Boro vs Birmingham

 

Boro hope to wipe away the Blues

Werdermouth previews the visit of Birmingham to the Riverside…

Garry Monk’s team will try to shake off the Blues at the Riverside on Wednesday following a rather grey performance against the Whites at Elland Road that left a cloud of gloom hanging over Boro’s renewed promotion aspirations. The performance against Leeds failed to build on the three straight wins before the international break that many had hoped had finally turned the corner on a rather bumpy road to nowhere that had diverted Boro’s promotion chances. Despite those wins against struggling teams, the team displays were not particularly convincing in most parts – more solid and workmanlike than those befitting a squad professing to contain an embarrassment of attacking riches.

It’s been clear to expectant Boro watchers for much of the season that something is missing – whether it’s the creative spark or the confident drive going forward that gives a team its swagger – it’s not really evident. This is not something new, under both Karanka and Agnew, the essence of the team was one of caution first, expression later – almost an apprehension that the opposition are better and must be first stopped from being allowed to play their game. What about Boro’s game? Is there a real belief within the team, from the manager to the players (or even to the supporters) that all that unrivaled spending on an array of attacking talent before the season started had got us wondering how on earth could Monk decide on who to leave out.

Instead, the questions have increasingly started to become about which of our signings have started to show that they deserve their place. Perhaps they have been poorly integrated or supplied – some have been jettisoned from the matchday squad altogether and appear to be heading for a January exit, while others have failed to find their feet and have seemingly lost their touch and confidence. Building a team is perhaps not an exact science (or maybe it is) and it may well be that in the dash to sign up players in a busy market some key components got overlooked. Pace and power were the rebuilding buzz words but maybe guile was neglected from the summer shopping list. We know that even Karanka’s promotion winning team didn’t really function until the vision and skills of Gaston Ramirez suddenly made the team click around him – Boro lack such a player at the moment and really that should have been first on any smashing wish list.

Middlesbrough Birmingham City
Garry Monk Steve Cotterill
P17 – W7 – D5 – L5 – F22 – A15 P17 – W4 – D3 – L10 – F9 – A25
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
6th
26
1.5
70
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
21st
15
0.88
40
Last 6 Games
Leeds (A)
Sunderland (H)
Hull (A)
Reading (A)
Cardiff (H)
Barnsley (A)
(H-T)
1:2 (0:1) L
1:0 (1:0) W
3:1 (2:0) W
2:0 (1:0) W
0:1 (0:0) L
2:2 (1:2) D
Last 6 Games
Nottm Forest (H)
Barnsley (A)
Brentford (H)
Aston Villa (H)
Millwall (A)
Cardiff (H)
F-T (H-T)
1:0 (1:0) W
0:2 (0:1) L
0:2 (0:0) L
0:0 (0:0) D
0:2 (0:0) L
1:0 (1:0) W

Birmingham arrive in the North-East with their season not looking in particular good shape, having already given Harry the heave-ho two months ago after he failed to walk-the-walk despite his renowned ability to talk-the-talk. Steve Cotterill has taken over but with no real impact on the pitch – it’s clear scoring goals is their elephant in front of the opposition goal and with just nine this season they are going to have trouble winning games if the opposition score.

In recent weeks we’ve seen how club ownership has often left fans hostage to the fortunes (or lack of fortunes) of those who appear almost randomly decided to takeover the supporters dreams. In the mid-1980’s, a financially struggling Birmingham was sold to former Walsall chairman Ken Wheldon, who tried to get the club back on an even keel by undertaking the task of cutting costs and selling assets, including the training ground. Though despite the cuts, he still couldn’t get to grips with the financially troubled club and decided to sell it on to the Kumar brothers in 1989, though the ones involved in the clothing business rather than the others who lived at number 42. However, following the famous collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) in 1991, the Kumars suddenly found themselves bankrupt and Birmingham City was once again left looking for new ownership.

An advert in the Financial Times was then spotted by a young ambitious women in her early twenties, which lead to her putting an interesting proposal to her boss. The woman in question, is now probably better known from the television show ‘The Apprentice’ in which she is Lord Sugar’s latest sidekick, namely Karren Brady or Baroness Brady as she’s also rather grandly now known. The young Brady was appointed at the age of 20 as a director of those two slightly misnamed esteemed journals ‘The Daily Sport’ and ‘The Sunday Sport’, which were owned by the pornographer David Sullivan. She was appointed after he’d been apparently impressed with her ability to sell to him £2m worth of advertising in six months whilst Brady was working as an advertising executive for LBC. Then a few years later she saw that advert in the FT, which was looking for new owners of the club after it went into receivership. Brady then persuaded Sullivan to buy Birmingham on the condition she could run it and in 1993 at the age of just 23 she became the club’s managing director.

It was rare to have a women in such a high profile position in football and she claims it made her a target for sexism. In one famous story, as she boarded the team bus for the first time, a player apparently shouted “I can see your tits from here” – to which Brady responded “When I sell you to Crewe you won’t be able to see them from there will you?” and the over observant player was indeed promptly sold. That was a clear message to the players that they better understand quickly who was in charge. Though not all of the footballers at the club got on the wrong side of her – she famously married Canadian footballer and then Birmingham top scorer Paul Peschisolido – indeed they are still together and have two children.

The club itself was co-owned by David Sullivan and David Gold who made their fortunes together in the adult industry – in fact Welshman Sullivan was once sent to prison in 1982 after he was convicted of ‘living off immoral earnings’ but was eventually released after serving just over two months, following a successful appeal. Gold is the self-confessed son of an East End criminal known rather imaginatively as ‘Goldy’ by his fellow associates – one story that the former Birmingham owner is fond of telling is how, following a copper ingot heist from a Thames barge by his father’s gang, Goldy was supposed to be the getaway driver of the haul but fell asleep in the rather comfy cab of his lorry and was subsequently collared by the police and sent down. Prison left his family to live in “abject poverty” according to David Gold and he instead found escapism in football as an avid Hammers supporter. Gold even ending up playing for West Ham boys in the 1950’s with the offer of a professional contract but no doubt turned it down to pursue his early business career – which ironically lead to him making the wealth that ultimately made him the now club’s owner.

After 16 years as owners of Birmingham, Sullivan and Gold finally sold the club in 2009 to Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung for over £80m after the club was promoted to the Premier League. Yeung had previously tried to takeover the club two years earlier but had failed to deliver the cash in time to meet the deadline – an aborted bid which caused then manager Steve Bruce to quit the club as manager. He then acquired 30 per cent of the club through his company Grandtop International Holdings (which later changed its name to Birmingham International Holdings Ltd), which was based in the Cayman Islands, before making a second successful bid. Yeung arrived in London from Hong Kong at the age of 12 and trained to be a hairdresser before returning to Hong Kong to make his fortune in the real estate industry (as hairdressers apparently do). After the Asian financial crisis he then made an even bigger fortune by dealing in Penny Stocks in the Chinese autonomous territory of Macau – Penny Stocks are low price (usually under a dollar) high risk shares that are not generally traded at major stock exchanges.

However, in June 2011 he was arrested in Hong Kong and charged on five counts of money laundering – this caused the club to be left in financial limbo resulting in a transfer embargo being imposed by the Football League. The case eventually went to trial in May 2013 and lasted 10 months before finding Yeung guilty of laundering a total of HK$270 (around £26m). He was sentenced to six years in prison and was forced to put his company that owned the club, Birmingham International Holdings, up for sale. It was a long drawn out affair as Yeung tried to influence who could be appointed directors of the company and sold the shares gradually – Eventually, the British Virgin Islands based investment vehicle, the somewhat optimistically named Trillion Trophy Asia gained over 50 per cent of the shares allowing them to make an offer for the remaining ones. The men behind Trillion Trophy Asia are two Hong Kong businessmen, Paul Suen Cho Hung and Daniel Sue Ka Lok, who are also involved in real estate and specialise in turning around distressed Hong Kong assets – though whether the Birmingham players deserve to win a ‘million medals’ (as Harry might have said before he was sacked) may depend on if they can turn their season around and avoid the drop.

Football ownership has increasingly become a game dependent on the arrival of random rich men with the West Midlands clubs having pretty much fallen into Chinese ownership in recent years. The richest is Wolves owner Guo Guangchang, through his Fosun International Group, who reportedly has net worth of £4.4bn to make him ‘the richest man in the West Midlands’ – a phrase best spoken for full effect in a brummie accent. Then there’s the new West Brom owner Lai Guochuan, who bought the club through Yuni Investments from Jeremy Peace for a price reportedly between £150-200m and with personal wealth of £2.8bn makes him ‘only the third richest man in the West Midlands’ – adds brummie accent in incredulous tone. Finally comes the Aston Villa chairman Xia Jiantong, or Tony Xia as he prefers to be called now, who bought the club he apparently supported in his Oxford University days from Randy Lerner for £76m. Purchased through his Recon Group in order to expand his ‘sports portfolio’, Tony is sadly barely a billionaire with a net worth of just £990m, though he calls himself “more than a dollar billionaire” – coincidentally, many in the West Midlands also now call themselves Zimbabwean dollar billionaires.

Back onto the game and Garry Monk will want to win this game and preferably show that his team is progressing or at least give the Riverside faithful a performance to cheer. With this the second game of three in six days, it’s unlikely that he’ll have anything radical up his sleeve to alter the recent tactics. You’d expect Cyrus Christie to return and with Friend appearing to have been partly to blame for both Leeds goals in a less than adequate performance I’d expect Fabio back as a starter. After that, much will depend on what he feels he can do to freshen up a stale looking Boro on their last two outings. Adama, despite his erratic nature still offers forward momentum and would generally be expected to start loosely on the right – Downing could go left instead or even become the number ten with Braithwaite shifting out wide. Perhaps we’ll even see some rotation of places throughout the game to see what works. There could even be an option to see something more adventurous in central midfield – where maybe the forgotten Baker could return to a role I thought he’d eventually reside in. Though before we get too excited, the reality is that we’ll probably see very few surprises when it comes to team selection as Birmingham should be beatable with Monk’s favourites lining up again.

So will Boro show that they are no longer feeling peaky and play a blinder at the Riverside? Or will Garry Monk’s team appear off-colour as they leave the supporters with the blues? as usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will Emilio Nsue remind us that we may have sold the wrong fullback?

Advertisements

Leeds 2 – 1 Boro

Leeds United Middlesbrough
Hernández
Alioski
24′
54′
Assombalonga 77′ (pen)
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
43%
12
 2
 3
13
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
57%
10
 2
10
16

White heat too hot for Boro to handle

Redcar Red reports on the match at Elland Road…

Finally what seemed like the longest build up in footballing history came around as the International snoozathon finally ended with Boro having to wait another 24 hours before attempting to build on their three game winning streak. The hype was all about Garry Monk’s return as pantomime villain to a Club that had been lifeless and listing badly but had enjoyed their best ever season in over a decade during his brief stint. Prior to the Kick off the Home fans let their thoughts be known about Boro’s Manager whilst Boro fans responded with the predictable Jimmy Saville taunts.

Initially there was a fairly frantic start to the game with both sides looking up for the challenge. Ayala and Jansson had looked a fairly physical contest in the making as Leeds settled quickest and started to pass the ball about. The Whites escaped a nailed on penalty by Berardi on Britt on 8 minutes as he was gabbed around the waist and literally bundled over in full view of Ref who presumably blinked.

Leeds were having plenty of possession with robust challenges going in and one saw with Jansson elbowing Tavernier in the forehead in a challenge again apparently unseen by the officials with 15 minutes gone. Leeds were certainly up for it whilst the Boro looked a little disarmed and unprepared for the fight ahead.

George Friend was coaching and ushering Tavernier through the opening stages which was great to see but perhaps he would have been better concentrating on his own game because he looked slow in reading the game and was having a torrid opening few minutes. By this stage the Boro plan seemed to be to sit back but we were not finding any balls up to Britt and pressure was building. Then a clearance out of our congested defence on 20 saw Britt break down the right and cross a fierce ball in only to elude the advancing Tavernier and Braithwaite. The resulting corner ironically saw Britt penalised for holding Berardi, incompetent refereeing at its best!

Braithwaite had a run checked into the Leeds box but the Referee saw nothing in it and immediately as if to contrast the pace and power difference, Leeds broke down the opposite end via a series of sharp slick passing. George then failed to cut out the resulting cross with Pablo Hernandez sneaking in at the far post ghosting past Roberts to glance a low header home. Slow starting Boro seemed to be in evidence once again, Leeds were having far too much space, possession and room with Boro merely chasing shadows unable to get out of second gear.

George was struggling, Alioski was twisting and turning him inside out and a frustrated George then gave away a free kick just up from the corner flag receiving a yellow for his troubles. The free kick worrying came in to an unmarked Saiz from a similar area where Hernandez scored previously but fortunately for Boro he scuffed his shot over the cross bar from close range. Roberts wasn’t having much joy overlapping and defensively he had been awol now on a few occasions. As if the Championship debutant RB didn’t have enough trouble Berardi then went scything through him to receive Leeds first yellow of the game as he tried forlornly to break up field.

Tempers and patience were getting frayed and another attempted Middlesbrough break saw Jansson deliberately block off Braithwaite to receive Leeds’ second yellow. A Crossfield ball from Grant to Stewy saw 60 yard back pass to Randolph who had to be quick not to emulate Jason Steele’s fate from a few seasons previously. At this point Boro were clunky again nothing was working for them and little going their way in terms of decisions. A challenge by Friend on Saiz was adjudged to have been a foul as he landed accidentally on Saiz’s ankle. It seemed very harsh although no doubt painful in fairness to Saiz but there was neither malice nor intent.

Garry Monk will have been the happier of the two managers to see the end of the first 45 minutes as his side never really got going or looked remotely likely to unlock the Leeds defence and indeed as the half ground to a close Boro looked likely to concede a second. In the last few seconds a nailed on corner for Assombalonga was denied by the assistant who bizarrely saw it as a Leeds goal kick. It wasn’t going to be an easy second 45 for Boro as the Officials had shown signs throughout the first half of being influenced by the Home support. That aside Boro bereft of any attacking fluidity were unlikely to score unless it was handed to them on a plate. For a game that meant so much to so many for different reasons the Middlesbrough side looked decidedly uninterested and well below par.

Boro were first out for the second half with neither side making any changes. I had thought that GM might have removed George and replaced him with Fabio to add more pace and energy and the fact that George was walking a tightrope. Leeds started the second half camped in Boro territory passing it around with ease and class whilst the Red shirts chased more shadows seemingly unable to read or anticipate the second phase of play. Boro looked confused, weary and pedestrian in comparison to their opponents; we were witnessing once again the pre gelling Boro from earlier in the season. For a trailing side only one attempt on target in 50 minutes told a very damning tale.

If it were possible the second half actually started even worse than the first half had ended. Whatever half time team talk had taken place it was clear that it was ineffective as there was no change in fortune from Monk’s charges, not even an increase in desire or passion. A 51st minute corner was woefully hit by Braithwaite and couldn’t clear the first man. A Downing cross on 53 saw our first opportunity of the second half fall to Tavernier on the edge of the six yard box that was skewed high and wide. Once again we immediately were made to pay for it as Roofe ran through a teflon Boro defence to set up Alioski to hit a second for Leeds.

In a bewildering attempt to address the lacklustre almost dismissive performance from Boro Monk hauled off Tavernier and brought on Johnson and Leeds immediately hit the upright with Randolph beaten. Under the circumstances Monk needed to radically alter both the shape and the tactics of his side but incredibly he just made a like for like change. Did he honestly believe that his sides’ woeful showing was because of Tavernier, seriously? If that was all that was wrong with Boro this afternoon then I must have been watching an entirely different game.

A rare Roberts rampage saw a cut back cross to Braithwaite who brought out a near goal line clearance albeit more by accident than design. The resulting corner saw Boro pass the ball straight into trouble on the edge of the Leeds 18 yard box with Howson almost tackling his own player as the misplaced ball was played into open ground setting up Leeds. The ex-Leeds favourite then took a yellow for his trouble and the resulting free kick saw Leeds miss a glaring header in on an open Boro goal. The arrival of Johnson had made absolutely no difference, the slow, predictable, poorly passed

build up continued. On 64 minutes George made way for Traore who went wide right with Downing switching flanks with Johnson dropping to LB we thought although it seemed to be Stewy after a while. My immediate thought was what was GM previously thinking with his first Substitution by replacing like for like and then taking off a struggling LB for a Right Winger? Did he have a cunning plan or was it as it appeared, just making it up as he went along.

Assombalonga had the touch of a baby Elephant all afternoon and absolutely no service to boot yet GM seemed oblivious with his revised game plan, the Championships most expensive striker isolated. On 70 minutes Britt had his first effort, a curling shot from outside the 18 yard box. The next stoppage in play saw Monk withdraw Grant and put on one of his favourites in Fletcher, presumably in a “proverbial” or bust tactic as the game now seemed totally beyond his comprehension or tactical nous.

An unexpected and undeserved lifeline was given to Boro as Ayala grabbed Ayling by the face at a Boro corner strangely unseen by the incompetent officials, stupidly Ayling reacted by grabbing Ayala’s ankle as he ran back out of the Leeds box. As play continued the Assistant informed the Ref of the incident which resulted in play being brought back and a Boro penalty awarded which Assombalonga rather too coolly for my liking converted under a barrage of redundant flag poles raining down onto the pitch.

The game then descended into a scrappy uncultured affair as Christiansen introduced Ekuban for Roofe to hang on to what he had. Although the game was petering out Leeds work rate looked 70% faster, sharper and keener as Boro just meandered through their predictable slow passing game. A late Adama cross found Braithwaite who done well to bring it down then swivel and turn to see the ball go wide. Frustrations grew as Britt for Boro then Kalvin Phillips both received the next Yellows as the game was slowly expiring. O’Kane came on for Saiz with two minutes of normal time remaining as Christiansen continued to keep what his side had deservedly earned.

Seven minutes then came up on the board as Boro pushed men up the pitch far too late in the game leaving themselves exposed to a counter on the break and but for a poor decision by Alioski it should have been ended as a contest. Hernandez then increased the card count for a mistimed tackle on Traore. Pennington then came on to further beef up the Whites rearguard for Alioski and of course to wind the clock down. An Adama won corner saw Ayala head the ball over the roof of the net in the final minute with the game concluding with a last chance Boro assault terminated as a result of a push in the Leeds box.

After so much pre-match hype and hope, a clueless, heartless and spiritless performance from Boro saw Leeds deservedly collect all three points and serious question marks raised again about an abject lack of in-game management from Garry Monk. Three games forward and one game back as it were but the nature of today was the most disappointing aspect. Boro MOM was Adama Traore, he changed the game for Boro and gave us some desperately needed impetus in a side that looked to be devoid of belief and creativity.

Today we desperately missed Cyrus Christie, George had a really poor game as did Roberts on the opposite side and apart from a few Downing passes and flashes of Braithwaite close control we were simply awful all over the pitch. Absolutely no positives to take from this afternoon, all that expensively assembled talent but zero attacking force and intent. Nowhere remotely near good enough as the fickle finger of fate now points away from Christiansen and back onto Monk.

Monk vows to silence old order on return

Werdermouth previews Sunday’s encounter at Elland Road…

Boro head to Leeds on Sunday with renewed belief after pulling off three wins in the week before the international break that has seen Garry Monk’s team move up from bottom-half under-achievers to fifth spot promotion hopefuls in the Championship. What a week it was for the under pressure Boro manager who less than a month earlier had faced the prospect of sheepishly returning to his old stomping ground with the Elland Road fans in full gloating mode as many expected the game to be a top-six promotion-chasing Leeds against his struggling mid-table big spenders seeming less than value for money. Instead, a more settled solid-looking Boro will fancy their chances against a side that is struggling at the bottom of the form table.

Normally when a former manager returns to his old club he’s greeted from the terraces with rows contorted animated faces as they chant “Who are you! Who are you!” though at Leeds that is usually more of a genuine question that should instead be “Who are you? Who are you?” Fans gathered in the Revie Stand often squint to see if they recognise the man in the opposition dugout as possibly being one of their plethora of former managers – some of whom lasted barely a couple of months. Sadly for Garry Monk his distinctive golfing apparel will probably jog a few memories, especially if he finds himself shouting ‘four’ as Boro improve on their goal scoring feat at Hull against an under par United. However, it’s possible the Boro manager will just be a blurry figure at Elland Road on Sunday as the Leeds Managing Director declared “With regards to Garry Monk returning, it’s not something we’ll focus on.”

There is a semantic argument of whether Monk resigned from Leeds or whether he just decided not to continue being their manager. He had a 12-month rolling contract with the West Yorkshire club but decided not to take up the option to extend the deal for a further year. There were also reports that he’d turned down a three-year contract when the new owner Andrea Radrizzani Tweeted: “Shocking news from GM. We were keen to do 3 years deal. We never receive any request from him and his agent. No regrets, we did our best.” – that only seems to imply that perhaps a long-term deal would have been offered to Monk if he’d got round to asking for one, which he didn’t.

Leeds United Middlesbrough
Thomas Christiansen Garry Monk
P16 – W7 – D2 – L7 – F24 – A19 P16 – W7 – D5 – L4 – F21 – A13
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
10th
23
1.4
66
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
5th
26
1.6
75
Last 6 Games
Brentford (A)
Derby (H)
Sheff Utd (H)
Bristol City (A)
Reading (H)
Sheff Wed (A)
F-T (H-T)
1:3 (0:1) L
1:2 (1:0) L
1:2 (1:1) L
3:0 (2:0) W
0:1 (0:0) L
0:3 (0:2) L
Last 6 Games
Sunderland (H)
Hull City (A)
Reading (A)
Cardiff (H)
Barnsley (A)
Brentford (H)
F-T (H-T)
1:0 (1:0) W
3:1 (2:0) W
2:0 (1:0) W
0:1 (0:0) L
2:2 (1:2) D
2:2 (0:1) D

Anyway, Leeds have moved on and have drawn a line under Garry Monk by declaring “we have stopped thinking about him” – though whether they’ll soon also stop thinking about his replacement Thomas Christiansen will depend one whether he can turn around their recent run of poor form, which has seen them lose six of their last seven games. That is in stark comparison to the start of the season, when Leeds were unbeaten in their first seven games with five wins and only two goals conceded. It seems the defence of the West Yorkshire club is now struggling with 17 goals conceded during the last nine games.

