Pulis hopes Boro show their class
at old-school reunion with Holloway
Boro travel to Loftus Road on Saturday as Tony Pulis looks to get his somewhat stuttering start to his managerial reign back on the right track after suffering two home defeats in his opening three Championship games. The Boro manager goes head-to-head with close friend Ian Holloway and fellow exponent of old-school methods, where neither man will be expecting favours on the pitch as they try to outwit each other. However, I suspect the problem both men face is that they will know each other too well to tactically out-manoeuvre each other and the game may boil down to which of the players can perform on the day.
Many Boro supporters called foul last week with claims that Boro were undone by two blatant penalty decisions being called the wrong way by a former Sunderland season-ticket holding referee with a motive, no alibi and several thousand witnesses – though there are no proven suggestions of impropriety on his behalf and unless a different kind of whistle blower comes forward then it will be put down to just bad officiating. However, it is reassuring to know that the man in charge at QPR is Oliver Langford from the West Midlands with no known club allegiances (other than rumours of a red and white striped pajamas under his pillow) – nevertheless, his record in 17 Championship games includes eight penalties awarded and just two red cards so it may offer some opportunities for post-match scapegoating.
Perhaps the real culprit against Fulham was inability of Boro’s forwards to take their chances in front of goal, particularly Rudy Gestede. Whilst the big Benin forward has his strengths, most notably being big, he does in theory offer more for a Tony Pulis style of play in terms of holding the ball and bring others into play than the other options available. Following Saturday’s disappointment, there were even some noises that Gestede may be considering a career change after he started being referred to as ‘fifty pence’ – though before heading to Twitter to announce a future as a rapper awaited, it later transpired it was a name given to him by those who questioned the shape of his head following the random nature of his attempts to find his team-mates with his aerial prowess.
The penny eventually dropped that being confused with the rapper 50 Cent was a mistake easily made in the devalued currency of social media rumours – nevertheless, while his American counterpart famously survived an attack from a former bodyguard of Mike Tyson’s after being shot nine times at point-blank range, I’d be grateful to people with more time on their hands than me to discover if Googling ‘having nine shots hit the target’ is something that returns the result ‘Rudy Gestede’ on the first 20,000 pages. Still, he’s probably not the first Boro striker to be confused with a rapper – remember Eminemnes who arrived straight outta Rotterdam, plus who were the alter egos of the likes of Row-Z, Kanye Shoot and The Notorious B.I.G. Lump that all took the rap up front as they tried to keep it real – though seldom in the Madrid sense.
|Queens Park Rangers||Middlesbrough|
|Ian Holloway||Tony Pulis|
|P27 – W8 – D9 – L10 – F28 – A23||P27 – W12 – D5 – L10 – F35 – A27|
Points per game
Points per game
|Last 6 Games
Bristol City (H)
3:1 (1:1) W
2:1 (0:0) W
0:1 (0:0) L
0:0 (0:0) D
1:1 (1:0) D
2:1 (1:0) W
|Last 6 Games
Aston Villa (H)
Sheff Wed (A)
0:1 (0:0) L
3:2 (1:2) W
0:1 (0:0) L
2:0 (0:0) W
2:1 (0:1) W
1:2 (0:2) L
QPR currently sit 5th in the form table over the last six games and 15th over the last ten, which may indicate they are an improving side under Ian Holloway. Whereas Boro are 10th in both the six and ten game form table, which probably indicates we’ve been consistently average in our performances and indeed we only sit one place above 10th after 27 games thanks to goal difference. This is the problem facing Tony Pulis, he needs to create a team that can win two out of every three games that remain just to make the play-offs – 2 points per game will now yield just 79 points, which is one less than Fulham achieved last season to make sixth spot. As for those still fantasizing about automatic promotion, well winning 16 of the remaining games may just about do it with 89 points – perhaps better make it 17 wins just to make sure.
The game on Saturday renews old acquaintances between Tony Pulis and Ian Holloway, who first met up in the Bristol Rovers youth team and have remained close friends ever since. Pulis recalls their days of being subject to strict discipline as young players and the task of cleaning the boots of the senior players was designed to keep them grounded. He viewed their days at Rovers as being instrumental in shaping their outlook “We learned our trade at a football club with really, really good people, who had old-fashioned values,” before adding “I truly believe that it’s because of the way we were brought up back then that we have managed to go on and achieve what we have done in the game”.
This was in the days before many young footballers arrived on the scene expecting to be treated as up-and-coming stars of the future, where a sense of entitlement has developed over the years to the point where it’s not unusual for young players to become millionaires before they’ve even nailed down a place in the team. The pay of course back then was no different to those apprentices who stood on the terraces – though recent concerns of having too much too young lead to clubs like Liverpool announcing a few years ago that they aimed to cap the wages of their under-17s at £40,000 for the first year of their contract, presumably so they’ll learn the lesson of hardship like all the other 16-year olds on Merseyside subject to the £4.20 an hour minimum wage.
