In2views: Lauri Cox

The latest in a series of profiles and interviews, Orginal Fat Bob gives his personal view on the life and career of a footballing guest before sitting down for a chat and asking a few questions. Our Diasboro special guest this week is Lauri Cox

1. The Overview – the woman and her career

Lauri is best known as a well-respected and experienced sports journalist. She contributes to UTB, the Boro matchday programme, compiling a six-page spread on the visitors. Now that I know this is part of her work, I read it avidly prior to watching the game as I can feel an insight into the writing.

She also does a behind the scenes interview, to give the readers more of a perception into things that people may not ordinarily see. She also works on a freelance basis as a Broadcast Assistant with BBC Tees and has been to around 80 different grounds. She regularly posts on Twitter expressing her views and her support for the Boro and since the interview, we now regularly exchange views and comments, together with our own Jarkko. Just your average typical Boro football fans, who share our love of the Boro.

Lauri_Cox_Cropped 2Sports journalist Lauri Cox, pictured here at the Riverside, is the
daughter of journalist Gordon Cox and niece of Alistair Brownlee

She has always been connected with football, being the Daughter of Gordon Cox the Football Journalist and Broadcaster and also through her “Uncle Ali” Alistair Brownlee. Gordon and Ali both owned the publication house, Linthorpe Publishing, writing and printing works on Middlesbrough F.C. Their books included The Road to Eindhoven and The Class of ’86 and I have copies of these in my bookcase. Over the years, it is not therefore surprising that Lauri developed a love for all things associated with Middlesbrough and of course in particular, our very own football Club, the Boro. I have been working on this In2Views piece with Lauri for a few weeks and I’ve decided that this In2Views format will be a little bit different. I’ve done this as she has been so close to people who have suffered tragedy and it has impacted on all of us at Diasboro too.

Ali Brownlee

I am not going to try and write about how much Ali meant to her, instead she has send me a post she did on twitter on February 18th, 2016, which says it all and probably expresses too the sentiments of many here on Diasboro…

Firstly, I would like to say thank you to all the well-wishers and thoughts that have come in this week. To apologise for the quietness, and if I haven’t replied, but they are very much appreciated. 

Lots of people have sent love and asked about dad too – and on behalf of him I would like to say thank you, as he ‘doesn’t do social media’ ha. 

Lastly; I would like to share some funny anecdotes that will hopefully raise a smile…

It’s not a secret that Boro gushed through Ali’s veins. On more than one occasion, if the family had stayed at ours after a party – he would wake up frightfully early, sprightly, stretch out and shout ‘UP THE BORO’ before going to read his morning paper. (Yes, really!) 

There were the junior reds, run by him and dad – where I would be religiously, one of only 5 or 6 girls most times! 

Or the parties at his house. Notorious New Year’s Eve gatherings – where we would inevitably spend more time round next door after midnight, after standing in the middle of the street singing Auld Lang Sine. It was always Christmas at ours, new year at theirs. That’s just what we did.

Everybody was welcome. Even if he had never met you, the door was open to join in the fun. 

I remember too, he wanted to interview me about collecting advent calendars for his breakfast show – but decided he wouldn’t phone me until ‘later’ as I liked a lie in. He phoned at 8:30. Thanks for the lie in!! 

You could always add in the lot of us, crowded round a tiny iPad mini screen at Ali’s wedding last year watching the play off semi first leg! Football, families and weddings! 

Alistair Brownlee crop Lauri recalls how her uncle Ali would usually wake up early, then stretch
out and shout ‘UP THE BORO’ before going to read his morning paper

I could go on and on, but this is just a short, sweet, and hopefully smiley memory to share – and a thank you to all of you far and wide for the love that has poured in. 

I guess from the start in life, and with him and my dad in my life – I never had a chance really did I? Boro and football was always going to be a priority (otherwise I’m sure they would have had something to say!) 

Teesside has lost a brother this week. But he was a brother to look up to. If I can grow to be half of the broadcaster he was, then I’ll be happy. 

So, Uncle Ali, the Holgate in the sky awaits you. Slide in, two footed, shouting UTB & let them know you have arrived. Too early, undoubtedly, but being early was your thing wasn’t it? 

It was an absolute privilege to not only know you, but to call you my family. You are an inspiration to so many, and the legacy you leave behind is a testament to the man that you are.

It won’t be the same without you, and you can never be replaced – but you can always be remembered. 

I’ll see you soon, and in the meantime – I’m off round yours for a parmo.

Leo Percovich

Incidentally, my meeting with Lauri was also not long after the tragic accident that had eventually claimed the two daughters of her good friend Leo Percovich and she wanted to express in the interview the sorrow that she has felt towards him and his family. She told me that Leo became a good friend to her and her family and in her own words she says:

Leo Percovich – we were close throughout his time here, a real loyal, fierce man. A man you love to have on your side. We stayed in touch when he left too, ‘friends always’ was our motto. In fact, it was ‘wherever, whenever, whatever, you have a friend in me’ we’ve been in almost constant contact since the terrible events too, my heart goes out to him and his family. You won’t meet a more loyal, genuine, man. An abiding favourite memory away from the sadness is him singing along to 500 miles behind the counter in the Mockingbird in Yarm.

So, we have two poignant memories of what the Boro has meant to Lauri and her family and it helps to highlight that football in the end is just a game really.

Leo and FamilyLeo pictured a few days ago with his wife and son Pietro lifting the
Rio Cup that the Fluminense under-20s he coaches have just won

2. The Interview – a quick chat

OFB: What was the first Boro match you remember going to see?

LC: It was at Ayresome Park, I lived on the same road as the ground – and used to wave at all the fans as they walked down my street! I can’t actually remember who the opponent was though! I remember going with my uncle, and as a young girl I didn’t quite understand the offside rule and he kept telling me that when the linesman put his flag up he had spotted a worm…

Oh, I couldn’t remember my first game but I do now! It was Boro v Spurs at Ayresome Park it was 3 0 and the Boro won!

OFB: Who was your favourite Boro player then and others that you watched at that time?

LC: John Hendrie! And Paul Wilkinson, he was a great forward. I used to think his cycling shorts were cool!

OFB: What has been your most memorable game, and best experience with the fans?

LC: It’s a tie between Steaua and The Carling Cup Final. I cried after both. I don’t think I ever thought I would see my team win a cup after three Wembley defeats as a kid. Eindhoven was special too, just being part of a European Cup Final was something I never imagined – despite the result. The Boro square before and after was excellent too, everyone was just in such good spirits.

OFB: Is your job as glamorous as it looks?

LC: Nope! Having said that, I now have the stats for every single Championship Player saved on my laptop! Oh, and last season’s Premier League Players. I have found out some very interesting quirky facts about our opposition over the last few years though which is always interesting.

OFB: Is your job as exciting as it seems?

LC: Nope! It requires a lot of deadlines, research and working out stats, which I do by hand. I tend to work out my stats sat at my dining room table, with pen and paper – old school! I actually found a piece of paper in my handbag the other day which was from a home game, where me and Sam (Loughran) were working something out, in tallies of five. Anyone else picking that up wouldn’t have had a clue what it was about, but I knew as soon as I looked at it.

OFB: What was your worst game or experience and why?

LC: Chelsea in the Cup Final when Di Matteo broke my heart after 46 seconds. I wasn’t that old and I was so excited leading up to the game. I just knew it was over after 46 seconds and it ruined the whole experience. I still don’t think I have forgiven him to be honest. Not sure I ever will!

di-matteo cropItalian ‘Heart-breaker’ Roberto Di Matteo unleashes the shot after just
46 seconds that shattered Lauri’s and  Boro’s Wembley dreams

OFB: Who was in your opinion the best manager that Boro have ever had and why?

LC: Although I wasn’t around at the time, I would say Jack Charlton. My dad wrote a book about him and from everything I know and have read he was brilliant. In my life time I have to say Steve McClaren; a cup final win, and two European runs (and a final) – just unbelievable. We hadn’t won a cup in 128 years and all of a sudden all of this was happening, it was hard to believe. I know he may not be everyone’s choice but there is absolutely no denying what he did for our club.

OFB: Who has been the greatest influence on your career and why?

LC: My dad and my Uncle Ali. I grew up with them and they taught me a lot about journalism, different aspects of it, and long hours travelling. I know I can send my dad anything I write now and he will be brutally honest, and he always has been. I’ve been around them that long I was around when match reports were done on Typewriters! A VERY VERY valuable lesson they taught me from a young age too is that your team is your team, and sometimes although it’s difficult to separate yourself from it – you have to. You accept what’s happened and move on.

OFB: Which opposing team and which player did you fear Boro playing against?

LC: Arsenal. Some of the best goals I’ve seen scored against us came from them (Kanu). Chelsea too as they ALWAYS beat us!

OFB: Who is your current favourite Boro player and why?

LC: Stewart Downing. I love the fact he’s a local lad who came back to his hometown club, he’s played at the highest level domestically and internationally and is still quite the player – even if he’s not as fast as he used to be. He commands the players on the field, his experience shines through and still has one heck of a delivery.

OFB: How do you think the match day has changed from the time that you started watching professional football to the present day?

LC: Well for starters it’s all seated now! Light shows and goal music (I’ll admit I’m not a fan of goal music) Also – money – the money in football these days is obscene and in my opinion prices some out of the game. The transfer fees bandied around these days make my eyes bleed. I think some of the money that’s floating around the game could be passed back to the fans by means of ticket prices etc. I’m really pleased we have frozen our season ticket prices for next season.

OFB: If you could be a fly on the wall, is there any dressing room you would wish to eavesdrop on?

LC: Any dressing room with Pep in. The man is an absolute genius, I want to know what he says to his players. He’s won pretty much everything there is to win, and I actually met him last season and he’s a really nice man to boot.

OFB: Do you have any regrets in your career, or missed opportunities?

LC: I don’t like to live with regrets – just lessons to learn from.

OFB: Who is the nicest person that you have interviewed or written about and why?

LC: David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd. We just laughed all the way through the interview. He’s brilliant, blunt, and just great. I was almost crying laughing when I asked him if he would rather be a referee or cricket umpire and he replied “Referee, take your tattoos and stupid hair and go and stand over there.”

OFB: Whereabouts do you live these days and what are your career ambitions?

LC: Still on Teesside! It will always be my home, but the end goal is Spain. I love La Liga, especially Barcelona, oh and it’s pretty much always warm!

OFB: Whom have you made a lifelong friend through football?

LC: There are too many to mention, but one who has become a very good friend is Peter Smith from Sky Sports Soccer Saturday.

OFB: Finally, if you hadn’t had your professional career, what do you think you would have done as a career?

LC: I qualified as a sports therapist before journalism, so I would more than likely be doing that somewhere!

OFB: A huge thank you to Lauri for taking the time to talk to Diasboro and all our readers, posters and bloggers.

Advertisements

Derby 1 – 2 Boro

Derby County Middlesbrough
Nugent 90’+2 (pen) Besic
Assombalonga
20′
70′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
57%
16
 7
12
13
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
43%
14
 4
 6
11

Boro BB Guns in Ram Raid

Redcar Red reports on the victory at Pride Park…

Derby went into this game in a somewhat turbulent state. Things had been going wrong for the Rams and their slide down the league since those brief flurries of snow just a few weeks back are now dangerously becoming a traditional feature of their Championship season. Casino antics involving Goalkeeper Scott Carson and defender Craig Forsyth early on Sunday Morning after they had just gone for a Burton wasn’t the ideal start to Gary Rowett’s week in terms of preparation.

If ever there was a “must win” game for the Rams this was it. With a game in hand a defeat whilst not the end of their play-off hopes would certainly all but blow the candles out on their cake. The attacking duo of Andrea Weimann and Kasey Palmer were on the treatment table this week and rated doubtful for the clash. Captain Keogh had been dropped for the last four games after the Makems had given him the run-around. He played as part of a back three with their reserves this week but whether that would mean Rowett was ready to abandon shape and try something new was doubtful but wouldn’t be surprising such was their dilemma. My thoughts pre kick off was that the enormity of this game was such that everyone who was walking in Derby would be deemed “fit” and playable.

For Tony Pulis his only major absentee would be Paddy after his visit to JCUH last Saturday which presumably was cut short due to the inevitable lack of a parking space more than his concussion. “I don’t think Patrick will make it, I don’t think we’ll take that risk,” said TP whilst remarking that Downing and Gibson were also apparently “struggling” this week but most of us take Tony’s pre match tactical snippets with a pinch of salt now. Grant was available once again but with Adam Clayton’s MOM performance last Saturday against Bristol it would have been a surprise to see him usurp the ex-Terrier.

The last time Boro failed to score at Pride Park was way back in August 1991, music to Britt’s ears no doubt. Boro’s nemesis however Matej Vydra would be primed and ready to strike for the Rams as he had done so five times out of his last four starts against us. When the sides were announced Rowett had made four changes bringing in Keogh, Forsyth, Olsson and Johnson replacing Weimann, Pearce, Ledley and the ageing Baird. Clearly Gary Rowett didn’t fancy Adama having Chris Baird on toast instead it would have to be Keogh. For Boro the only change was as expected with Britt coming in for Paddy and our own Johnson taking Britt’s seat on the bench.

The teams lined up with Keogh, Davies and Forsyth as the three at the back for the Rams. Johnson kicked off after a petty restart from the Ref Lee Probert, early challenges saw Nugent and Britt clash then Clayts immediately picking up a yellow card after a challenge from Johnson which if anything should have gone the other way all in 60 seconds. The atmosphere was bouncing and those challenges were not for the faint hearted which would be interesting as the game progressed as Probert had now made a rod for his own back with the early card for Adam. Far worse Derby challenges followed which Probert decided to ignore with less than five minutes on the clock.

A diving header from Bradley Johnson had Boro hearts in mouths as the ball went wide, seconds later Adama was chopped down by an over the top leg breaker from Forsyth but Probert still seemed to have his home glasses on and allowed the challenge to be simply punished with a free kick. The game was buzzing from end to end interrupted only by Lee Probert’s whistle which seemed to be extremely biased in favour of the home side. A Besic run cutting in from wide needed Keogh to slide in and unbalance Mo whose shot went well wide.

A quarter of an hour had gone and the initial tempo was slowing in the dimming sunshine as Ayala was fouled by Nugent who picked up a yellow against his former teammate. A Downing corner just afterwards was disappointing to say the least which begged the question why Downing was taking it and not Adama? From the weak corner Vydra broke free necessitating George Friend to bring him down but surprisingly he didn’t receive a booking much to the anger of the home support. On twenty minutes Adama literally bounced back up on the right after being clattered into, upended yet still getting his cross into Mo Besic who calmly steadied himself timing his shot to perfection past the despairing Carson and into the roof of the net.

The home support volume noticeably dipped as the Travelling Army chorused “shall we sing a song for you” interspersed with “one Stevie Gibson” as the Rams tried to clear their heads. Lawrence lost Ayala but Shotton stepped into the breach blocking the shot defiantly to send it out for a throw in. A quick Derby follow up and an Ayala conceded corner forced Randolph to clear for Boro. Despite their best efforts Derby were looking a little deflated, confidence sapped with Boro looking solid and compact determined to build on what Mo Besic had earned.

Lee Probert was seemingly desperate to even things up so he decided to book Adama Traore for Olsson tackling him and then seconds later proceeded to award a Derby corner when everyone in the Stadium saw a blatant goal kick. The performance from the “Gentleman” in “control” was certainly raising eyebrows, so much so that I would doubt if he will officiate in the Championship again this season.

Whether the blatantly biased officiating was helping or it was just the change in weather with ominous dark clouds gathering but Derby certainly looked to be slowly getting back into the game in the last fifteen minutes of the first half. A few corners and dubious decisions were all going the way of the Rams but the incompetence personified Ref was then forced to book Huddlestone as Besic left him for dead breaking out of defence. Another Clayts challenge saw Rowett and the Derby players screaming for a second booking as frustration and desperations were building. Lee Probert was now reaping what he had sowed as his “control” was diminishing rapidly. A brave header from George Friend saw off danger from another Rams corner late in the half as Derby pushed for an equaliser.

In the dying seconds of the half Boro fans remembered Ugo who sadly passed away a year to the day in a nice touch singing his name. The whistle brought a halt to end a hectic, relentless passionate game spoiled only by a Referee who was either criminal or comical depending on your perspective. The first half Boro performance on the pitch was perhaps only bettered by the Travelling Army who although 3,000 in number out sung the 25,000 County fans either way it was probably our best away performance for some considerable time.

The half time team talk was probably one of the easiest TP would have given in his career, the only negative was official induced incredulity. Pulis would have issued warnings to Adama and especially Clayts not to give the eager whistle blower an opportunity to get his cards out again. Considering how both had received their bookings (or perhaps how Lee Probert had imaginatively perceived them) it would not have been a straightforward or logical conversation with the pair.

