RICHIE Smallwood is the latest product from the Middlesbrough Academy conveyor belt of talent, and the 21-year-old midfielder could well play a part in the club’s FA Cup at home to Shrewsbury Town today.
The Academy, which has been under the stewardship of Dave Parnaby for several years now, has been a valuable source of first-team talent for Boro, with the likes of current skipper Matthew Bates, along with Tony McMahon and Joe Bennett, all playing key roles in this season’s promotion push.
Smallwood has been tipped to be the next one to make the step up. While he has already been introduced to first-team action, a regular run has not been forthcoming – but today could be a chance to plant another seed in Tony Mowbray’s mind.
With Nicky Bailey out, Kevin Thomson seems likely to fill in should the Scot be feeling no ill effects from yesterday’s training session this morning, and Smallwood could well step in.
Whatever the outcome, Smallwood is grateful to the Academy for helping him reach the position he’s at in the first place, and also to the various Boro managers who have not been afraid to promote youth into the first team.
He said: “The managers have given the young lads a chance which has obviously helped. But the coaches have really been the key part.
“They have helped us all push on over the years. They also try to keep you grounded. They coach the scholarship scheme, you do the college work with it.
“Dave Parnaby does a good job to keep the lads grounded. Then there is the football side, I think it has all helped. It has shown on the pitch over the years that the scouting team works and the coaches work.”
Smallwood is also hoping that Boro’s bid for promotion goes all the way as he would like to be playing against one of his idols.
He added: “I used to like Roy Keane as I am a Man United fan but then I started to like Steven Gerrard.
“His style of play. That’s what I admire, a player like Gerrard. You watch players like that and you want to try to be like them and try to look up to him. You want to emulate players like that.
“I would love to play Gerrard in the Premier League before he retires. That would be great. Hopefully we can do it.”
Meanwhile, Middlesbrough boss Tony Mowbray, who yesterday won the Manager of the Month Award for December, is hoping today’s cup tie does not turn out to be a repeat of last season’s horror show at Burton Albion.
Two late goals put the Teessiders out, and Mowbray insists that his squad kill off the tie should they get the first goal instead of leaving themselves open to injury-time comebacks.
He said: “I enjoyed the Burton game in that we were in control and dominated the match, but obviously I didn’t enjoy the last few minutes.
“We just needed a second goal and that is what I’ve been saying nearly every week and that’s why we are striving hard to add to our striking department to help those lads who are working extraordinarily hard every week without the rewards of the work that they put in.
“I think Burton highlighted that. I don’t think Burton were any better on the day than we were. The gulf was there for all to see yet it was great credit to them that they kept going and dug in and got a result. We have to make sure this weekend we don’t get ourselves into a similar situation. The only way you do that is sticking the ball into the net.
“I don’t think the second-goal issue is as simplistic as the intensity shown in getting the first one eases off after we’ve got it. You can’t ever question the team’s work-rate and work ethic throughout the 90 minutes.
“For me, people look for reasons or excuses, but the last two weeks have been classic cases of working extremely hard. It took us 87 minutes to get the winner against Hull, and against Peterborough, although we were not desperately hanging on, you could feel the momentum of the game swinging towards them when they gambled a bit in the last 20 minutes by changing formation and pushing people forward.
“Peterborough wouldn’t have done that if they were 2-0 down. They would have kept playing on because if you gamble too much you could end up getting beaten 4-0. I’ve done that myself.
“At 1-0, you’ll take any risk. You’ll play five up front to try and salvage a point. I don’t think our team slackens off when we go a goal up. We’ve had enough chances in games to have extended our lead, yet we haven’t taken them.”