TONY Mowbray believes this season’s Championship is stronger than it has ever been and the gap between it and the Premier League’s bottom half is not as big as many believe.
Last season saw all three promoted clubs, QPR, Norwich City and Swansea City, avoid relegation.
This time around West Ham United, who came up via a play-off, already look safe, with Southampton and even Reading beginning to make a fist of life in the Premier League.
Apart from the obvious exception of QPR, none of these clubs spent tens of millions of pounds in a bid to establish themselves as a top-tier club.
It is something Mowbray has watched with great interest.
If Middlesbrough win promotion this season, it is a fair assumption owner Steve Gibson will not spend silly money to strengthen the playing squad.
Mowbray is convinced recent FA Cup non-shocks proved the difference between one of the better Championship sides and those either in or just above the Premier League relegation places is far from huge.
He said: “Mid-table Brighton beat Newcastle 2-0 in the FA Cup the other week. If you watch Brighton play, as I do when we are preparing to play them, you see how good they are with the ball.
“I know Newcastle had injuries but they still had a strong team out.
“If Brighton are mid-table in the Championship, it must say how strong the Championship is.
“There are lots of different styles of play. Brighton are as expansive as you get and yet they are ninth or tenth.
“Cardiff play a different style and they’re still getting results and winning. The league is very strong and diverse.”
Boro themselves outplayed Sunderland and beat them in the Capital One Cup before narrowly losing out to a team who have one foot in the final.
That in itself is evidence, in Mowbray’s eyes at least, his squad is not a million miles from being good enough to cope in the Premier League.
He added: “We went to Swansea and could have won. We lost through an own goal and yet they go the Chelsea and win 2-0.
“How tight is it?
“Any team which gets out of this team can be very competitive in the Premier League.”
It doesn’t necessarily have to cost a fortune.
Swansea and Norwich are the best examples of clubs who have worked within a sensible budget, preferring to nurture young players rather than buy in experience, a tactic which has proved so often to be a failure.
Mowbray said: “The danger for me is you get up and think you have to spend £50 million to stay there. “Norwich have shown without spending anything with young players like Wes Hoolahan that it can be done.
“You develop a philosophy and a way to play football and you keep to it.
“Swansea play the same way every game whether they are at home to Manchester United or at Accrington Stanley, because the players buy into it every week.
“The Championship now is very competitive.
“It hardens you up and when you get there I think the players will all take confidence from the Swanseas, the Norwichs, the West Broms, who have got in, stayed in and prospered.”
Middlesbrough face Leicester City at the Walkers Stadium tomorrow evening without any new signing being added this month to a squad which has faired well so far – despite last weekend’s slip up at home to Watford.
Mowbray added: “I talk to Steve Gibson quite a lot and he’s saying if the right player is at the right price comes along who you think is going to make the difference, then we would look at it.
“He’s never said to me there’s no money we can’t do this but we have a pretty strong squad numbers-wise.”