The weather like the scoreline was now casting a bit of a dampener over the East Midlands as the teams entered the pitch for the second half. A sliding challenge from Dani cleared early danger in the opening minute giving away a corner which was headed clear by Britt. Derby were trying to find a way back into the game but Boro looked resolute and confident in the opening five minutes of the half.

The best opportunity in the opening five minutes fell to Nugent who was fed in by Andre Wisdom hitting the side netting when crossing to Vydra would have made more sense. Traore then chased a loose ball that rattled the creaky Rams defence when he applied the afterburners. The spring rain had eased a little but it was still warm as Britt missed a chance but won a corner. At the second opportunity Traore fizzed another one in which went out for yet another Boro corner on the opposite side. Stewy then fired it in which Derby gratefully cleared for our fourth corner in almost as many seconds. This time the delivered ball came in perfect for George but he fluffed his lines and the Rams were lucky to escape.

The pace of the second half was nowhere near as hectic as the first but it was still fully committed as Traore broke free down the right finding Howson who blasted the ball off Scott Carson’s crossbar. In the next phase of play Besic should have settled the game with a brilliant opportunity but he couldn’t repeat the composure of his first half effort and missed the target completely. That chance made up Rowett’s mind that changes were needed. Wiemann came on for Olsson and surprisingly Vydra went off for Palmer as Rowett gambled with his half fit attackers.

TP had Grant warming up in response to the two Derby substitutions just as Kasey Palmer fired in a weak shot at Darren Randolph. Another Adama sprint saw a brilliant opportunity spurned as he fired his shot across the net instead of finding Britt as the game now entered a crazy chaotic few minutes. Boro however took full advantage of the chaos; Traore was fed by Howson, beating a few defenders with ease to square to Britt who made no mistake to put Boro two up with a cheeky dummy and a tap in.

Rowett responded by bringing Huddlestone off with Derby seemingly intent on footballing defensive suicide. The Travelling Army took great pleasure in reminding the home fans of their unfortunate unravelling with chants of “it’s happened again” all the while Traore was continually tearing them apart. You could almost smell the fear in the muggy midlands atmosphere every time Adama collected the ball and went on a run against the wooden Derby backline.

The game was looking more and more beyond the Rams as Grant finally came on with ten minutes to go but surprisingly for Mo Besic and not Clayts who we all thought (especially considering his early yellow) would be the one to make way. A Tom Lawrence shot was fired in and well saved by Randolph which went out for a corner which was quickly repeated again as Britt this time conceded the corner. As the ball was finally cleared Britt found the lively Howson at the opposite end who spurned his chance which was the signal for Downing to casually exit the field of play for Fabio. Speaking of exiting, the home fans had been doing the same for some time as empty spaces were appearing all over the stadium which now had very little pride in evidence.

Upon his arrival Fabio was all energy again, running and chasing, just what the Derby defence didn’t want, keeping the pressure up. Howson likewise was busting a gut chasing and harrying, closing down. A rare scrappy corner gifted by Ayala gave the Rams some hope with a couple of minutes left but the Boro defence stood firm yet again. A Derby corner in the last minute saw a challenge with Ayala having an arm lock around someone’s head (Nugent?) and Lee Probert awarded a penalty. Nugent stepped up and took the corner pulling one back and for the first time Boro’s lead now looked nervy. Traore seemed to be carrying a niggle for which Johnson was warming up as Derby thankfully ran out of time, Lee Probert finally blowing up as Derby and Nugent held firm by Ben Gibson’s late determination not to concede.

2-1 it finished in what was undeniably Boro’s best away performance of the Championship this year. There wasn’t a poor or weak performance in a Red shirt. Every one of them committed and contributed to a season defining victory which was hard fought and well deserved. Once again Clayts was my MOM especially considering his early card which required him to be combative but keep his head. Besic was brilliant, Britt scrapped and got his goal, Adama was at his unplayable best, Shotton was solid along with Friend, Gibson and Ayala at the back. Downing and Howson genuinely deserving of mentions and Randolph simply did what he needed to do when called upon.

So three crucial points gained over Derby, Sheffield and Milwall, two points gained over Preston and Bristol in what was a great weekend of results. Apart from Boro only Brentford managed to collect all three points today amongst the play offs chasing pack. Two games left and two points should secure a play-off spot and three will definitely clinch it. Sheffield United and Bristol can only equal Boro’s points tally but we have a far superior GD to both. If they win their games Preston could get one more point more than us if we fail to record a solitary draw in our two remaining games but again GD is heavily in our favour. Only four other teams that can catch us for two places, next Saturday at the Riverside should be electric!

Boro and Derby feel the unseasonal
heat as they sweat on a play-off place

Werdermouth previews the trip to Pride Park…

As much of the country basked in the rather unseasonal April heat, those involved in the race for the Championship play-offs have been left to sweat on their prospects of securing one the last two remaining places in the top six. Whilst it may have been one of the hottest days on record for 70 years, Boro head to Derby in what is expected to be their most hotly contested match since way back last Saturday when Tony Pulis’s team played the previous must-win game against Bristol City. However, the temperature at Pride Park will be measured against the result of the Friday evening encounter between Millwall and Fulham – victory for the Lions could leave Boro and The Rams fearing defeat tomorrow could see their promotion challenge start to melt away as the hopes of both sets of supporters would begin to evaporate into the despondent air that will no doubt hang over their respective clubs.

The stakes could not be higher this Saturday as Teesside’s temperamental thoroughbreds get ready to rein in another contender as the race with richest purse of all in football enters its final few furlongs. Boro will be hoping that they can somehow manage to get their noses in front and then have the staying power to edge across the finishing post ahead of their rivals – though few are probably anticipating a classic at Derby as this season has been heavy going for both teams. Still, supporters will be expecting to see the players chomping at the bit and keen to display their unbridled passion – especially with the real prospect of the loser falling off the pace and being unable to make up the ground to keep up with the play-off pack.

Last week saw Derby lose 3-1 at bottom club Burton in the local derby against their former manager Nigel Clough. Many Boro supporters laughed in disbelief at the ineptitude of their play-off rivals and became dismissive of The Rams promotion challenge – before casting their mind back a few weeks to when a 90th minute equaliser by Britt Assombalonga, who got the better of a one-on-one with an empty net, as he headed home from 50cm to spare our own blushes. Having said that, we shouldn’t forget that Gary Rowett’s team lost 4-1 at home to then bottom club Sunderland at Easter – so we can be forgiven for doubting their credentials. Derby have in fact only won three of their last 15 games and that doesn’t appear to make them the kind of form team to be feared. Although, for all their missed opportunities, they still have a top six place in their own hands and we should note that they also have a game in hand – albeit at home to a Cardiff side desperate to gain automatic promotion.

Derby County Middlesbrough
Gary Rowett Tony Pulis
P42 – W18 – D14 – L10 – F61 – A43 P43 – W20 – D9 – L14 – F61 – A42
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
7th
68
1.6
74
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
5th
69
1.6
74
Last 6 Games
Burton (A)
Wolves (A)
Bolton (H)
Preston (A)
Sunderland (H)
Nottm Forest (A)
F-T (H-T)
1:3 (1:2) L
0:2 (0:1) L
3:0 (2:0) W
1:0 (0:0) W
1:4 (1:2) L
0:0 (0:0) D
Last 6 Games
Bristol City (H)
Sheff Utd (A)
Nottm Forest (H)
Burton (A)
Wolves (H)
Brentford (A)
F-T (H-T)
2:1 (1:1) W
1:2 (0:2) L
2:0 (2:0) W
1:1 (0:1) D
0:2 (1:2) L
1:1 (1:1) D

In recent weeks, the runners and riders in the Championship high-stakes promotion chase have been jockeying for positions to make the play-offs and it’s hard to decide if being a front-runner or coming up on the rails will ultimately prove to be the best tactic. Although after last weekend’s results, Boro now appear to have the whip hand, though many are still to be convinced whether Tony Pulis has timed his run to perfection or is in fact flogging a dead horse. The latest betting now has Boro “top of the head” at 9/4 on, with Derby “double tap” at 15/8 on and Millwall still in with a shout at “ear ‘ole” 6/4 – then come Preston “half a stretch” back at 6/1, with the Bees and the Blades out at 9/1 and The Robins the outsiders at 14/1.

However, in the eyes of the hardened hard-luck doom-merchant traders on Teesside, there’s nothing they dislike more than seeing their ever-reliable team being deemed favourites for anything. It’s the equivalent of buying a bright red ticket to the Play-off final at Wembley in advance and deftly waving it in the face of the snorting Typical Boro Bull as it reaches full charging speed – the anticipated feeling of pain is surely only milliseconds away. This Teesside tradition of metaphorically running with the bulls is in some ways similar to the more famous event in Pamplona – but instead, the naive Boro fans intoxicated by the foam fumes of youth, hope to outrun their psychological beasts of burden with little more than a 1974 rolled-up match programme to defend themselves with. Although for the unlucky runners in the Spanish fiesta the pain is only physical but for those in the north-east who risk having their hopes mortally flattened the mental scars usually never heal.

At least Boro have a man at the helm who thrives on finding himself in high-pressure situations at this stage of the season and he will hopefully be able to impart his experience of such matters. It’s in times of anxiety that people look for leadership and the calm reassurance that those in charge have thought things through and will take a measured approach rather than over-react or potentially make matters worse. In fact, football supporters are once again indebted this weekend that there are indeed any fixtures at all and will be thanking the people around Donald Trump who continue to persuade him that it’s still not feasible to launch ‘nukes’ by using a hashtag on Twitter. It’s somewhat less reassuring to learn that the voice of reason in the Trump administration, who urged caution over targeted strikes in Syria, goes by the nickname ‘Mad Dog’ – you know that maybe your plans are perhaps a little crazy when someone who has been awarded such a moniker tries to reign them in.

Before you start wondering how former Boro defender Emanuel Pogatetz became part of Trump’s administration, I should clarify that we’re talking instead about US Secretary for Defence, General “Mad Dog” Mattis – who is not a man normally renowned for his conciliatory tone. He once told the regional Iraqi leaders “I come in peace. I didn’t bring artillery. But I’m pleading with you, with tears in my eyes: If you [expletive] with me, I’ll kill you all.” This predilection for violent solutions was also shared while addressing troops in San Diego: “It’s fun to shoot some people. I’ll be right up there with you. I like brawling”. However, there’s no truth in the rumour that David Davis may be planning to borrow some of General Mattis’s lines for the Brexit negotiations, including: “I’m going to plead with you, do not cross us. Because if you do, the survivors will write about what we do here for 10,000 years.” Still, he’s not all bad as Trump was surprised to hear that his Defence Secretary no longer supported waterboarding after he claimed “never found it to be useful” and could “do better with a couple of beers and a pack of cigarettes” – though it’s not quite clear if he was talking in context of enemy combatants or persuading FBI chief James Comey to drop his investigation.

Talking of cruel and unusual punishments, Derby supporters must be getting used to their usual torturous end to the season after yet another promising promotion season is in danger of having a painful ending. Derby are now in their tenth season in the Championship since they were relegated from the Premier League in 2008 with an embarrassing 11 points. Their first five years in the second tier didn’t see much in the way of them mounting any kind of challenge to return to the top but the last five years have been a case of ‘close but no cigar’ after the supporters hopes disappeared in a puff of smoke just when it mattered. Perhaps the The Rams should contemplating running onto the pitch to the sound of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Air on a G String, which was so famously borrowed by Hamlet cigars to represent the philosophical acceptance of it all going pear-shaped again.

In October 2013, Steve McClaren took over from Nigel Clough and by December Derby were already in the top four and remained there for the rest of the season as they ultimately finishing third before losing out in the play-off final to QPR. The next season saw them start well and they hit the automatic spots in October and stayed there until March when rumours of McClaren leaving for Newcastle saw the team’s form dip and they won just two from their last 14 games to drop out of the top six on the last day of the season. In came Paul Clement, who started slowly but by December his team were top, but after a bad spell he was sacked in February despite Derby being in fifth spot only five points behind leaders Hull – with chairman Mel Morris claiming he had a problem with Clement’s style of football. He was replaced by Nigel Pearson who finished in the play-offs but they lost this time in the first game against Hull. The following 2016-17 campaign got off to a bad start and by late September Derby were in the bottom three and Pearson was suspended after a row with Mel Morris over his apparent use of drones to spy on training.

Pearson left by mutual consent after no doubt explaining to his chairman in which dark recess the drone would be placed if he ever saw it again and was replaced by the surprise return of Steve McClaren – who had already been sacked by Newcastle after he joined them just three weeks after Derby had previously dismissed him over the “hurtful rumours” he was heading to the Magpies. Amazingly by December, McClaren had got the team back into the play-off places and an unbeaten run of 8 wins and 2 draws had looked to have once more got Derby fans hopes up to that killing level – however, another inevitable bad run of just one win from the next ten games saw the season finish in a disappointing 9th spot as McClaren was once again sacked amid rumours he was rubbish and even Sunderland didn’t want him. This season has been masterminded by former Birmingham boss Gary Rowett and having been safely ensconced in the top six since a 3-0 win over Boro at the Riverside in late November, Derby fans are now awaiting to see how he plans to blow their chances with some encouraging signs in recent weeks that seventh spot is not beyond him.

If Derby do decide to throw in the towel on another promotion campaign this weekend then it will be gratefully received by Tony Pulis’s team – especially after the Boro ball-boys had their own towels confiscated last weekend by an over-eager fourth official with some suggestions of him having a possible sideline in supplying miniature sun loungers for those on mini-breaks still not being ruled out. Though Tony Pulis has since clarified that he believes the ball-boys were possibly just being a little too possessive instead of sharing them with the Bristol City players and were probably more concerned at the prospect of inducing an unexpected psychedelic trip as the brightly coloured towels clashed with their mind-altering purple and green kit.

The Boro manager’s main concern will probably be over whether Patrick Bamford will be available for selection following his loss of consciousness in the first half against the Robins. The six day rule could offer hope that the player will be deemed fit to play on Saturday after he reportedly seemed fine after the game as he wandered around Riverside still with his kit on underneath his coat – though rumours that he was asking what time the second half started and if Mr Karanka had given his half-time team talk yet should perhaps be kept quiet. Whether Britt Assombalonga will also be tempted to have a crafty lung-full of oxygen in the hope of sharpening up his footballing brain is possibly open to speculation – though he needs to somehow clear his head and find a way to capture some semblance of the form that persuaded the chairman to part with £15m in the summer. Otherwise Boro’s play-off ambitions may involve wrapping up the seemingly “soft” Bamford in those extra fluffy towels, which have been set aside for opposition throw-ins.

Though doubts that perhaps Tony Pulis’s squad is not the packed with the best performing players of the season was again raised this week when football magazine Four Four Two announced their EFL Top 50 and only one place was reserved for someone from Boro. For those wondering what Four Four Two means, apparently it refers to a old formation used by managers in a time when they ridiculously believed having two strikers on the pitch at the same time might help them win games – hard to imagine now but it used to be fashionable.

Anyway, the only Boro player chosen was unsurprisingly Adama Traore but he came in at a less than high-profile number 29 on the list, which perhaps reflects that for the first half of the season he struggled to get into Garry Monk’s team and has probably only been an effective player for around a dozen games. Of course, it’s all subjective and based on opinion but it still suggest very few Boro players have caught the eye this season and for all the money spent, none of the big summer signings have really proved their worth. However, if Boro do manage to sneak into the play-offs and then somehow make it to Wembley, then none of the supporters would have expected anything other than seeing their team do it the hard way – everything going according to plan is just not the Teesside way!

So will Boro be at the races on Saturday as they gallop into an early lead before winning at a canter against Derby’s donkeys? Or will Tony Pulis be trotting out the usual excuses as his team are slow out of the stalls again as they are once again weighed down by their usual handicap? As usual, your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will Daniel ‘goal anytime’ Ayala continue to be the scourge of the bookies?

In2views: Harry Pearson

The latest in a series of profiles and interviews, Orginal Fat Bob gives his personal view on the life and career of a footballing guest, before sitting down for a chat and asking a few questions. Our Diasboro special guest this week is Harry Pearson.

1. The Overview – the man and his career

One of the nicest things about doing these In2Views articles, is that the bloggers on Diasboro quite often put in a request for someone for me to talk to, that they themselves hold in high regard. One such request came from our own Jarsue, who holds this man’s writing and works in such affection. John tells me that Harry bought from him, one of his little hand printed and hand cut Jack Russell Books and that he’s a top man.

Harry Pearson was born in 1961, in the village of Great Ayton, a few miles outside Middlesbrough. Synonymous for being the village where Captain James Cook the famous explorer went to school. Harry remembers that he was born and brought up in a house on High Green. He told me that this was in the same row as Artie Suggett and Donald Petch but says ruefully, “though I never got free ice creams, or pies.”

For the benefit of those unfamiliar with Great Ayton, Suggett’s were and still are, noted for their Dairy Ice Cream Shop and Parlour. Petch the butchers however, are famous for the quality of their Pork, Steak Pies and Pasties and many people travel far and wide to queue up and buy.

