Despite starting the season slower than they have in the past two campaigns, when they burst out of the blocks, Middlesbrough manager Tony Mowbray believes this is the strongest squad he has assembled at the Riverside.
The Boro teams of the past two years faded badly during the second half of the season – drastically so last term – having opened so menacingly in the first months of the Championship term.
Yet after commencing the 2013-14 campaign with only one win from five and six points gained, Mowbray has seen enough potential to suggest this time Middlesbrough can stay the course.
Mowbray has brought in eight players this summer, including the deadline day acquisitions of Sierra Leone striker Kei Kamara and former Barnsley midfielder Jacob Butterfield, and let 11 go, some of them high-earners left over from previous regimes.
Allied to that the retention of players such as club captain Rhys Williams and Mowbray finally believes he has a squad he can call his own.
“As a group of staff we think this is the best group of players we have had since we have been here,” said Mowbray who takes his side to his old stomping ground of Ipswich today.
“I’m basing that on the togetherness and the bond between them.
“I have to say, this week training has been really good, really bright; it’s a very positive group of guys out there on the training ground.
“It’s good to see their energy and quality.
“And that bond, allied to talent, goes a long way over 46 games to picking up points in tight games.”
Even though they only have the one win so far – coming on their travels when they triumphed at Charlton – Mowbray believes his squad have the fortitude to succeed this term.
“We’ve got talent in our group of footballers,” he added.
“But any group of footballers gets tested along the way. You lose games and you have to rebound, you have to be mentally tough.
“The test for the group is in the future but we feel good about the group we’ve got, we enjoy working with them, they seem to enjoy coming in to train every day and enjoy each other’s company.
“That’s not always been the case at this club for the last two or three years but at this moment I feel as if the group is strong and hopefully they’ll get the rewards from that.”