Initially, it’s hard to see how a team that contains such famous names like Ronaldo and Viera is having difficulties but on closer inspection it turned out to be U20 England international Ronaldo Viera. Talking of famous names, many of the Elland Road faithful could only dream of seeing Harry Kane in a Leeds shirt, but as they glance towards the pitch their mouths may open in homage to the Spurs striker’s trademark demeanor in the disbelief that the new owner had pulled off a major coup – but instead it turned out to be just a look-alike called Samu Sáiz from Spain. Incidentally, it was revealed recently that Kane was almost sold to Leeds in January 2014 after failing to break into the team but the then Spurs boss Tim Sherwood refused to let him go.

Saiz Kane

Whilst Leeds call themselves the ‘Mighty Whites’, it’s their reputation as a hard physical team under one of Middlesbrough’s famous sons Don Revie that earned them the equally well-used nickname ‘Dirty Leeds’ or now more commonly just ‘The Dirties’. It was the superstitious Revie who was actually responsible for getting rid of their existing nickname ‘The Peacocks’ (named after the pub on the Elland Road site) as he deemed birds were unlucky, which also led to him removing the Owl from the club crest too – though given that belief it’s not entirely clear why he then went out and bought Alan Peacock from Boro in 1964.

Revie was also responsible for changing the Leeds kit to the now familiar all-white one when he became manger, from the previous blue and yellow halved shirt, which he did in an attempt to emulate the great Real Madrid. His attention to small details probably helped him become the most influential figure in the club’s history as they went on to have over a decade of success under his stewardship. Incidentally, although most managers generally have a plan he actually had a plan named after him as a player – whilst at Man City he was integral in introducing the new role of the deep-lying centre forward to English football, which became know in the game as the ‘Revie Plan’ and it was copied from the successful Hungarian national team of the time.

OK onto the game this weekend, in terms of team selection Garry Monk has to decide on who will replace the suspended Cyrus Christie – I would expect Connor Roberts to be given the opportunity to show that he can repeat the form displayed in his EFL Cup appearances, as although in theory Fabio could play there, it would send the wrong signal to a player who’s done OK with his limited chances. Whether Fabio will return at left-back is hard to say, George Friend still doesn’t look the player he was but perhaps still needs game-time like Ayala did to gain match fitness – in addition, Marcus Tavernier has played better when having the left-footed Friend behind him but competition is increasing with Marvin Johnson looking to have improved after a dip in form and may get the nod instead of the youngster. There were reports in the press that Everton and Arsenal are ready to pounce in January for Tavernier after only playing a couple of first-team games – rumours I’m sure the youngsters agent will be pleased to hear have found their way into the media as he negotiates his client’s contract extension. At least Darren Randolph got plenty of shot-stopping practice on international duty with the Republic of Ireland, which gained him much praise despite shipping five goals against Denmark.

It’s likely that Monk will continue with Leadbitter and Howson in central midfield if they’re both fit but the Boro manager has indicated Clayton still has an important role to play at the club despite his recent absence from the matchday squad. With three games in six days it may be a stretch to pick an unchanged side for these coming games – how Monk decides to manage his resources will be pivotal to the success of his team, perhaps we’ll see Leadbitter subbed around the sixty minute mark to preserve him for the midweek game. With Christie missing, Boro will miss his pace on the right side of the pitch and you wonder if Adama will be introduced at some point – though Downing appears to have made that side his own under Boro’s recent revival. I don’t think we’ll see too many shocks with the front two of Braithwaite and Assombalonga as they have started to have a productive partnership together – though one wonder if Big Rudy Gestede will get a place on the bench now that he’s back to being two-legged.

So will it be a welcome return to Elland Road for Garry Monk as his team clean-up the points at The Dirties? Or will Victor Orta demonstrate that he doesn’t have feet of clay as his latest recruits on his new patch leave Boro with mud in their eye. As usual give your predictions for score, scorers and team selection – plus will Ronaldo Viera turn out to be twice the player his name suggests?

How the mighty [whites] have fallen

Ahead of the visit to Leeds Werdermouth looks at the cost of a dream…

Twenty years ago, Leeds supporters sensed they were about to once again become a force in English football, they had new seemingly ambitious ownership who were financing the building of a squad to challenge at the top of the Premier League. What they didn’t know at the time is that the decisions made then would have long-lasting consequence for their club and even threaten its very existence. The story of how the Mighty Whites have fallen and how Leeds United came to be owned and sold many times over would probably make a worthy degree course at the city’s university. It’s a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly side of football ownership – at one point the club was apparently owned by the men with no name for six years.

The supporters have witnessed 21 managers under six different owners in the last 21 years – perhaps recent owner Massimo Cellino has probably best summed up their feelings with one of his random utterances when he said of the Leeds fans “they’re tired of eating shit and shutting their mouths” – in fact many aspects of the financial dealings at Leeds have left an unpleasant taste in the mouth for those involved. So here is the story of how money and power collided with the dream of wanting a successful football club. It’s about fans in the boardroom spending money that they could never pay back and how impatient businessmen arrived looking for a return or even a project to massage their egos but could never quite impose their will to satisfy their demands.

Dreams turn into nightmares

In 1996, Leeds was taken over by a small media rights company called Caspian, who paid the former owners lead by Bill Fotherby around £16m for the club. Caspian’s chairman, Chris Aker and his business partner Jeremy Fenn were traditional businessmen who planned to grow the club slowly with minimal risk by creating new revenue streams off the pitch with a stadium development plan to expand it into an entertainment and leisure complex with hotel and conference facilities. Shortly after buying the club they decided to follow the recent trend of floating clubs on the Stock Market to raise further investment, which they did under the name Leeds Sporting.

Manager Howard Wilkinson was given modest funds to improve the team for the following season but a poor start saw him dismissed and replaced by former disgraced Arsenal manager George Graham for his first job since his ban for accepting a bung. The season ended with Leeds finishing in mid-table playing boring uninspiring football that saw the club score just 28 goals – a record only recently beaten by Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough last season. Long-time director Peter Risdale was then appointed as Chairman with his outgoing personality seeming to have a persuasive manner on those around him. The following season saw Leeds unexpectedly play a little more adventurous under Graham and the club finished in fifth to qualify for the UEFA Cup. Caspian were beginning to anticipate a quick return on their investments on the pitch, but the 1998-99 season was suddenly disrupted in September when George Graham agreed to become manager at Spurs, leaving his assistant David O’Leary to take charge of the team. Unlike Graham, O’Leary was not afraid to blood young players and Leeds became an entertaining young side that finished 4th in the league.

It was at this point when Peter Risdale appeared to get impatient as he sensed Leeds could become a major force once more, a desire that was understandably supported by manager O’Leary. Though Caspian’s plan was meant to be based on steady growth and the cautious chief executive Jeremy Fenn took umbrage at stories leaked to the press that the club were being held back by his reluctance to open the chequebook – after which he decided the public attention was not for him and he moved on to leave Risdale free to push forward as he was also appointed CEO of the plc.

There was a problem however, a small matter of raising extra finance to buy new players as the club already were at their maximum overdraft facility of £11m from HSBC and unless a club had a rich benefactor, which Leeds hadn’t got, there was normally no other source of cash. It was at this point that Risdale had an interesting idea proposed to him by former Man City defender Ray Ranson, who had moved into insurance after his playing days had ended. Ranson idea hadn’t previously been tried before in football, if for example a club bought a player for £4m then that money would be lent to them by a financial institution and then paid back with interest over the length of the player’s contract – the investor’s risk would then be insured by a third party to protect their return. This innovation meant that a club could increase their borrowing by many times the amount which was normally possible. The theory was that it was just improving cash flow as more money was now coming into football each year, together with rising transfer fees, so the money should be easily repayable.

In the summer of 1999, Risdale sanctioned the first three deals financed by Ranson’s method and it seemed to pay dividends as Leeds finished in third to qualify for the Champions League – plus they also reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup. As revenues increased by £20m on the back of this success, this spurred Risdale to push even further and he then sanctioned deals totaling £18m on three more players including Mark Viduka. However, further success in qualifying for the second stage of the Champions League encouraged Risdale to go to the next level and Rio Ferdinand was purchased for a record £18m. However, all this spending had pushed Leeds to the limit of what they could actually afford to pay in the quarterly repayment fees. Risdale overcame this problem by proposing to restructure the payments by paying only half of the transfer fee over the player’s contract, with a single lump sum paid at the end of the players contract instead. While this reduced the quarterly payments to the club it basically kicked the can down the road by deferring the repayment.

A new solution to the problem of Leeds financing further player purchases came from a merchant banker called Stephen Schechter, who had come up with an idea of tapping into the income of football clubs with consistently large fan-bases. Basically, it involved having a once a year payment over a period of around 25 years that an investor would be allowed to withdraw from a ‘locked box’ account into which the club paid their season ticket receipts – the club themselves couldn’t gain access to the money in this ‘locked box’ account until after September, leaving investors to first withdraw their agreed payment. First to take up this new scheme were big spending Newcastle, who borrowed £55m and Leeds soon followed by signing up to £60m, the biggest loan ever signed up to by an English club. This debt was on top of that previously borrowed through Ranson’s earlier scheme.

Although income had risen quite considerably to over £80m as the TV money had now doubled and merchandising also increased, wages had also grown to nearly £40m. Leeds soon used up their new debt facility following three more player purchases that included the two Robbies, Keane and Fowler, which came in at nearly £30m. Everything came to a head in the 2001-02 season as rumours that O’Leary had lost the dressing-room as Leeds form slumped and they finished the season ten points adrift of 4th spot and the lucrative Champions League income that Risdale had literally been banking on. The club now had a debt of over £80m and a wage bill exceeding £50m and were losing £1m a month.

Risdale decided to sack O’Leary after he had spent £100m on players with no trophy to show for it. Terry Venables was appointed as manager but Leeds had no choice but to sell players to keep the club operating and Ferdinand left for Man Utd for £26m but with each sale the squad became weaker and the team began to slide down the table as they attempted to service the spiraling debt. Venables resigned eight months later with the club just eight points above relegation after growing tired of his chairman’s unkept promises on player sales – ten days later Risdale quit after growing pressure from the supporters. His and the club’s dream was over after pursuing it with reckless abandon – though this was just the start of the fall.

Fire-fighting to save the club

After Risdale left he was replaced by non-executive Director and major shareholder Professor John McKenzie, who was a trained economist and he was scathing of the excesses and the lack of understanding of the consequences that the club had exposed itself to. McKenzie attempted to keep the club solvent by continuing to sell players, obtaining additional funding and ultimately striking deals with creditors to defer payments to avoid Leeds being the first Premier League team to go into administration. Meanwhile, Peter Reid had taken over as manager and Leeds only just avoided relegation in the 2002-03 season. Then after a poor start to the next season Reid was dismissed in November and Eddie Gray was installed as caretaker manager at the troubled club.

Off the pitch, former Liverpool apprentice and Shrewsbury player Trevor Birch was appointed as Chief Executive of Leeds for the purpose of overseeing a takeover of the club. Birch retired from professional football at 24 and then gained a first class degree in Accountancy at Liverpool Polytechnic before qualifying as a Chartered Accountant at Ernst & Young. He left the firm in 2002 to become Chelsea’s Chief Executive in order to lead the sale of the Blues from Ken Bates to Roman Abramovich.

John McKenzie resigned from the board in an attempt lure one of China’s richest men, rumoured to be Xu Ming, a petrochemicals businessman and owner of a Chinese first division club – though sadly the Ming dynasty never materialised at Leeds. Also showing apparent interest was a Ugandan property tycoon, who claimed he had £90m of funding available to put into the club – again that never came to anything either and some even suspected that this unbelievably generous offer may have even been received as an email that required Leeds first to send their bank details.

In the end Leeds were subsequently taken over by a consortium of local businessmen, lead by insolvency specialist and Leeds fan Gerald Krasner – they embarked on the sale of the club’s playing assets, including senior and emerging youth players who had a transfer value as the club struggled to even pay the wages. With little control over which players were left at his disposal and morale pretty low as the reality of the situation started to bite, Eddie Gray’s team were unsurprisingly relegated at the end of the 2003–04 season.

Leeds had accumulated debts of over £100m and still had a wage bill that exceeded £50m – the urgent task of Krasner and his management team was to reduce this figure considerably to avoid the club going into liquidation. The consortium borrowed £15m from former Watford chairman Jack Petchey on the terms that it was to be repaid within 12 months from the sale of Elland Road. This sum would be used to reach a settlement with the two main creditors – the bondholders of the £60m borrowed on advanced season ticket sales over the next 25 years and the insurers on the players bought through the Ray Ranson scheme, which amounted to around £21m. After weeks of discussion between the various legal representatives, the bondholders received 20p in the £1 giving them £12m and the insurers had to settle for just 10p in the £1 to get around £2.1m.

In the autumn of 2004, Leeds sold both Elland Road and their Thorp Arch training ground to raise around £20m. Kevin Blackwell was appointed manager but the bulk of the players who remained were either sold or released on free transfers in order to slash the unsustainable wage bill. Blackwell was left to rebuild practically an entire squad through free transfers. Krasner had saved the club for the time being by reducing the debts to around £20m and extending the repayment periods – in addition, the directors of the consortium also loaned the club nearly £5m too to keep it operating. However, the club still needed further investment if it was to have a viable future as it was still losing over £1m each month.

The unknown owners

In January 2005, a 50% stake in Leeds was bought through a Geneva-based company the ‘Forward Sports Fund’ for an estimated £10m, it was lead by Ken Bates who declared he wanted “one last challenge”. Bates had left Chelsea 10 months earlier after selling the heavily indebted club to Roman Abramovich for a reported £140m, from which he personally pocketed £17m after having originally bought the Blues for just one pound!

The arrival of the controversial Bates (who just to clarify was the one in the hotel not the motel trade) was not greeted with much enthusiasm by the Leeds supporters as he had a less than fan-friendly reputation. He famously made the quite literally shocking decision to install an electric perimeter fence around the pitch at Stamford Bridge to prevent pitch invasions, but thankfully the local council refused him permission to turn the electricity on and it was subsequently dismantled. Bates also called the Chelsea Independent Supporters Association “parasites” in one of his often barbed program notes, which actually resulted in one fan suing him and the matter was settled out of court without Bates accepting liability – though I’m not exactly sure on what grounds he could defend calling paying supporters parasites.

His outspoken attacks were not just reserved for fans, in a Channel 5 documentary to commemorate the death of vice-chairman and club benefactor Matthew Harding in a helicopter crash, Bates declared “He [Harding] never had a chance [to take control of Chelsea] once he revealed himself in his true colours. I don’t believe evil should triumph and he was an evil man”. He added that Chelsea was a “much happier ship now that he’s not around” – though Bates had seemed more than happy to accept the £26m his late benefactor had pumped into the club. I suspect on viewing the programme many of his associates may have been tempted to hastily include a clause in their wills to ban him from offering a eulogy at their funerals – though the pair had been having a long-running feud up until Harding’s death and Bates had subsequently banned him from the boardroom.

On the pitch Kevin Blackwell’s cobbled together bunch of free transfers and loans managed to finish in mid-table respectability. The 2005-06 season saw the manager given some real money to spend with Richard Creswell and Robbie Blake arriving on fees over £1m. Also brought in was promising youngster Liam Miller from Man Utd plus the experienced Steve Stone – ten new players arrived in total with ten departing. Blackwell’s upgraded team rose to the challenge that had been set by Bates of achieving promotion – they sat in third spot in March but just one win from the last ten games meant they had to settle for the play-offs. Leeds got the final to take them on the verge of returning to the Premier League and redemption after the financial implosion – however, they lost the game 3-0 against Watford and the opportunity of a return to the big time for Ken Bates was gone.

The following season, after losing five of his first eight games Blackwell was sacked by the board and John Carver was appointed as caretaker, who lost four of his five games, before Bates appointed his former Chelsea captain Dennis Wise as manager with Gus Poyet as his assistant. Bates plan to take Leeds out of the second tier was now coming close to fruition – albeit at the wrong end of the table. As Leeds ended up in the bottom three their relegation was all but certain with one game remaining and the club was put into administration by Bates, incurring a ten point penalty that confirmed they would finish bottom.

It was suggested that if the club had not voluntarily entered administration, then they would have been forced into liquidation by the end of June by HM’s Revenue and Customs unless a £6m tax bill had been settled – though others speculated that the timing was a ploy to take the ten points deduction in a season that the club were all but relegated. KPMG Restructuring were appointed as administrators of Leeds United and within minutes of entering administration the club was sold to Leeds United Football Club Limited. This ‘new’ company had some familiar faces as the three named directors – Ken Bates, Mark Taylor (Bates’ long-time legal advisor who oversaw the sale of Chelsea to Abramovich) and Shaun Harvey (former CEO of Leeds United and for ten years managing director at Bradford City, who twice went into administration under his stewardship).

This rather expedient sale by administrators didn’t go down well in some quarters as other bidders were waiting in the wings to make alternative offers for the club. One such bidder was Don Revie’s son Duncan, who announced that he was in the process of forming a consortium to buy the club by declaring “I’ve tried to ignore my feelings for a long time as I know the aggravation needed to put things right. But when things get this bad, I can’t ignore it. My feelings run too deep. I am interested in trying to get Leeds back where they belong, which is in the top six of the Premiership.”

Though before any sale is ultimately approved, the buyer needs to issue a Company Voluntary Arrangement or CVA, which spells out to existing creditors the terms of the bid, which then requires to be approved in a vote by 75% of these creditors. When former chairman Gerald Krasner saw the terms being offered by Bates (just 1p in the £1 with a promise of a ‘substantial’ yet unspecified increase if Leeds were promoted to the Premier League within five years) he offered to represent the creditors free of charge – presumably they still included the three partners of his consortium who had loaned the club £4.5m and as the offer stood they would receive just £15 grand each. In the end Ken Bates’ offer received 75.02% approval (later revised up to 75.20% after a recount) from the creditors vote and the deal went through, which was then subject to appeal for a period of 28 days. One day before the appeal period was due to end Bates upped his offer to 8p in the £1 and offered that would rise to 30p in the £1 if Leeds were promoted to the Premier League within ten years.

However, with only a few minutes remaining before the deal could be appealed HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), who were owed £6m, stepped in and challenged the sale. This meant KMPG had to formally put the club up for sale, which would allow other bidders a further 28 days to make offers. With several bids on the table, KPMG revealed after assessing them that once again they had chosen Ken Bates’ bid. The Football League eventually sanctioned the sale to Bates without the club needing to go through a CVA process again under the “exceptional circumstances rule”. Though they instead imposed a 15-point deduction (which applied to the new season after relegation) on the grounds that the club had not followed football league rules when entering administration. Finally, on 31 August 2007 HMRC decided not to pursue any further legal challenge and accepted Bates’ final offer, confirming him as the owner of a debt-free Leeds United.

Though this was not quite the end of the story, Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, signed an early-day motion in the House of Commons which urged law-enforcement agencies to mount inquiries and called for greater transparency in the ownership of football clubs – plus he urged HM Revenue and Customs to challenge in court the conduct of the administrators of Leeds United.

The MP’s motion centred on the fact that three offshore companies, whose owners were unidentified and essentially had control of the club, which decisively influenced the administration process where creditors, who were in total owed £35m, were offered just 1p in the £1. The majority of the shares in Leeds before it went into administration were owned by the Forward Sports Fund, a trust registered in the Cayman Islands and administered by a company in Switzerland – the identities of the shareholders of Forward are unknown. Ken Bates declared as Leeds chairman that neither he nor any other director personally owned shares in the club.

The largest creditor to whom Leeds owed money was Astor Investment Holdings, registered in Guernsey, which claimed to have loaned the club nearly £13m. Krato Trust Limited, was registered in the West Indies island of Nevis, claimed to be owed £2.5m. Both of these creditors only supported offers made by Bates, which resulted once more in the club being owned by the Forward Sports Fund, which Bates claimed he had no financial interest in.

The administrator, Richard Fleming of the accountants KPMG, stated that neither Krato nor Astor had any connection to Forward. Since the three offshore funds’ claims amounted to nearly £18m, representing around 45% of the total owed to creditors, it meant no other deal could ever reach the required 75% approval needed if they voted as a block – even though they had offered to pay creditors a much higher amount.

However, former Leeds chairman Gerald Krasner pointed to a declaration in Leeds’ 2006 accounts that Astor investments “has an interest in Forward Sports Fund”, which meant that in fact the two entities were connected and that should then disallow them from voting on the administrator’s proposal. Mark Taylor, Bates’ co-director and solicitor, clarified that Astor and Forward had indeed been connected in June 2006 the previous year but he had ensured that they were disconnected by the end of that year. The administrator said he had been assured in writing by Astor, and in sworn declarations from Bates and Taylor, that the offshore entities were not connected. Incidentally, a quick search of the Panama Papers online database, states that the Krato Trust became a shareholder in Astor Investment Holdings in 2009.

As you might imagine, this particular episode drew the attention of several investigative journalists, including David Conn of the Guardian, who for his troubles was banned from Elland Road along with the Guardian and the BBC (with whom he also made a documentary about the issue). Bates also challenged the MP who raised the issue of Leeds ownership by saying “We challenge Phil Willis to repeat his allegations outside the House of Commons, and we will see him in court if he does.”

As for who were the identities of the shareholders behind the Forward Sports Fund? In 2010, the Football League brought in rules that required any individual who owns 10% or more of a club to be identified. When they asked Leeds to inform them of such individuals they replied that none of the shareholders of the Forward Sports Fund owned 10% of the company so their names don’t need to be declared.

In a 2011 Select Committee report that was investigating ownership in football, it stated that evidence from Leeds chief executive Shaun Harvey declared neither he or “to his knowledge” Ken Bates knew who the owners were. The Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore also gave evidence to the committee and stated if Leeds were promoted to the Premier League they would require them to say who the owners were. Several days after the report was published, it was announced by Leeds that Ken Bates had bought the club from Forward Sports Fund via an offshore company registered in the West Indies island of Nevis. So after six years of owning Leeds through troubled times and with a prospect of the club being promoted to the Premier League in the near future, these at least 11 unknown shareholders (given it was declared by Leeds that none held 10%) decided to sell their investment to chairman Ken Bates. It’s unlikely that anyone will now ever know who ‘they’ actually were that apparently controlled the club during the period 90% of its debts were written off.

On 21 December 2012, Bates completed a deal to sell Leeds to a Middle East-based private equity group GFH Capital – previously known as Gulf Finance House – who are an Islamic investment bank with headquarters in Bahrain. Bates remained as chairman until the end of the 2012–13 season before taking up the position of honorary president. So in what was “one last challenge” for Ken Bates, the sale of Leeds United finally boosted his personal bank balance (wherever that may be) by the less than shabby sum of £52m.