Harry Pearson 1The Great Ayton born writer is well known for his regular column in
The Guardian as well as being the author of many popular books

We swapped a few names of people we both knew in the village. Jim Pearson (no relation – OFB) was the local builder who worked hard and slaked his thirst each evening in The Royal Oak. I mentioned to Harry that Jim, being a master stone mason, had constructed a large stone trough for me, which I still have today. Harry agreed and said “Yes, he was a lovely man. Did a fair bit of work on our house over the years.”

Harry was educated by kindly Quakers and can still sing all the words to the Society of Friends’ rousing anthem Baggy, baggy britches/Shaggy, shaggy locks/You are pulling down the pillars of the world George Fox. It is on record that his attempt to become a journalist foundered when he failed to get onto an NUJ course because his spelling wasn’t considered good enough. After many years working in shop jobs,his life was altered forever by reading an article about Boro’s Alan Foggon in “When Saturday Comes (WSC).”

Since then he has written many well regarded books including The Far Corner: A Hazy Dribble Through North-East Football, Dribble: An Unbelievable Football Encyclopedia (described as an A-Z of credulity-twanging facts and stories about what Pele once memorably dubbed ‘my bloody job’ ). Also for his sins, Harry has even written books on cricket, notably The Trundlers: Underrate Them at Your Peril and Slipless in Settle: A Slow Turn Around Northern Cricket – as well as being a contributor to many others books too. He has written for WSC for 20 years and has been a weekly columnist on the Guardian since 1997. It has been said of him that his spelling remains erratic, but it is still much better than his punctuation. He is a former sports columnist for the Guardian, a former travel feature writer for Conde Naste Traveller and Contributing Editor of GQ. Incidentally, it should be noted that his book; The Far Corner was the runner-up in the 1995 Sports Book of the Year awards.

Like myself and a lot of other football supporters Harry loves Northern Non-League Football. After being involved with it myself, firstly as a referee and avid supporter, then subsequently watching my family and friends play. you seem to get more personally involved with the clubs. You cannot be a neutral or be a silent bystander. You must be vocal and be a true football fan. One cannot but admire their dedication and how much it means to each village to have their own successful team and it has to be sampled, to know why it compels and is so addictive.

Juninho evades PallisterHarry was a great admirer of Boro legend Juninho, who is pictured
here evading a challenge from Man Utd duo Pallister and Giggs

Harry also loves the professional footballers as well, here is an extract from his blog about TLF.

In mid-afternoon the players’ tunnel at The Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough is shaded by the West Stand. Last Saturday Boro’s Brazilian midfielder, Juninho did what he always does before running onto the field. The 27-year-old, dipped one knee, touched the turf by the touchline with his right hand and then crossed himself before passing from the shadow into the sunlight. It may be the last time home fans see that characteristic gesture. Juninho’s loan spell from Atletico Madrid, the club he left Teesside for in a £12 million deal in 1997, comes to an end at Goodison Park at the weekend. No one, including the 1994 Brazilian Footballer of the Year, knows if the club plan to make the move permanent, or not.

The supporters are more ambivalent than might be expected about the future of the player they voted the greatest in the club’s history three years ago. The chant of “Sign On Juninho” (a phrase that seems less open to misinterpretation when shouted than it does in print) may have echoed round the Riverside Stadium on Saturday, but a poll published  in club fanzine Fly Me To The Moon found 40% of respondents thought Boro shouldn’t pay the £5.9 million asking price.

2. The Interview – a quick chat

OFB: What year did you start as a professional writer?

HP: 1988. I got made redundant from my job working in an off-license in Soho and used the money from that to get on the Enterprise Allowance Scheme, which was one of Thatcher’s ideas to get people off the dole. So you have her to thank for what followed….(and for that we are grateful – OFB)

OFB: Where did you live at that time? Did you rent, or did you live in digs?

HP: I lived in a rented house in Golders Green, that I shared with a Czech friend of mine who was mad keen on Subbuteo. We used to play a game every night, much to the annoyance of his wife.

OFB: What was the first Boro game that you ever saw, and do you still remember it?

HP: It was against Carlisle United, Boxing Day 1968. John O’Rourke scored a hat-trick. I went with my Grandad, Harry Fixter who was born and brought up in Essex Street. All the seats in the Bob End had been sold, so we had to stand in the Chicken Run. I was seven and spent the whole time whining that I was cold and couldn’t see and so my Grandad took me home after an hour.

OFB: Who was your favourite Boro player and others that you have watched over the years?

HP: The winger David Chadwick was an early hero, partly because the kid I used to go to football with back then – Deano – was a year older than me and had baggsied John Hickton. Back then there were lots of strange friendly matches played at Ayresome. I saw Eusebio play for Benfica and I went to the English League v Scottish League game which was more or less the 1966 World Cup winner v the Lisbon Lions. I wish I could remember that game better – so many great players, but the only thing that sticks in my mind is that Ronnie Simpson the Scotland keeper wore a tweed flat cap.

OFB: What was the most memorable game, or your own best experience watching a football match?

HP: Probably the Hartlepool v Blyth Spartans FA Cup tie in 2014. I went with a German friend – a big Werder Bremen fan who works in Newcastle. We’d been to watch Blyth a few times together, so we were supporting them even though we were sitting in the Millhouse. It was a Friday night, freezing cold, yet at half-time these Poolie lads in day-glo mankinis invaded the pitch. They were chased by the oldest fattest steward I’ve ever seen, while H’Angus the monkey ran about waving a plastic banana in the air. I laughed until my sides ached. Blyth scored two superb goals late on to win it. My German friend says it is the second best game he ever attended, after the World Cup semi-final of 2014. He went to the 2014 final too, so you can see how great it was. His wife says he still sometimes wakes up in the morning chortling and says, “Ah Hartlepool, fantastic!”

OFB: What was the worst game or experience that you have experienced watching football and why?

HP: Back in the late eighties it was generally pretty grim going to games. I suppose my worst experience was going to see Boro play at Swindon in about 1990. They’d made the away end all ticket and Middlesbrough Supporters South didn’t have any tickets so we tried to go in the home end. The police let every Boro fan in except me. I’d like to think that’s because I look really hard. But obviously I don’t. So instead of watching the game I had to spend two hours wandering around Swindon. It was a long two hours.

OFB: Which is the best non-league football ground you have visited and why?

HP: Ironworks Road, Tow Law is pretty fantastic. It feels like it’s perched on the edge of the world. Jarrow Roofing’s ground is good too. It looks like one of those allotment sheds your uncles knocked up out of old doors and bits of packing crates. The old lady who runs the tea bar also does the announcements, often while serving hot dogs. They should do something similar at the Riverside – save money.

OFB: Which team in the Northern League do you like the most and why?

HP: Dunston is the easiest club to get to from where I live, so I go there more than anywhere else. I sit with an old fella named Jimmy from Hetton whose father played youth team football with Bob Paisley and Harry Potts. Jimmy and his family have been involved with the Northern League all their lives. He knows every player and every bit of gossip. You say, “That team won the title not so long ago, how come they’re so hopeless now?” and he says, “Well the bloke as owns them ran this big drug pub up the coast and the police shut it down, so they’ve nay money anymore”.

OFB: Can you tell us any amusing anecdotes, either about football, or in your professional life?

HP: You don’t have time or space. Well, a couple of weeks back I was waiting for a bus coming back from Ryhope Colliery Welfare v Marske and the two young women behind me started talking about some bloke. One said, “He’s gay, you know” and her friend said, “I don’t think he’s actually gay. I think he’s just bi-culiar!”

OFB: Is there a game that you wished you had watched and been there as a spectator, either for Boro or another team?

HP: I’d love to have seen that Boro team from the late 1930s – Wilf, Hardwick, Mickey Fenton.

Bruce RiochHarry’s vote for best Boro manager of all time went to Bruce Rioch,
who’s seen here outside the unlocked Ayresome Park gates

OFB: Who was in your opinion, the best manager that Boro have ever had and why?

HP: Bruce Rioch. To manage the club during the insolvency and keep the players together must have been really difficult. His team played attractive football and were successful too, and he had no money to spend. That was my favourite Boro team.

OFB: Who was in your opinion the hardest player you have ever seen on a football field and why?

HP: Mick Harford. Just typing his name has given me a bruise above my left eye.

OFB: Which opposing team and which player did you fear Boro playing against?

HP: I fear any team that arrives off a record breaking string of losses, never having won away for two years, or having conceded seventy goals in their last ten games. Boro were invented to break such runs.

OFB: Who is your favourite Boro player of all time and why?

HP: Juninho. Obvious, I know. Not just because of his talent, but because he was brave and big hearted and was always so charming about Teesside. I can’t help thinking about him without misting up

OFB: Who is your current favourite Boro player, if you have one and why?

HP: I’ve got to an age when the words ‘he seems like a nice young man’ pop into my head unbidden, so George Friend.

OFB: How do you think the match day has changed from the time that you watched professional football to the present day?

HP: It’s changed beyond all recognition. Up until the mid-1990s the experience of watching football for me was just about the same as it had been for my Grandad when he first went to a game at Ayresome before the First World War.

OFB: If you could be a fly on the wall, is there any dressing room you would wish to eavesdrop on?

HP: I think I’d prefer not to know.

OFB: What is your happiest memory of watching or being involved with Football?

HP: The 1998 World Cup. I had a press pass through When Saturday Comes and also wrote three pieces a week for the Guardian. I had an inter-rail card and travelled all over France, saw pretty much a game every day for three weeks, ate great food and had fantastic time in the press stands. It’s wonderful when you are watching a game and the old bloke next to you starts telling you what he thinks is going on and after a few minutes of chatting, you suddenly realize you are talking to Rinus Michels. (For those who may not remember, Marinus Jacobus Hendricus “Rinus” Michels was the former Dutch football player and coach who played his entire career for Ajax, then later coached them and was regarded as the architect of ‘Total Football’ – OFB)

OFB: Do you have any regrets in your career, or missed opportunities?

HP: I’ve been lucky and just done what I liked and got paid for it. There were times when I earned good money, nowadays, not so much, but still it’s better than working.

The Far Corner ImageIt’s now over 25 years since Harry penned his famous book
on North-East football that helped to launch his career as a writer

OFB: I know that you go to Northern League games these days, but do you still follow the Boro and their results?

HP: I’ll always be a Boro fan. So that’s the first result I look for.

OFB: Whereabouts in the Country do you now live and what do you do?

HP: Hexham in Northumberland. I’ve been here 27 years now. When I split up with Catherine about five years ago I thought of moving down to Saltburn or somewhere and making a fresh start, but our daughter chose to live with me (which was both scary and marvelous) and she was still at school and I felt she didn’t need any more upheavals, so I stayed put. Now she’s at university, but I met someone else who lives here and her kid is still at school, so it seems I’ll be here for a while yet. And to be honest, it’s a pretty nice place.

OFB: Whom have you made a lifelong friend through football, or your career as a writer?

HP: Almost too many to mention through football, in fact probably 90% of all the men I know and a fair few of the women too, I met through the game one way or another.

OFB: Your books are a great favourite with our Diasboro bloggers, do you have a particular favourite and why?

HP: The Far Corner. It changed my life. I met dozens of friends through it and made a career. But what’s really nice for me is that people think of that book with affection. I wrote it so long ago – 25 years more or less – that I have no idea now where it all came from. It’s like someone else wrote it, which in some ways they did.

OFB: Finally, if you hadn’t had a professional career as a writer, what do you think you would have done as a career?

HP: I’d probably still be working as a shop assistant in some sort of specialist shop – wine, records, whatever. It’s a nice life. I enjoy talking to people and I don’t like too much responsibility.

OFB: A huge thank you Harry, for taking the time to talk to Diasboro and our readers.

Boro 2 – 1 Bristol City

Middlesbrough Bristol City
Friend
Ayala
18′
68′
Evandro 13′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
58%
21
 3
 4
16
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
42%
10
 3
 2
17

Towels and Tribulations

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s victory against The Robins at the Riverside…

Having lost last Saturday away to Millwall and bouncing back by giving Garry Monk the Blues at home on Tuesday night Lee Johnson literally flew his Robins to the Riverside this afternoon perched just a single point behind Boro. With games disappearing fast it looked like the loser of this game would be saying goodbye to any realistic aspirations for the Play-offs. Both sides were in a similar vein of self-imploding football at the moment so anything could have happened results wise allied to some recent uninspiring lamentable performances.

Despite their lofty league placing Bristol had the worst way record over the last twelve games in the Championship of any club having only picked up five points from five draws and seven defeats. Even the Mackems and Burton had bettered that return. Like us they could only manage a recent draw away to lowly Burton. Having never ever lost at the Riverside their last four visits to Teesside meant that they had won three and drew one making Boro by far their favourite away day. As the side with the worst away record playing at their favourite travel destination what could possibly go wrong for Boro?

Selection wise Boro had injury worries over Downing and Bamford while Mo Besic was actually rated “doubtful”. To me Besic and Bamford have both been carrying injuries in the last few games and have been playing when it would have appeared more sensible to let them rest and fully recuperate. Half fit, neither of them have come close to their recent high levels. Downing’s injury scare I presume was because he found his shooting boots and has had to lie down in a darkened Rockliffe room all week. Grant of course had been excused from duties at the moment due to a rush of blood to the Captain’s head.

Lee Johnson had a few ponderables in his nest in terms of selection. Eros Pisano had sat out Tuesday night’s win for reasons of fatigue apparently but should be back in the reckoning this afternoon. Club Captain Bailey Wright had struggled with a thigh strain and was unlikely to feature but Lloyd Kelly had been earning plaudits of late meaning that Bryan looked likely to be deployed in front of Kelly in an attempt to smother Traore. Further up the field O’Dowda and Paterson were missing on Tuesday and could feature. In mitigation it could be argued that with three half time substitutions TP was also conscious of game management and resting his big guns on Tuesday evening. The Bristol trio of Bobby Reid, Famara Diedhiou and Matty Taylor were all likely to be starters but the 90 minute fitness levels of Reid and Famara could be questioned.

With the 1-1 result of the Blades and Lions game sinking in come two o’clock we had our selection answers and learnt that TP went with same again apart from Clayts in for the suspended Grant. Lee Johnson kept Taylor and O’Dowda benched but did keep both Bryan and youngster Lloyd on the left to target Adama as suspected. Reid started along with man mountain Djuric with Diedhiou also entrusted with taking the game to Boro.

The Robins lined up in a Purple and Lime Green kit which was certainly distinctive but not I would imagine a Bristolian marketeers commercial dream. Boro started the game reasonably steady and had a half chance early on with Jonny Howson but he seemed to scuff his shot and it squirmed wide of Fieldlings upright. The early intent was welcome as hopefully it signalled a desire to actually win rather than sitting deep and pick the visitors off.

A failure by Downing to cut out a midfield pass meant that Besic was forced to charge back and slide in to cut out the danger but earning a yellow card in the process and giving away a free kick. On thirteen minutes a soft build up involving Lloyd and Reid led to a cross being put in which was wincingly half cleared by Shotton and spun out to the edge of the box where another headed attempt to clear by Besic seen him beaten in the air and saw the ball drop for Djuric stealing in between Ayala and Friend to prod home. Our defending was to put it mildly all over the place and very poor but that wasn’t the language being used around me in the North Stand at the time. Our start wasn’t great but not disastrous up until those few mad moments of chaos.

Just after the restart another Bristol foray saw Ayala and Randolph almost take one another out as the thwarted Reid closing in on goal. The enormity of the task facing us wasn’t lost upon the home fans and they rallied round behind Boro. A few minutes later a Traore Corner was literally fizzed in with pace and George met it perfectly centrally on the edge of the six yard box with a glancing header past the despairing Fielding to draw level with eighteen minutes on the clock and suddenly the mood changed inside the Stadium. The visiting fans noticeably reduced their hitherto optimistically hopeful and upbeat decibel levels. Just as the celebrations were dying down George was once again in the action cutting out a ball in the middle of the Park which the attention seeking Ref deemed worthy of a Yellow.

Just as Boro started to find their feet and the Red Faction their voices the next event sickened everyone in attendance when Paddy went up for a ball with alleged ex Boro target Flint and landed (splattered is perhaps a better description) face first after a hefty aerial duel. He lay motionless and it was Bristol players that first raised the alarm by drawing Ref Madeley’s attention to it and the Boro Physio’s to rush on to Paddy. What followed would have been pure comedy gold had it not been so serious. The Paramedic/First Aid/Stretcher bearer team had to be screamed at by the fans of both sides to get their act together. Now whilst jibes at tickets and kits directed towards the club are well deserved the confused, disorganised and chaotic fumbling of them was matched only by the Boro defence for the opening goal. Twenty four thousand people screaming at them to get their act together and run onto the pitch with oxygen and stretcher etc. certainly focussed their athletic prowess.

