Middlesbrough’s Tony Mowbray is a man with a plan for Chelsea FA Cup tie
Boro manager has told his players 'to hurry Chelsea up' when the Premier League side visit in the FA Cup
Tony Mowbray has given up chocolate for Lent. "I'm not particularly religious but you have to test yourself," says the Middlesbrough manager before revealing that his young children are under strict instructions to keep their confectionery supplies hidden from view at all times.
The stash of chocolate biscuits at Boro's training ground represents a further source of temptation but, right now, Mowbray is in the mood to be challenged. Mildly exasperated by criticisms of his management style on social media he not only intends to halt the run of one win in nine Championship games which threatens Boro's promotion hopes, but is also keen for his team to confound their doubters against Chelsea at the Riverside in Wednesday's delayed FA Cup fifth-round tie.
That latter task is complicated because the Chelsea manager, Rafael Benítez, has a point to prove as well. "There's no hiding from the fact that we're not in great form," says Mowbray. "But there's no pressure for league points and we'll try and enjoy it – although if Chelsea are five up and we aren't getting a kick we won't be."
The former West Bromwich Albion and Celtic manager has a strategy by which his team of free transfers, bargain buys and academy graduates can avoid such a scenario. Mowbray talks about needing to "hurry Chelsea up," with real feeling. "Athletically, we'll have to cover more ground than they do," he says. "We'll have to close people down, make tackles, make life difficult for them. Chelsea can rely more on their technique and talent to pick the right pass.
"When you haven't got world-class players, you have to, first and foremost, have a work ethic. You try to condense space, try not to be isolated one-on-one in certain areas of the pitch. I doubt we are going to leave three up front.
"And yet, you have to balance that off with having an attacking threat. You have to try to score a goal and if you've got everybody back, it's very unlikely. That's the challenge."
A calf strain has denied Jonathan Woodgate the chance for involvement in what would have been a fascinating sub-plot also featuring Demba Ba or, more probably, Fernando Torres, and Josh McEachran is ineligible to play against his parent club, but apart from that Mowbray will have his strongest side available.
He is disappointed Sammy Ameobi, newly arrived on loan from Newcastle, is Cup-tied but hopes that a positive performance will galvanise Boro ahead of Saturday's key Championship game at home to Cardiff.
"As soon as we get back in the Premier League the more secure people working at this club will be in their jobs, the girls in the office, the girl in the laundry," he says. "Our results affect their lives."
Benítez is under a very different sort of pressure but Mowbray sympathises. "Chelsea's a tough job," he says. "It's unfortunate what's happened for Rafa with the supporters. But he's a good football man, I've got great respect for him. I know from managing Celtic that being expected to win every game brings its own problems. Whenever Chelsea lose people say it's Rafa's fault, whenever they win nothing is said.
"Rafa's won trophies at Valencia, he's won the Champions League at Liverpool so he's earned the right to manage Chelsea. I'm sure he and Roman Abramovich would have wished things had worked out better but they can still win the Europa League and the FA Cup and finish second or third in the Premier League.
"And they can't just keep on changing the manager every time something goes wrong. Chelsea's players should be feeding off adversity and becoming stronger and more unified and I'm sure that will happen."
Mowbray senses a mood of increasing agitation around the game fuelled by social media. "You do need a thick skin to be a football manager," he says. "Anyone who tells you criticism doesn't hurt them is a liar. We are human beings. The harshness of the some of it is hard when you've come into work all week in the pitch black, gone home in the pitch black and then, on the Saturday, your centre-half forgets an instruction, makes one mistake and you lose.
"You must make decisions all the time and you have to hope you get more right than wrong. You have to be very, very single-minded in 2013 because of the social media aspect of the world now, everybody can do your job, everybody has an opinion."
Filed under: Euro 2012
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