Meanwhile, on the pitch the story was one of nearly but not quite as Leeds spent three seasons in League One under Bates. Despite the 15 point penalty after relegation, Leeds went top of the league on Boxing Day under Wise before he surprisingly decided to jump ship in January and take up an offer by Mike Ashley at Newcastle to be Director of Football, with the then manager Kevin Keegan less than pleased – Gus Poyet also left to become assistant manager at Spurs. Bates installed former fans favourite Gary McAllister as manager and he ended up losing in the play-off final to Yorkshire rivals Doncaster – the following season he was sacked in December after less than one year in charge after a poor run of games. Simon Grayson then took over in the manager’s chair but again lost out in the play-offs – then Leeds got off to their best-ever start to a season in 2009-10 before stuttering and eventually getting automatic promotion by finishing in second spot.

Leeds return to the Championship saw them mount a challenge for promotion to the Premier League in their first season back, but they fell away towards the end of the season and finished seventh. The news in 2011 that Bates had bought the club brought fresh protests from Leeds supporters over lack of investment in the team – to which the new owner responded with his usual charm by calling the fans “morons”. Grayson was then sacked in February for failing to mount a promotion challenge and he was replaced by Neil Warnock who became Bates’ final managerial appointment before he sold the club. However, Bates was not quite finished yet as he had remained as chairman after selling the club to GFH but the 2012-13 season didn’t go according to plan and Warnock eventually resigned with six games left to play as Leeds hovered just above the relegation zone. In came former Reading boss Brian McDermott, who managed to win enough games to avoid the drop back to League One.

The maverick calls the tune

The Leeds supporters were generally glad to see the exit of Ken Bates from the club but they had little idea of what was to come next. Owners GFH Capital were looking to sell a 75% stake in the club with a group backed by current managing director David Haigh and the club’s main sponsors in a consortium called Sport Capital. However, some of the backers involved with Sport Capital had problems coming up with the finances required and GFH invited a rival bid from Serie A Cagliari owner Massimo Cellino. The protracted sale fell into farce when Cellino’s legal representatives summoned McDermot to inform him he had been sacked – only for him to be reinstated by the Football League as the Italian had not been yet been approved as the owner and therefore was not in a legal position to dismiss the manager.

Leeds then announced that they had exchanged contracts with Cellino’s family consortium Eleonora Sport Ltd. The deal involved 75% ownership of the club that was subject to approval from the Football League, which the Football League subsequently rejected in March 2014 after stating that Cellino failed the owner’s test due to having an Italian criminal conviction. Cellino appealed the decision and the Football League decided in his favour stating “Cellino’s recent conviction did not involve conduct that would reasonably be considered to be dishonest based on information available to him at the time” – in other words an honest mistake made in ignorance.

Leeds had just got themselves a new owner, albeit a somewhat eccentric, superstitious, impulsive chain-smoking, electric-guitar playing one with pretensions of being a rock-star. After Cellino had inheriting his father’s agricultural business, he bought his home-town club Cagliari in Sardinia just over 20 years ago and has subsequently sacked an incredible 35 managers in his time as owner. He even moved the club to a stadium 500 miles north after problems gaining a safety certificate following the electrocution of a member of staff and only returned back to Sardinia after his players threatened a boycott – but they instead returned to a stadium temporarily constructed out of metal scaffolding poles that requires a safety certificate on a match-by-match basis.

Not afraid to speak his mind, Cellino said of the former Leeds owners “You can see what’s been happening here – it’s been done by people who knew they weren’t staying. And now I have to clean up the shit…GFH made big mistakes but not on purpose. But the men who were here in GFH’s name did a really, really bad job. That’s not GFH fault. They trust people they shouldn’t.” He then tried to connect with the Leeds fans by declaring “they’re tired of eating shit and shutting their mouths” before continuing “I’m the richest man in the world with these fans and I can challenge anyone, everyone.” – something he went on to try and prove in his tenure at Leeds.

Despite McDermott being reinstated, he must have known his days were numbered – apparently his card was marked by Cellino after he failed to allow his close associate and former Middlesbrough defend Gianluca Festa to sit on the bench to observe matters before he had bought the club. He then questioned manager McDermott’s decision to take a holiday and declared that “Leeds have no manager, who’s managing this club? Brian? Where is Brian?” OK not quite as popular as ‘Where’s Wally’ but this particular game ended in May 2014 as Leeds reached a mutual agreement with manager Brian McDermott to end his spell at the club.

Cellino’s choice for his first Leeds manager was a rather surprising one in the mostly unknown Dave Hockaday, who was previously manager of Conference side Forest Green with a less than impressive track record. In his first season the team were relegated but were reinstated after Salisbury City were demoted for financial irregularities. His second season ended with Forest Green avoiding relegation on goal difference and the next two seasons saw his team finish in tenth both times, despite the club having the largest transfer and wage budget – he finally left the club by mutual consent in his fifth season after seven defeats in eight games. It’s not clear what Cellino saw in him that merited giving him a chance to manage in the Championship, though him agreeing to take charge on an annual salary of £80 grand, just a tenth of what McDermott was paid, could have been a factor. His Leeds career at just 70 days was short-lived even by Cellino’s standards with only one win in his first six games – against you’ve guessed it Middlesbrough.

Next in the hot seat hoping for a bright future was Darko Milanič, who signed a two-year deal after Leeds bought out his contract from Sturm Graz but he didn’t go down a storm at Elland Road and was dismissed after only 32 days for not winning any of his six games in charge. In November 2014, Neil Redfearn was promoted from his academy role to head coach of Leeds on an initial 12-month contract with the option of a further 12 months and a clause meaning he could return to his original role if it didn’t work out – probably a wise decision given the brevity of the previous two incumbents.

In December 2014, Cellino was disqualified by the Football League and asked to resign from the club. The Football League took the decision after obtaining documents from an Italian court, where he was found guilty of tax evasion. This spell of detention was later extended to beyond the end of the season due to Cellino’s failure to hand in his homework and present the League with the court documents himself. The controversial Italian returned as chairman in May 2015 with the apparent approval of the Football League and decided shortly afterwards to replace former hardened midfielder Redfearn, claiming in the press his head coach was “weak” and “a baby”. In came former Man City striker and former Wigan manager Uwe Rösler to take up the challenge, the German had taken up coaching after being diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 34 whilst playing for Norwegian club Lillestrøm – following chemotherapy, he recovered successfully to return as their manager two years later. However, his time at Leeds was short-lived and he was sacked after just a dozen games and just two wins, which left Leeds in 18th place in the Championship

That day in October was quite a busy one, not only was Rösler out but Cellino was again banned by the Football League for a second time after it was discovered he was in breach of Italian tax legislation and therefore failed their suitability for club ownership test. Though before he stepped down he appointed former Rotherham manager Steve Evans as head coach. Cellino appeared to have had enough and announced he would sell the club but only to a Leeds United Fans Group – he declared “100 per cent I will sell to the fans, if they want to buy it and look after the club. The fans are the only asset the club has.” Though the Italian was not popular with elements in the crowd and soon after decided not to attend games any more due to the vocal criticism he received from the terraces.

This falling out with the Leeds fans seemed to extend to the supporters group who he planned to sell the club to after his lawyers informed them the deal was no longer on the table. The response by the group, Leeds Fans Utd was the following statement “Our insistence on him confirming his verbal offer of exclusivity in a legally binding agreement has forced transparency on his motives. It is much better that we identify this insincerity now before we spend our shareholder’s money.” Cellino’s reply was with typical bravado “They say a lot of fairytales, they really are like kids in a sweet shop. They talk too much. It is dangerous, this kind of publicity.”

Following, Cellino’s successful appeal to the Italian tax authorities on his failure to pay VAT on an imported Range Rover his ban was lifted at the end of the season. Though Cellino was not happy and revealed “he had regretted buying the club” and would sell to the right offer – he was also not happy with Steve Evans, who became his sixth sacking, though the head coach may have suspected his time was up if he had read Cellino recent remarks in the press “He [Evans] talks too much, he has to learn to shut his mouth. I’ve told him so many times to stop, you have no idea. But he doesn’t.”

Cellino problem seemed to be that his head coaches wanted to be managers and revealed “I cannot work with English managers. I never want to learn. I give up. When am I going to find a manager in England who is actually a coach? They want to control everything. But it’s wrong because when they go you have to start all over again” He may have actually had a point with that statement but in June 2016, Englishman Garry Monk was appointed as head coach by Cellino on a 12-month rolling contract – which would be his seventh and final appointment before he sold the club to Andrea Radrizzani in May 2017. His departing words to the Leeds fans were “If you can survive working with me, you can survive anything” – though only time will tell if that turns out to be true.

A chance encounter

Now Leeds find themselves with another new owner in what appears to be the consequence of a random event – not quite in the same league as a Chief Executive holding an impromptu interview of the future manager after a chance encounter in a service station toilet but definitely a bit of a butterfly wing-flap in the grand chaotic world of football. It occurred in a pre-match dinner ahead of the Champions League quarter-final game between Man City and PSG, where Italian sports media rights specialist Andrea Radrizzani found himself sitting besides football legend Kenny Daglish. After some general conversation, the subject of potentially buying an English club was raised by the Italian – to which the reply from the former Kop favourite was just two words: “Leeds United”. A few weeks later Radrizzani got hold of Cellino’s number from a business contact and pretended to be an agent representing a client from Singapore (which as it later transpires was not entirely false) interested in investing in the West Yorkshire club. A few days later Radrizzani made the suggestion of investing himself, to which the controversial FA ban-serving Leeds owner seeking an exit-strategy seemed keen and offered to sell him an initial 50 per cent stake – with the prospect of selling the other half if Leeds weren’t promoted. At the time of the deal, Leeds were sitting in third spot but thanks to a collapse in form by Garry Monk’s men they fell away and ended up finishing in seventh – which subsequently presented Radrizzani with the opportunity of full ownership.

As usual ‘ownership’ in football is never quite so simple – LUFC is registered as being 100% owned by Greenfield Investment Pte Ltd, which is an ‘acquisition vehicle’ that is 100% owned by the Singapore registered company ASER Group Holding Pte Ltd, which is in turn 100% owned by Andrea Radrizzani (The letters ‘Pte Ltd’ denotes a private limited company in Singapore). Radrizzani has made much of his wealth selling media rights of sporting events around the globe through the London-based company Media Partners & Silva Ltd, which he co-founded in 2004 with Riccardo Silva. They initially started by gaining exclusive media rights to distribute Italian Serie A games and have since expanded into other sports to become media partners to FIFA, the Premier League, Formula One and the French Tennis Open to name but a few.

It’s too early to say whether Radrizzani will be the white knight that the Mighty Whites have been searching for – though he’s gained popular support from the fans by buying back Elland Road for £20m and has claimed he has already invested £100m in the club with the aim to gain promotion to the Premier League within five years.

Epilogue

This Radrizzani deal may finally work out for Leeds supporters but football clubs have long since become the commodities of the super-rich to buy and sell on a whim or a chance business encounter in what continues to be an inflationary bubble where many will fail in their ambition to become a successful top-tier club. The danger is that they over-extend themselves and their ‘investments’ then invariably turn into debts owed by their disposable financial vehicles that have taken the supporters on a white-knuckle ride that can often risk the very existence of the club themselves.

What is clear is that those in charge of regulating football are probably incapable of ensuring that they protect the supporters from the risk of losing their clubs to the failures of judgement that wealthy risk takers are prone to making – especially when many can ring-fence their personal wealth through organising their business affairs through a whole series of offshore holding companies and investment vehicles. In a world of offshore anonymity it’s almost impossible for anyone to prove who the owners are and therefore those making accusations against the rich and powerful must tread carefully to avoid being taken to court.

As for some of the protagonists in the Leeds story – Peter Risdale went on to become vice-chairman at Cardiff City under Sam Hamman and finally chairman in 2006 when the owner stepped down. It was claimed Risdale had once again brought a club to the brink by trying to build a promotion winning team that left Cardiff fighting off four winding up orders. After stepping down in May 2010, Cardiff’s debts were nearly £70m – more than double what was estimated at the time and the club was subsequently sold to a Malaysian consortium as it faced yet another winding-up order. In 2009, Risdale’s sports consultancy business, WH Sports Group Ltd, which offered advice to football clubs failed with debts approaching £500,000 – Risdale was subsequently disqualified from being a company director until 2020 after an inquiry by the Insolvency Service discovered he had diverted payments from football clubs totaling nearly £350,000 into his personal bank account that were paid to his consultancy business.

After Ken Bates sold Chelsea he banked £17m after previously buying it for just one pound and then running up debts of £80m – he seemingly didn’t invest any of that money ten months later in the anonymously owned Forward Sport Fund consortium that was used to give him effective control over Leeds United for six years – he claims not and there is no proof to say otherwise and besides he’s not shy of taking legal action. He also maintained he didn’t know the identity of the shareholders of which none held 10% according to declarations made. Bates and his legal representative Mark Taylor also declared that the two main offshore entities that voted for his bid when the club went into administration had no connection to the club owners – despite them admitting that they were connected one year earlier and much better offers on the table were available to them than the 1p in the £1 offered by Bates.

KMPG and the Football League both accepted their explanations that they knew nothing about the people who had essentially employed them for six years – it could have been Kim Jong-un and his ten brothers for all they knew. Whoever they were, they agreed to sell him Leeds United for an undisclosed amount a few days after a Select Committee report into football ownership seemed to suggest those running the game would demand more transparency. Bates subsequently sold Leeds to an Islamic investment bank based in Bahrain. Whilst many people had lost a considerable amount of money over the years investing in the Leeds (including the tax payer and reportedly the St John’s Ambulance) it appears Bates is a man who can look after himself quite nicely – the 79-year old currently resides in tax haven Monaco, where his next project is presumably working out how to pass a camel through the eye of a needle.

You may remember earlier Shaun Harvey, who was one of the three directors of the ‘new’ company fronted by Ken Bates, who also claimed he had no idea who their shareholders were when it bought back Leeds with a controversial deal to minimally compensate creditors after it had gone into administration. In addition, he’d previously been managing director of Bradford City who had twice been in administration during his time at the club. Well it seems his talents were just what the Football League were looking for and having been elected on their board of directors he was duly appointed Chief Executive in July 2013. He is now the man ultimately in charge of ensuring clubs are owned by fit and proper people and is also responsible for growing the EFL brand by signing off deals with those looking to invest – such as a certain Mr Carabao and his invisible cup draws amongst others.

As for former manager David O’Leary who spent the £100m that ended up causing the financial meltdown – well after three years managing Villa following his departure at Elland Road, he had a brief return to football as manager of United Arab Emirates side Al-Ahli Dubai in 2010, but he was dismissed after less than a year in charge but managed to get FIFA to help him gain compensation of £3.3m for the remaining two years of his contract in 2012. It was announced this week that the now 59-year old has been invited by the new owner of Leeds to Elland Road for lunch and to take in a game – with Leeds currently dropping down the table after a good start, surely Andrea Radrizzani is not contemplating starting the whole cycle again?

Boro 1 – 0 Sunderland

Middlesbrough Sunderland
Tavernier 6′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
47%
 6
 4
 1
13
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
53%
10
 3
 5
17

Tav earns precious play-off points

Redcar Red reports on the Tees-Wear derby…

The dirties getting beat in West London last night saw us jump over them on GD as bar one or two results games largely went our way in the top half yesterday afternoon. A an almost perfect build up then to a game that as a consequence of those same set of results now saw the Mackem’s anchored rock bottom of the Championship and facing a localish “derby” or at least the only “derby” they will likely be having in the near future.

An odds on home win would see effigies of Ellis Short replacing Guy Fawkes on pyres 30 miles North of the Tees this evening. One of our own Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay were sat in the away dug out and being fair they didn’t have an awful lot to play with. For them to consider anything other than a defensive masterclass with a few long hoofs would be seen as suicide tactics given their clubs current predicament. That said whilst getting a point would be seen as a great result, a win would lift them out of the bottom three on GD so with nothing to lose would they spring a surprise and try and get all three points?

Boro fans making their way from the Town centre towards the Riverside would have been greeted by the new Ali Brownlee wall graffiti or artwork depending on perspective adorning the Shepherdson Way Bridge. Whilst personally not to my taste in terms of presentation the sentiment is what counts and all that inspirational talk of the infant Hercules born from the river, the Iron ore from Eston Hills to a Parmo party could not possibly fail to inspire the spirit of even the most sceptical Boro fan pre KO.

Arriving inside the ground the air was pensive but exciting, almost unrecognisable from the previous few weeks were doom-laden clouds had descended over the Riverside before the travelling army witnessed GM’s damascene moment on the road to Reading then to Hull and back. Ten minutes before KO the atmosphere was building, hope was high and the away section filled with those whose predicament was the source of much merriment on the home concourses. TV Cameras in place being beamed live around the world, a building atmosphere the anxiousness of which you could almost inhale with adrenaline coursing around the ground.

Rather poignantly just as the atmosphere was building with the crowd taking over from MMP updated 90’s collection it all fell silent for one solemn, solitary minute. Petty rivalries and hostilities temporarily put aside with the common ground of respect and humility silently rippling in the flags above the East Stand momentarily perforated by one or two idiots immediately invited to shut it by both sets of fans as a bugler played the last post.

Sunderland adorned in a dull funereal charcoal and black ensemble looked the part for what was hopefully about to unfold as an unchanged Boro bar Friend for Fabio kicked off in their traditional Red with their half of the Riverside bathed in blinding winter sunshine. A few of us remarked how strong the sun was as we struggled to see through the glare, hands held across foreheads peering onto the proceedings. Surprisingly and not for the first time a Boro keeper had no cap to assist with his vision and Randolph clearly had the same problem as those in the East Stand Lower and North stands. After warm-ups like today I struggle to see how the Keepers and the Goalkeeping coaches cannot realise that a Cap is not a luxury or a fashion faux pas but an absolute necessity.

Randolph nearly paid the price for going capless in the second minute as Sunderland broke, Ndong fired in a long range shot, Grabban following up burst into the Boro box facing a blinded Randolph who squinted and squirmed Ndong’s shot only to pull off a blinding (literally) follow-up reflex save from Grabban. A standing ovation ensued but it could and should have been 0-1 to the Mackems.

That was an early wake-up call for Boro who responded by putting some pressure of their own on the packed Sunderland midfield and backline. In the 6th minute Downing fed Braithwaite who ran to the touchline cutting the ball back into the path of the onrushing Tavernier who shot slipped his shot into the net to put Boro one up. The celebrations began as we sat back expecting an avalanche. Now it is one thing for fans to sit back but unfortunately Boro did exactly that or at least they did until around fifty minutes or so later.

For whatever reason Boro looked disjointed struggling to find anything but a Sunderland player with their passing and clearances. Sunderland to their credit came back at deep-seated Boro and a McGeady free kick on 11 minutes saw a Jones header force Randolph into another world-class save. Just a minute earlier Ndong again cut in feeding Cattermole who let fly forcing Randolph into a another brilliant diving save. In all seriousness had the 12th minute ticked over with Sunderland 3-1 up there could have been no complaints.

The best Boro could muster apart from the goal in the opening quarter hour was a curling Howson attempt that went wide of the top corner sailing into the South Stand. For a Derby match the atmosphere in the Stadium was quietening down with both sets of fans unimpressed by what was on offer. My thoughts and sympathy was for those neutrals watching on in pubs around the world because it didn’t make for great viewing. A break for the previously booked and now hobbling Jones saw the arrival of Matthews coming on for Sunderland.

Just before the substitution Grant had unleashed a 40-yarder that went well wide and when I say well wide I mean 20 yards wide! McGeady then copied the former Sunderland star with a similar effort at the other end. That summed up the game, after a frantic opening ten minutes that saw three Sunderland chances and a Boro goal it was impossible to now tell which side was sitting in a play-off place and which were propping up the division. Inevitably Cattermole just had to add his name in the Referee’s book with a ridiculous two footed lunge at young Tavernier in front of the Technical area just as the half ended.

The second half commenced with Boro fans hoping a half-time GM team talk will have fired a rocket up them, unfortunately the malaise that saw shuffling, hurried, misplaced passes at the back continued and we looked distinctly edgy despite being a goal to the good. There was some appallingly bad examples of passing which inexplicably put us on the back foot on a number of occasions. Only Downing and Braithwaite seemed to be functioning on a higher level but were not without fault themselves.

An Oviedo cross found Grabban whose header went wide as he outfought Gibson not for the first time. A couple of minutes later Ndong went off injured which was a relief for Boro as he had been far more creative than anyone in a Red shirt. Just as a few mumbles of frustration were audible in the North Stand Cyrus Christie surged through to the edge of the box, played it across to Britt in a packed box whose effort (pass?) deflected to Braithwaite who hammered straight down the throat of Ruiter who got down to save. That was Boro’s sole serious effort of note in the entire second half.

Christie broke again a few minutes later trying to replicate his earlier cross but was scythed down by McGeady who earned a yellow for his troubles. The resulting free kick from Stewy ended up in the North Stand, woefully mishit summing up how dire Boro were on the day. Christie was next to go into the Ref’s book this time for getting to grips with the lively Grabban. That was the cue for GM to make his first Sub with Johnson coming on for Tavernier.

The cards continued as Sunderland’s Wilson collected his yellow for hauling down Braithwaite on the edge of the box with optimistic chants of “off, off, off” coming from the North Stand. Downing’s clever low shot was palmed away but there was nobody running in to follow up allowing Ruiter to regain the ball with ease. As Sunderland went for it the totally knackered McNair went off for Williams with Fletcher coming on for Britt to try and create an outlet with ten minutes to go. With five minutes of normal time remaining Grant left the field to applause from both sets of fans to be replaced by Forshaw who immediately upended an opponent giving away a careless free kick but his eagerness and passion at least was to be applauded.

Four more minutes of purgatory was signalled by the Fourth Official as Boro repelled without totally convincingly holding firm against statistically at least, the worst side in the division. I said before hand that I would settle for a 1-0 win but deep down it felt a little flat to be relieved at the result, even more so considering that this was a Derby of sorts that was more of a damp squib.

Tellingly my MOM was Randolph but Braithwaite is looking something special in a side that otherwise flattered to deceive on the day. Winning ugly is something we have been used to but regardless, my overall view is that if Boro want to seriously push for promotion then a lot of work needs to be done especially with careless unnecessary backline passing which created more problems than opportunities. Still three wins in three is reason enough to be cheerful.

