A multitude of reasons caused Middlesbrough’s promotion bid to falter but Tony Mowbray is not passing the buck, reports James Hunter
TONY Mowbray has no time for excuses. After falling agonisingly short of a top six finish – and the chance of a return to the Promised Land of the Premier League through the play-offs – it would be easy for the Middlesbrough manager to pass the buck.
A lack of funds for team strengthening; a series of injuries to key players; a failure to score enough goals - there are plenty of directions in which he could point the finger of blame.
But Mowbray’s assessment at the end of the campaign was refreshingly honest: “We haven’t got any excuses. We weren’t quite good enough and we fell a little bit short.”
After spending virtually the entire season in the top six, there was a sense of disappointment on Teesside as Boro faltered in the final straight and finished seventh.
However, after flirting with relegation the previous season under then-boss Gordon Strachan, Boro’s progress in Mowbray’s first full season in charge was clear to see.
Mowbray had taken over in October 2010 with Boro in dire straits, but under his direction they achieved a respectable mid-table finish.
That dramatic improvement in the second half of Boro’s campaign meant that hopes were high for the new season under hometown boy and ex-Boro skipper Mowbray.
It was never going to be easy, however.
With the ongoing financial constraints in place at Boro, which forced the exits of Kris Boyd (pictured left), Andrew Taylor and Leroy Lita last summer, Mowbray had to reshape his squad on a shoestring.
Curtis Main, Malaury Martin and Bart Ogbeche arrived on Teesside in the close-season without a penny spent on transfer fees.
Boro made a terrific start, winning five of their first seven games to top the table by the beginning of September and remaining unbeaten in their opening 11 league matches. Already, there were warning signs though. Boro had proved hard to beat at the Riverside, but they had also let points slip with four of their first five home games ending in draws.
That was to be a pattern that lasted all season, with Boro finishing the campaign with 10 draws on home turf - many of them against sides in the bottom half of the table.
But Boro’s momentum continued to grow in the first half of the season, and at the turn of the year they occupied an automatic promotion place.
Goals were proving hard to come by though, however the fact that Boro remained in the promotion race meant that owner Steve Gibson sanctioned the £1.3m signing of Lukas Jutkiewicz from Coventry in January. January proved a jittery time for the Teessiders, losing three of their four league games, and a couple of draws at the beginning of February saw them drop out of the top six for the first time since the opening weekend of the season.
A defeat at Crystal Palace back in September had put paid to Boro’s Carling Cup ambitions at the third round stage, but they took Premier League neighbours Sunderland to a fourth round replay and extra-time before bowing out at the Riverside.
That left Boro to concentrate on rejoining the promotion race, and a sequence of four wins in five games soon established them back in the top six.
But then came a run of eight games that returned just four points, and saw Mowbray’s men slide out of the play-off places and leave them needing a last day win at Watford – and for Cardiff to lose at Crystal Palace – in order to finish sixth.
Both results went against Boro, meaning they finished five points behind the Bluebirds. Mowbray said: “Ultimately it's disappointing because we've been in the top six for 80%, 90% of the season.
“To miss out is disappointing for us all. But we have to brush ourselves down and go again.
“We have to try and be as competitive as last year and a little better.
“We haven't got any excuses. We congratulate the teams who finished above us and we'll get ready again for next year.”