After a very worrying ten minutes or so the Stretcher was eventually raised and Paddy was carried off to a standing ovation and cheers of “Paddy, Paddy, Paddy Bamford” from both sets of fans. The farce however didn’t end as the Stretcher had to be let down again as presumably the weight was too heavy for the bearers and they changed arms half way across the pitch, picked Paddy back up and the removal continued once again. Slapstick at its finest!

During the injury break Dani had raced across to TP and informed them that Paddy was out cold and to hurriedly ready Assombalonga. Britt’s first touch was OK but a little heavy, importantly however and noticeably he received a supportive round of applause and cheers to lift his confidence. The game now had a kind of surreal feeling which in a strange way matched the weather, overcast but with the sun struggling to break through with temperatures in the balmy low Teesside teens.

The first half ended with a sustained spell of Boro pressure building up to a series of shots and blocks which somehow ended with the ball not crossing the Bristol goal line thanks to a series of defiant and desperate defending. I counted a Besic effort and I think two from Stewy one of which was flicked on by Britt. The much delayed half time whistle finally went with the major attention of the half created by the Referee who obviously had a new whistle along with a new set of cards. He looked determined to win the MOM award in front of the Foreign TV Camera’s suspiciously looking like he was after a lucrative Middle East retirement deal.

News that Derby were trailing at half time to lowly Burton (remember them) lifted spirits that were considerably dampened after Paddy’s worrying removal from the field of play. Better news had started to filter through that Paddy had been responsive and talking in the changing rooms albeit groggy before being taken to James Cook. On commencement of the second half Bristol brought off Djuric which was surprising as whilst he was far from mobile he was a thorn at set pieces and balls into the box for which his goal was testimony. Pisano came on which was a nod perhaps to Bristol hanging on to what they had which was a rare and valuable point on the road.

As the half wore on Fielding resorted to time wasting techniques along with time being taken at each set piece in an effort to run the clock down. Boro were not exactly putting on a stellar performance and Bristol were sitting deep defending in numbers giving us plenty of possession but not threatening. Britt had a few opportunities but his finishing was worse than woeful and his appetite for jumping back up and getting straight back in the game was slow motion personified. That was in stark contrast to Mo Besic who was busting a gut and lungs and Clayts who was blocking, chasing and charging down everything in sight.

George was having joy down the left flank and Adama was giving poor eighteen year old Lloyd a wake-up call to life in the Championship. The screw was slowly turning but Bristol were dangerous and Boro were thankful to both Ben and Clayts in blocking attempts which was just as well as Shotton was having a torrid time conceding possession in his own half. There was lots of endeavour from Boro but little to show for the possession and anxiety was growing amongst both sets of supporters with the game having so much at stake.

Another brilliant corner from Adama was lofted in with deadly accuracy evading the giants of the Bristol back line for Dani to rise majestically and head home but it was cleared off the line by Baker but much to our euphoria only into his own net. Our secret Goal machine had done it again and it was now 2-1 to Boro with around 25 minutes to hang onto the slender but priceless lead.

After Ayala’s goal Johnson’s side looked more like a combined Pulis/Allardyce eleven that you are ever likely to see with Aden Flint thrown up top and every ball humped, hoofed and lumped 60 yards up the pitch. With five minutes of normal time remaining Fabio was brought on for Downing to run the clock down, add fresh legs and a bit of inventive pace. Bristol were knocking on the door but Boro were resilient with some sterling, determined, defensive work. It was squeaky bum time for the Home fans as attacks were repelled and every goal kick and throw in breaking the pressure as the fans sang loud and proud supporting their hero’s efforts.

The fourth Official signalled three additional minutes and TP signalled he wanted to bring Cranie on for Adama with the emphasis now on dealing with high balls and holding on. Seconds later the star of the show Madeley finally blew his whistle for full time and the ground erupted in celebration apart from the understandably dispirited travelling fans and the Bristol players sat on the pitch realising that their season which had so much early promise had all but fizzled out.

News filtered through that Paddy was not as bad as first feared and a later radio interview with Pulis revealed that he was now back at the ground sat in the changing rooms chatting to his team mates. The afternoon wasn’t a classic but it had elements of frustration, comedy, passion (stand up Besic, Clayts and Friend), inevitability (thank you Dani Ayala), drama (courtesy of poor Paddy) and farce courtesy of Mr Madeley generally and his shiny whistle but also for he and the fourth official deeming that Shotton and Friends drying towels were now illegal.

At this stage all that matters is the result and we won those precious three points. MOM for me had a few contenders all for differing reasons but I think Clayts won me over for his all-round display and probably his best in a few seasons but anyone who felt Besic, Friend or Ayala deserved it would get no arguments!

Boro need to avoid missing the boat
by navigating safe passage to play-offs

Werdermouth previews the visit of Bristol City to the Riverside…

Boro slipped out of the top six following defeat to Sheffield United and after just one win in their last five games, the failure to gain three points on Saturday would leave Tony Pulis’s promotion course heading for the rocks as the club’s play-off challenge became seriously holed below the waterline and the chances of a top-six place would start to sink along with our lingering hopes. As Bristol City sail up to the Riverside, moored just one place below and one point behind in the table, it’s surely time that the players found their Championship sea legs and took the wind out of the opposition’s sails rather than risk leaving their own supporters in the Doldrums. The key may well be starting the game at a fair rate of knots rather than just treading water as no doubt there have be some stern words from the manager following recent listless displays.

After several scary performances of late, it’s possible Tony Pulis will be showing the players some horror videos of those games ahead of Saturday’s crucial encounter. Whether such viewing on Friday the thirteenth will produce a change in fortune against Bristol City is uncertain but perhaps team selection may involve the manager being crystal clear about what he wants and then consigning the squad to an overnight stay at a log cabin in the woods around Stewart Park lake. In this lesser known instalment of the Friday the Thirteenth franchise, entitled The Old School Camp, a group of under-performing players wait to find out which of them gets brutally axed ahead of the upcoming game.

No doubt the severe slashing received in the first half against the Blades may have prepared some for the inevitable anticipated carnage that lies ahead, though it’s possible Assombalonga will at least survive the prerequisite trip to barn and a gruesome end by actually failing to see the barn door, let alone finding it. Though with the Championship entering its final chapter, a seemingly unstable Grant Leadbitter has disappeared from the camp after losing his head but still remains obsessed with taking one for the team, so it would be a brave man that volunteers to go out alone in the dark to search for those who have one-by-one gone missing on the pitch.

Boro really need to learn to play without fear if they are to survive the tests of the coming weeks and we have now reached the stage where there can be no more excuses for failing to perform when it matters. The display in the second half at Bramall Lane was as if all of a sudden it dawned on many of the players that they were sleep-walking through the season in a recurring nightmare on easy street. The urgency shown was in stark contrast to so much of what had gone before in recent games and one wonders what was preventing the players from previously displaying such intensity.

Middlesbrough Bristol City
Tony Pulis Lee Johnson
P42 – W19 – D9 – L14 – F59 – A41 P42 – W17 – D14 – L11 – F59 – A48
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
7th
66
1.6
72
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
8th
65
1.5
71
Last 6 Games
Sheff Utd (A)
Nottm Forest (H)
Burton (A)
Wolves (H)
Brentford (A)
Barnsley (H)
F-T (H-T)
1:2 (0:2) L
2:0 (2:0) W
1:1 (0:1) D
1:2 (0:2) L
1:1 (1:1) D
3:1 (2:0) W
Last 6 Games
Birmingham (H)
Millwall (A)
Brentford (H)
Barnsley (A)
Ipswich (H)
Burton (A)
F-T (H-T)
3:1 (2:1) W
0:2 (0:1) L
0:1 (0:0) L
2:2 (1:1) D
1:0 (0:0) W
0:0 (0:0) D

After the Easter disappointment of Wolves and Burton, Grant Leadbitter told fans not to worry as the players were still getting it right on the training pitch and said that means “nine times out of ten you get things right on the pitch during the game.” – before adding confidently “Of course it helps that so many of us in this squad have been here before… and we’ve got players who have been promoted in there too. That will help over the long run, I’m certain it will.”

Whilst experience shouldn’t be a disadvantage, it almost feels like there is a complacency that they expect to prevail purely because they’ve done it before. What happened in the past doesn’t count for anything unless the team consciously puts everything they can into the task of winning each game – Sheffield United started on Tuesday with a determination to win from the off, Boro seemed to be behaving like it was an extension of a training game and began the game with a kind of measured composure and they couldn’t match the urgency of their opponents who instead played flat out rather than just flat.

Perhaps the team became too reliant on a few individuals performing at a higher than maintainable level and it masked the drop in the erratic form of others such Downing, Howson, Leadbitter and even Besic – few on the pitch looked to make an impact and were maybe content to be controlled and directed by their captain as they expected either Traore would at some point produce his usual lightning burst of speed to create the required goal or that Bamford would continue his well above average scoring streak. The removal of all three meant the crutch that had kept the rest of the players limping along in tandem with our promotion hopes was gone and they suddenly woke up and realised this was not a drill.

What was also interesting is that faced with needing to win, Tony Pulis switched tactics and went with a back three with wing-backs and a midfield that pushed, pressed and supported the centre-forward – even Clayton suddenly started making ranging passes instead of the safe, short square passes. He did a similar thing once before early in his reign when Boro visited Preston and went into the interval 2-1 ahead – three substitutions early in second half and switching to a back-three saw Boro win the game 3-2. The question is whether the manager will see the eleven-man version of this formation, with the addition of an extra forward, as the means to drive the season forward to a successful conclusion – or will he like post-Preston revert to business as usual in the hope that the tried and trusted will ultimately prevail. Though Shotton looks a more natural back-three defender than a right-back and Fabio’s energetic presence offered much more as a wing-back – perhaps Adama should be just given a free role behind Bamford rather than attempt to restrict his talent with too much responsibility at this stage of the season.

However, if Boro fail to find the required intensity then it may be a case of preparing for the usual excuses for failing to deliver when it mattered. Of course, we may ultimately see more imagination in these excuses than from the actual play-book but many Boro followers will not be easily convinced that this hasn’t been a season of avoidable errors. Though the club have a long way to go before they could match the less than credible excuse offered by eight Argentinian police officers this week when asked by their new chief what had happened to over half a tonne of seized marijuana which had disappeared from a police warehouse – they all rather innocently claimed it had been eaten by mice despite a forensic investigation finding no trace that mice had been in the warehouse and scientific experts ruling out the rodents confusing the drug for food. Anyway, the eight officers have been arrested and the investigators are now presumably looking for the big cheese who trained the mice to smuggle the marijuana out of the warehouse.

OK, perhaps the experts were right for a change and no mice were involved – though a little impromptu back of the envelope calculation (which may have an outside chance of being included in next year’s GCSE maths paper) shows if a mouse only eats a maximum of 5g of food a day, how many mice would it take to polish off a half-tonne stash of marijuana given the average lifespan of a mouse is just two years long. The answer of course is 137, but that doesn’t take into account how many packets of counterfeit chocolate hobnobs that over a hundred stoned mice with the fabled munchies would have also devoured from the police warehouse – plus the amount of time that they’d be floating in a most peculiar way instead of eating as they tuned in, turned on and dropped out of the rat race.

Nevertheless, whilst that brazen lame excuses by Argentinian police officers may be hard to beat, football clubs also have pretty good form when it comes to passing the buck and absolving themselves of blame. Should Boro actually make the play-offs then they may struggle to better the excuse offered by Blackpool in 1996, who placed the blame on letting a two-goal lead slip in a tie against Bradford City on the fact that the team’s boardroom was being haunted by the ghost of Lord Nelson. Apparently the wood panelling in the boardroom was made out of wood from Nelson’s ship, HMS Foudroyant, which later ran aground off the Blackpool coast. Stadium manager John Turner said: “It is an old maritime superstition that sailing folk take exception to anything on their ships being touched, which could explain these strange events.”

Though some superstitions appear to be almost invented retrospectively when football fans search for justification for their team performing badly. When Brazil lost 7-1 to Germany in the 2014 World Cup semi-final there was clearly one man who was primarily to blame – Yes that well known jinx Mick Jagger. He was apparently spotted in an executive box before the game and he’d previously been blamed for their defeat to the Netherlands in 2010 when he was spotted sporting a Brazil shirt at the game. He has been given the nickname ‘cold foot’, which apparently denotes bad luck in Brazil because any team he backs generally goes on to lose – he’d earlier publicly backed Portugal to go all the way and they then lost two of their group games and Italy who lost to Uruguay and went home too. They even claimed that he had backed England to win and they also lost but I’m not sure that this is the level of proof needed to be called a jinx – deluded obviously, but England losing a game is perfectly normal. Some Brazil supporters tried to counter the jinx by creating a Germany supporting Jagger effigy – but unfortunately the power of the man himself was just too great!

Jagger the jinx

As for Boro’s opponents on Saturday, their supporters have been burdened for many years with their name being being associated with something that is perhaps holding them back from puffing out their chests and proudly declaring their allegiance. Thanks to that good old cockney pathological affliction with finding rhymes without reason in the hope that it will trick the Bottles (bottles and stoppers – coppers – police) into thinking nothing suspicious is afoot, Bristol City supporters are slightly aggrieved that they’ve inadvertent become victims of unfortunate and unnecessary rhyming slang. Why the east-end blaggers rounded on Bristol and not any of the other nine English football clubs with City in their name (a quiz question for a later date perhaps) is not quite certain.

Indeed, I discovered in my usual extensive research, it’s a subject that has occupied many a City forum as they look for closure, with the most widely favoured reason proffered being that Bristol’s port city was famous among sailors for its large-breasted prostitutes. Whilst it’s always good to see civic pride manifesting itself on supporter forums, I suspect it’s not a claim that will be proudly boasted in chants from the terraces of Ashton Gate any time soon. Although, it’s unlikely that much thought probably went into the rhyme given that nearly all other examples of the so-called secret language sound like the first word that subconsciously entered the heads of East London’s finest lexicographers as they enjoyed several King Lears in the Rub-a-dub whist compiling their definitive Fish Hook of cockney patois.

Still at least Bristol City have had plenty of alternative nicknames over the years to distract attention from their cockney moniker. Their first known nickname was the rather left-field ‘Red Shirts’ or ‘The Garibaldians’ due to the similarity with those worn by the followers of the Italian revolutionary – in fact, due to the popularity in England of Garibaldi in the late 19th century, quite a few club adopted Garibaldi Red as their club colours, including Nottingham Forest and Arsenal – incidentally, Forest fans recently set up the ‘ForzaGaribaldi’ (Force Garibaldi) movement in 2016 to mark their 150th anniversary and to galvanise support for the club, which is now awaiting the Karanka revolution to begin on the Trent.

The City supporting side of Bristol were also more obviously known in their earlier years as ‘The Citizens’ before becoming referred to instead as the less than politically correct sounding ‘Bristol Babe’ – but before you start thinking the previously model citizens had gone all glamorous on the beautiful game, it was in fact a reference to a small 19-foot-long wooden red bi-plane of the same name that was manufactured in the city and had a wingspan under 20 feet with a top speed of just over 100mph. After being launched in 1919 for the private flyer, experienced test pilots found it potentially difficult to fly and it soon had its Civil Aviation licence withdrawn a few years later – so given this obvious failure, it’s not quite apparent why this nickname lasted until the late 1940’s.

Anyway, Bristol City eventually became known as ‘The Robins’ shortly after the war and it’s a name that has stuck until the present day, with the origins of the name being once again related to their red shirts and the resemblance to an even smaller flyer in Robin Redbreast (Erithacus rubecula). Unfortunately, for the supporters of Bristol City it seems this unhealthy obsession with chest-related associations may leave some Cockney’s feeling vindicated as they would say there’s no Laugh n a Joke without Jeremiah – plus even the cockney rhyming slang for chest is actually Bristol and West. Still at least the club can regard themselves lucky that Garibaldi didn’t opt for yellow shirts with blue sleeves as I suspect there are other small British garden birds that would have been far worse to have been named after.

So will Boro finally channel their energies against Bristol and sail through the game as they refloat their play-off dream? Or will the former Garibaldians take the biscuit and leave Tony Pulis with few crumbs of comfort as they dunk our promotion hopes in the drink? As usual your predictions for score, scorers and team selection – plus will Mick Jagger be turning up at the Riverside to jinx our chances as the mood on Teesside is painted black?

Sheff Utd 2 – 1 Boro

Sheffield United Middlesbrough
Evans 2′, 40′ Ayala
Leadbitter
48′
25′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
66%
11
 3
 5
 5
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
34%
 7
 2
 1
20

Lee Evans wipes smile off Boro faces

Redcar Red reports on the defeat at Bramall Lane…

A massive Play Off decider for both clubs a real “do or die encounter. Lose this and the Blades season was effectively as good as over whereas for Boro they still theoretically had Bristol, Derby and Millwall to garner points from. Chris Wilder had Stearman out injured and ex Boro one game wonder loanee Jamal Blackman missing from between the sticks due to suspension. Kieron Freeman and Paul Coutts like Rudy Gestede is a long term absentee for United. Pulis had Besic with a sore hip and Traore who seemed fatigued on Saturday and possibly Bamford who simply looked cream crackered to worry about. Reserve Keepers would normally be seen as a good omen but for Boro these ring rusty stand ins have a tradition of saving their best shot stopping antics for us.