Boro hope to add to Wearsiders woes

Werdermouth previews the visit of Sunderland to the Riverside…

It’s often said that a week is a long time in politics, but seven days in the Championship feels considerably longer. Last Saturday, as Garry Monk’s team pulled out of Hurworth on the coach to Reading, it was probably with slight trepidation as they started to glance over their shoulders like a nervous bus driver wondering if a late Adama Traore was about to overtake him. Boro had gone five games without a win and were beginning to ominously slide down the table, which had left many supporters doubting the manager’s ability to find the right blend of players and tactics. A good solid but scrappy away performance against The Royals gave Boro three much needed points, which was duly followed up three days later by a more convincing win at fellow relegated side Hull. All of a sudden Garry Monk’s men now find themselves back in touching distance of the play-off pack with a home game against a struggling Sunderland team there for the taking as they’ve hopelessly continued where they left off last season.

Football is often about the ‘ifs’ and the insecurity of those in charge, which could be described by slightly misquoting that lesser-known football pundit ‘Rudders’ “If you can keep your head while all about you others are losing theirs… then you’ll be a manager my son” – though keeping your job is another matter. Last week ahead of the visit of Boro, Jaap Stam contemplated whether it was possible that there was maybe a better man out there to take his under-performing Reading side forward. Then after losing to Monk’s men, Leonid Slutsky told the Hull board that they had a decision to make and almost implied they had every right to sack him for his failure. However, Sunderland were not going to wait around to see how their man fared against Boro and promptly dismissed Simon Grayson on Tuesday evening before he’s had a chance to raise the issue – presumably to avoid the indignation of their manager prompting them to show him the exit too. Sunderland didn’t get where they are today by allowing their managers to call the shots – though then again that might actually be the problem.

It may well be that the Sunderland chairman had become alarmed at the number of goals Grayson’s team were conceding – with 16 in their last six games it was approaching an average of 3 per game, which surely makes winning near on impossible. In addition, Sunderland have achieved the lowest points total after the first 15 games than any other club previously relegated from the Premier League. If that fact wasn’t grim enough, the club set a new record on Tuesday of 19 for the number of consecutive home games without a victory. What the Black Cats need now is a manager who can come in, organise the players and tighten up the defence – I believe there’s a certain out of work manager from Bilbao who may fit that description.

Middlesbrough Sunderland
Gary Monk Billy and Robbie Caretaker
P15 – W6 – D5 – L4 – F20 – A13 P15 – W1 – D7 – L7 – F20 – A30
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
8th
23
1.5
70
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
22nd
10
0.67
31
Last 6 Games
Hull (A)
Reading (A)
Cardiff (H)
Barnsley (A)
Brentford (H)
Norwich (H)
(H-T)
3:1 (2:0) W
2:0 (1:0) W
0:1 (0:0) L
2:2 (1:2) D
2:2 (0:1) D
0:1 (0:1) L
Last 6 Games
Bolton (H)
Bristol City (H)
Brentford (A)
QPR (H)
Preston (A)
Ipswich (A)
F-T (H-T)
3:3 (1:1) D
1:2 (1:1) L
3:3 (3:1) D
1:1 (0:1) D
2:2 (1:0) D
2:5 (1:2) L

Such has been the plight of Sunderland supporters that there’s almost a feeling of pity on Teesside rather than the usual schadenfreude. Whilst taking pleasure in others misfortune is not normally an attractive characteristic in a person, it’s pretty much the currency of local rivalry in football and if the roles had been reversed, I’m sure the sentiments would be quickly reciprocated from the banks of the Wear all the way down to Stockton. Though the sentiments uttered by many a relegation battle-weary Wearsider shortly after their fate was sealed last season was that they were actually looking forward to the Championship so that they could have a break from season after season of just escaping relegation. They’d seen neighbours Newcastle winning regularly last season and many quite fancied the idea of enjoying their weekends again and regrouping – I’m sure it wasn’t in their worst nightmares that they’d continue in the same vein in the second tier. From such sentiments complacency is born.

It’s been long since suspected that when they built the Stadium of Light they specified a requirement to install a panic room, though how it ended up being used as a boardroom is still unclear. However, reports that Ellis Short sits at meetings stroking a black cat on his knee like a bad footballing pastiche of a Bond villain in ‘You only win twice’, while the manager stands on a trapdoor above pool of red and white striped piranhas is probably just the product of an over-stimulated imagination.

Although, if ever you wanted to look for an example of impatience in football then you’d do well to find a better example than Sunderland. A manager’s tenure is often precarious but that particular position has become one of the least secure jobs on Wearside in recent years since Ellis Short arrived on the scene. The story of how he came to preside over Sunderland is perhaps one of unfulfilled ambition coupled with a group of over-ambitious businessmen used to making quick returns. Following 20 years at the helm, former owner Bob Murray and the man behind the move from Roker Park to the Stadium of Light, sold his stake to the Drumaville Consortium for the seemingly bargain price of just £10m in the summer of 2006. Named after a village in Donegal, this was a consortium of seven predominantly Irish businessmen plus former player Niall Quinn, who was the public face and fans favourite.

Each man in the consortium held an equal amount of shares except for Paddy Kelly (I’m guessing he’s probably one of the Irish members) who received a double portion. Some reports suggest that this extra share was on behalf silent partner Sean Mulryan, who had previously tried to take-over the club and is a wealthy property developer and CEO of the Ballymore Group – who for his sins is good friends with both Seb Coe and U2’s Bono, along with former-stadium fillers Blondie who dropped in to sing at his 50th Birthday party – though I suspect their iconic black and white striped cover on Parallel Lines prevented many a purchase among Sunderland fans. Incidentally, the consortium also included publican Charlie Chawkes who was once shot in the leg during an armed robbery at one of his pubs – at least they spared shooting him in the foot as no self-respecting Sunderland owner would want someone to take that particular pleasure away from them – though perhaps his loyalty to the cause was questionable as he also attempted an unsuccessful takeover of Newcastle in 2010.

So Murray reluctantly sold his stake for relatively small amount on the condition that the consortium invested in the club, however, in 2008 a 30 per cent stake in the group was bought by Irish-American businessman Ellis Short, who ran a private equity fund that focused on investments in European distressed property assets – which I’m sure is just a coincidence in him being attracted to the Stadium of Light, where distressed assets are normally the ones pulling on the red and white striped shirt.

Following the take-over, one group of Sunderland supporters were rumoured to have been asked by the local media how they felt that their club was now owned by someone who was brought up in Missouri – they apparently showed unexpected empathy and nodded in a knowing manner – it later transpired that they thought the reporter had said ‘misery’. A mistake easily made, though perhaps the long-suffering Mackem supporters could identify with Missouri as it’s also known as the ‘Show Me State’, which is a phrase that is purported to represent the sceptical nature of those born there since they are people not easily convinced – something that may help explain the managerial carnage at the club during the last decade.

The Wearside club have employed quite a comprehensive who’s who list of managers under Short and his first casualty was Roy Keane who was given an early Christmas present in December 2008. He was replaced by former Man Utd coach Ricky Sbragia who lasted until the end of the season in what was his only managerial role. Next up was Steve Bruce who enjoyed nearly two-and-a-half years in charge and completely reshaped the squad before a prolonged bad run saw his team slip to 16th which resulted in his exit that he then shamelessly blamed on being a Newcastle lad. Bruce was replaced in December 2011 by boyhood Sunderland supporter Martin O’Neill, who’s promising start faded as the season ended on an 8-game winless run, a repeat of which gained him the sack the following season with the club dropping to one place above the relegation zone with seven to play. Former Labour Party leading light David Milliband resigned as vice-chairman when the Mussolini-admiring self-confessed fascist Paolo Di Canio was brought in to save Sunderland from relegation, which he duly achieved. Then despite signing 14 players in the summer he was sacked after only 5 games when he managed just one point.

Short then turned to rising star Gus Poyet, who presided over a great escape at the end of the season despite being 7 points adrift of safety by accumulating 13 points from the last 15. Though he was sacked the following season as Sunderland dropped to 17th following a 4-0 home defeat to Villa that sparked a mass walk-out by fans. Short then appointed experienced Dutch coach and Steve McClaren sound-alike Dick Advocaat to save the club from relegation, which he did with one game to spare – he initially left but was persuaded to return and lasted until just early October before he resigned as Sunderland sat in second-bottom with only 3 points from 8 games. In came former Newcastle boss Sam Allardyce to rescue them from relegation, which he did with a few late end-of-season wins that had the added bonus of relegating the Magpies instead – he then resigned in the summer to take the England job for a game.

Big Sam was replaced by another high profile name in David Moyes, who was looking to restore his reputation after his failures at Man Utd and Real Sociedad, sadly his reputation suffered further as Sunderland ended up finally dropping out of the Premier League after ten years of flirting with relegation – Moyes resigned after deciding the funds for a promotion challenge were unlikely to be forthcoming as the club had accumulated debts of £130m. Simon Grayson was then appointed on a three-year contract to mastermind the return to the top-flight – although he started he did not finish after failing to get a pass as Short dismissed the former Preston boss stating “results have not been good enough for a club of this stature”. So ten managers in nine years and another relegation battle lined-up for the next man to be offered a three-year contract that on average probably won’t last one. What’s interesting is that this collective group of high profile managers perhaps had 15-20 years worth of contracts for them and their staff that needed paying off – a sum that could easily amount to at least a quarter of that massive debt.

All of which means Boro will be facing a Sunderland club in crisis for this televised north-east derby on Sunday. With Boro back to winning ways and Sunderland managerless and conceding two goals per game, the exponents of ‘typical Boro’ are already no doubt getting worried that the game has been set-up to deliver an unexpected defeat for the home side. They may have some legitimate causes for concern as Boro’s home displays have been much less convincing than their away form recently – you have to go back to that topsy-turvy game against QPR to find the last victory at the Riverside and since then Garry Monk’s men have struggled in front of their own crowd. However, Sunderland have only won 2 of their last 24 league visits to Middlesbrough, which depending on your state of mind either means nailed on home victory or the Black Cats are overdue a win. Though in temporary charge of Sunderland is a return to Boro for former player Robbie Stockdale to add to the occasion – with not to mention Lee Cattemole expected to put his foot into the Boro midfield to add further spice.

Garry Monk may be tempted to stick to a winning side, Fabio is apparently fit to play after he went off for an ankle knock early in the midweek victory – though natural left-footer George Friend appeared to bring out a better performance in young Marcus Tavernier. The Riverside faithful will be hoping Grant Leadbitter is fresh enough to continue running the midfield and it may well be Adam Clayton is once again overlooked in favour of the improving Howson. Britt Assombalonga has shown in recent games that if the team plays to his strengths he’ll likely bag you a goal – hopefully he’ll repeat his feat against the other clubs in the bottom three and score another brace. It would be a welcome relief if Boro make it three wins in a row to go into the international break full of confidence – though the final game before the previous two breaks saw Boro put in disappointing performances against Preston and Brentford as Monk made some odd team selections.

So will Boro’s luck be in as the Black Cats cross their path at the Riverside? Or will the cornered feline failures show their claws and leave Garry Monk’s men licking their wounds? As usual your predictions for score, scorers and team selection – plus will Aitor Karanka be at the Riverside to take a look at the players of his next employers?

Hull 1 – 3 Boro

Hull City Middlesbrough
Grosicki

Hector

72′

83′

Braithwaite
Assombalonga
Leadbitter
13′
36′
85′ (pen)
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
61%
 6
 4
 5
12
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
39%
 9
 6
 5
12

Tricky Boro serve up a Hulloween treat

Redcar Red reports on the match at the KCOM Stadium…

The match build-up was short and sweet following on from Saturday’s victory at Reading. That would hopefully a good omen in keeping a winning mentality alive on the night when traditionally the boundary between this world and the world of the deceased thinned. GM would likely seek to revisit the soul of Aitor Karanka once more in keeping a clean sheet whilst offering hospitality to the ritual of goal scoring festivities.

An early Downing interception off his derriere saw Braithwaite pounce but ruled offside straight from the KO. The game had started at a frantic pace as Hull had a Penalty claim turned down with Ayala relieved to see the Ref ignore Tiger pleas. Once the ball was cleared Fabio was spotted laid out injured for some unknown reason but we have seen a few of these mystical Fabio injuries of late. A couple of minutes later Fabio rescued us after Randolph palmed away a shot but immediately went down again and that concluded his evening. George had continued warming up and came on in place of the Brazilian.

Just after the restart Boro caught Hull on the break, counter attacked, went up field and Braithwaite made space for himself, drilled a shot into the far corner to make it 1-0 on 13 minutes. Hull responded by attacking Boro and once again had a Penalty claim turned away. The ball went back up the other end with Howson pinging another cross in which just escaped Assombalonga. Up to this point Hull had the majority of possession and looked intent on taking the game to Boro but the early goal once again put the advantage in the hands of Boro who were content to keep things tight and difficult to break down.

Britt was hauled back after a Randolph clearance but the Ref seemed oblivious to the challenge just as he was breaking through. Hull were looking very suspect at the back as they pushed forwards and likely to be caught on the break again. Frustration started building as the home fans saw their side struggling to break down the stubborn Boro rear guard. A Hull free kick saw Ayala then Gibson head the danger clear before eventually going out for a goal kick. A fiercely hit Tavernier cross into Assombalonga nearly resulted in a Hector own goal, slicing the ball in a desperate clearance just past his own post on thirty minutes.

A high ball in to Irvine was anticipated and cleared by Ayala who was looking back to his best, the ball went forward and Kevin Stewart looked to go over the top on Assombalonga much to the annoyance of the vocal travelling army. A quick Downing cross field ball to Friend then to Tavernier resulted in a corner which Downing ran to take as four Red shirts jostled the Hull defence with Daniel Ayala catching the Referees attention as the whistle went. Then almost as soon as the game restarted a Cyrus Christie cross flew in for Assombalonga to head the ball back across to briefly go joint top of the Championship scorers with 8 goals to his name and 2-0.

Ayala found himself receiving further attention from Referee Tim Robinson with Grant being called across to explain to Daniel that he needed to calm himself down. In fairness to Ayala despite the two goals at the other end he was Boro’s MOM in the first half such was the dominance of the resurgent CB. Straight from the Kick Off Boro set themselves out looking the better organised and comfortable in the game, rock solid at the back, lethal going forward and were unlucky not to make it three nil just before half time. A heavy landing for Grant after winning a header saw him wince and struggle to his feet, the last thing Boro needed was their talismanic Captain injured but fortunately he huffed and puffed and was able to carry on just in time to hear the whistle followed by a cacophony of boos for Leonid Slutsky’s side

Hull made a change at half time for the restart with Stewart going off for Dicko, a midfielder for a Striker as they had to go for it to get something out of this game and went 424. An early free kick conceded by Christie was a test for Boro’s defence as Grant screamed instructions which echoed around an eerily quiet half empty KCom Stadium.

A Tavernier strike was deflected out for a corner after a good set up by Britt to feed the youngster. A second Hull substitution was being prepared as this time Tavernier was back defending as the ball ended back in the Hull half and then out of play. The sub saw the arrival of danger man Grosicki who had been a real thorn in Boro’s side the last time we met here. Tonight however things looked a lot different as Boro looked less desperate than Steve Agnew’s do or die outing.

Ayala inevitably found himself in the Referee’s book for another hefty challenge under presumably a totting up process. A Dicko shot straight at Randolph probably should have been the opener for Hull as they broke away after a Boro foray. It was Boro’s turn to then have a series of chances in quick succession started by Downing and involving Howson and Assombalonga but somehow the game remained at 2-0. Minutes later another Cyrus Christie cross tempted and teased the Boro forward line to no avail and then a Downing ball into Gibson saw Boro come close again with a McGregor save. The game was becoming open with Hull now desperately going for it but it was the Boro who looked more likely to get a third.

A deflected cross off George Friend saw the ball come off Randolph’s crossbar for a Hull corner, Assombalonga cleared it setting Howson up for a break but a heavy touch just saw the move break down. As Slutsky warmed up his final Sub of the evening another Penalty claim from Hull was ignored by the Ref. After the arrival of Diomande for Campbell who had just got himself back from a long term lay off on Saturday Boro went close again as the game was at a tipping point. Hull were either going to get themselves a lifeline or Boro were going to nick a deserved third and put the game out of sight.

With less than twenty minutes remaining, GM repeated his Saturday switch with Tavernier making way for Johnson. As soon as the game restarted that man Grosicki peeled away and hit a ferocious shot leaving Randolph no chance and Boro suddenly had a wake-up call. The Tigers now had their tails in the air as another cross came in that was cleared out for a Hull corner that was in itself cleared by Britt for another corner. Boro struggled to clear their lines but Grant found a breaking Britt whose touch betrayed him and Hull came back at us as Boro now looked to be rocking for the first time this evening.

Approaching ten minutes remaining Garry Monk’s response was to warm up Ashley Fletcher. Grosicki had made an impression on his arrival and just left an impression on Cyrus Christie with his footwear as Britt made way for Fletcher. A decision that was a strange one as Britt had been clearing his lines at corners and of course a potent attacking threat. As the game restarted Howson clattered into Meyler and picked up a Yellow for his troubles. Ayala won a header to clear the resulting free

kick out to Fletcher who was held back for a free kick this time in Boro’s favour. Fletcher was then brought down by the errant Hector chasing the lad who had obviously taken a leaf out of Britt’s book on Saturday going down with relative ease but they all count. Grant collected the ball and wandered away from the drama as the Chelsea loanee Hector was dismissed presumably for an off the ball incident or verbals. As Grant composed himself oblivious to all the histrionics another Thunderbastard was unleashed as the ball ripped the back off the net in the opposite side to Saturday, 3-1 and the Hull fans headed for the exits.

An Ayala slip near the end increased pulses in the away end and a Gibson clearance was required shortly after to maintain the two goal cushion. A pacy Downing free kick was punched away by McGregor for a corner and the delivery saw a melee of confusion in the Hull box before an offside saved the Hull blushes. Throughout the second half Downing had looked ten years younger as he ran at the Hull defence causing them a series of problems. Hull won a consolation corner in the dying embers and that concluded proceedings as the final whistle went and Boro had bagged themselves another three points on the road.

A strong defensive unit combined with attacking prowess saw Boro look relatively comfortable this evening apart from a sticky ten minute spell when Grosicki looked to be our nemesis once again but fortunately his strike didn’t prove decisive in the end. Six points from two successive away games sees Garry Monk respond to the doubters including myself that maybe he can select his best eleven and instil tactical know how and belief as he now plans for Managerless Sunderland on Sunday.

Night of the living dead

Werdermouth looks ahead to the trip to Hull…

Tuesday evening’s Halloween fixture sees the first encounter between two clubs hoping to come back from beyond the Premiership grave. As Boro linger in the dark abyss of the Championship, Garry Monk is this week preparing his team to enter the depths of Hull as they continue to seek redemption from their slide down the table in the hope of re-igniting their season. The burning ambition of automatic promotion that Boro’s saintly chairman has attempted to bankroll is now beginning to be realistically downgraded to the purgatory of the play-offs at best. Expectations were that if enough money was spent it was going to be a matter of by how much Boro won the league – it seems the devil is in the detail.

With no wins from their last five games, there was a collective sigh of relief for the wailing souls on Teesside after finally recording a much needed victory at Reading. In recent weeks, Boro had been guilty of making bad decisions and giving a defensive horror show, which appears to have led to a tactical change in emphasis from Garry Monk, who said after Saturday’s victory: “To put ourselves back on track, we’ve got to strike that right balance between defensive and offensive play. That’s the way to try to build again and we know that, as we get more confident, we have the players to offensively do very well.”

Boro had just 32 per cent of the possession at the Madejski Stadium and reverted to playing more of a counter-attacking game – with many making the observation that the ghost Aitor Karanka  seemed evident in the performance. The fact that this ‘new’ game plan proved successful will probably mean we’ll most likely see it being the modus operandi for the next few games at least – if not indefinitely. Monk seems to suggest he’ll switch back to attempting his intended more expansive style of play once the earily drifting good ship Boro has been steadied and put back on course to start climbing the table. Though would he actually do that? If Boro start winning games by playing in let’s say an essentially more Karankaesque manner then why would Monk contemplate switching back to playing in a way that has so far failed to deliver results? It wouldn’t make sense to risk changing a successful methodology – if Boro start consistently winning again then there would be no need to consider reverting back to an alternative strategy – nobody needs reminding what the prime objective is this season.

Hull City Middlesbrough
Leonid Slutsky Gary Monk
P14 – W4 – D4 – L6 – F26 – A23 P14 – W5 – D5 – L4 – F17 – A12
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
17th
16
1.1
52
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
12th
20
1.4
66
Last 6 Games
Forest (H)
Barnsley (A)
Norwich (A)
Birmingham (H)
Preston (H)
Reading (A)
F-T (H-T)
2:3 (0:1) L
1:0 (0:0) W
1:1 (1:0) D
6:1 (3:0) W
1:2 (0:1) L
1:1 (1:0) D
Last 6 Games
Reading (A)
Cardiff (H)
Barnsley (A)
Brentford (H)
Norwich (H)
Fulham (A)
F-T (H-T)
2:0 (1:0) W
0:1 (0:0) L
2:2 (1:2) D
2:2 (0:1) D
0:1 (0:1) L
1:1 (0-0) D

As Hull languish in 17th place, I was surprised to discover that they are actually the Championship’s leading scorers with 26 goals – thankfully for Boro they don’t have the best defence to match that record and have conceded almost as many as they’ve netted. Their last six games have brought two wins, two defeats and two draws with that one standout 6-1 hammering of Birmingham that included six different scorers. It’s perhaps encouraging for Boro that their last two defeats have come at the KCOM Stadium. Incidentally, their ground has been renamed from the KC Stadium simply because the sponsors (Kingston Communications) have rebranded themselves to be known as KCOM.

After losing manager Marco Silva to Watford, Hull City appointed former CSKA Moscow and Russian national coach, Leonid Slutsky as their new boss. He famously took up coaching at the age of 19 when his playing career was prematurely ended after he fell out of a tree trying to rescue his neighbour’s cat and did serious damage to his knee. Here’s the unfortunate story in his own words…

“She [the neighbour] asked me if I could climb the tree and get her cat for her. I’d never climbed trees in my life, but I couldn’t say no. I still can’t: it’s a weaknesses of mine. It’s hard for me to say no to anyone, and downright impossible to say it to those close to me. So I went out and started climbing, my heart racing. Later on someone told me poplar branches get really fragile in spring. But I was skinny then, not a hog like I am now. A branch broke, I grabbed the one above, but it broke, too. I fell down on the pavement from three stories up, landing on my knee, then falling face down. My diagnosis was: open multiple fracture of the left kneecap, fracture of the nose, concussion of the brain. That injury put football out of my reach. I was in the hospital for a year. They told me I may never bend my knee again. I worked my joint long and hard. I tried playing football again but it didn’t work, not really. I don’t think I could have played above the amateur level.”