It was actually Ian Holloway who recommended Tony Pulis for the Crystal Palace job after he quit as manager of the Eagles claiming he was exhausted after only 5 days off all year and had lost elements of the dressing room, mainly the new arrivals who hadn’t bought into his methods as the club dropped to second-bottom in the Premier League following promotion five months earlier. At a press conference when Holloway was unveiled as Millwall’s new manager a few months later he was asked if he still had his house in London and replied that Pulis had subsequently moved into it instead: “I had a flat in Langley Waterside in Beckenham and Tony has moved right in. I am not sure if he has got my old car, but he’s not having my woman, I can tell you that!” – though he quickly added “he’s got his own [woman]” before the gathered tabloid hacks started getting ideas from his old-school banter.
Holloway has always been good value for the media looking to fill column inches and he claimed: “If I had a fair crack at being a Premier League manager with a budget as good as some of these managers, I could do that. But I’m going to have to get there first – I’m not one of these foreign fellas who gets a job because he’s known Jose Mourinho for 10 minutes. I’m not being funny, but that normally gets you a foot in the door, doesn’t it?” It’s not entirely sure who he was talking about but he added “I did try to go to Jose’s training ground just to say, ‘I spoke to him once’,” but he claimed the special one only said ‘Get out of my way!’ – though given Mourinho’s recent spat with Antonio Conte he appears to be less old school and more kindergarten in his managerial approach.
With almost three weeks of the transfer window having now passed, Tony Pulis has managed to move out his first significant player with the £4.5m transfer of Adam Forshaw to Leeds. The midfielder had been seldom seen this campaign and it appears it won’t have any significant impact on the available options open to the manager. However, there were rumours Forshaw’s move to Leeds almost hit a snag when it was discovered during the medical that he may have dominant peripheral vision syndrome – a disorder that leaves sufferers prone to only see what is happening on their extreme left and right, which usually manifests itself in footballers by causing a propensity to only make sideways passes. There was perhaps a legitimate concern that the condition may be contagious and the West Yorkshire club were possibly minded to contact Boro to determine whether any other players who’ve played alongside him have displayed similar symptoms. Anecdotal evidence suggest there may have been quite a few outbreaks in recent years, though thankfully the visual impairment can be treated if caught early enough. Forward-looking therapy has been shown to reduce the symptoms quite considerably but it’s often a long and arduous process with the risk of relapse when placed under pressure.
The potential £4.5m fee of Forshaw has set a benchmark in terms of valuation for those still coveting other Boro players and it’s probably put Adam Clayton beyond the reach of former boss Aitor Karanka, who this week denied Forest had made a derisory offer of just £2m for the Boro midfielder. We shouldn’t forget that value should also be viewed in terms of what appears to be an inflationary marketplace and whilst making a profit on a player may tempt sales, replacements will undoubtedly not come at bargain prices in January either. Interestingly, Boro have not utilised the loan market to any significant effect this season, particuarly since in previous years they had represented quite proportion of regular first-teamers. Surely some of the bloated Premier League squads must possess players who are capable of doing a more than a bench-warming job for Boro – particularly at the sharp end where for all the money spent in the summer it hasn’t made the team looking any more of a goal-scoring threat. Also out of the picture this season is Marcus Tavernier, who joined MK Dons on loan – many had expected the young winger to build on his few appearances but perhaps he needs to be playing far more regularly at this point in time if he is to progress to a potential starter.
It remains to be seen whether Tony Pulis can mount a serious promotion challenge this season as he seems to downplay any thoughts that Boro will look to bring in any significant signings this January. At the moment the transfer window is being touted as a means to try and move on those players surplus to requirement in the eyes of the new boss and unless the club are secretly plotting behind the scenes, there has been little to indicate the arrival of game-changing players in the ilk of Gaston Ramirez.
However, Monk was ejected and replaced by Pulis due to fears our promotion chances were slipping away and it would seem a meaningless exercise to then to regroup for next year on the back of such a decision. Perhaps the scale of the task in creating a balanced team has meant the new manager can’t get his ideas working properly on the pitch – though it’s still early days despite the two home defeats that only yielded a single shot on target. It may now be a case of muddling through and trying to just pick up points and hope Boro finish as one of the best six teams – defeat against the Hoops may mean needing to jump through them to achieve that goal.
So will Boro players be top of the class at the old-school reunion on Saturday? Or will Tony’s team fail to make the grade to leave some players facing detention after the game? As usually your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus which players will be facing the threat of being expelled in January?