On form Sheffield had gone five unbeaten at Bramall Lane but only won four, drew three and lost three in their last ten home games. Boro had only lost twice in their last ten games overall but incredibly had the exact same last ten away games stats as the Blades home results having won four, drew three and lost three. If omens were anything to go by Boro’s last trip to Bramall Lane ended in a 2-1 victory courtesy of marvellous Marvin and TP’s last trip was a 3-0 win with Stoke. I would have happily settled for either scoreline pre Kick Off.

Despite fitness questions Boro lined up in gloomy rain sodden Sheffield pretty much as expected with an unchanged starting eleven and an unchanged bench, TP clearly likes a settled side. Surprisingly after their defeat at Barnsley over the weekend Chris Wilder also stuck with an unchanged side. In the early exchanges Ayala gave away the first free kick which led to a side footed volley from Lee Evans which smashed Randolph’s net with barely two minutes on the clock after a sliced Leadbitter clearance.

Downing marked the first serious intent from Boro via a good run down the right flank but Sheffield cleared their lines and broke up field again. The early pace was frenetic to say the least. A Shotton throw in aimed at Ayala had Simon Moore in the Sheffield goal struggling showing an opportunistic air of uncertainty in his handling if only we could clear our heads. Boro were struggling to get an early grip on the game and despite being a goal down we were sitting deep just as we finished off on Saturday with Bamford once again running himself into the ground with little to no support. A good move involving Shotton, Traore, Besic and eventually Bamford saw Paddy unleash our first attempt on target on 15 minutes.

Early indications were that Boro’s set up wasn’t causing the sort of problems we had hoped for as Sheffield stroked the ball about looking the classier side and an opportunity for Clarke after a mess up involving Randolph luckily didn’t see us go two down. A Traore cross resulted in Sheffield clearing their lines quickly and Brooks being man handled and brought down for the obligatory “taking one for the team” from Grant. His second yellow of the night was for a late tackle which was inevitable considering the reckless nature of the first yellow. Unprofessional frustration from the Captain made a very difficult challenge now an almost insurmountable one and with not even thirty minutes ticked over. Just when the side needed organisation and leadership Grant lost his cool letting himself and his team mates down.

Moments later Brooks was unlucky again and Boro were rescued by Randolph’s leg sparing further blushes. The Blades were running Boro ragged and Ayala escaped the attentions of the Referee with the home fans baying for blood with Brooks laid prostrate. During the lull Gibson and Pulis reorganised the white shirted rabble that had started the night with so much hope as we once again had to play with ten men. It appeared that Downing was brought over to the left and Traore went up front with Paddy. Just a shame that TP went with two up front when it was obvious after ten minutes that one up top had handed the initiative to Chris Wilders side. Adama was brought down by Fleck taking a yellow for his troubles as Boro looked to get something back before half time. A corner for the home side was delayed by Leon Clarke who seemingly took a blow off the ball but it was worth it as the eventual short corner was played to the edge of the box to that man Lee Evans again who fired another peach of a volley past the despairing Randolph.

Boro were now well and truly rattled and Ayala was next to go into the Refs book as the Blades were cutting and carving Boro apart who in truth looked deflated and dejected. Chris Wilder went with three at the back who were more than capable of dealing with the isolated Bamford and the extra man meant that our midfield were chasing shadows which resulted in Grant’s dismissal. With only a few minutes to the half time whistle Ben went down injured which was a cause of some concern. A well timed Friend tackle upon the restart prevented United going three up. As we cleared our lines again Traore gave away a silly free kick thirty yards out which fortunately Ayala got a head to but the wave of red and white striped shirts just kept coming back at Boro. To add insult to continued injury Adama had collected a yellow for his misdemeanour. A Chris Basham cross then went behind Randolph’s goal as another attack was quashed as Boro looked longingly for the half time whistle. When a Centre Back is putting crosses in from the wing that just summed up the state of Boro’s first half.

As performances go this was as bad as they got, right up there with Burton away. Tactically from the off it wasn’t working and things just went from bad to worse from going behind so early to Grant’s lack of composure (or pace) and all of it culminating in the inevitable Evans second goal. Sitting deep in the second half against Forest may have protected a lead but the psychology had lingered far longer than Tony Pulis had intended.

Three radical changes at half time saw Clayts on for Besic, Assombalonga on for Bamford and Fabio for Adama who whilst not as poor as Saturday was poor by his own standards. Pulis now went with three at the back with Fabio and George operating as wing backs and Britt up front on his own. Fabio was showing energy, Clayts was getting stuck in. Britt won an early free kick four minutes in which Downing floated over knocked on by Ben and the goal machine that is Dani Ayala put it under Moore to pull one back. What a difference a half time team talk made as the three substitutes totally refreshed things and sparked life and energy into a desolate, tired and empty side. A few minutes later Jonny Howson weaved his way through the Blades defence unleashing a shot that had Moore scrambling across his goal.

As bad as the first half was the opening ten minutes of the second half were totally unrecognisable. A blocked corner led to Boro breaking out via Ben but Assombalonga couldn’t take advantage as Boro now looked to have a spring in their step and for the first time you had the feeling that Boro had finally turned up. Referee Darren Bond hadn’t won any hearts from the travelling army as George looked to be penalised unfairly and then a Fabio foul throw highlighted the pedantic nature of the man in the middle along with his propensity for card flashing.

Since his arrival Fabio was like a breath of fresh air adding zest and a buzz that had been seriously lacking. The positivity he exuded was infectious and had spread through the rest of his team mates. The game gradually settled a little bit with Boro now a little less effervescent and Sheffield clearing their heads. Darren Bond was still having a nightmare and now penalised Britt this time as he was seemingly fouled much to the chagrin of the Boro bench. Despite Bond’s best attempts to destabilise Boro there was renewed fight in them, Clayts lost possession but raced back and cleared up the danger he himself had created as a never say die spirit replaced a “meh” first half from Boro.

Clayts picked up another ball in midfield feeding Assombalonga who hit a thirty yarder well wide but while the accuracy may not have been great the positivity and intent was a welcome relief from the tedium of the first half. Clayton was really influencing things and instrumental in breaking up United attacks and setting up counter attacks. Assombalonga was lively, causing some edgy moments for the Sheffield defence. Lee Evans then ridiculously threw himself to the ground with Fabio nowhere to be seen but the comical Referee Bond incredibly booked the Brazilian presumably because he didn’t get close enough to Evans to anticipate his dive. Having one comedian on the pitch in Lee Evans was bad enough but Darren Bond had upstaged everyone with a performance that truly was mesmerising.

In the first half United pressed and chased everything never allowing Boro to settle but in the second half Boro had reversed the trend with only ten men. Fabio was like a man possessed, chasing everything and anything, a Jack Russell personified in a Boro shirt. With a quarter of an hour remaining the Blades were trying to take the sting out of the game such was Boro’s intensity. Meanwhile Darren Bond was seemingly just itching to hand out another yellow with Fabio and George looking the likely suspects.

Shotton won the ball, broke away and set up Assombalonga or so we thought but the ball was poor, seconds later Howson let fly with another howitzer as we pushed desperately for a deserved equaliser, “deserved” only for the second half performance I must add. With five minutes remaining Brooks was taken off and Donaldson came on for the lively twenty year old who had caused serious damage all night. As sure as night follows day George Friend collected the yellow that was inevitably coming his way. Meanwhile Clayton was still chasing, tackling and closing all over the pitch. A late chance fell to Evans again who should have had his hat trick but somehow fluffed his lines as the fourth official held up four minutes.

A free kick from Downing was over hit but Ayala was adjudged to have fouled in any case allowing Moore to dawdle over taking the resultant kick. A late scrambled clearance went out for a Boro throw in and from then a free for all ensued as Boro desperately threw everything at Moore’s goal but the Blades held firm.

An analysis of the night revealed serious flaws. The first half picked up where Saturday had left off and with it we started on the back foot looking leggy and lethargic. The three injury suspects Besic, Traore and Bamford all went off at half time which raises suspicions about their actual match fitness. Tactically in the first half we were set up wrong and it looked wrong all through the 45 minutes, our midfield was over run and Grant couldn’t keep his head not for the first time with all the intensity going on around him. MOM for me was certainly nobody for the first half but second half take your pick from Fabio or Clayts.

MOM isn’t important, what is was how and why we started a match yet again so badly and our Captain getting sent off when we needed a leader most. Not good enough from TP I’m afraid, not good enough from several players and certainly not good enough from Grant. The Play Offs are still a possibility but beating Bristol and Millwall are now an absolute necessity but I’m not convinced that TP will set us up to win a game. Four Cup Finals left and winning is all that matters now, sitting back and sitting deep won’t cut it. There have been too many unacceptable performances of late both on and off the pitch, Wolves against nine men, Burton all 90 minutes, Forest second 45 and tonight’s first 45. Is it the Manager, the Coaches or the Players at fault?

Boro aiming to make play-off cut
as they try to bury Blades hopes

Werdermouth previews the trip to Bramall Lane…

Boro will need to be on guard this Tuesday evening as they head to Bramall Lane to take on The Blades, who are no doubt still hoping to make the cut in the battle for the play-offs. However, the prospect of back-to-back promotions for Chris Wilder’s team are looking tame with their chances of making the top six now on a knife-edge after just one win in their last six games. The cut and thrust of the Championship is more a season of endurance where teams hope to finally lunge over the winning line rather than attempt to finesse promotion with the cloak and dagger tactics akin to those found in the Premier League.

After looking less than sharp in their previous two outings, Boro finally found their cutting edge in the opening half against a rather blunt Forest side lead by former manager Aitor Karanka, who was making his return to the Riverside since being encouraged to fall on his sword by chairman Steve Gibson just over a year ago after previously backing him to the hilt. The three welcome points gained by chopping down the tricky trees at the weekend have helped Tony Pulis’s team maintain their razor-thin advantage over chasing pack but they’re not out of the woods yet and Boro will need to avoid losing their way in the coming weeks if they don’t want their ambitions foiled.

The good news is that Sheffield United are one of the two top-half teams that Boro have beaten this season, when Garry Monk’s team claimed their first victory of the season with a 1-0 win at the Riverside. Beating teams in the top half of the table is something Boro will need to make a habit of in the coming weeks if they don’t want to work on improving on the task next season. In the battle between Teesside and Sheffield steel, Billy Wilder’s team appear to have melted away in recent weeks, whereas Boro have forged ahead in the last nine games with just one defeat against the leaders following the 1-0 defeat at Cardiff.

Sheffield United Middlesbrough
Chris Wilder Tony Pulis
P41 – W18 – D8 – L15 – F55 – A48 P41 – W19 – D9 – L13 – F58 – A39
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
9th
62
1.5
70
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
6th
66
1.6
74
Last 6 Games
Barnsley (A)
Cardiff (H)
Brentford (A)
Nottm Forest (H)
Burton (H)
Ipswich (A)
F-T (H-T)
2:3 (0:1) L
1:1 (1:0) D
1:1 (0:0) D
0:0 (0.0) D
2:0 (1:0) W
0:0 (0:0) D
Last 6 Games
Nottm Forest (H)
Burton (A)
Wolves (H)
Brentford (A)
Barnsley (H)
Birmingham (A)
F-T (H-T)
2:0 (2:0) W
1:1 (0:1) D
0:2 (1:2) L
1:1 (1:1) D
3:1 (2:0) W
1:0 (1:0) W

Sheffield United are another proud Yorkshire club who have come under foreign ownership and are now 50 per cent owned by Abdullah bin Musa’ad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud after long-time owner Kevin McCabe sold half his share for just £1 on the grounds of wanting investment in the club. Prince Abdullah’s main claim to fame (other than being a prince) was that his half bother assassinated King Faisal of Saudia Arabia in 1975, which got him much earlier acquainted with the blades in the guise of the executioner’s sword when he was subsequently publicly beheaded – though the new Sheffield United chairman is also known for running a paper manufacturing business and whilst interesting anecdotes in this area are not widely referenced, it’s understood he may have perhaps suffered the odd public paper cut. While at first glance, Saudi names may appear a little long and confusing, you only need to know that ‘bin’ means ‘son of’ and ‘Al’ means ‘The’ and the house of Saud are basically the royal family. It’s a bit like Prince William calling himself ‘William son of Charles son of Philip the Greek’. Anyway, all of which probably explains why you can’t find a Sheffield United replica shirt large enough in the club shop to have all 36 letters of the new co-owner’s name ironed on to the back!

Whilst sometimes a club’s nickname is often a little tenuous, some are steeped in the history of the club or town. ‘The Blades’ is one that has origins as far back as the 14th century when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in The Reeves Tale, from his famous work of the Canterbury Tales “Ther was no man, for peril, dorste hym touche. A Sheffeld thwitel baar he in his hose.” – OK his spelling may have been a little old school but a ‘thwitel’ was a common name for a knife, as in from the word to ‘whittle’. In fact Sheffield already had a reputation back then as a place where knives came from and a census in 1379 listed a quarter of the population in the town as metal workers.

Apparently, everyone wanted a knife back then and it so happened Sheffield had the raw materials, foundries and skills to make them – Chaucer’s tale probably helped to market and identify the Sheffield knife as the brand to be seen with when it came to the concealed weapon of choice carried by men. Although no mention of forks or spoons (concealed or otherwise) by Chaucer as it wasn’t until around 1600 that Sheffield became renowned as a centre for cutlery – however, the earliest official mention of ‘Made in Sheffield’ in this context was first referenced in a tax return filed in 1297 by Robert the Cutler.

Talking of concealed weapons, Adama Traore probably had one of his least conspicuous games in a long while at the weekend and Tony Pulis claimed that maybe he was tired and in need of a rest. I’m presuming this is just a less than subtle psychological kick up the pants for Adama in the hope he gets the message that he can’t expect to stand and wait to be given the ball now that the opposition is double-marking him – though even a tired Adama creates space for others if he’s being attended to by two players. Surely now is not the time to contemplate resting such a key player as Boro embark on a run of season-defining fixtures, which will surely decide whether Traore will actually still be at the club after the summer. OK, he’s probably taken quite a few knocks in the last few months and may be starting to feel the season, but a 90 per cent fit Adama is surely quicker than ninety-nine per cent of all the players in the Championship – though it could also be the mental fatigue of having had to carry the team for the last few months and perhaps others need to show similar urgency on a week-by-week basis to share the load.

Will the super-human speed of our very own cyber-punk give the Blades the runaround and carve open their defence as he leaves many wondering if he is indeed actually human, or could he possibly be the latest Nexus android or ‘replicant’ as they were known in 1982 cult movie Blade Runner. We now already live in the imagined fictional future of the writers of a half century ago – the afore-mentioned film was based on a 1968 novel (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) and was set in a post-apocalyptic future where a nuclear war had left much of the world’s life close to extinction with colonies on Mars serviced by androids who were indistinguishable from humans. That distant year imagined in the future was actually 2019 – so not long to wait now – but perhaps Trump, Putin or Kim Jong-il are working hard on at least part of the story becoming a reality.

Incidentally, for those still struggling with the joys of pessimism the novel also talks of ‘Penfield mood organs’, which is a technology that can induce any desired mood in the people nearby, such as optimism – though reports of recent tests in the Teesside area have so far proved unfounded but it seems the mood settings may still be set to maximum gloom on the prototype installed at the Riverside. Anyway, whether this season still has many sheepish Boro followers dreaming of anything electric or just feeling a little bit meh will depend on what their team deliver in the near future – though if this season ends in disappointment then the memories of the campaign for supporters may be best described by the closing lines spoken in Blade Runner of the dying renegade genius android leader Roy Batty played by Rutger Hauer: “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain”

So will Boro prove to be a cut above a Sheffield United team and stay sharply focused as they look to get a slice of the play-off action? Or will the Blades leave Tony Pulis’s team licking their wounds after our promotion prospects are blunted? As usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will Boro followers be having electric dreams after the game or will it be the start of a recurring nightmare?

Boro 2 – 0 Forest

Middlesbrough Nottingham Forest
Ayala
Downing
7′
31′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
38%
12
 7
 5
 9
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
62%
14
 3
 8
 7

Aitor’s not so happy return

Redcar Red reports on the victory over Forest…

Today saw the return of AK to the Riverside and with him a side that was perhaps slightly better in Championship ability to when he first arrived at Boro after Mogga’s departure (or Venus for those who are sticklers). The game threw together a few “old boy” connections aside from AK of course Ayala, Bamford and Assombalonga once plied their trade for the Nottingham side, Guedioura and of course who can forget Lee Tomlin, he who divided Teesside opinion almost as much as that vegetable spread gloop!