Still, the fact that Slutsky ended up as his country’s coach ultimately means, like the cat, he eventually landed on his feet. Though it may go some way to explaining how the former Russian coach has ended up as manager of Hull – the owners simply asked and he couldn’t say no! He’s essentially back to rescuing another cat, albeit a much larger one in the form of a tiger – though he’s definitely out of his tree if he thinks who won’t end up being the fall guy for the unpopular owners who are renowned for selling their best players.

Chairman Assem Allam is a divisive figure among the Hull faithful, especially following his plan in 2013 to rename the club Hull Tigers. Supporters opposed to the change organised under the banner ‘City Till We Die’ and matters weren’t helped when Allam said “They can die as soon as they want, as long as they leave the club for the majority who just want to watch good football.” The supporters responded by chanting “We’re Hull City, we’ll die when we want” at the following game – which I guess gives a whole new meaning to die-hard fans. Though the FA eventually rejected the proposed move to change the name on the grounds supporters hadn’t been widely consulted.

Many supporters of Hull are still unhappy with their owners, especially after they scrapped season tickets for a membership scheme in 2016 and continue to protest and demand they move on. There was a protest by several hundred fans on Saturday when they hosted Forest, who are aligned to the Hull City Action For Change (HCAFC) group with balls thrown onto the pitch after 19 minutes and four seconds, to mark the year the club was formed – hopefully they all kept a keen eye on the stadium clock for that rather precisely timed operation as woe betide anyone who went a tad early and ruined the symbolism.

However, many Hull fans called the protest an embarrassment and blamed the resulting stoppage had aided Forest who went on to win the game 3-2. They also deemed the protest against the owners pointless as apparently neither Assem nor Ehab Allam are thought to have  attended a game since the end of the 2014-15 season.

On to the Boro team for Tuesday, it may well be that in pursuit of stability, Garry Monk will stick with much of the same team that defeated Reading. It’s hard to see any changes in defence or central midfield – although Leadbitter didn’t last the course on Saturday, his leadership is a vital component in driving the team forward. Howson also probably had his best game for Boro and made the well executed assist for the winner – it seems Clayton has probably lost out because of his game lacks much in the way of incisive passing. The question may be whether Tavernier did enough to warrant another start or if Johnson is set a recall instead – I thought maybe the young academy graduate perhaps missed having Adama distracting the opposition on the other side of the pitch. If Boro do go for a more counter-attacking game plan then the blistering pace and strength of Traore can be a useful outlet.

It’s an unexpected problem that Boro have struggled to score against teams away from the bottom of the table and have managed only two goals against the seven teams they’ve played in the top half. Especially given that the club have spent nearly £50m on forwards in 2017 alone (Bamford, Gestede, Assombalonga, Braithwaite, Fletcher, Johnson) plus another £6m on Adama. That’s an awful lot of investment that as yet hasn’t seen too much return – but in reality only Assombalonga has had any consistent time on the pitch from that currently less than magnificent seven. The good news is that Britt generally scores against teams at the bottom, he’s only missed out against Brentford as he’s notched up six goals against strugglers Reading, Barnsley, Burton and Bolton.

So will Boro continue to show spirit and lay to rest the spectre of under-achievement as they monster the opposition? or will Hull get an early ghoul as they ghost through our zombie-like defence to leave the travelling fans witnessing another horror show? A usual you predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will the young Tiger’s fans be tricked into wearing scary Grant Leadbitter masks as he treats them to another screamer…

Reading 0 – 2 Boro

Reading Middlesbrough
Leadbitter
Assombalonga
14′ (pen)
74′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
68%
 9
 2
 3
 8
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
32%
10
 3
 3
11

 

Brilliant Britt seals Royal ascent

Redcar Red reports on the match at the Madejski Stadium…

Thirteenth away to twentieth would hardly be billed as the Championship Match of the day despite last Season’s Play-off Finalists against last Season’s Premiership side who had spent more this Summer than many Championship sides had in the last decade. Underachievement was the key word in the build-up meaning both Managers were coming intense scrutiny and criticism from their own fans with odds shortening on their personal survival never mind their respective Clubs. The omens looked distinctly gloomy for today’s loser and even a draw would like as not do neither of them any favours.

Stam had a few more Players available after a mini injury crisis whilst Monk had a plethora of riches at his disposal with only Gestede unavailable. The former Man Utd defender had received criticism for shuffling his pack to cover gaps, Garry Monk shuffles his pack seemingly to accommodate his huge squad thereby for different reasons both sides had looked unsettled and unfamiliar with their tactics and team mates. The Boro line up was announced with no Fletcher, Clayton, Baker or Shotton in the squad and as “rumoured” on here beforehand Tavernier making his first league start. Great for the lad but a gamble for GM who would be lauded a tinkerer yet again or bold in dropping new signings for one of our own depending on a half full/half empty state of mind no doubt ultimately skewed by the end result this afternoon.

Braithwaite got proceedings underway but Reading soon had a corner off Grant within the opening minute. Fortunately the phase of play ended with it going out of play for Randolph to collect for a goal kick. Early part of the game saw Reading teenager Sam Smith involved in a lot of their game plan, like Tavernier Reading fans have a lot of hope for the lad. Boro were fairly deep for most of the opening ten minutes sitting deep not troubling Mannone at all but perhaps the ghost of Aitor has paid GM a visit, making us difficult to break down.

GM had taken residence on the edge of his coaching area watching as Christie picked up a loose ball from young Smith which ended in a Downing cross which evaded Braithwaite’s best attempts. Christie again broke free just seconds later with a ball played into Britt who was tugged down in the box by van den Bergh for a soft penalty this time in our favour on 14 minutes resulting in Britt then going tete a tete with Grant with the Captain’s armband pulling rank on who was taking it. Mannone attempted to delay the penalty; building up pressure on the skipper but calmness personified Grant unleashed a long awaited Thunderbastard into the top of the net!

We had discussed about a Grant Thunderbastard earlier in the week on here and although this wasn’t the 25 or 30 yarder we dreamt of one from the Penalty spot will do nicely. Once Boro had taken the lead the Royals were visibly deflated after a bright and promising opening ten minutes. A Christie throw in from a panicked Mannone clearance saw both Reading Centre Backs, Moore and Ilori clash heads resulting in them both laid out and Ilori in particular suffering a very nasty head gash. Both players were staggering around dazed with Liam Moore also suffering a bad cut. With both medical teams on the pitch Ilori was eventually stretchered off looking concussed. If Reading had injury problems before this game and this was the last thing Jaap Stam needed. What looked a comical collision initially from a Boro perspective ended with the sad sight of Ilori receiving a warm reception from both sets of fans being stretchered off down the tunnel.

Blackett came on in place of Ilori and just as play restarted Braithwaite had another Boro penalty claim as Boro tried to take benefit from Reading being down to ten men, reshuffling their defence as Liam Moore was presumably being stitched up in the home dressing room. Smith came close for Reading as they switched play but Ayala was alert to the danger and did enough to put him off. Incredibly Gibson and Ayala then clashed heads in the Boro box albeit with a slightly less dramatic outcome than that of the two Reading Centre Back’s. The stop in play allowed time for Liam Moore to re-enter the fray after a ten minute absence that saw Reading gallantly push for an equaliser.

Sam Smith then beat the offside and got behind Gibson but the move ended when the eventual cross was plucked out easily by Darren Randolph. Braithwaite was next to be brought down by van den Bergh who was struggling to contain Boro’s Assombalonga and Braithwaite. Things were getting feisty after a Tavernier foul then saw McShane frustratingly take down Assombalonga insinuating that Boro’s top scorer was “looking” for fouls. The game went down the other end and Gunter rounded both Fabio and Tavernier got his cross in but fortunately for Boro it came to nothing. Assombalonga then went down suspiciously in a challenge with Moore requiring the Ref to speak to the players in an effort to calm things down. Downing and Aluko were next to be involved in a dispute as Stewy was pulled back but unseen by the Officials.

A tackle by Howson saw an appeal for a Reading penalty ignored from which Boro broke leading to Assombalonga and McShane continuing their battle for which McShane received a yellow for his frustrations. The Ref then spoke to McShane and Gunter ordering them to calm things down with the Irishman in particular boiling over. A peach of a Downing corner fizzed in and saw Ayala going for it but Moore got to it putting it out for another corner. The following corner saw the ball come off Gibson for Reading to almost break away. Then just minutes before the end of injury time Paul McShane was awarded a free kick after colliding yet again with Britt Assombalonga. He reacted by theatrically celebrating the Ref’s decision and in doing so done himself no favours at all with Ref Oliver Langford. It looked like an imminent red card could be coming his way in the second half if Stam couldn’t calm him down in the dressing room which the Royals certainly didn’t need after losing one defender already and having another bandaged up.

The second half restarted with no changes from either side, Reading forcing an early save from Randolph and then Assombalonga going into the Ref’s book at the other end for clipping van den Bergh when trying to close down. Fabio then gave away another of his dangerous free kicks out wide on Gunter allowing Reading to throw bodies into the Boro 18 Yard box. McShane screamed for a Penalty as he went down and Tavernier cleared only for it to come straight back at us for Ayala to clear this time putting it out of play. The following throw in saw an effort fortunately hitting Randolph’s side netting all originally caused by Fabio giving away that nonsense free kick.

The game was by no means a classic but as already mentioned the 13th V. 20th billing summed it all up. The result was going to be far more important than the means for both Managers. The second half seen Reading having most of the possession pressurising for an equaliser with Boro sitting deep just as they did in the opening minutes of the first half. In an enterprising break by Howson the Ref pulled play back when Boro wanted to play on and the move ended with a goal kick for Reading coming off Assombalonga’s shin. In an effort to add some more energy (and cover for Fabio), Garry Monk then brought on Marvin Johnson in place of Marcus Tavernier who hadn’t looked out of place on his League debut.

The arrival of Johnson didn’t subdue the waves of Reading pressure with Howson clearing and then Smith coming close after taking too many touches with Fabio clearing the danger this time all amidst more Penalty claims from the Royals as Boro were looking more desperate in clearing their lines. Gunter was running riot and asking Boro all sorts of questions requiring a Howson block again. Stam then brought on Barrow for van den Bergh as he sensed Boro rocking with twenty minutes to go.

Boro subs were warming up with the hope for us that Traore would perhaps come on to help spring a counter attack and ease the pressure but as it was it was Forshaw who was stripped ready for action. Christie then broke assisted by Downing enabling Assombalonga to get a shot in which came to nothing and that was as close as Boro had come in the second half to date. Boro’s defensive rear-guard action wasn’t as composed as Karanka’s but it was just about holding out. Then another Boro break came on 74 minutes with Downing’s initial attempt blocked Howson picked it up, getting to the by-line picking out Assombalonga who climbed majestically in the middle of the six yard box heading home his seventh of the season to make it 2-0!

Before the restart Forshaw made his delayed appearance replacing Grant. It wasn’t the sexiest substitution but GM obviously felt we needed some freshness in the middle of the park to counter Barrow’s earlier arrival. An Ayala header in the six yard box was then cleared off the line by McShane as the two goal cushion eased Boro fears and demanded more openness from Stam’s men. Forshaw played a ball out that led to Johnson having the opportunity to almost make it three. Adam had only been on the pitch a few minutes but was determined to make his mark and give Garry Monk a future selection headache.

Kermorgant recovering from a lay off had come on for the Royals and went close in the dying minutes. Braithwaite then made way for Bamford more as a means of eating up the clock with only stoppage time remaining and almost immediately clattered into the bruised, battered and bandaged Moore. In the last minute a clearly over enthusiastic Paddy lost possession instead of retaining by passing to Stewy and nearly let Reading break causing some consternation for himself with Ayala and Gibson who looked to be getting back to their previous levels of understanding.

It was an effective workmanlike performance, picking off the Royals utilising the power and accuracy of Britt. For Stam, the head clash didn’t help him but in truth Boro looked to have a slighter higher level of competence in reserve and looked the more likely to be able to up the stakes if needed. It was exactly what was required for GM, a solid display with a clean sheet and three points. Not particularly convincing and certainly nothing dramatic at all but something to hopefully build upon and get the season back on track.

Man of the Match for me was Britt for winning the Penalty and then scoring the second but Ayala, Christie, Howson and Downing all deserve special mention as does Forshaw for his cameo in taking a grip in the middle of the park

The pressure’s on the under-achievers

Werdermouth looks ahead to the trip to Reading…

After their midweek Dorset reserve fixture in the EFL Cup, Boro head down to Berkshire to play against a team who are also coincidentally sponsored by Mr Caraboa’s Thai energy drink. This game had initially looked to be quite a tough prospect on paper when the fixture list was published, but The Royals haven’t as yet shown the same imperious form as last season or indeed any real class for a club of their Championship breeding. All of which means Garry Monk’s lowly men will be hoping they can humbly return home with a modest three points for the common cause after clocking up close to a thousand miles on the road this week.

The buzz word at Thursday’s pre-match press conference was commitment and the Boro boss said everyone was determined to be committed and show determination and commitment on the pitch to prove they were committed in their determination to reach the level they’re capable of – even Ben Gibson had shown his commitment to the club by signing a new five-year deal as Boro were determined to hold onto him for the foreseeable future. Although such positivity is welcomed, it’s hard to determine if Garry Monk had put a little too much commitment into getting this message across in those rather upbeat eight minutes.

Reading Middlesbrough
Jaap Stam Gary Monk
P12 – W3 – D3 – L6 – F11 – A14 P13 – W4 – D5 – L4 – F15 – A12
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
20th
12
1.0
46
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
13th
17
1.3
60
Last 6 Games
Sheff Utd (A)
Leeds (A)
Norwich (H)
Millwall (A)
Hull (H)
Brentford (A)
F-T (H-T)
1:2 (0:2) L
1:0 (0:0) W
1:2 (1:1) L
1:2 (0:0) L
1:1 (0:1) D
1:1 (0:1) D
Last 6 Games
Cardiff (H)
Barnsley (A)
Brentford (H)
Norwich (H)
Fulham (A)
QPR (H)
F-T (H-T)
0:1 (0:0) L
2:2 (1:2) D
2:2 (0:1) D
0:1 (0:1) L
1:1 (0-0) D
3:2 (1:1) W

Despite expecting to be leading contenders in the promotion race, all eyes on this game will be focused on an under pressure manager who needs to start winning games with his under-achieving team sitting in the bottom half of the table. Yes, Jaap Stam is feeling the heat after struggling to find the form that saw them finish third last season before ultimately losing out to David Wagner’s Huddersfield in the play-off final on penalties. This season, Reading have averaged just one point and slightly less than one goal per game, with their 1-0 win just after the international break at Monk’s former team Leeds being their first since the end of August. It hasn’t helped that they’ve been without last season’s top scorer Yann Kermorgant so far this campaign, who netted 18 times in helping them to third spot – the Frenchman is due back from groin surgery in early November in time to celebrate his 36th birthday.

Though Stam is remaining defiant and claimed he was joking in a recent interview when he said “If people think they can get a better manager that’s better for the team, then they need to make that decision, that’s fine – but I don’t think there is.” OK, he probably needs to work on his punchlines if he’s to get that gig at the Edinburgh festival should football management ultimately not work out. Though if humour isn’t his main strength then his realism should keep his sanity intact as he also went on to state the first law of football management “It’s about getting results. If you don’t get results people start talking about the manager and ask is he good enough? Can he change the team?” Questions that have been echoed on Teesside in recent weeks and as still no definitive answers have been supplied by performances.

However, the former Man Utd defender is philosophical about the pressure and just claims “It’s one of the risks of being a manager – and if you’re afraid of it happening then you don’t need to go into the job, go out and do something else. You might do some fishing – that’s nice as well.” Though as to what kind of fish a floundering manager reaching the end of the line may wish to land is perhaps a question for another day – though I expect the Dutchman won’t be contemplating letting Monk off the hook on Saturday.

Any talk of fishing will have no doubt pleased Reading owner Narin Niruttinanon, a football mad Thai businessman who made his fortune thanks to some more heavy-duty fishing supplying his rather lucrative tuna canning company. He has since sold a 75% majority stake in the club to the Chinese commercial property duo Dai Yongge and his sister Dai Xiu Li, who made their fortune with an empire of underground shopping centres in China that were converted from air-raid shelters – presumably so consumers can shop till either they or the bombs drop without needing to worry if ‘The Donald’ and Kim Jong-un have launched more than insults at each other. All of which is perhaps a cause for reflection for those who advocate Steve Gibson should consider selling to wealthier investors in order to compete at the top table. While the Boro faithful may sing that he’s one of their own, the Reading fans are instead probably just left with singing ‘Dai Yongge is one of our owners…” The risk is that the your local club will most likely just end up as a commodity and a vehicle for groups of random investors looking to gain introductions to like-minded people in the directors boxes up and down the country.

Money appears no guarantee of success and indeed having it can be used as a stick to beat anyone who fails to make it count. Any manager under the cosh will not make matters less painful by banging their head against the wall in frustration. The Reading manager seems to fall back on what Garry Monk has often repeated in answer to critics wondering when things will improve by simply stating that everyone is working hard. Though one presumes working hard is a given under any circumstances and no coach would admit that the group has not so far been putting in the required effort – it’s essentially a cliche. It’s this realisation that a coach or manager is limited to just improving his players performances that Stam concluded “Everybody knows that we need to step up and do better in certain situations. In good times the players were making the right decisions, but now it’s working against us. We can only turn it around by training and working hard.” This is essentially a promise to do better, which again is another cliché not worth stating and something obviously needed if the situation needs improving.

The question is more ‘how’ can you do better? Coaches will generally employ known strategies to halt bad or indifferent runs and try to break down the game preparation process and check each stage has been rigorously carried out to the same standards as when the team were previously winning. However, in Monk’s case he’s not got that reference point of when things worked for him at Boro. Instead he’s still embarked on the process of getting his ideas across so that the players buy into his methods and execute his game plan effectively – in theory it’s easier for Stam because his players saw that his methods previously worked.

Team selection is perhaps key for Garry Monk but it’s unlikely we’ll see too many surprises this weekend. Those who were not in the Bournemouth squad will be favourites to return as starters – that means Randolph, Gibson, Christie, Leadbitter, Braithwaie and Assombalonga. Presumably Ayala will continue in central defence and Fabio’s performance against Cardiff should keep him ahead of Friend. It’s also possible Howson will get the nod to partner Grant given Clayton played the full 90 minutes on Wednesday. Downing should also expect to retain his place but Fletcher has looked well below par and will perhaps make way for Adama, who reminded us in midweek that he’s a threat when he’s on his game. Though hopefully Monk avoids informing Traore by text message that he should prepare for Reading on Saturday – otherwise he may miss the bus again as he settles down at home with his copy of Basic English for Dummies.

Quite why the question of finding a winning formula has as yet remained unanswered by the players and management at Boro is unclear given the options available, maybe there are just too many choices to keep focusing on making the team a coherent one. It’s not yet apparent whether the problem is the execution of the plan or whether the plan itself is capable of being executed effectively – are Garry Monk and his staff even asking the right questions or have they themselves made the right decisions? Only time will tell and many supporters are already of the mind that not only has the manager’s honeymoon period long since ended but a quickie divorce is now needed to end the relationship. The strange thing about football is that it often takes some random moment or slice of luck in a game to suddenly turn the tide and instill belief.

At the end of the day, football is a results business where individual records are normally defended in a language of cliches – there are very few carefully thought through long-term strategies in existence that aren’t ditched on the whim of a short-term hunch triggered by emotional feedback. The relationship between how expectations and achievements are being delivered within the ticking time-frame of falling off a financial cliff are what cranks up the pressure on modern managers – Garry Monk is perhaps fortunate that the Boro chairman’s patience with his managers usually exceeds his lofty ambitions for the club – but he should be wary that this patience is not exponential and he may find himself on the wrong side of the curve sooner than he anticipated in what is essentially a two-year financial window of opportunity.

So will Garry Monk finally play his cards right as his team snaps out of its indifferent start to bridge the gap to the top? Or will a poker-faced Jaap Stam make The Royals flush our lingering promotion hopes down the pan? As usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will we see commitment and determination in the post-match comments not to use cliches?

Cup: Bournemouth 3 – 1 Boro

Bournemouth Middlesbrough
Simpson
Wilson
Afobe
49′
75′ (pen)
83′
Tavernier 56′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
55%
14
 4
 4
11
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
67%
12
 6
 3
15

Cherry pickers plunder plucky Boro

Redcar Red reports on the match at the Vitality Stadium…

A pressured Garry Monk headed south with his options shorn of three players for various reasons. Both Ryan Shotton and Marvin Johnson had previously played in the Carabou Cup for Birmingham and Oxford before signing for Boro thereby rendering them ineligible. A shame for the pair of them and Boro as they could have seriously benefitted from some much needed game time. The third absentee Rudy Gestede remained side-lined courtesy of his bizarre dead leg although edging his way back to fitness and full training within the next couple of weeks. None of the three would likely feature in a best 11 although what that best 11 would look like in any given week is now open to much Teesside debate and banter. As it happened we were no nearer identifying what that best 11 would look like with ten changes being made to tonight’s line up from Saturday with Ayala the only remainer. Eddie Howe made eight changes to his Bournemouth side that beat Stoke on Saturday.

The Cherries started the livelier and an offside flag on five minutes spared Boro blushes as a floated in free kick saw Mousset’s header chalked off by the Lino. A corner a few minutes later saw the ball go wide of Dimi’s goal. The opening ten minutes saw all of the action in the Boro half as Bournemouth probed and Boro absorbed heavy pressure in the drizzling south coast rain. The next ten minutes didn’t change much as another glanced header went past Dimi’s post and a shot on the turn from Wilson also went wide much to the relief of the travelling 1,000 or so hardy Boro souls. Boro’s first real foray came on twenty minutes but fizzled out quickly as Clayts exercised an “accidental” clumsy challenge to prevent a breakaway counter attack.

