as a whole with the league leaders rolling into town but while Mowbray appreciates the quality that QPR are armed with, he believes his troops can make life tough for Neil Warnock’s men today.
He added: “QPR is one we’re looking forward to and they will be a good test for us. They’re at the top of the table – a position which they’ve richly deserved. In Neil they have a manager who’s been around the block a few times and knows what it takes to get promotion.
“Neil’s got a lot of options in his team both at the back and up front including some highly individualistic talented players who can hurt teams in this league and plenty of strength in depth.
“I’m pretty sure will will go into this game full of confidence, knowing that we can cause them problems.”