Neither side were exactly in great form prior to this afternoon. Forest had relatively nothing other than pride and impressing their new Boss at stake whereas Boro had a heck of a lot at stake but had bottled things recently making their relative league placings erroneous as to any potential outcome on the day. With eight out of the last twelve meetings on Teesside between these sides ending in a draw a similar disappointing return for Boro (considering the opportunity) was not unlikely.

TP had said he had a few injury niggles and worries on Friday although how that could be the case was a concern in itself as very few had exactly busted a gut on Monday’s outing at Burton. Forest’s Monday fixture with Barnsley was postponed so perhaps that could provide a slight advantage in terms of fitness. Aitor had David Vaughan and Daryl Murphy out with Kieran McDowell 50/50 to make it. Goal scoring has been somewhat of a problem for Forest which won’t come as a surprise to many of us. Of more value to Boro was the stat that Forest had conceded more goals (10 in total) from corners than any other Championship side this season. The problem there of course was that the standard of Boro corners have been noticeably tripe!

Question marks over the attitude of some of the Boro squad didn’t seem to affect TP’s team selection on Monday bar the one disastrous change by dropping Shotton which in itself probably influenced the outcome of the match more than anything else. Today saw that remedied by Shotton restored in place of Cranie and with everyone else it was a case of as you were.

Early morning results once again went Boro’s way with the Blades losing to Barnsley and Villa falling foul at Carrow Road. Surprisingly Forest started on the front foot and took the game to Boro applying pressure and the cause of some less than composed clearances from the Boro back line with Lolley in particular a threat as Adama stood and watched the world and Osborn and Lolly pass him by. Shotton had his hands full and there was little sign of Aitor’s men sitting back happy to pass sideways. That said it only took a few minutes for Grant to unleash a Thunderbastard signalling some intent and hopefully a change of mentality from Boro. It was a rare treat but a refreshing one, perhaps having AK on the side-lines woke old traits from deep within!

A corner into the Forest box saw a game of head tennis before Ben tee’d up Ayala who brought the ball down, swivelled beating the attention of four Forest defenders to peel the ball into the top left corner to make it 1-0 on seven minutes. A perfect start for Boro and I’m sure one which had extra added satisfaction for Dani. A few minutes later AK strolled out into the technical area for the first time and received a warm round of applause from all around the Riverside with chants of “Oh Aitor Karanka” he even responded with a wave to the South Stand. Prior to the KO when Tomlin’s name was read out he also received a warm applause and likewise responded to the four stands.

On twenty minutes Bamford had a chance but his touch was a little heavy but he managed to find Howson who tried to make space for his shot, delaying meant the chance was gone but the ball spilled to Stewy who shot and as has been his standard of late went well wide of the post. At this stage Forest were having plenty of possession but nothing of note was really happening with it although to be fair Boro were not exactly pulling up any tree stumps themselves. Adama had been quiet offensively, standing; looking lost on the touchline and seemingly disengaged in what was happening around him.

A long throw in from George with his newly discovered skill set saw a familiar tactic as Ayala flicked the ball on from the edge of the six yard box which fell to the feet of Adama who wasn’t alert to it as he hadn’t been all afternoon but it spilled to Stewy on the spot, literally, who this time hit it right footed and found the back of the net to make it 2-0. Despite Forest’s possession it was Boro who were making their chances count as the game petered out in a fairly controlled but uninspiring manner from a Boro perspective. Still you can only beat what’s in front of you and there looked to be more goals in this game as Boro sensed an opportunity to boost their Goal difference.

All through the first half Bamford had battled up front, chased ran and outfought the attentions of the Forest Centre Backs with Figueiredo feeling the after effects of Paddy after hauling him down but left licking his wounds literally as the game had to be halted for what looked like some emergency dental work for the Forest CB. I’m sure that Dani, Stewy and Paddy were not remotely intent on raising their game for the benefit their erstwhile manager although the thought of hell hath no fury like a footballer scorned did enter my mind!

The first half came to a close with a succession of Forest corners which Boro had conspired to dither, dilly and dally in their clearances before Dani eventually lamped the ball 50 yards into the opponents half. Sometimes keeping it simple but brutal betters all that fancy interplay at the back putting yourself under unnecessary pressure which had required Randolph to palm away a Tomlin effort.

The second half started with no changes for either side and was the perfect accompaniment to the backdrop of the dull, damp, wet and miserable weather. The below average fayre being served up was suddenly awoken by an overhead bicycle kick by Dani Ayala who along with Paddy looked hell bent on proving a point (or all three). Again Boro were sitting back, too far back in fact absorbing Forest pressure as Aitor rang the changes astonishingly with 30 minutes to go instead of his usual five or less making a double substitution. The young Striking prospect Brereton came on for the hapless Vellios and McKay for the half fit McDowell.

Four minutes later Clayts came on for Besic who had had a good game including a rousing desperate tackle chasing back to save Boro blushes and inspirationally setting up an attack singlehandedly in the first half. Mo had been hobbling a bit after taking a knock on the hip and with Sheffield coming up on Tuesday it made sense. Meanwhile Adama had been switched between left and right wings all through the game but to no avail and had minimal impact on the match putting in an altogether disappointing afternoon. Forest however hadn’t given up the game and were causing Boro some worries at the back as balls started flying into the box and crosses started to fly across Randolph’s goal area with shots being blocked.

The second half belonged to Forest as we struggled to get out of defence and launch an attack even Adama was back defending corners as pressure was building. The Riverside had gone very quiet with only the away section in fine voice. Clearances were desperately hoofed upfield where battling isolated Bamford was holding up play, having his shirt tugged and pulled yet still stretching the Forest defence all by himself. Grant had tried a rare Boro effort, this time a measured attempt into the top corner which Pantilimon plucked out of the air fairly easily. Britt was warming up and came on for the by now almost anonymous Adama. Paddy moved to the right side playing wide and providing cover for Shotton. Paddy was literally running on empty yet still managed to get back and head another vital clearance as he had done previously at corners. Despite not making the score sheet for me this was perhaps Bamford’s most complete performance in a Boro shirt. TP realising that his in form striker was now well and truly burnt out replaced him Cranie to strengthen our backline, hold on and also perhaps to let Cranie get his Burton car crash out of his system. Paddy received a standing ovation as he went off which was in contrast to the reception Britt had received when he had entered the field of play minutes previously. The away support clearly not appreciating that the money his departure earned had injected their club with much needed cash.

Britt was lively and involved and should have put the game to bed with a one on one with Pantilimon but hit the NE corner instead of the target from ten yards out. Another opportunity to fluff his lines happened again as the away fans started singing the Assombalonga song in ironic support of his ability to need five or six chances to net one. He had a penalty claim turned down as he was hauled back and also worked a brilliant back heel pass to set Paddy up only to skew his fatigued shot wide.

The second half was one to forget for Boro, it certainly won’t feature highly if at all on the season’s highlights video. The first half had shown hope of a goal fest in the second half but after the break we once again underwhelmed. At this stage of the season it’s the points that are of greater importance but with Sheffield, Bristol, Derby and Millwall all coming up it was less than convincing.

MOM was a joint one for me between Paddy and Dani who both put in the sort of performances that we will need more of to make the Play-offs.

Boro face the spectre of missing out
as Karanka returns to his old haunt

Werdermouth previews the visit of Forest to the Riverside…

After the lacklustre displays against the team propping up the league and the nine-men of Wolves, Boro followers will be somewhat apprehensive at the visit of the tricky trees, which just got trickier with the return of Aitor Karanka to the Riverside in the opposition dugout. The former Boro boss who led the club to their last promotion should receive a good welcome from many of the supporters and players as he returns to his old haunt – though the drop in form following the international break has left the club facing the spectre of missing out on the play-offs as the chasing pack move ever scarily closer. It may be stretching the analogy to wonder if some of the players have given up the ghost with regard to promotion but now is not the time to lose your nerve and play with fear.

Aitor Karanka may no longer be at the club but his spirit is still evident in the current team with the midfield pairing of Clayton and Leadbitter recently restored to sit in front of a back four that still consist of the Gibson-Ayala axis and George Friend – with Bamford now playing up front and being supported by another old favourite Downing, it looks like little has changed – plus even Traore was his touchline project too. In all, eight of the usual starters are Karanka players and it could be argued that the former boss and his methodology is the ghost in the machine that can’t be exorcised.

It may be hard for many of these players, particularly in central midfield and defence, to avoid falling back on the years spent being drilled on moving the ball methodically and patiently – particularly when it becomes a coping mechanism in times of stress. It’s quite incredible to think that after all the turmoil, changes and money spent in the last 12 months, Boro have reverted back to the bulk of what were Karanka-type players. Perhaps what is missing though is the famed intensity (perhaps both his strength and weakness) that he brought to the party – though what we may now have is a group unable to adapt and break out of the shackles ingrained in their heads by the former manager as they attempt to go through the motions on the pitch of trying to change the way they play.

Many may not be surprised to hear that our former manager’s team haven’t found the net in their last four games and indeed his Forest side have only scored in 4 of his 13 games since he took over in early January – though remarkably one of his three victories was against leaders Wolves, with another being a rather out of character 5-2 goal-fest against QPR that was followed-up with a victory over managerless Birmingham just ahead of Garry Monk’s arrival. Conceding three goals in those back-to-back victories perhaps proved to be far too irritating for the former Boro clean-sheet perfectionist as he then drilled his players into delivering a rather self-satisfying run of three successive nil-nil draws and they haven’t scored since. I expect Karanka on his return, with his nil-by-mouth bedside manner, will be hoping to rekindle the passion and appreciation for those clinical clean sheets by those pre-medicated punters, who are patiently waiting in the corridors of uncertainty at the Riverside as they contemplate getting off their trolley if operation play-off is cancelled.

Middlesbrough Nottingham Forest
Tony Pulis Aitor Karanka
P40 – W18 – D9 – L13 – F56 – A39 P39 – W13 – D7 – L19 – F43 – A56
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
6th
63
1.6
72
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
17th
46
1.2
54
Last 6 Games
Burton (A)
Wolves (H)
Brentford (A)
Barnsley (H)
Birmingham (A)
Leeds (H)
F-T (H-T)
1:1 (0:1) D
1:2 (0:2) L
1:1 (1:1) D
3:1 (2:0) W
1:0 (1:0) W
3:0 (2:0) W
Last 6 Games
Millwall (A)
Sheff Utd (A)
Derby (H)
Norwich (A)
Birmingham (H)
QPR (A)
F-T (H-T)
0:2 (0:2) L
0:0 (0:0) D
0:0 (0:0) D
0:0 (0:0) D
2:1 (1:0) W
5:2 (1:0) W

Much has happened at the Hurworth acute admissions ward since Karanka was struck off just over a year ago and locum Steve Agnew received a hospital pass from chairman Steve Gibson as he was put in charge of attempting to nurse a weak and disorientated Boro back to recovery. The hastily assembled care team that comprised consultant therapist Joe Jordan, junior doctor Paul Jenkins and orderly Woodgate proved to be all underwhelmingly too little too late to save the rapidly fading flat-lining Premiership patient who had lost the will to live. In the end we all had to take our medicine, which was the bitterest of pills to swallow after such a long time impatiently spent in the Championship waiting room for our number being called for our regularly cancelled appointment with the English elite clubs.

The post-mortem at the end of the season proved inconclusive as a difference of opinion existed between those who had ignored earlier symptoms of malaise and others who had failed to diagnose a problem of inherent weaknesses at a much earlier stage. Revelations that self-harm had ultimately been the cause of our pain left a bitter taste in the mouth as seemingly divided loyalties between Victor Orta’s privately cared for out-patients and the no frills public sector workers who had been the foundation trusted with promotion the previous year. So the Director of Football, who had transfused the club by bringing in the new blood, was subsequently discharged along with most, if not all, of the new admissions. Boro elected to start again and put their trust in the new regime of Garry Monk with a more progressive model for success as the club threw money at the problem of lacking a cutting edge that was identified last season.

Like all plans on paper, they are subject to being implemented in the reality they were designed for and it’s during this phase where often things don’t go quite as they were supposed to. However, Monk was no stranger to either accidents or the emergence of new problems and he struggled to get to grips with the league as his team failed to smash through the glass ceiling of mediocrity – let alone smash the league that his chairman had hoped for. He was often seen putting on a brave face and limping into casualty to have a sticking plaster applied to the foot that was forever been shot into by a team that was neither one thing or the other in terms of defence or attack. The former Leeds and Swansea manager’s team were consistently inconsistent as players were shuffled in and out as performances were seldom delivered in a convincing manner. With no obvious signs of progress being made, or indeed a shape emerging with the team, chairman Steve Gibson decided further surgery was required at the club as he wielded the knife once more and Garry Monk was excised from his duties shortly before Christmas.

After something of a pregnant pause, the Boro chairman delivered the club’s fourth manager in a little over nine months as a return to the Premier League at the first attempt was proving to be more laborious than anticipated. With Steve Gibson appearing somewhat in breach of his promotion promise, he pulled off something of a coup by landing his most experienced manager since Terry Venables was enlisted to support Bryan Robson. Nevertheless, installing a man famed for avoiding relegation may have been a slight over-reaction to Boro’s upper mid-table position and it was hard to see how a squad assembled for progressive football would easily marry with the preferred tactics of an old-school Tony Pulis.

Those supporters that were expecting a sudden improvement in Boro’s fortunes were going to be disappointed as Pulis only won four of his first ten games – which had basically meant Boro had more or less continued with the same form that had seen Monk dismissed. Furthermore, the team had failed to score a goal in his first three home games, which was not winning over the Riverside faithful as initial prejudices on the style of the manager appeared to be confirmed. Out went previously ever-present Britt Assombalonga in favour of Big Rudy Gestede as the stereotypical Pulis target man. Also out were Christie and Fabio as their wing-back attributes were replaced by the preference for the big solid full-back types of Friend and Shotton – with the latter also being favoured for his tick-box long throwing ability. In addition, Braithwaite opted out of the change and quickly crossed the Channel back to France, while Fletcher crossed the bridge over the more troubled waters of the Wear as he headed to Sunderland in the hope of a game. No doubt magic Johnson would have also exited the club if he hadn’t already played for two clubs this term but he disappeared faster than a white rabbit dropped in a top hat with a super-massive black hole at its core.

There was little business in January to suggest there was an urgency to remould the squad in the image of the manager, with just the short on match-fitness loan signings of Mo Besic and Jack Harrison recruited to fill the void left by departures. What this actually meant was Boro had gone from their pre-season aim of having potentially one of the strongest squads to essentially a First XI plus a few like-for-like changes – albeit players who were either short on game time or low on confidence. This didn’t sound like a club who meant business in the same way they started the season and it began to feel like the start of a re-grouping for the next campaign with just one eye on sneaking through the play-offs. Pulis’s one saving grace was that he had somehow managed to unlock the talent that was Adama Traore as he graduated from occasional bit-part player under Monk to the main attraction under the new regime. Assists and goals duly arrived as the team was suddenly built around the pace and power of a player who was rapidly becoming the talk of the Championship. Also rehabilitated was Patrick Bamford who has now been promoted to his preferred striker role – though it seemed more by accident than design as big Rudy was ruled out for the season and main January target Mitrovic opted to join a Fulham team managed by fellow Serbian Jokanović instead.

It’s perhaps unfair to judge Tony Pulis too harshly on what has been only a third of a season to experiment with what he inherited from the substantial summer dealings and he may indeed feel his options are quite limited for the task of promotion. Whether Boro have developed into a team capable of winning four of their remaining six games to secure a play-off spot is not something many would feel confident in predicting – plus subsequently going on to beat two of the form teams like Fulham, Villa or Millwall in the play-offs is perhaps an even bigger ask. It may well be in the back of quite few players minds that promotion is the end of road for their Boro careers – those who were found wanting last season may believe the club will have already judged them and it would be hard to imagine many supporters feeling confident in doing any better with the same old faces again. After all, they’ve only managed two wins all season against the top half of the Championship.

So one year on from Aitor Karanka’s departure, have those who make the decisions learned what they must do as a club to gain promotion and hopefully stay up? Given what has happened this season, it’s unlikely that they knew what to do but they might at least have known what not to do – Steve Gibson has now handed the project over to Tony Pulis in what looks like a short-term quick fix rather than attempting to build a long-term strategy. The fact that the chairman decided the way forward following relegation was to create an opposite philosophy to Karanka under Monk, in which the club attempted through the mass purchase of attacking players to be more progressive rather than being reliant on a methodology that relied on a head coach orchestrating his players to be primarily hard to beat through defensive drills and driven by the desire to control not nurture.

Whether Monk was ejected purely on his record this season is uncertain but one wonders if Gibson just wanted Tony Pulis more than he wanted to wait and see whether Monk would succeed with his project. It seems Pulis was an unlikely successor to carry the investment in the Monk model forward and the chairman would have hopefully anticipated that he’d want a different type of player to the ones the club had just spent nearly £50m on. The sidelining of Britt and the departure of Braithwaite removed £25m worth of assets from the first team with the exit of Christie and the disappearance of Johnson a further £5m, before the loaning out of Fletcher brought the amount of transfer money not being active on the pitch to £37m – if Howson now also gets benched then we’re talking about well over £40m of the summer spending tasked with promotion becoming unused. So it essentially leaves the first year of parachute payments being squandered and that’s before we add in the wages. There will be no need to have an inquest should Boro fail to gain promotion as the finger of blame may rightly be pointed at the summer recruitment policy but that was exacerbated the moment Tony Pulis was appointed and it left many of the new model signings redundant to the cause.