A Boruc kick out was then charged down by Traore and as a consequence of the rushed clearance the ball broke for Boro and Bamford I think put it out wide for Traore to cross but Boruc redeemed himself and caught the cross mid-flight. This sparked Boro into a bit of a fightback for all of 30 seconds and almost immediately as the game tilted the other way a parried Dimi save fell to Fraser who should have scored but was way off target. Boro’s formation looked like a 4132 or a 4213 in attack, Roberts, Ayala, Fry and Friend at the back with Clayts, Baker and Forshaw in the middle and Traore, Bamford and Tavernier up front. A Baker free kick on the half hour saw the ball cleared out from the Bournemouth box to Clayts who hit a daisy cutter from 25 yards out but as his typical of his prowess it went wide. Boro were however coming into this game just as Tavernier went down after taking Mousset’s studs on the top of his ankle allowing the sides a breather. Watching on was Martin O’Neil obviously in attendance to watch Harry Arter! Just after the restart a Robert’s pile driver seen Boruc spill with Bamford closing in but the keeper managed to clear the danger.

As the rain eased off so did the Bournemouth pressure as Boro were not exactly dominating but defending from the halfway line instead of their 18 yard box. On 38 minutes Fry mistimed a challenge and left a trailing foot to concede a free kick and a yellow card for his troubles. Fortunately Fraser’s free kick heard the whistle go immediately for a shove on Ayala who went sprawling in the Boro six yard box. Five minutes before half time saw Boro’s best spell with a penalty claim on Tavernier after Clayts had played a 35 yard cross field ball to Roberts who strained to reach it to get a cross in. Seconds later Clayts and Traore combined to rob the ball off a sleepy Bournemouth midfield and Traore raced through on goal but his shot from the egde of the box closely attended by three defenders started to spin and skew away mid-flight to go wide. A scrappy end to the half saw Bournemouth almost sneak a goal as Friend failed to shield the ball out of play and Fraser managed to get the ball back into the Boro box with three Cherries wanting a bite but Dimi got down to smother the danger. That was the end of the first half action.

After the restart a sloppily conceded corner by Forshaw led to Bournemouth taking the lead as Jack Simpson opened his Cherry account with a left footed volley unmarked in the middle of the six yard box as the ball just dropped to him. Boro tried to clear their heads quickly and regroup but Ayala conceded a free kick for a waist high leg challenge 30 yards out on our right. Dimi collected the ball and set Friend on the attack as Boro poured shirts forward but after a few mishit crosses Bournemouth cleared their lines with Baker forced into giving away a free kick in order to prevent a Bournemouth charge. A Bournemouth player then went down as they attacked but Bournemouth played on as they looked for a second but as the clock ticked onto 56 minutes Traore picked up the ball in his own half, broke centrally leaving three defenders for dead and played a telling ball through to Tavernier who looked as though he had taken it too wide but fired it hard and low past Boruc to make it 1-1.

Four minutes later Wilson chased an Arter ball played over the top to go down in a heap after a coming together with Fry but the Ref wasn’t having any of it. Tavernier then closed down and ran with the ball on the left feeding Traore on the right who crossed it back into the box but this time Tavernier’s shot was tame. Bournemouth then regained a foothold, applied most of the pressure but without really troubling Dimi. Mousset went off replaced by Jordan Ibe in the 69th minute as Eddie Howe was first to blink in an attempt to add more energy.

As Stewy was warming up Traore was double tackled earning a free kick on the half way line from which Boro eventually earned their first corner which was woefully and predictably over hit setting Bournemouth up to go down the other end winning a corner of their own which then saw Fry pull back Simpson for a Penalty which Wilson sent Dimi the wrong way. Boro clearly still haven’t learnt how wasteful and how dangerous their habits of over hit corners are. 2-1 down and Downing now came on for Tavernier with 13 minutes left on the clock.

Boro started to wilt quickly after the penalty and with Bournemouth camped on the edge of the Boro box a series of slick passes saw Wilson get behind Fry and cross to Afobe who couldn’t miss from 6 yards out to make it 3-1. Monk then threw on Fletcher for Baker presumably in an attempt to hoof balls up the pitch for him to knock down but it never happened as Fletcher went wide right for some bizarre reason. The result just saw the lad struggle to control balls and run into tackles that were cleaned up with relative ease.

Howe responded by putting Ake on as he saw his chance to finish this game within the 90. A Downing corner a minute later found Fry but his header sailed well over the bar as Boro visibly waned. Downing forced a save from Boruc late on and then raced to take the resultant corner which after a bit of head tennis saw a Clayton half volley easily saved by Boruc. A brief unplanned interlude courtesy of a solitary pitch invasion was the prelude to Bamford having a speculative shot from outside of the box which went wide.

The result wasn’t meaningful in the scheme of things but the disappointment continues and the nature of the goals were frustratingly typical of the season to date in that they were of a very soft nature. A positive is that the likes of Friend and Roberts got some much needed minutes under their belt and Tavernier looked a better option than some others but apart from Adama’s bursts there was nobody who stood out to stake a serious claim come Saturday. Bamford didn’t do enough to stand out and when he came on Fletcher hadn’t improved from Saturday’s performance with an inability to control the ball so on that basis neither nailed a start. MOM has to be the Travelling army who turned out in numbers on a wet Tuesday night at the opposite end of the Country. This result wasn’t one to either praise or hang the Manager by but that’s now six games without a win and the longer that stat goes on it will be included by those with knives to sharpen in the coming weeks.

Boro look to fizz as season heads south

Werdermouth previews the trip to Bournemouth in the Caraboa Cup…

It’s time once more for the next stimulating round of the caffeine-based fermented juice sponsored trophy that Mr Caraboa has kindly paid the Football League to adorn with green ribbons so that we don’t need to call it the EFL Cup. As we wait for our intended promotion season to spring to life with all the verve of a dead water buffalo’s skull, Boro instead set off on the road to Wembley before making a sharp right towards the Dorset coast and heading to the UK’s favoured destination for people of a certain age looking to enjoy their days between hanging up their boots and popping their clogs.

The actual first known historic recorded mention of Bournemouth was in 1406 by a Christchurch monk in a medieval manuscript, who referred to the location as ‘La Bournemowthe’ (which may possibly have been mistakenly just down to the predictive calligraphy of the day). This uninhabited geographical area was where the mouth of a small river that drained the heathland between the towns of Poole and Christchurch was situated. Old English etymologists among you will know that the word ‘bourne’ essentially means small stream and Bournemouth got its place in history thanks to a large mysterious 18-foot fish being washed up on the beach, which was then drawn to the attention of the Canon of Christchurch, who duly took a sample and recorded the event.

Anyway, enough of this irrelevant tale of how an isolated monk struggled to identify hapless washed-up creatures suddenly appearing out of their depth – the Boro manager and his team head to the Vitality Stadium on Tuesday evening hoping to negotiate their safe passage through to the next round against top-flight opposition. Given that Boro’s Monk may feel he has bigger fish to fry will perhaps determine which particular players from the best squad in the Championship are taken out of the misfiring line and thrown into the frying pan. Though if Boro can’t get the message that they need to perk up their season at the Vitality Stadium in a competition sponsored by an energy drink then one wonders what other subliminal cues are needed.

For the long autumn trip to Bournemouth, it’s possible Steve Gibson may be tempted to lay on the rather draughty open-top bus he’d been keeping safely stored away for the anticipated May promotion parade – just so the players and staff can ‘enjoy’ the same same shiver down their spines as the chairman currently does when he glances at the league table to see how his summer investment is maturing.

Despite Bournemouth being the first town to introduce CCTV, this game is an untelevised midweek away fixture with a prohibitive 12-hour round-trip for die-hard supporters. It will mean there will be few witnesses from Teesside to adjudicate on whether Monk’s team is once more guilty of another criminal slow start. However, I would suggest the players preload before the match with as much complimentary fizzy energy drink as is made available to avoid another flat lethargic opening – naturally this advice obviously excludes Adama, who in such circumstances would presumably metamorphosize into an overgrown hyperactive child pumped full of sugar and artificial additives on a mission to emulate an oversized bowling ball as he attempted to skittle over every opposition player on the pitch.

Though, to be fair, the Caraboa Cup has seen some of Boro’s better performances this season, which ironically has been down to selecting players not deemed by Monk to be main contenders for a start in his Championship First XI. In previous rounds, both Downing and Leadbitter were given chances to impress and then subsequently did, which earned them a place in Monk’s plans that had so far eluded them – though Bamford’s brace and overall performance in the last round failed to persuade the Boro manager that he deserved his chance to start in the league. Also despite youngsters Lewis Wing and Marcus Tavernier impressing, they didn’t encourage their manager to think that they were ready for the next step – cynics may suggest that all they probably need is an over-inflated price-tag thrown at them to prove they are valuable members of the squad.

As Eddie Howe’s team languish in second bottom ahead of goal-shy Palace, he will presumably have his eyes focused more on Premier League survival. The Cherries managed a rare win at Stoke on Saturday and this EFL Cup game is sandwiched between that and Chelsea’s visit next weekend. I’m sure he will utilise his squad but it’s not one with great depth packed full of household names – in fact quite a few are barely household names in their own houses. It may well mean that Boro have got a reasonable chance of progressing if they can get their act together.

It’s widely expected that Garry Monk will use the EFL Cup to give his fringe squad members a game, but I’m not sure that is what is needed as we reach the end of October with only a string of disjointed performances since the last round to show for that approach. Firstly, there seems little point in playing the youngsters against Premier League opposition if they can’t even get a game in the Championship. Secondly, giving squad members a run out to avoid them becoming rusty doesn’t seem a priority if some of those currently being given a start also look in need of games to sharpen them up. Thirdly, perhaps this is the kind of game where the manager can rest his ‘undroppable’ players without making the obvious statement that they have failed – isn’t it time to discover how something like a front three of Bamford, Downing and Braithwaite fare – or what about that widely used 3-4-3 formation that has become the trend among thinking coaches, which I suspect may be a better fit for the type of players Boro have.

Incidentally, I think 3-4-3 would solve a number of issues that Monk has so far not found solutions to. It would allow Christie to concentrate more on what he does best and find his attacking flow again. It also avoids this splitting of the central defenders to cover the full-backs and stops the need for a central midfielder to act as a pseudo centre-back to cover the missing one – it may all sound clever tactically but it hasn’t proven effective so far and unless you have the right players who are drilled accordingly it seems to be a recipe for misunderstandings and defensive holes. It would also allow for better progressive ball-playing central midfielders – perhaps someone like Baker is going to be a better playmaker than a ponderous Clayton or an indecisive Howson once the defensive cover behind them removes some of the jobs occupying a large portion of their brain. Playing with wing-backs would offer the chance of Johnson being a pacey left-footed option too – basically it creates positions for some of the players who are not quite suited to some of the roles they have been tried at.

Monk needs to decide which players are mainly impact players and who have the football brains and ball skills to be comfortable interchanging along the front line. My view is Assombalonga is primarily an instinctive box player, if you give him a role beyond that he’s struggling both with movement, first touch and passing. Boro have not built their team around servicing him and have instead tried to convert him into a player he is not and won’t be anytime soon. Fletcher looks increasingly out of his depth and has lost confidence with each game – I can only see a front three of Braithwaite, Downing and Bamford that can play the way Monk appears to want to, with perhaps Baker being the attacking midfielder.

Maybe even having a settled back three would allow our central defenders to get their composure back – as who among them has looked comfortable with the current defensive tactical arrangement? Ben Gibson’s value must be losing a million quid a game with each unconvincing defensive display and at this rate he could end up being talked about in the same breath as David Wheater rather than someone like Jonathan Woodgate or a future England regular.

So will Boro finally find their identity at Bournemouth and show the supremacy of their squad or will Monk and his players be heading back to Teesside to receive an ultimatum from the chairman. As usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus who deserves their seat on the top deck of the promotion bus?

Boro 0 – 1 Cardiff

Middlesbrough Cardiff City
Ralls 84′ (pen)
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
59%
11
 2
 8
19
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
41%
 8
 3
 2
12

 

Traore gives Monk the Blues

Redcar Red reports on the match against Cardiff…

This is the time of year when previous Boro Managers have had their employment status terminated albeit they had all enjoyed much longer tenures than the present incumbent. Sitting in the opposite dug out was one Manager who many had touted to be tempted away from South Wales prior to the arrival of Monk to add some spice to the day’s proceedings. A slow starting Boro falling prey to the wily ways of Warnock was a scenario many had feared before KO with doubters growing by the week that Garry Monk still doesn’t know his best eleven or what formation in fact best suited them. A resounding result this afternoon would provide some much needed kudos; a dispiriting performance however would see amateur Joiners across Teesside scrambling for the final nail in their hastily assembled wooden crates.

Early Season false hope of five clean sheets in six league games gave cause to think with our newly signed pace and power we could become a real powerhouse in this league. Those dreams had dimmed of late with Boro without a clean sheet in their previous five games and alarmingly conceding eight goals in the process. Cardiff had experienced a recent mini wobble themselves after drawing and losing their last two league games but overall had impressively won four of their last seven away games. Today was going to be a real test but one that Garry Monk’s Boro now had to perform and deliver in.

Brilliant sunshine during the warm ups soon descended into a dark gloomy and cloudy overcast day just five minutes before the Kick off as the rain started to come down changing the atmosphere inside the blustery Riverside. A very average Cardiff side looked anything but the second placed promotion favourites as the game overall was a fairly non-descript affair. Nerves were on display as Christie, Ayala and Randolph managed to make an innocuous series of backwards and sideways passing into a gift wrapped opportunity for the Bluebirds to take the lead as once again Boro started edgy and half asleep. Their performance didn’t get any better than that. First half chances were almost zero as Fletcher struggled to make any impact and his first touch seemed to be an art form that has hopefully temporarily deserted the lad. Under the circumstances and the pressure on the Manager it was a surprise to see him starting especially with a few sterile performances of late yet GM stuck by him. I’m not sure what the reasoning is when other poor or average performances have quickly resulted in the chop for others. At this rate the poor lad is a whipping boo boy in the making and its will be very unfair on the lad if it continues.

There was nothing in evidence to see what or if any improvement or progress was being made anywhere on the pitch. Downing was my Man of the Match and believe me that was an award that was very difficult to make yet was subbed for the second game running when he was the only creative force in Red. He made way for Traore who looked worryingly disinterested during the touchline warm up. That to me was a huge alarm bell seemingly unnoticed by the Manager and his Assistants, maybe not so surprising perhaps as the Manager and his assistants don’t appear to have noticed much during their three month stay on Teesside. As it happened Traore was later guilty for a

ridiculous challenge which ranked right up there with his Villa sending off handing Cardiff all three points courtesy of a penalty. Now I accept you can’t blame the Manager for a rash challenge or an individual’s poor decision making but this was a cumulative effect of things over the entire afternoon.

There were free kicks that were passed sideways and backwards, inviting pressure and putting us under pressure when we should have been launching an attack. There was so much uncertainty at the back that somehow Garry Monk has made Ben Gibson looked like a shadow of his former commanding self. Ayala just looks terrified although he did compose himself a little bit as the game wore on. Randolph has gone from a commanding assured presence to someone who is as anxious and uncertain as the rest of his back line. Shambolic best describes what was once a fine Championship defensive unit undone only by the Premiership’s finest. Midfield was once again tinkered with today and Howson now found himself recalled this time alongside that great understanding he has with Grant Leadbitter. Howson was later on the object of boos and derision as when trying to launch an attack he was limited with options and dithered until he surrendered possession and put us back under pressure.

Cardiff were poor on the day but we were so disconnected and “clunky” to borrow a phrase form our former blogmeister they were never under any real threat. Pace and Power? Yer jokin aren’t yer! We pass slowly, we roll the ball out slowly and put ourselves under pressure and defend desperately without any structure. We had one moment of class in the first half when we passed the ball slickly out of defence from the left and passed it slickly and quickly up the pitch. That is the only time this season I recall this side doing anything with pace and power. At corners we launched to the far side of the box but had nobody placed to collect the regularly over hit ones. When defending corners we still had nobody up field and struggled repeatedly to clear our lines yet again.

As predicted when I saw the line-up Bamford came on in the second half for the lacklustre Fletcher although it could have been Assombalonga just as easily as like Gibson. GM has managed to make a prolific goal scorer look decidedly poor. Braithwaite looked to find clever balls and played with confidence alongside Downing, Fabio also had a decent game but other than that there was little to inspire or give the dwindling home fans any optimism. The claimed 24,000 in attendance had little reason to think that this team is going to gel or click any time soon or indeed ever.

This season is now becoming a wasted opportunity and a very expensive one at that. The Chairman got the Manager he waited for, wanted and backed to the hilt but what has since materialised is something now rapidly gaining Strachan like momentum. Dire, dismal and disconnected, it can’t go on any longer. Pass the Diasapan please Bob!

Fear and loathing in lost Teesside

Werdermouth previews the visit of Cardiff to the Riverside…

The football journey of Boro followers is rarely a smooth one and there’s a growing fear on Teesside that the planned promotion party may have to be rescheduled for a later date, though many are still loathed to give up on a quick return and are beginning to advocate that a change in management is required.  On the background of this, Cardiff arrive at the Riverside this weekend, where there’s been a marked rise in Savvatophobia, or fear of Saturdays, in what has now become the latest in a series of crucial games.  For many supporters, Garry Monk’s very future itself is resting on these three pivotal points, which at the moment is not as stable as that metaphor actually sounds.

The superstitious Triskaidekaphobic among you may not be expecting game thirteen to be the start of a revival in Garry Monk’s fortunes – perhaps some are already anticipating the pre-match meal could be something of a last tripe supper for Boro’s latest messiah and from that viewpoint the picture beginning to be painted of the season has perhaps similarities with Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic biblical depiction of the famous event, which is widely regarded for it’s technical use of a vanishing point to give it perspective – though from the perspective of Boro supporters many are not impressed by the vanishing points at all!

Middlesbrough Cardiff City
Gary Monk Neil Warnock
P12 – W4 – D5 – L3 – F15 – A11 P12 – W7 – D3 – L2 – F17 – A10
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
11th
17
1.4
65
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
2nd
24
2
92
Last 6 Games
Barnsley (A)
Brentford (H)
Norwich (H)
Fulham (A)
QPR (H)
Aston Villa (A)
(H-T)
2:2 (1:2) D
2:2 (0:1) D
0:1 (0:1) L
1:1 (0-0) D
3:2 (1:1) W
0:0 (0:0) D
Last 6 Games
Birmingham (A)
Derby (H)
Leeds (H)
Sunderland (A)
Sheff Wed (H)
Preston (A )
F-T (H-T)
0:1 (0:1) L
0:0 (0:0) D
3:1 (2:0) W
2:1 (1:0) W
1:1 (0:1) D
0:3 (0:1) L

It’s been refreshing to have a media-friendly manager who can talk the talk but for some it’s now time he started walking the walk too. Though in the verbal dexterity department he’s got a long way to go before he reaches the heights of the Cardiff manager – who’s a man that never looks uncomfortable in front of a microphone and can easily filibuster the gathered hacks into believing either a win was down to his tactical genius or a defeat was simply beyond his control. In fact, there’s a touch of the Harry Redknapps with Neil Warnock and you suspect if the pair ever decided to undertake a day trip to Blackpool to draw in the odd breath of sea air, then it’s likely all the donkeys on the beach would just be left with their front legs come the end of the day.

Nevertheless, if Neil Warnock knows how to do one thing then motivating players is perhaps his biggest asset and he’s got Cardiff quickly out of the blocks this season as they won their opening five fixtures. The Bluebirds progress has flapped a bit since then with just two wins from their last six and two defeats on the road – the heaviest being at Preston when they lost by three. For many Boro fans, a visit by Cardiff brings back memories of our disappointing home defeat in the FA Cup quarter-finals back in 2008, but our recent league record against them is quite good with seven wins from the last ten meetings

Monk will be hoping to continue that run against our South Wales opponents but has so far not convinced many in terms of performances that the Riverside has become the fortress he desires. In fact the Boro manager has started to look a little embattled lately and there are early signs of a siege mentality developing – so he could probably do with that fortress to retreat into. The general view is that his team should shaping up by now but we shouldn’t forget that it took time even for Karanka to establish his method of playing.

Karanka joined Boro in mid-November in the 2013-14 season and his record in his first 20 games was W7 D7 L6 F19 A14 – including a run of 7 games without scoring. That works out at around 1.4 points per game, which is pretty much comparable with where Monk is currently at. Aitor’s next three games were also winless and it wasn’t until his 24th game that he started to manage anything like the consistency needed and won four on the spin before losing the next two and ended the season with two more victories.

Of course it may be argued that Monk has had far greater resources made available to him so he should be doing better. However, that is subjective to whether the quality of the signings is accurately reflected by the fees paid. In terms of attacking resources, Braithwaite has only just returned from injury and looks as if he will be an important player, but Assombalonga has looked more limited given his league-smashing top-dollar price-tag and former Barnsley loanee Fletcher has also so far looked somewhat overvalued as a pricey £7m young prospect with potential still waiting to be unlocked.

Big Rudy Gestede has been a long-term absentee since his deadest of dead legs and is due to return shortly, whilst Bamford has also failed to find a place for himself in the team for reasons as yet not clear to outside observers. Then there’s Marvin Johnson, who has magically stepped up a league from Oxford and again has potential but his displays have been erratic – talking of which – let’s not forget Adama, who personifies the word erratic and still appears more of a wildcard than someone who will be an integral part of the team. The fact that the free-to-leave Downing has found himself back in favour perhaps underlines the failure of those around him to convince.

Some of the main signings in other areas have been midfield ‘playmaker’ Howson, who again hasn’t been especially convincing so far – then there’s Christie at right back, who seems to plays more like a wing-back in terms of defensive performances – also arriving was Lewis Baker, who has good feet but he’s not necessarily always good at deciding how best to use them – plus Ryan Shotton, who on his last and only outing has appeared to have cemented his place as a concrete fourth choice centre-back. At least Darren Randolph has proved to be a success between the sticks, so some money well spent there.

Still surely a better team than Karanka had to start with? Well he had Shay Given in goal and a defence that included Woodgate, Gibson, Ayala, Rhys Williams, Seb Hines and a reliable George Friend, who were joined by Kenneth Omerou on loan from Chelsea with Jozsef Varga as a decent solid right-back. Then there was the combative midfield trio of Leadbitter, Butterfield and Dean Whitehead, who were supplemented by another promising Chelsea youngster in Nathan Chalobah. His creative midfielders comprised of Adomah, Ledesma and Carayol with a revolving door of attacking options that started off with Emnes, Jutkiewicz, Kei Kamara and Curtis Main before being shuffled with Danny Graham and Lee Tomlin arriving in January. Whilst it’s still early days for Monk’s squad, it’s arguable that there doesn’t appear to be a massive difference in the overall quality Karanka had at his disposal based on what we’ve seen so far. What Monk has is a squad with a greater depth of quality but as yet the pieces have not fitted together adequately.

So has the Macrophobia, or the fear of long waits, when it comes to promotion made many impatient with Monk’s failure to hit the ground running. He’s been adversely compared to Karanka as taking too long to get the players organised but maybe many have forgotten that the former Boro manager essentially had twice as long as the present incumbent has currently had before his methods started to pay dividends. Perhaps even those who were never fans of Karanka’s style of football are preparing to put their Thaasophobia (fear of boredom) to one side as they yearn for the steady proven stable methods of past promotion campaigns. For many it is time to reach over and press the ejector-seat button as Monk has clearly failed to prove he can take Boro up this season – but could Karanka have passed a similar test after just 12 games? Despite the high stakes, I doubt Steve Gibson will want to reinvent himself as a chairman that is known for being impatient and press the secret red panic button under his desk. I suspect things would need to get a lot worse before he even considers his manager’s position.

Garry Monk seems to have had a rethink in terms of team selection for last week’s game at Barnsley – Ayala has become Gibson’s third partner in as many games, plus the selection of Leadbitter and Downing appear to show a return to experience. Whether the unexpected slow-coach Adama’s previously undiagnosed Bustrophobian condition (fear of buses) forced his hand is not known, but what is clear is that club discipline is non-negotiable if you want to avoid anarchy. Though in my experience, you should normally add an hour to any pre-arranged meeting time with Spanish friends as the actual time agreed is usually the point at which they head to the bathroom to prepare to get ready. However, having said that Daniel Ayala managed to take his seat on the coach, even if he had secretly planned a bit of a siesta around 3pm.

Perhaps the Boro manager is busy rooting out squad members who play with fear, it’s possible Bamford may be showing early signs of Athazagoraphobia, though that may be insensitive towards more serious sufferers like the lad from Watford, whose name escapes me at present – it means the fear of being forgotten in case you were wondering, which I suspect is a footballer’s worst fear.

So will the players overcome their Kakorrhaphiophobia (fear of defeat) and play with confidence to get Garry Monk’s promotion aspirations back on track? Or will Cardiff give Boro another early scare as the defence once again becomes paralysed by the fear of that bouncing round object hitting the net. As usual, your predictions for score, scorers and team selection – plus feel free to confess to any other phobias that you may be suffering this season.

Barnsley 2 – 2 Boro

Barnsley Middlesbrough
Fletcher (og)
McGeehan
 3′
 9′
Braithwaite
Assombalonga
 7′
60′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
33%
11
 3
 4
10
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
67%
21
 6
 7
11

Bright Barnsley start undermines Boro

Redcar Red reports on the match at Oakwell…

This morning’s table raised dimming hopes once again that bruised Boro could haul themselves back into contention as serious promotion contenders following Cardiff’s defeat against Birmingham last night. An away win this afternoon at Barnsley followed up with a home win next Saturday against those same Bluebirds could reduce the gap to the Championships early leaders to just two points. Of course other clubs would be seeing the same opportunity but if ever GM needed a break then this was as good as it would get thus far into the Championship campaign. Barnsley had reasons for optimism with four home wins in the last five against us so the odds were slightly in the Tyke’s favour.

Earlier in the week Heckingbottom had admitted that Barnsley couldn’t compete with Boro’s pulling power and potential with regards to Ashley Fletcher so surely with upwards of 4,500 of Boro’s best cheering them on today this had to be the day when it all clicked. Ashley was given the nod from Monk and was starting, presumably in the hope that he would come back to haunt the Tykes.

A warm breeze courtesy of a distant and by now defunct Atlantic Hurricane uncharacteristically warmed Oakwell. Boro fans reenergised from our Brentford no show were hoping that same warm breeze would be the only source of hot air today after being put in our place midweek regarding tactics and formations. Downing was restored to the starting eleven after being in the stands for that Brentford embarrassment. Most tellingly perhaps was the restoration of the Grant and Clayts duo, presumably intended to add some no nonsense stability in the middle of the park. It appeared that there were consequences after the ineffective display against the Bees with Traore, Johnson and Shotton all missing from the match day squad with Ayala starting in place of Shotton meaning that another successful Boro Championship partnership was restored. Rumour was that Traore had missed the team bus.

Barnsley started sprightly (or Boro started slowly again) with two corners in the opening minutes. From the second corner a ball came into the Boro box and the Tykes went 1-0 up courtesy of a unintentional glancing Fletcher headed own goal. A scoring return for the lad was certainly one of GM’s wishes but not in his own net. That second corner came as a result of Boro not being able to play their way out of defence after the first corner.

Ayala who had conceded that first corner now flicked on a Christie throw in for Braithwaite to hit home to make it 1-1 after seven minutes. Just as Boro apparently settled into their stride Barnsley broke and unbelievable defending in the Boro six yard box saw Boro 2-1 down immediately with Randolph uncharacteristically rooted to the spot for the cross as McGeehan took his opportunity.

This wasn’t as bad as Mogga’s last visit here but Boro looked anything but organised and controlled as they played in what I thought was a 442 despite many of us assuming we would line up 433 with Monk’s initial selection. As it was I think we were actually playing 4321 whilst Barnsley settled into their 4321 shape, seemingly comfortable in their set up. Boro in contrast were a mixture of parts both good and bad. Ayala as we know can be deadly in attacking set pieces and so he was but contrasted by Assombalonga who yet again struggled to control balls and of course putting ourselves into trouble for the first goal by not having an outlet from a corner.

As we applied pressure Barnsley slipped up in defence allowing Fletcher to break who played in Braithwaite who fumbled but the ball went out to Assombalonga whose control was typical and he blasted it well wide of the target. Seconds later Britt hit a 25 yard screamer which deflected out for a corner which Downing then hit to the front post from which Barnsley broke, leaving a melee in the Tykes box involving Assombalonga and Williams. Boro then had another quick corner which was poorly hit, resulting with Barnsley breaking and Boro blocking. We were struggling to break through the Barnsley resistance and it didn’t look like we had the organisation and belief to remedy things.

There was a lot of effort from white shirted Boro but we were looking all over the place with no obvious shape and defensively looking very poorly organised. As the half time whistle loomed that daunting walk to the tunnel which signalled the decline of Mogga was now beckoning for Garry Monk. Grant meanwhile rifled in a last minute effort to try and save Monk’s blushes but like many of our attempts this afternoon not really convincing. The biggest positives in the first half were Grant firing up those around him, Downing supply of balls into the box and Braithwaite looking a class apart.

A mixture of mumbles and groans rather than outright boo’s and to the fans credit “Boro we love you” was the response from the travelling Parmo Army as the players made their way off the pitch at half time. In reality that was more than Garry Monk’s Boro deserved. Despite the two week break this side didn’t look like there was any definitive game plan or even remotely working to anything close to a plan. We had possession and we attacked but we looked very poor at the back again. The once notoriously tight defensive unit is now porous and susceptible and is a growing concern.

The upcoming second half forty five minutes were going to be a major defining point for Garry Monks season. Slip further behind and his credibility will take another major hit, draw and it’s simply not good enough only a win would do. No Substitutions as the sides came back out with GM going same again. The second half started fairly inconspicuously until Fabio gave away another of his trade mark rash free kicks for an unnecessary challenge on Hammill. Fortunately for us the resulting free kick didn’t punish us this time.

For all our possession Barnsley didn’t look too troubled and as sixty minutes ticked over GM needed to think about his options. Cyrus Christie this time gave away a free kick which resulted in Leadbitter clearing it out to Downing who fed the up til now underperforming Assombalonga who slotted the ball home to make it 2-2. Boro suddenly sprung to life and an ensuing hectic period saw a Downing shot get the away fans off their seats and the home fans squirming. Barnsley then broke up the other end and in a spell of pressure Fabio put the ball out for a corner which interestingly saw Downing remonstrating how the Boro defence was organising itself. Boro broke up the other end from the Corner only to see Braithwaite lose the momentum and the optimism fizzled out. This was now end to end stuff and the tempo of the game had suddenly racked up several notches as Barnsley wanted the win but Boro now had their tails up with Downing being influential for Boro.

A brilliant move started from Fabio to Downing then playing it into Assombalonga then back to Fabio but the Brazilian’s effort flashed wide. Immediately afterwards Fabio dropped to the ground much as he had done previously against Brentford. Like then it looked like cramp but it seems to be a recurring theme for him which I suspect is perhaps symptomatic of an underlying problem. A series of defending comedy gold from Barnsley this time nearly let Brathwaite through and then Thiam went up the other end nearly putting us back under the cosh.

George Friend meanwhile had warmed up for the struggling Fabio as the game was opening up and tired mistakes starting to take their toll. Pearson then took out Braithwaite and took a yellow for his troubles which allowed George to enter the fray on the pitch where he started off his Boro career all those years ago.

Friend’s arrival couldn’t have been timelier as he almost immediately cleared a Barnsley attempt as it ricocheted off Randolph’s post. Bamford was readied next to come on as Braithwaite looked to be tiring. Boro pressure was building and we were knocking on Barnsley’s door and Downing was central to everything that Boro were producing with Grant pulling strings behind. Bamford finally came on but bizarrely it was Downing who made way for Bamford. That was a substitution that didn’t make a lot of sense to me at all unless Stewy was carrying some kind of a knock. I’m not sure tactically what advantage GM thought that was going to provide as removing our most progressive creator seemed totally counterproductive.

Barnsley made two subs of their own with Barnes and goal scorer McGeehan going off as Heckingbottom tried to freshen things up for his tiring side. Assombalonga then gave away an unnecessary free kick and if he was in any doubt about its recklessness Grant certainly let it be known what he thought of his challenge. The minutes were now ticking away and Barnsley started to clear balls via route one as Boro tried to snatch the winner. Bamford and Fletcher were trying to work some magic as the fourth official held up the board indicating three minutes of additional time left. As the minutes turned to seconds Barnsley had a final attack that ended with Christie being fouled from which Randolph eagerly got the ball back up field but the move petered out with a series of unimpressive supposed head injuries from Barnsley as the final whistle sounded.

It ended 2-2, Boro’s now traditional poor start plus an inability to clear corners without inviting pressure straight back was to prove our downfall. The latter stages of the second half saw Boro push and probe but the shape and organisation just wasn’t there from the off. It was a game that ultimately disappointed and raised even more questions about GM’s pack shuffling methodology and tactics. One word summed it up for me, unconvincing. There appears to be a lack of belief or understanding amongst the Players. At this stage of the season a draw simply wasn’t good enough and certainly not acceptable for a squad of this calibre so the big question after twelve games is what is going wrong and why?
 

Match Preview

Werdermouth looks ahead to the trip to Barnsley…

Boro are looking to prove their promotion pedigree isn’t of dubious lineage against the Tykes on Saturday in a fixture that most remember as the last straw that dogged one particular previous manager in Tony Mowbray. The former inspirational captain was well and truly in the dog house at the exact same stage of the season after a defeat at Oakwell four years ago to the then bottom club. Whilst Monk may dismiss any attempts to see too many similarities with his team’s trip to Barnsley, he will be aware that after the failure to gain victory in his two previous home games he can ill-afford another disjointed poor display.

To be fair, that defeat in 2013 at game 12 left Mogga’s team 17 points behind top club Burnley and 10 points off a play-off spot in a season where the target was a top-six finish. However, Monk’s team won’t be equally off the pace should they suffer a similar result this weekend – but if they find themselves anything like 3-0 down at half-time in hapless homage to Mogga’s under-performing team then Steve Gibson may find the flashback all too illuminating. Though it was perhaps the Boro supporters reaction at Oakwell that convinced the chairman that Mowbray’s time was up.

Barnsley Middlesbrough
Paul Heckingbottom Gary Monk
P10 – W3 – D2 – L5 – F13 – A15 P11 – W4 – D4 – L3 – F13 – A9
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
18th
11
1.1
51
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
11th
16
1.45
67
Last 6 Games
Millwall (A)
QPR (H)
Wolves (A)
Aston Villa (H)
Preston (A)
Sunderland (H)
F-T (H-T)
3:1 (1:1) W
1:1 (1-0) D
1:2 (0:0) L
0:3 (0:2) L
1:1 (1:1) D
3:0 (2:0) W
Last 6 Games
Brentford (H)
Norwich (H)
Fulham (A)
QPR (H)
Aston Villa (A)
Bolton (A)
F-T (H-T)
2:2 (0:1) D
0:1 (0:1) L
1:1 (0-0) D
3:2 (1:1) W
0:0 (0:0) D
3:0 (1:0) W

After losing three of their opening games to some of the early season teams who were quicker out of the blocks (Bristol City, Ipswich, Sheffield Utd), Barnsley gained some respite by thumping Sunderland 3-0 at home before just picking up just a solitary point in another run of tough fixtures against Preston, Villa and Wolves. Their first away victory at Millwall just before the break gave them another much needed three points to move them three clear of the drop zone. The fact that their last five games have yielded just one point less than Boro over the same period is perhaps more of an indication of how Garry Monk’s team have been under-peforming given the disparity in resources. Though it’s always a brave decision to employ a manager with a name like Heckingbottom since if the club ended up in last spot as it would give both sets of supporters carte blanche to chant his name slightly incorrectly.

Barnsley gained promotion to the top-flight for the first time in their history in 1997, which was the year Boro were relegated thanks to our three points deduction. Whilst Boro may have been the team with the Brazilian players in that season it was the supporters of Barnsley who started the chant “it’s like watching Brazil” as their team went up playing entertaining football – apparently some Brazilian fans were tempted to return the accolade by chanting “it’s like watching Barnsley reserves” following their humiliating 7-1 exit at the hands of Germany in the last World Cup. Sadly, the Tykes time with the elite lasted just one season as they finished bottom and were duly relegated as Boro passed them again in the other direction on the way back up to the Premier League.

It’s still early days in Monk’s tenure and perhaps it would be unreasonable to expect the task he was given to have been successfully sorted at this early stage – however, the question mark for the doubters appears to be one of visible progress. With a quarter of the season gone there’s no sense that the Boro manager has yet got to grips with how he can create a balanced team from the resources at his disposal. In fact, it appears the pack of players have been shuffled around too frequently to allow any meaningful partnerships to form and develop. So is it time the players upped their game and lived up to their billing to prevent them being dropped or is the juggler himself in danger of being sacked?

If pre-season favourites Boro continued to slide down the table then it’s possible the writing could soon be on the wall for our promotion aspirations. Even the offer of a stylish ball-point pen that sounds similar to one of Barnsley’s more famous sons, Michael Parkinson, wouldn’t make that message any less palatable for Steve Gibson to read – though given the Boro chairman’s previous on not seeing disastrous outcomes coming, perhaps the former chat-show host will also be claiming that he should have gone to Specsavers should the lack of progress remain unseen.

Hopefully, Garry Monk will have had his mind focused by Boro’s recent abject home display and he will have been working hard in the break to ensure the correct calls are made in the coming weeks. Right now he may be nursing a few wounds to his reputation but there’s nothing like winning games to heal them – so I’m sure most supporters will be hoping the Boro manager is a quick healer and he avoids picking at the scab of unnecessary experimentation. Which brings me almost seemlessly onto the likely advice of another famous son of Barnsley, Arthur Scargill, who would no doubt tell Monk that gaining victory was all about having dependable strikers – though I suspect his preference would be for leaving wounds unhealed as he’d definitely not be in favour of scabs regardless of whether they remained unpicked!

Although Boro have spent big on striking options for this campaign, so far it appears we haven’t seen the goals being banged in for our bucks. There were signs that Martin Braithwaite can be the kind of cool finisher that is needed, especially as Assombalonga has rarely seemed calm or comfortable as Boro’s spearhead. The £15m man has not looked anything particularly special given his top dollar ticket price and seldom gives the appearance of someone likely to change a game – indeed his first touch may often be a barrier to linking up with other forwards. On that basis my preference up front would be to pair Braithwaite and Bamford (who, while we’re on the subject, has also largely remained unpicked) as both have good movement, good feet and a cleverness about their play – Assombalonga is looking more of an instinctive six-yard box finisher who needs service and unless Boro find a way to feed him then he’s not the kind of player who can survive on scraps for too much longer.

Perhaps the biggest issue for Boro is how they provide service for this expensively assembled strike-force. It’s been a long-standing problem that the central midfield functions mainly in a defensive capacity and is less effective at instigating attacking moves. The preference for players in these positions is normally to play short safe passes that essentially slows the ball’s progress up the pitch – most of the forward momentum seems to now rely on laying off the ball to our fast but unpredictable runners who then need to beat several opponents before they can service the strikers. The other option is usually an ambitious long ball that relies on perfect execution to land in the spot that isn’t being covered by opposition defenders. The overall problem is one of static players passing to other static players as they probe for an opening that has long since been shut.

When Garry Monk arrived at the club the blueprint was to change the emphasis from a containment based approach by bringing more dynamic players to the club who were comfortable on the ball and were capable of quickly turning defence into attack. At the moment it seems this transition from a more defensive style of play has yet to find either a system or the right blend of personnel to make it happen. This is where the Boro manager is currently at and he maybe should now know which players are most suited to this aim. We knew it would take time but the club operates in real time and the longer it takes to find solutions the less chance that finding that solution will bear fruit this season.

The time has probably come for Monk to decide on which players will best serve him and if he doesn’t know soon he may not get the chance to eventually find out. He could perhaps seek inspiration on deciding which players to pick by glancing at Barnsley’s club badge and observing their motto ‘Spectemur agendo’. Whilst this may sound like a Harry Potter spell that will allow Boro’s promotion hopes to ghost back on the agenda, it actually means ‘judge us by our actions’ – which in the case of the players it should be extended to ‘and not by our reputations or price-tags’.

So will the Boro players cast a spell over the Tykes and regain their magic touch that has deserted them of late or will Garry Monk be forced to admit that there’s no magic wand as promotion becomes the word that must not be mentioned. As usual give your predictions for score, scorers and team selection – plus will our strikers decide it’s time to return to work?

Boro 2 – 2 Brentford

Middlesbrough Brentford
Brathwaite
Fabio
68′
76′
Barbet
Watkins
29′
72′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
51%
 8
 3
 3
21
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
49%
14
 2
 7
13

Busy Bees boss bereft Boro

Redcar Red reports on the visit of Brentford…

I have to admit that way back when the fixtures came out Brentford at home didn’t stand out as a must win game. Fast forward a few months into Garry Monk’s reign and the fact that today was not only a must win game but a must win convincingly game set the tone for this afternoons proceedings. Brentford arrived at the Riverside fresh from a victory themselves after a disappointing start to their season keen to keep their new found momentum going. Boro on the other hand had started and spluttered then sprung to life and spluttered again at home to the Canaries.

Garry Monk for the first time in his Riverside career was facing questions on his competencies, selections and tactics. New Boo boys have emerged, underwhelming Striker return rates, defensive frailties becoming the norm allied to slow starts the order of the day and the points per game ratio achieved versus investment potential have stunk the Riverside out. Cheeky Chappy interviews that once endeared GM to the waiting masses have started to wear thin, the “love in” was on the wane pre kick off.

The team selection saw Dael benched and Braithwaite starting in place of Baker. Shotton came into the backline to get his first start of the season, the logic presumably being that a seasoned CB alongside Ben would tighten things up, provide composure and steady things at the back. Braithwaite was always seemingly intended to be a regular starter rather than a benchwarmer so his inclusion was probably indicative of his fitness level back to 100% after his lengthy lay off.

As the teams came out the bright sunshine dimmed as dark clouds came in over the Riverside, little did we know what an omen that would prove to be. Immediately after the kick off Fabio picked up a loose ball, went flying down the wing, bizarrely passed to Johnson on the wing except he wasn’t there and the ball went out for a soft throw in and that was a sign of things to come. A mere hiccup we thought except that the Bees were buzzing, hungry, chasing, closing, playing fast football, swarming forward, supporting their attack, they were supposed to park the bus! Boro were pushed back, defending like Keystone Cops with some of the most disorganised chaotic and comedic attempts to repel attacks since Andre Bikey graced the Riverside Stadium way back when. In fairness to Bikey as the game progressed he would like as not have been MOM had he been playing because there was certainly no one else in a Red Shirt that would qualify.

Watching the game I was trying to mentally note key moments but lost count of the disastrous and incredible scenes which continuously unfolded before me. Christie as we know is great going forward but suspect at times defending, today was no different with Brentford enjoying a fair amount of freedom on his flank relying on the wayward Traore as cover. Adama had one of his off days which culminated in an attacking move in which the ball was played through for him to run onto but he had brain freeze, switched off, standing motionless three yards behind play probably distracted by the big bright lights on the East Stand opposite.

On the left Fabio seemed to struggle and was being out fought as Johnson in front of him was largely anonymous and looked a little out of his depth apart from a few cross field runs. The exciting dribbling skills and turn of pace now seems to be a one game cameo. As a result both flanks were being attacked and we had little in our armoury to hold the line. In the middle of the back line was Ben with Shotton. I only wished someone had introduced Ryan to the rest of his defensive team mates as he looked as confused positionally with them as they were with him, not helped by the fact that our RB and LB were being given a torrid time and being overrun in turn. After 15 minutes I was thinking that this slow start will settle, things will bed in and we will start to put on a show. Little did I suspect then that things not only could but actually would get worse. It was X rated, no it was more like an underground XXX movie that I imagine is only shown on extremely dubious websites on the alleged dark web place (wherever that is). If Channel 5 has any decency tonight they will put Boro’s defending on there in an effort not to upset Teesside viewers and cause irreparable psychological damage.

In the seventh minute Clayts brought down Mokotjo for what looked like a penalty but Ref Paul Tierney ignored the appeal in what was to be an eventful day of poor officiating, so bad in fact nobody was even bothered to sing the “We have some  ………. Refs but you are the worst”. The Boro performance was so abysmal that any sleight of the officiating would have been embarrassing. Boro themselves had a few penalty claims, one a stonewaller on Baker in the second half that was waved away and a curious incident when Christie broke through in the last minute but when clear in the box to cross he seemed to have the merest nibble on his ankle to send him sprawling. Had either been given it would have been an injustice on the scoreline which actually flattered Boro in achieving the draw.