So will the Boro players be feeling all nostalgic with the return of Karanka to his old haunt and be keen to show him they can still do a job for him next season as they grind out a goalless draw? Or will a few of his former charges be chomping at the bit to prove they have the spirit to leave his petrified Forest less than enchanted? As usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will Karanka resist the temptation to start shouting instructions to Adama from the dugout?

Burton 1 – 1 Boro

Burton Albion Middlesbrough
Sordell 6′ Assombalonga 90′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
44%
13
 1
 5
 9
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
56%
13
 3
 5
12

Boro suffer Brewers droop

Redcar Red reports on the draw at the Pirelli Stadium…

Wet miserable Easter weather provided the backdrop to this afternoon’s game which complimented the mood on Teesside for many after a not so good Friday. Boro fans had struggled for grip heading through morning sleet and snow to reach the Pirelli Stadium. The Brewers had lost 70% of their home games this season, failing to score in almost half of those and only winning 2 games so nothing could possibly go wrong surely? In the most compact Stadium in the Championship Boro were expected to collect all three points in a no nonsense performance heaping more misery on the son of one of our most famous sons. The only injury concern for Tony Pulis was presumably some bruised egos and the hangover that “frustrated Friday” had left us with and that come 5.00pm we would not be left with egg on our face.

The line-up saw Shotton dropped to the bench along with Adam Clayton with Cranie given a first start and Howson restored in midfield. I was surprised to see Shotton dropped unless he had a slight niggle but if he was fit enough to be on the bench then it begs the question. As poor as Howson was when he came on against Wolves TP perhaps felt he is fitter than what he currently has available another struggler Downing used one of his nine lives yet somehow retained a start. With Derby beating Preston at lunchtime a win by more than two clear goals would see Boro leapfrog Derby into fifth.

Boro were adorned in their white away kit for some reason against the yellow of Burton as Traore started off on fire with a bursting run past three players but the final delivery wasn’t the best. On six minutes a low bobbling cross from Dyer saw Sordell smash the ball in the bottom corner of the net as Adama aside Boro started slow and almost lethargic. Clearly the lessons learnt from Friday night were zero and any fire and intensity after the criticism of many over the weekend had failed to provoke a reaction. What TP’s team talk was heaven knows but it seemed almost as uninspiring as his half time team talk on Friday night. A corner to the Brewers followed up quickly from their goal to keep the pressure still on our defence, a Downing clearance up to Paddy took a last gasp tackle to concede a corner for Boro. A low Traore corner was easily cleared for a throw in by George which when launched in went wide from Ayala.

Fifteen minutes gone and Boro were making hard work of it. Our passing was poor and once again Dyer was causing trouble down the right side of our defence as the inclusion of Cranie wasn’t looking a good call by TP. Boro were looking distinctly average and indeed had the appearance of a mid-table nothing side with little to play for, totally underwhelming. Tactically it wasn’t working, Boro just didn’t seem hungry for it. Considering what was at stake, the failure of TP in taking the axe to those on cruise control now looked to be biting him on the backside as “laboured” would have been a compliment. Something psychologically was wrong; the team looked flat, devoid of leadership and drive. If we thought that our efforts against the nine men of Wolves for twenty five minutes was poor this sunk to a new level. What was being witnessed was a massive question mark against TP’s competence in how he handled the aftermath of Friday, how he set up and selected his side today.

Bamford was isolated again as we sat deep playing a lone striker against the worst side in the division. Another run from Traore in which he was scythed down again led to a corner which was a very rare spark from Boro in an otherwise flat afternoon. Burton understandably were sitting deep protecting their single goal lead picking off Boro’s poor decision making confident in knowing Dyer had the beating of Cranie.

White was a perfect choice of shirt colour as it reflected the spiritless, surrendered performance on show as Boro had fans asking has there been a worse performance all season? Ten minutes to go to half time and the entire thirty five minutes to date were an abject embarrassment. At this point Pulis admitted his first selection faux pas as Howson was hooked for Assombalonga and we went 442. The head scratcher was that Howson was probably the best of a bad lot. Why we started so poor and why we were set up the way we did against the worst side in the division was nothing short of a disgrace. Despite Howson being poor on Friday night as mentioned he was probably the best of a bad lot this afternoon and there were 6 or 7 others whom I would have hooked well before him. Once Britt arrived we picked the tempo up a little (just a little I add) winning a corner shortly after which ended with Ayala putting it out for a Burton Goal Kick.

Dyer had another cross put out by Cranie and shortly afterwards a shot across Randolph’s goal ended up in another corner to the Brewerymen which fortunately Bent fluffed his lines otherwise it would have been 2-0. The half time whistle sounded in what has to go down as one of the most uninspiring, gutless, disgraceful performances in recent Boro history. TP was playing with Adama as the only attacking threat and outlet and tactically that was it, nothing, absolutely nothing at all whatsoever from anyone in a white shirt especially from the “untouchables”. No passion from anyone, no captaincy or leadership in evidence either on the pitch or from the touchlines. An absolutely galling display and I refuse to use the word performance; totally disinterested best described the lot of them!

My hopes were for a rousing half time team talk and a change from TP but on several occasions now he hasn’t shown anything in terms of a half time tactical switcharound or a good rollicking. My personal feeling is that the signs were there on Friday from several who hadn’t brought their “A” game, well today the same old same old didn’t bring their “E-“ game, absolutely disgusted.

We came out for the second half as I suspected with no changes and no inspiration. More insipid, directionless monotony continued. Britt nearly took a kick to the head, The Burton keeper handled outside the box, we had a tame shot which was easily collected and that summed up the opening twenty minutes of the second forty five. There is very little point in detailing anything else because it was poor, very poor fayre indeed. Someone behind me remarked on Friday night “you’d think they don’t want promotion” well after this afternoon it was looking like there was some semblance of truth in that exclamation. Something stinks, and today it was festering.

This was a Burton side that were appalling all season in every statistical aspect you can take to measure them with yet we made them look like Barca and Cranie made Dyer look like Messi. Harrison was readied and came on for Downing but with 15 minutes left another question has to be raised as to why then. I and others had suggested Harrison and Baker (and even Fabio) getting a chance from the start as those who had been highlighted as deficient previously had simply repeated the same level of ineffectiveness. In a memorable moment of “managerial beggared beliefness” TP brought the below par Grant off for the exciting, skilful flair of Clayts to boost our attacking options!

Traore broke free and flew past a flurry of wipe-out tackles to feed Britt who dithered and eventually dispatched a shot that landed in Grimsby. Britt as we know can be a lethal finisher but it’s just unfortunate he needs six chances for every goal he scores. Traore again went on another run in a solo effort (indeed the only player in a white shirt where the word “effort” wasn’t a misrepresentation under the Trades Descriptions Act) to try and remedy the embarrassment. Another late chance came via a cushioned header from Britt with no real power which didn’t really threaten which summed up Boro for the whole afternoon.

Finally after another Traore run into the centre of the pitch he dinks the ball forward from the edge of the “D” to Harrison who controls brilliantly in a similar area to Paddy on Friday, hit the crossbar but Britt was following up to nod it home to draw level on 90 minutes. Four minutes of injury time beckoned but Bent collected the ball to almost bring the Brewerymen back into the game but fortunately was adjudged to be offside. In the dying seconds a Clayts taken free kick was floated into the box in a nothing set piece but from it Dyer broke and Bents eventual effort was tame.

We robbed a point but everything about the day was ill prepared, ill-conceived and not even executed let alone poorly executed. TP selected the wrong underperforming and underwhelming players who repaid his trust and confidence in a footballing equivalent of a two fingered couldn’t care less salute and TP fully deserved it. The inclusion of Cranie over Shotton was baffling. Shotton didn’t have the best of games on Friday night but was by a country mile not the worst player so how he lost his starting place is beyond me. The thirty five year old Dyer tore Cranie apart and caused Boro no end of problems as a consequence. It was never addressed all through the match and that responsibility lay fully with Tony Pulis. At half time the general apathy was never addressed either and the game continued with only a modicum of improvement, simply not good enough, not even remotely acceptable. It was so bad the entire squad and management should donate their wages this week to a charity because to accept payment from Steve Gibson for that is tantamount to daylight robbery.

The flaws from Friday were ignored and just as they were ignored at half time on Friday they again appeared to be brushed aside and weakened by the team selection today and once again at half time there was an inability to ring required changes. That is extremely poor management and not something I would have remotely countenanced from an individual with TP’s experience. If we are treated to that same level of indifference on Saturday don’t expect the fans to stay silent and regardless of how much or how little players get paid or might have cost they will be subject to intense scrutiny. From top to bottom that performance was unacceptable and nothing short of a disgrace. The fact that we are still in the Play Offs after that is incredible but relying on others to be even worse than us isn’t what Tony Pulis was brought in for.

Calls of a dinosaur levelled at TP before his appointment is one thing but to actually play dinosaurs is another story altogether. The only difference I suppose is that dinosaurs moved quicker, had bigger brains than the majority on that pitch today and were leaner and hungrier. There wasn’t a single meat eater in a white shirt today, not one and that includes those in tracksuits with or without caps. That side needed a Nigel Pearson in the changing room on Friday night and again today, if TP isn’t man enough for it and Kemp, Fleming, Gould and Woodgate aren’t then bring some cajones into his coaching staff quick because most of those players today needed more than a collective rocket fired up them. No hunger, no pain, no passion and no desire, contrast that with the celebrations from the Wolves players and coaching staff on Friday. Not very pleasant admittedly but that’s what winners look and smell like. MOM yer jokin arn’t yer, it was a case of Strachan revisited!

Boro hope to get over Friday’s hangover
with a visit to the ailing Brewers

Werdermouth previews the trip to Burton…

Boro will be looking to silence the doubters after losing to the leaders at the Riverside on Good Friday where they ended up being metaphorically crucified by some poor defending and then failed miserably to make their two-man advantage count after two nailed-on red cards. The Boro faithful will no doubt be looking on the bright side as they hope to see their promotion challenge resurrected on Easter Monday when taking on bottom club Burton, which is managed by the son of that other Brian who was occasionally mistaken for being a messiah.

Whether Clough junior will be inspired by his late father into performing miracles is perhaps expecting too much – though he’s unlikely to attempt a similar feat to the one claimed by his father at Forest on the same local river that also passes through Burton: “The River Trent is lovely, I know because I have walked on it for 18 years”. Being compared to the genius that his father was is inevitable, but it’s perhaps more likely that should Nigel attempt such fancy footwork he will just be regarded instead as “a very naughty boy” – though there is still a risk he’ll soon be drowning, albeit his sorrows once the inevitable relegation of the Brewers is confirmed.

Whilst it wasn’t unusual for some old-school managers back in those days to compare themselves to divine objects of worship, it was occasionally met with disbelief by their players – when former West Brom striker Cyrille Regis came out publicly as having found faith, his ex-manager Ron Atkinson said to him “What’s all this about you finding God? You worked for him at West Brom for four years”, before Regis replied “Actually Ron, there is only one God, and you are not him.” Still, Brian Clough wasn’t planning on playing second fiddle to anyone as he declared: “When I go, God’s going to have to give up his favourite chair” – though that particularly seat in the upper tier may not have offered him an opportunity to witness a decent game if another famous quote of his was also true: “If God had wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there.”

Tony Pulis may have sometimes unfairly been claimed to be planning to play football in the clouds with his long-ball tactics but the Boro supporters will certainly be looking to the heavens if his team have a bad Monday and fail to see off a club that sit 23 places below Good Friday’s opponents. The contrast between Wolves and Burton is perhaps best described by the slightly tongue-twisting fact that there is a 79 goal difference in their respective goal differences (+37 versus -42). Even if Boro are forced to endure a full 90 minutes against an 11-man Burton, surely they will have enough to see off an opposition that concede two-and-a-half times as many goals as they score. On paper at least, this will be deemed as a great opportunity to bank three precious points and hold onto Boro’s precarious grip on a play-off spot.

Burton Albion Middlesbrough
Nigel Clough Tony Pulis
P37 – W7 – D9 – L23 – F28 – A70 P39 – W18 – D8 – L13 – F55 – A38
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
24th
30
0.8
35
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
6th
62
1.6
73
Last 6 Games
Cardiff (A)
Wolves (A)
Sheff Utd (A)
Bristol City (H)
Brentford (H)
Millwall (H)
F-T (H-T)
1:3 (1:2) L
1:3 (1:2) L
0:2 (0:1) L
0:0 (0:0) D
0:2 (0:0) L
0:1 (0:0) L
Last 6 Games
Wolves (H)
Brentford (A)
Barnsley (H)
Birmingham (A)
Leeds (H)
Sunderland (A)
F-T (H-T)
0:2 (1:2) L
1:1 (1:1) D
3:1 (2:0) W
1:0 (1:0) W
3:0 (2:0) W
3:3 (0:1) D

Indeed, that fight for the last two play-off places has become tighter than the proverbial gnat’s unmentionable place where the sun shines even less than on a bank holiday Monday – though no doubt that the Boro chairman Steve Gibson would be chuffed to bits if his club finish in one of those coveted spots. However, with just two points between the six clubs from fifth to tenth, there is little room for either complacency, error or manoeuvre – a win would certainly help put Boro back in the driving seat of what is shaping up to be another white-knuckle ride on the roller coaster to oblivion that even Alton Towers would deem to scary for the punters to contemplate. Although defeat could even see Boro suddenly down in tenth place should the other results match the betting slips of the more pessimistic Teessiders, who are in a desperate rush to be put out of their professional misery and collect enough winnings to pay for their early-bird season ticket for next year’s fix of gloom.

Rather worryingly, making the play-offs will require Boro to do something that has so far looked beyond them – beating a team that is higher than them in the table. It’s somehow slightly perverse to start contemplating wanting to see Boro test themselves in the Premier League against the best teams in the land, when they’ve only managed 2 wins from the 16 games played against the teams currently in the top half of the Championship (Sheff Utd and Preston). It’s only thanks to the other 16 victories against teams in the bottom half of the league that we are still able to even have the conversation about making the play-offs.

It probably tells us something about the overall quality of the squad and their mentality that this is not a team ready to make the step up to the next level – nearly all of them must surely know that promotion is the end of their dream not the beginning. It would be foolish to believe that without a massive massive investment and some outstanding buys, which has not normally been achieved by the club in recent years, there will be little to suggest 17th place or above is the most likely outcome that will follow the most sheepish singing of “Up the Boro, the Boro’s going up to stay” since Baa Baa Black Sheep had season ticket in the Holgate.

Having said that, it will perhaps be even harder to contemplate promotion next season if our campaign fails once we’ve waved goodbye to our only weapon that hurts the opposition – i.e. Adama Traore, who will not be short of offers from clubs who have seen the addition of an end product to his unbelievable pace. OK, he may raise plenty of cash to offset the other losses that we’ll no doubt incur in offloading the failed buys of last summer – though having money to spend next season means nothing unless it is both spent wisely and the club can attract the best players willing to ply their trade in the second tier. I suspect despite him finally scoring, the prospect of Ashley Fletcher returning to lead the line from relegated Sunderland is not going to get the queues forming at the ticket office in the summer.

So will Boro cure their Friday night hangover with a half-empty glass of under-strength hair of the Wolf clearing their heads as they start downing the points again? Or will the Brewers catch the Teessiders on the hops and have us over a barrel as our promotion campaign hits the dregs? As usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will the Burton players start trying to get themselves sent-off if they score first in a cunning attempt to psychologically affect the Boro players?

Boro 1 – 2 Wolves

Middlesbrough Wolves
Bamford 90′ +4 Costa
Cavaleiro
Neves
Doherty
58′
37′
56′
71′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
55%
17
 3
 6
10
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
45%
 7
 6
 2
13

Pack mentality frustrates Boro

Redcar Red reports on the defeat against Wolves…

This was the ultimate test for a resurgent Boro with the League Leaders arriving at the Riverside this evening to see if Boro could shake off the hoodoo of being unable to beat teams around them let alone one twenty points ahead of them! TP confirmed in his press conference that there were no injury concerns apart from Rudy Gestede so hopefully that meant Ayala was back to full fitness, Besic had come through his International travels without a recurrence of his earlier Hamstring problems and Paddy was fit and raring to go. The biggest selection dilemma for TP presumably was a straight choice between Grant or Clayts.

Wolves Manager Nuno Espirito Santo would likely be missing Diogo Jota with an ankle problem but that was his only fitness concern with danger man Afobe very much likely to start. Boro have an impressive record against Wolves stretching back to 1951 for the last time the visitors took away all three points from Teesside or two as it was back then. Wolves had never completed a double over Boro and depending on your perspective it would be unlikely that Wolves would break the habit of a lifetime or it was inevitable that tonight was the night that that record would be broken “Typical Boro” fashion with Wolves not losing back to back away games since March last year.