Anyway back to the game itself and as our backline scrambled around clueless not helped much by Howson and Clayton lying deep and clattering into challenges but not coming away with the ball. On the half hour a free kick was awarded for a soft foul on the left hand edge of the Boro box in a dangerous position (stop me if you have heard this before). The free kick was gently floated in, almost wafted in fact it was so graceful and the big Brentford defender Barbet rose in the middle of the 6 yard box, unmarked to do what Britt clearly couldn’t on Tuesday and place a header away from a Keeper. 1-0 to the green shirted Bees and I have to say they thoroughly deserved their lead.

No doubt we would come from behind because under Garry Monk we are now very good at that except we didn’t. We were even more awful, total strangers, no set up, no organisation, no shape and no leadership anywhere made worse by the fact that Grant was on the Bench alongside George and Stewy and Ayala were presumably in the West Stand upper. I don’t think that even during Strachan’s darkest days or even when Gareth had lost it have I seen a team so disjointed, rudderless and hopeless. In balance fair play and full respect to Brentford as they came, they attacked and played decent football.

Britt was running around but not really making anything happen again. Braithwaite done reasonably well considering his long layoff but being honest he wasn’t great but not being great was an upgrade on his team mates at least. As the half time whistle went the Boos rang out loud and clear, can’t say that I booed, I think I was in a state of disbelief at what I had just witnessed. GM needed to do some sort of miracle team talk if he was going to extricate himself from this one. As it was he hooked Adama but it could have been any of them including the normally reliable Randolph who seemed at sixes and sevens with his defence and at one point stood and stared at the ball in the middle of the 18 yard box whilst Shotton, Ben and a.n. other in a Red shirt also stared instead of booting it clear. It had been pure purgatory to suffer. The tweak at the back with Shotton in for Dael had become a car crash with multiple casualties.

In the middle of the first half the Brentford LB had been stretchered off and as they had no recognised LB on the bench you would have thought that Christie and Traore would have destroyed them but no it just wasn’t to be despite a midfielder shoe horned in.

When the second half started on came Fletcher whose long legged frame ran and ran and chased but couldn’t actually control the ball or make any real impact. All afternoon Boro over hit their corners, left nobody up field when defending Brentford corners meaning that they couldn’t clear them as the ball simply kept going to a Brentford player and came straight back at them. Bentley in the Brentford goal would clear his lines by hoofing it up field and setting up another attack while Randolph rolled it out to Ben who was quickly hassled into passing it like as not to Shotton or Howson or Clayts who again were quickly chased, surrounded and closed down often conceding possession under pressure but still we persisted rolling it out.

Bamford had been brought on for Johnson and with around twenty minutes left a ball into the Brentford box from a free kick saw a session of head tennis before Ben Gibson nodded it out to the edge of the 6 yard box where Braithwaite smashed it home, it was 1-1 and Brentford had been robbed. Joyous and euphoric along with disbelief rained down on the Riverside as the Home fans raised their game and now had something worth supporting. With their tails in the air and confidence levels boosted Boro then went and allowed Brentford another goal almost immediately as they carved open the Boro defence with ease and with a trickling ball across the entire Boro backline Watkins tapped in what in my opinion what should have been the winner.

Baker arrived for the tiring Braithwaite and incredibly the comeback Kings done it again Lazarus like. Howson broke into the Bees Box after playing a one two with Fletcher and crossed to Bamford who had the ball nicked off his toes but carried on in the same trajectory to Fabio who rifled home with his trusty right foot, 2-2 and that remarkably is how it ended.

Today showed frailties way beyond anything that SG would have remotely countenanced when signing those summer cheques. The sheer inability of players to have any understanding of a game plan or ability to control the game was a shock. I missed Tuesday night but those sat around me said that it was as bad as today. If so and the abject failure to address it this afternoon made worse by tinkering with the CB pairing is of major concern. There were many utterances after the final whistles which are not printable on here but of grave concern is that GM was being considered as useless without Clotet and would we be better off with the return of Aggers or even AK? Smashing the league wasn’t supposed to be like this!

Match Preview

Werdermouth looks ahead to the visit of Brentford to the Riverside…

After failing to be on song against the canaries, Boro will want to avoid being stung by the Bees this Saturday – otherwise the Boro chairman may decide it’s time to have a little chat with his young manager about the birds and the bees. Though whether any advice on such delicate matters will give Garry Monk a greater understanding on making our meagre points haul multiply as we go forth remains to be seen.

Brentford had a slow start to their season and only picked up one point in their first four games – though two of those defeats were against early pace-setters Ipswich and Sheffield United and their only point was at home to current seventh spot club Bristol City. Since then they have steadied the ship and have only lost one of their last six, which was away to the Owls – but they seem to have become the draw specialists and have conceding just four goals in the last six outings. It may be interesting to note that although they languish just above the drop zone, they have actually scored the same number of goals as our multi-million pound strike force – make of that what you will but the words for Boro’s is starting to sound like under-performing.

Middlesbrough Brentford
Gary Monk Dean Smith
P10 – W4 – D3 – L3 – F11 – A7 P10 – W1 – D5 – L4 – F11 – A13
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
9th
15
1.5
69
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
20th
8
0.8
37
Last 6 Games
Norwich (H)
Fulham (A)
QPR (H)
Aston Villa (A)
Bolton (A)
Preston (H)
F-T (H-T)
0:1 (0:1) L
1:1 (0-0) D
3:2 (1:1) W
0:0 (0:0) D
3:0 (1:0) W
0:0 (0:0) D
Last 6 Games
Derby (H)
Bolton (A)
Reading (H)
Sheff Wed (A)
Aston Villa (A)
Wolves (H)
F-T (H-T)
1:1 (0:1) D
3:0 (1:0) W
1:1 (1:0) D
1:2 (1:1) L
0:0 (0:0) D
0:0 (0:0) D

I suspect if the club are contemplating any further banning orders then the word ‘smash’ is probably up there with the likes of ‘Dom’ and ‘Jonno’ – it must be a word that stops Steve Gibson in his tracks whenever he hears it as the fingernails down the blackboard on which it was hastily scribbled shred his nerves. It’s possible the Boro catering department has no doubt struck off certain brands of instant mash potato from its shopping list and anyone playing tennis with the chairman is under strict instructions not play unduly hard overhead shots. Even Mark Page has been encouraged to avoid slipping into his ‘Smashy and Nicey’ DJ persona just in case it triggers an unwarranted word association in the Boro owner’s head – plus any remotely passable impersonations of Bullseye host Jim Bowen with his ‘Super Smashing’ catchphrase is now a sackable offence (note: for similar reasons, ‘Here’s what you could have won’ has also been placed on the Banned Phrases list until further notice)

Expectations are never easy to live up to once they have been over-enthusiastically placed in the public domain but I’d suspect any calls for patience at the Riverside may fall on deaf ears as the season gathers pace – though that is perhaps also mainly down to the many years of MMP setting the PA volume levels to eleven.

The question now being contemplated is whether automatic promotion is beginning to look like a target perhaps beyond us this season. Boro are only in ninth spot and whilst six points off the pace doesn’t sound much, the team have still not found their rhythm and we’re still looking like a work in progress. Teams who are making a promotion charge need to go on runs where they win four or five on the bounce – as yet Boro have managed only once to get two wins on the spin and that was back in games 2-3. A win against Norwich would have had most supporters feeling Boro were more or less on track for their automatic promotion ambitions, just three points adrift of the top two. However, a defeat has strangely left many thinking we are not good enough and exposed our weaknesses – perhaps the reality is some where in the middle.

Boro are now at the ten-game mark and we can start to make comparison’s with teams who were promoted in previous seasons. The table below covers the years since we were relegated under Southgate – it shows how each of the automatically promoted teams fared in their first ten games, plus Boro’s points haul is also shown in the final column. Only twice have teams recovered from a worse start than Boro have had this season to finish in the top two – Reading went on to win two-thirds of their remaining 36 games, losing just three more – with Bournemouth achieving a similar feat, losing only as many games as they had done in the first ten until the end of the season. So the odds are probably stacked against Boro unless they can start to put a run of victories together and that means sooner rather than later.

First ten games of automatically promoted teams
Season Top two teams First ten games   Total Boro
2017-18 1.Cardiff
2.Sheff Utd
9.Middlesbrough
W7 D2 L1 – 23pts
W7 D0 L3 – 21pts
W4 D3 L3 – 15pts
2016-17 1.Newcastle
2.Brighton
W6 D1 L3 – 19pts
W5 D3 L2 – 18pts
94pts
93pts
2015-16 1.Burnley
2.Middlesbrough
W5 D3 L2 – 18pts
W6 D2 L2 – 20pts
 93pts
89pts
 2nd – 89pts
2014-15 1.Bournemouth
2.Watford
W3 D3 L4 – 12pts
W6 D2 L2 – 20pts
 90pts
89pts
 4th – 85pts
2013-14 1.Leicester
2.Burnley
W7 D2 L1 – 23pts
W7 D2 L1 – 23pts
102pts
93pts
12th – 64pts
2012-13 1.Cardiff
2.Hull
W7 D1 L2 – 22pts
W5 D1 L4 – 16pts
 87pts
79pts
16th – 59pts
2011-12 1.Reading
2.Southampton
W3 D3 L4 – 12pts
W7 D1 L2 – 22pts
 89pts
88pts
 7th – 70pts
2010-11 1.QPR
2.Norwich
W8 D2 L0 – 26pts
W6 D1 L3 – 19pts
 88pts
84pts
12th – 62pts
2009-10 1.Newcastle
2.West Brom
W7 D2 L1 – 23pts
W6 D2 L2 – 20pts
102pts
91pts
11th – 62pts

Garry Monk has some important decisions to make regarding team selection and the focus should be at the sharp end for a home game against beatable opposition. Assombalonga is coming under scrutiny after another game of fluffing his lines and his price-tag doesn’t make him a better player than other options – just a more expensive one. Whether, his club record fee meant he was given the less-coveted shooting boots of Alfonso Alves as part of the deal is hopefully just an urban myth – though Boro strikers do seem to inherit something of a profligate rather than proliferate stature that is also proportionate to the amount spent.

However, the return of Martin Braithwaite will hopefully add some much needed guile and energy around the box – perhaps the player who can partner him best will get more starts as he looked a class act in pre-season. Maybe Bamford’s more intelligent and nuanced approach would be the best fit rather than the brute force offered by Britt – time and opportunity will decide that one though.

In defence, there were some suggestions that Dael Fry had earned himself a seat on the bench for sheepishly failing to shepherd the ball out of play that lead to Norwich’s wonder-strike. I think that would be a bit harsh on a young player who has on the whole been comfortable in central defence – plus with the international break arriving after the game there’s no real need to rest him. The main worry defensively is that our fullbacks are seemingly better at going forward than defending and maybe are better suited to covering as wing-backs with a central defensive trio being charged with clearing the main threats instead – that is probably something to contemplate in the upcoming break though.

Also the midfield hasn’t really settled on a particular pairing or type of pairing that functions both defensively and offensively. I wonder if Baker will be dropping a little deeper now that our forwards are returning from injury and suspension. Clayton is good defensively but is that enough when the service to the attack hasn’t been of the best quality? Twenty-one attempts against Norwich may statistically suggest otherwise but their keeper wasn’t really troubled by our tame invention. The return of Adama saw some sublime moments of skill and pace but most were reserved for our own half that weren’t going to lead to much in the way of shooting chances – he needs to play 20-30 yards further up the pitch to be a real danger.

So will the Riverside be a hive of activity on Saturday as Boro leave their fans buzzing? or will Garry Monk’s team fall foul to the Bee’s honey trap and continue their sticky patch into the break? As usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will Boro’s attack show some punch or will they float like a bee and sting like a butterfly?

Boro 0 – 1 Norwich

Middlesbrough Norwich
Maddison 13′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
60%
21
5
13
8
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
40%
5
2
1
16

Poor Performance Prevents Playoff Position

Original Fat Bob reports on Boro’s game against the Canaries…

When Norwich last played at the Riverside it had resulted in a 4-0 win for the home team. Bamford had kicked things off with a stooping header, before Leadbitter then added two more either side of the break. Yanic Wildschut (now with the Canaries) then rounded off the scoring with his second and final Boro goal. Could there be a repeat performance on the cards?

Apart from Wildschut, Norwich also have the services of former Boro player James Husband who didn’t have the chance to play much football at the Riverside. Both former players would be out to prove a point that they didn’t have a realistic opportunity at Boro and we all know how often a former player comes back and haunts us.

To complete the set of former players playing their previous clubs, Boro have Jonny Howson who has returned north after five years at Carrow Road and was man-of-the-match for us in the weekend Championship draw at Fulham. A similar performance tonight would be gleefully accepted by at least one set of fans.

Howson told Boro’s official site – “I think whenever you play against your old club these things are going to get mentioned. But once you cross that white line I’ve got a job to do for the team. Things will have been said before and after the game. We are going for three points and nothing different.”

On a night when Middlesbrough fans will be seeking revenge on a Norwich side that ended their Wembley dream of a return to the top-flight at the play-off final in May 2015, the club have just announced closer sponsorship ties with Scottish airline Loganair, which will coincidentally start direct flights from Durham Tees Valley to Norwich for those eyeing up a quicker than usual trip to Carrow Road. So we’ll soon be seeing that sponsor’s logo landing on the back of this season’s away strip, with the newly branded Boro shirt expected to be cleared for take-off in time for the visit to Barnsley in mid-October.

So game on…

A misty eerie night greeted the crowd who were high with expectation as Norwich kicked off towards the North Stand, To their credit Boro appeared to start brightly in a loosely configured 4-2-3-1 configuration with Britt playing a lone striker role and support from Baker, Johnson and Traore. Howson was playing in a more central midfield role and started to thread passes and look towards picking up the pace from where he left off on Saturday.

A couple of nice runs by Traore gave the expectant crowd a glimpse of what they expected to see during the game but Boro were undone when a loose ball on the right-hand touchline was not cleared by Fry, He was robbed by Watkins who centred to Maddison, who crisply finished into the top corner for a goal and this was their first attempt at hitting the target.

This was the cue for Norwich to display the elements of time wasting we have come to expect from teams at the Riverside, with players fastening shoe laces every five minutes and taking excessive time at throw ins and free kicks.

Traore was the outlet for many of Boro attacks at this stage and the crowd felt confident that an equaliser would soon be scored. A number of free kicks were given against Norwich for fouls on Traore but the referee kept his cards in his pocket and play went on. Baker was not having much involvement in the game at this stage and seemed unsure of his role. He wasn’t close enough to Britt to support him up front and at times the play passed him by.

Middlesbrough had a lot of possession but this was easily coped with by Norwich and in the 35th minute a good run by Howson resulted in a centre to Clayton who shot at goal which was easily saved by their goalkeeper Gunn who is on loan from Manchester City.

It was apparent that Britt was getting no service from the Boro midfield and the Norwich defence were not allowing him any space to turn and run at them.

On the 43rd minute Baker produced his first piece of productive football by having a great strike at goal but this was saved easily by Gunn.

Traore was having an excellent game and even ran back 2/3rds of the pitch to make a last-ditch tackle near the Boro penalty area, saving an awkward situation which was wholly appreciated by the crowd.

We had not seen much of Johnson in this half and he was was quiet and seemed to be well shackled by the Norwich defence.

Second Half Period

There were no changes at the start of the second half and indeed the first piece of action came from a Norwich strike at goal from Jerome which was smartly saved by Randolph which was only the second shot Norwich had on target, the first being the goal.

In the 53rd minute Johnson and Traore started swapping wings as each of them looked for a fresh breakthrough for getting crosses into the box. Howson was trying to put some impetus into the play and beat four men before being hacked down on the half way line resulting in a free kick to Boro.

Norwich stepped up their time-wasting efforts as the clock ticked on and it was obvious that changes had to be made to the Boro line up.

Fletcher came on for Clayton in the 60th minute and Baker moved back to a more central role and Howson sheltered the defence. Just after the substitution another free kick was taken by Baker which was collected easily by Gunn. On the 65th minute Traore went on another mazy run, beat three men and shot at goal. Boro were finding it difficult to beat this well marshalled defence and a promising young goalkeeper.

Johnson was starting to find gaps on the wing and sent over inviting crosses which were met by Britt who inexplicably directed headers straight at the keeper each time without the keeper moving to save.

Fry was beaten in the air quite a few times by Jerome who seemed to have the measure of our young centre back during the game.

On 69 minutes Gary Monk went for another substitution taking off Fabio and bringing on Martin Braithwaite. Johnson reverted to a position of a wing back to take Fabio’s place and Boro were playing with a back three.Johnson and Braithwaite showed a promising understanding and on the 72nd minute Johnson put over an inviting cross which was met by Britt and… you’ve guessed it, went straight to the keeper in the middle of the goal.

In the 79th minute Traore was surprisingly brought off to cheers from the partisan crowd of 24,084 and substituted by Bamford who moved over to the right wing. Fletcher and Bamford showed good movement and were constantly interchanging positions from centre forward to right wing in an attempt to create space and confuse the Norwich defence.

Pressure was now constantly being applied by Boro and on the 86th minute a hard drive from Baker sailed over the bar and in the 87th minute Bamford headed over from a Baker corner.

In the 89th minute another corner into the box resulted in strong claims for a penalty when a Norwich defender clearly put his arm around Britt’s neck and prevented him from having a shot on goal.

The fourth official signalled 5 minutes of extra time and the Boro redoubled their efforts to snatch an equaliser. A free kick into the box was deflected by the head of a Norwich defender and was heading for goal only for the keeper to make a magnificent save and flick it over for another corner.

The Boro crowd were gradually dispersing prior to the final whistle and we can only hope that our next home game will result in three points.

Match Preview

Werdermouth looks ahead to the visit of Norwich to the Riverside…

Boro host Norwich on Tuesday evening as they look to consolidate their position in the playoff zone with the first of two home games before yet another international break. The Teessiders are attempting to mine another three precious points from the Championship coalface and the crowd will be expecting Garry Monk will come out on top when he pits himself against his German counterpart Daniel Farke. Whilst avoiding complacency is paramount, hopefully Boro won’t need to dig too deep for victory and the Canaries won’t act as an early warning sign that the refreshing early air of optimism at the Riverside is not in danger of turning slightly poisonous.

Norwich have tightened up at the back of late after conceding four in two successive away defeats at Villa and Millwall – they are now unbeaten in their last four games with two wins and two draws without conceding but have only found the net twice in this mean mini-run. It will also be a return to the Riverside for a couple of old boys in Yanic Wildschut and James Husband – neither of whom will think they got much of a crack at nailing down a place at Boro and will no doubt be keen to prove the club wrong. This will be the first meeting of the clubs since the Canaries beat us 2-0 in that play-off final at Wembley back in 2015 – Boro were slow out of the blocks on that day and were left chasing the game after going two-down after only a quarter of an hour. So no slow starts please and no slow coaches either!

Middlesbrough Norwich City
Gary Monk Daniel Farke
P9 – W4 – D3 – L2 – F11 – A6 P9 – W3 – D3 – L3 – F8 – A12
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
6th
15
1.67
77
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
13th
12
1.33
61
Last 6 Games
Fulham (A)
QPR (H)
Aston Villa (A)
Bolton (A)
Preston (H)
Forest (A)
F-T (H-T)
1:1 (0-0) D
3:2 (1:1) W
0:0 (0:0) D
3:0 (1:0) W
0:0 (0:0) D
1:2 (0:1) L
Last 6 Games
Bristol City (H)
Sheff Utd (A)
Burton (H)
Birmingham (H)
Millwall (A)
Aston Villa (A)
F-T (H-T)
0:0 (0:0) D
1:0 (1:0) W
0:0 (0:0) D
1:0 (1:0) W
0:4 (0:3) L
2:4 (0:2) L

Tuesday’s game takes us to the ten game mark and this milestone will allow the Boro faithful to start making assessments on whether the club are on course for their promotion objective without appearing too hasty. A win will take the points-per-game average closer to that holy grail figure of the golden number two that is required to be anointed as near enough nailed-on automatic promotion candidates. That of course would give you 92 points but the average number of points for the club finishing second in the Championship in the last ten years is actually just under 87.

Though if the objective is finishing above third spot then that requirement drops to needing just 83 points on average – the highest third place points total was in fact 89 when Brighton lost out to Boro on goal difference in our promotion two years ago and the next best is 86 points, which was achieved just twice by West Ham and Norwich. After all that statistical rambling through the last ten years of the Championship we can probably say a safe bet target for automatic promotion is 87 points, an average of 1.89 points per game – OK let’s round it up to 2 to make it easier, so it’s basically as you were folks!

Automatic promotion points target
Season 3rd Place Team Points
2016-17 Reading 85
2015-16 Brighton 89
2014-15 Norwich 86
2013-14 Derby 85
2012-13 Watford 77
2011-12 West Ham 86
2010-11 Swansea 80
2009-10 Forest 79
2008-09 Sheff Utd 80
2007-08 Hull 75
Average points total 82.2
Average points per game 1.79

The obvious selection issue for Garry Monk tomorrow is the availability of Adam Traore once more after serving out his three-match ban – given his form before being sent off, you’d expect him to come straight back into the starting XI. The return of the Boro power-house will probably see Bamford being returned to the bench unless he’s given a position somewhere else – and that would mean his manager dropping one of either Baker, Johnson or Assombalonga. The problem for Paddy is that his Fulham performance didn’t shout at Monk that he was undroppable – OK, Johnson also had a quiet game by his recent standards and neither Baker or Assombalonga made a telling contribution. Nevertheless, I would expect Monk would quite like to see both Johnson and Adama running at the Norwich defence – the question then becomes whether Baker is the best choice to get on the end of the potential service or could he decide on Bamford in the number ten role? It’s also a possibility that Braithwaite may be ready for the bench following his layoff and he could yet prove to be first choice in the central attacking role.

There are also a couple of other issue that need addressing in terms of selection – Fabio left the field suffering from calf problems that appeared to be just severe cramp, though his performance was probably below par defensively and perhaps Friend will get the nod instead. In midfield, former Norwich player Howson had his best game in a Boro shirt and with Leadbitter still feeling the effects of an earlier knock it’s likely he’ll retain his place alongside Clayton to face his old club – though many are perhaps a little hesitant given the displays of other Boro players against their old clubs.

So come the final whistle will the Boro supporters be singing like canaries after Boro start flying up the table or will the Riverside faithful be spitting feathers after having victory plucked from their grasp? As usual your predictions for score, scorers and team selection – plus will  Jonny Howson try to out-do Assombalonga and Adama by missing a few sitters and getting a red card against his old club?