Boro’s team was as expected by many with Grant being recalled but surprisingly Howson left out so we had Clayts and Grant playing alongside Besic in a somewhat unadventurous looking Boro midfield that was to be totally bossed by Neves. The game started with both sides probing and testing their opponents but the wing backs from Wolves were opening up the game and stretching Boro’s backline and causing us problems. Shotton and Traore struggled to cope on the right whilst Friend and Downing had an easier time on the opposite flank with George having one of his better games in a while. In the first half Downing struggled to create anything of real merit whilst Traore seemed a little lost and confused at times apart from three cameo runs which highlighted both his value to the team and the futility of being unable to get him on the ball in dangerous places.

Boro started to gain a bit of control and started playing with some confidence but ironically just when we settled we were hit by a sucker punch clearance out and Grant took one for the team as he scythed into a challenge on Cavaleiro for which he was lucky to receive just a yellow. Despite that Boro still exerted their influence in the game although it has to be said it petered out in the final third due to a lack of a cutting edge pass, momentum, continuity, pace and bodies supporting Bamford who battled very well considering it was often 3 to 1 in the favour of those in gold.

Wolves took the lead against the run of play after some scrappy last ditch defending which had a hint of a hand ball in the build up to the goal but neither the Ref or his Assistant had the same view as the North Stand. Cavaleiro managed to get to a Randolph saved ball first and managing to keep it in play it fell to boo boy Douglas whose chipped effort was volleyed past Randolph by Costa. One-nil against the run of play or not it was a warning or it should have been but minutes later Wolves doubled their lead with an awkward ball floated in from a corner that forced another brilliant tipped save from Randolph but nobody in Red was covering the right hand post and a simple knock in from Cavaleiro was the price paid for our defence going awol.

Frustrating in the extreme at the manner in which we failed to clear our lines and also that we just couldn’t get Adama firing and Paddy supported at the other end. For all our “dominance” at that point which fate was tempted by choruses previously of “Top of the league you’re having a laugh” our persistent passing was a throwback to former times of windscreen wiper vintage. Half time came with a small amount of boo’s ringing round more out of that word “frustration” again than bile at the players efforts.

Thankfully the half time break would give Pulis the opportunity to shuffle his pack and inject some pace and drive centrally. To the surprise of most we came out with the same eleven lining up and almost instantly were on the back foot as Wolves looked to put the game to bed early on. Boro steadied themselves but couldn’t break open the men from Molineux. Things were becoming a bit feisty with a few choice challenges from Boro in the first half now being matched but the ante now upped from Wolves and Stuart Attwell started dishing out yellow cards to those in Gold in addition to the one he had issued in the first half to Ruddy for timewasting.

TP had switched Adama over to the left at half time to continue to keep him in earshot and as George continued his forays but now feeding Adama his magic drew the unwanted attention of Wolves as they entered a period of serial fouling and increasing their card count on the way. Paddy had a great chance set up by Adama that he worked well but slipped at the vital time when he was one on one with Ruddy. Adama had also slipped previously as questions were impolitely muttered around me about stud selection and pitch watering activity.

Most annoying on the night was that Boly looked like an accident waiting to happen and Ruddy was less than confident in his handling and distribution yet we never tested him, instead continuing to play this slow predictable passing retention game without any end product. Grant as great as he is and Clayts just didn’t possess the magic to match Neves and Stewy seems to getting worse with his decision making and shooting which was highlighted when he had the chance to pull things level in the dying seconds but again missed the big white target while earlier scooping a shot well over the crossbar by several feet.

As envious as our glances were towards Neves he managed to get himself booked for arguing with Attwell and then went flying into George in a ridiculous lunge which had the North Stand screaming for him to be sent off which was duly obliged when he received his second Yellow and then Red. Down to ten men Boro now surely would go for it and bombard Wolves to try and pull back the deficit. The sending off was controversial from an away perspective as seconds earlier George looked to have brought Costa down from behind when clean through on Randolph but Attwell had adjudged the fall to be theatrical or the coming together accidental which seemed very fortuitous to those in the South East Corner and therefore George had remained on the pitch.

George again was linking up well with Adama to have a terrifying effect on the ten men of Wolves and a high ball that looked to be going out for a Goal Kick was contested by George and Doherty who already booked looked to have led with an elbow to pick up another Yellow and Wolves second Red of the evening. By this time Wolves were now in total disarray, down to nine men yet Boro were still content to pass the ball around the edge of the box instead of driving shots at force from a distance looking to take advantage from ricochets’. No quick unlocking pass and play movements from Boro and despite having a two man advantage we still made hard work of it and tactically things weren’t improved by introducing Crainey for Shotton when the opposition had their backs to the wall.

Shotton had just picked up a Yellow and had been fortunate to avoid one earlier so there was some methodology behind the decision. Assombalonga had also been introduced and he battled well inside the box fending off defenders but the build up to him was slow predictable and ponderous and therefore easily read and defended against. Six minutes of added time seemed scant reward for the amount of stoppages and time wasting but Paddy managed to cleverly toe poke an effort in with two of the six minutes remaining to provide false hope, too little too late.

Wolves are not top of the League by luck and showed their unity, undoubted skills and understanding but three shots on target was a very poor return especially against nine men for a large chunk of the second half. Downing looks to have lost creativity out wide and slowed things down on too many occasions, Clayts and Grant likewise struggled to inject any va va voom and as a consequence we just ground things out by passing out wide or back centrally again when we needed a Ramirez to unlock the defence or in his absence some power pressing with pace and passing instead of slow Chess moves. Howson was brought on to try and remedy that one dimensional aspect but he had the touch of a baby elephant unfortunately and failed to make any impact.

Besic had been quiet in the first half but had a lot more influence on things in the second as did Adama who was also incidentally our best ball boy as he vaulted the advertising hoardings like a hurdler on several occasions to retrieve the ball. Randolph was great in goal and wasn’t to blame for either goal and indeed kept the scoreline down but MOM for me was George, whilst Adama caught the eye in the second 45 George was consistent for the full 90 minutes.

To end on a positive despite numerous sections of the ground emptying before the final whistle those remaining stayed loyal and gave a generous round of applause at the final whistle which despite the disappointments and frustrations echoed the wider sentiment of this still isn’t over and the fans are still believing that a Play Off place is there for the taking.

Boro hoping to have another
good Friday in front of the cameras

Werdermouth previews the visit of Wolves to the Riverside…

After a two-week break in proceedings so that Gareth Southgate’s England team can practice some essential phrases in Russian like “Sorry, I’ve never heard of Boris Johnson” and “No thanks, I don’t want a McMafia Unhappy Meal” – it’s time once again to stop pretending you’re remotely interested that some unknown Australian secretly stuck a yellow piece of plastic into some round piece of leather because he was so bored of standing around and wanted an early tea. Yes, football is back and it’s still winter even though the clocks are all wrong and the lambs are refusing to frolic until they see written proof that it’s officially spring.

Boro welcome table-topping Wolves to the Riverside, who continue to lead the promotion pack and show the hunger needed to properly smash the league. Tony Pulis will be hoping to uphold the unusual but good Friday agreement that they are normally allowed to win when they play in front of the cameras as they attempt to at least temporarily halt the team in orange from their inevitable march towards the Premier League. Though rather appropriately for Good Friday, the Holy Spirit will be present at the Riverside – but before Boro followers start to anticipate having a religious experience (other than the usual raptures in time added on) it should made clear that this unearthly presence is merely the Wolves manager, Nuno Espirito Santo, whose surname literally translates as ‘Holy Spirit’. Just to add to the Easter symbolism, the Wolves manager was also born on the Portuguese island of São Tomé, which translates as Saint Thomas, who was according to the famous book, the doubting disciple of Jesus after his resurrection following the crucifixion.

On the subject of doubters, Boro opened their season as the bookies promotion favourites with a visit to Molineux and suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat in game of few clear-cut chances as the teams shared possession. There was little to suggest back then that there would be the massive gulf in points accumulated by both teams and with just 8 games left to play Wolves are an unassailable 20 points ahead of Boro. The Defensive record of both teams is pretty similar but it is at the sharp end where Nuno Espirito Santo’s team have out-performed the Teessiders with 15 extra goals. Nevertheless, Boro have out-performed the leaders in that department during the last six games with an impressive 14 goals to their 12 – which has left many wondering what might have been this season. For all the talk of Wolves having an unfair advantage over other clubs in the league, Boro can’t really point their finger, as let’s face it, the club squandered their massive budgetary advantage on too many attacking players that just weren’t fit for purpose. It may prove to be the most costly of mistakes if Boro miss out this season but the team have scored three goals in their last three Riverside outings and Wolves may still be mindful that their last trip away to Villa ended in a 4-1 defeat.

Middlesbrough Wolves
Tony Pulis Nuno Espirito Santo
P38 – W18 – D8 – L12 – F54 – A36 P38 – W25 – D7 – L6 – F69 – A33
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
6th
62
1.6
75
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
1st
82
2.2
99
Last 6 Games
Brentford (A)
Barnsley (H)
Birmingham (A)
Leeds (H)
Sunderland (A)
Hull (H)
F-T (H-T)
1:1 (1:1) D
3:1 (2:0) W
1:0 (1:0) W
3:0 (2:0) W
3:3 (0:1) D
3:1 (2:1) W
Last 6 Games
Burton (H)
Reading (H)
Aston Villa (A)
Leeds (A)
Fulham (A)
Norwich (H)
F-T (H-T)
3:1 (2:1) W
3:0 (1:0) W
1:4 (1:1) L
3:0 (2:0) W
0:2 (0:1) L
2:2 (2:1) D

The big bad Wolves have been facing howls of protest from some quarters, mainly in West Yorkshire area, over claims that they’ve blown the house down when it comes to fair competition. Following their 3-0 home defeat to the leaders at the beginning of March, Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani sent a frustrated post-match Donald-style Tweet that questioned the legality of the link-up between Wolves and so-called super-agent Jorge Mendes. He complained: “Not legal and fair to let one team owned by a fund whom has shares in the biggest players’ agency with evident benefits (top European clubs giving players with options to buy… why the other 23 teams can’t have the same treatment?)”.

The Leeds owner has not been alone in raising the issue of the complex arrangement between the Wolves owners, Jorge Mendes, their manager and some of the players. In the summer of 2016, Chinese investment group Fosun International acquired Wolves via a British Virgin Islands-registered holding company for an estimated £45m, with Fosun’s chairman Guo Guangchang having an estimated personal fortune of over $6bn. It was reported in The Independent newspaper that a few months earlier Mendes had sold a 20 per cent stake in his world-famous Gestifute agency, through which he operates, to a company called Foyo Culture and Entertainment – which is in fact a subsidiary of Fosun and this deal was announced as part of a major partnership between Mendes and Fosun.

After Wolves was acquired, Mendes was brought in as an “adviser on transfer dealings” and the subsequent view on the deal by the FA was that the formal ties between Fosun and Gestifute were considered to be so minor that they were not enough to represent a ‘conflict of interest’ under their rules. Incidentally, those FA regulations in the section relating to conflicts of interest state that intermediary organisations “shall not have an interest in a club”, and that a club “shall not have any interest in the business or affairs of an intermediary’s organisation.” – so hard to make much sense of that ruling.

Guo Guangchang Foyo Jorge Mendes Andy Pan Foyo

In addition, current Wolves head coach Nuno Espirito Santo has been represented by Mendes for over 20 years since his playing days, as too were many of the players signed, including £15.8m record signing Ruben Neves and on-loan Atletico Madrid forward Diogo Jota. David Conn wrote in the Guardian about the transfer dealings last season after the takeover by Fosun that Mendes influence was clearly evident in some of those signings, including a then club record £7m paid to Monaco, for the Portugal midfielder Ivan Cavaleiro. He also observed that the FA now publish an annual list of ‘intermediaries’ involved in transfer deals and it stated Carlos Osório de Castro, a lawyer based in Portugal acted for the player, with Valdir Cardoso, a Portuguese agent understood to work for Gestifute, representing the club. In January, Wolves then paid Monaco £13m for the Portuguese midfield player Helder Costa, which listed the same two intermediaries Osório de Castro and Costa on the deal.

David Conn added that Carlos Osório de Castro is believed to have acted as Gestifute’s lawyer for many years, though the Guardian were told by them that they don’t comment on business undertaken for their clients. The subsequent arrival of fellow Portuguese player, João Teixeira was listed as having no agent but Wolves had Andy Quinn, a director of Gestifute International based in Ireland, acting for them. However, the Portuguese defender Silvio, who signed from Atlético Madrid, was not listed in the FA document so the agents on that deal have not been publicly disclosed. In all 12 players were brought in 2016-17 and Wolves finished in 15th place under Paul Lambert, who subsequently left the club. Wolves stated that they only paid £1.25m in agents fees last season and that was below the average. They also claimed Mendes was an adviser to the owners, in the same way as many other agents and influential figures within football are – the club have signed players within his portfolio as well as players from other intermediaries.

Of course there is a danger that people can get drawn into the hype that if you want to be successful then you need to enlist the services of the likes of Jorge Mendes. Perhaps the Leeds United owner was simply trying to deflect criticism from his club’s own short-comings, which have seen Leeds season take a nose-dive after looking like possible promotion contenders. Granted Wolves may have some good players that are only at the club thanks to their spending power and contacts to Mendes, but let’s not build them up into some kind of ‘Invincibles’. Having good players is certainly not a hindrance, but they got where they are by also playing as a team and forming a winning mentality – this is also the task of Tony Pulis and he has 8 games left to prove Boro can have a shot at the play-offs. After that it will be down to who performs on the day and Boro’s cause will be greatly improved if they manage to see off the current leaders to continue the recent momentum with their six-game unbeaten run.

So will Boro silence the doubting Thomases who are still unsure that their season has been resurrected by new saviour Tony Pulis? Or will the presence of the ‘Espirito Santo’ and his team of actual league smashers prove to be a heavy cross to bear as Boro are left feeling stigmatised by their own failure? As usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will Boro continue their three-game record of scoring three goals at the Riverside?


mendes super agent 2

So who is Jorge Mendes?

Werdermouth looks at the super-agent behind Wolves…

Mendes was a budding professional footballer who had to abandon his dream in his early twenties after being rejected by several Portuguese clubs. He was looking for a new career and after the less than glamorous job of running a video rental shop, tried his hand at being a DJ before opening a nightclub in the small town of Caminha on the north-west border of Portugal, which was famous for hosting one of the country’s oldest rock festivals. Then in 1996 Mendes apparently had a chance meeting at a bar in the historic town of Guimarães with a goalkeeper who played for the local club Vitória and he agreed to let Mendes become his agent.

That player was none other than current Wolves manager Nuno Espírito Santo and Mendes brokered his first deal in football as Nuno joined Spanish side Deportivo de La Coruña on a five-year contract, although he only actually made 4 appearances and spent much of his time out on loan. Incidentally, the town of Guimarães where they met was known as the birthplace of the Portuguese nationality as it is believed that Portugal’s first King, Afonso Henriques, was born there in the beginning of the 12th century – rather appropriate for a man who was to become king of all agents.

Perhaps the key to Mendes success was that he quite early made the decision to target young promising players and has been hailed as someone with a brilliant eye for talented players, who scouts players and is quick to sign up those who catch his eye. He was a frequent visitor to the soccer schools and youth teams and spotted a young Cristiano Ronaldo and quickly signed him up. Mendes also reportedly learned the importance of being straight-forward and loyal to his clients when he witnessed the fall of the number one agent in Portugal, Jose Veiga, who’s influence waned after he fell out with Porto over the sale of midfielder Sergio Conceicao to Lazio, leaving him out in the cold with the most lucrative Portuguese club to do business with.

The decline of Veiga left Mendes as the go-to agent in Portugal and seemingly nobody left the country without Mendes having a hand in the deal. Mendes’s first major international deal was Hugo Viana’s move from Sporting Lisbon to Newcastle for around £8.5m in 2002 and a year later he brokered the £12m move of the teenage Ronaldo to Man Utd. His next big deal came in 2004, when he stepped in and negotiated José Mourinho’s move from Porto to manage Chelsea – Mourinho’s agent had lined up a move Liverpool but Mendes cut a deal with the Israeli super-agent Pini Zahavi, who was acting for Chelsea to try and bring the Special One to Stamford Bridge instead. This deal established Mendes’s importance and every Portuguese player that followed Mourinho to Chelsea became a client of Mendes – including Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira, Tiago and Maniche. with Mendes being paid by Chelsea to act for the player and for the club.

Mendes Phones

Those who are represented by Mendes argue that he offers a very personalised service and goes that extra mile to take care of their needs – though no doubt what they are also getting is his leverage in being able to squeeze out the maximum return on deals. When Mourinho left Chelsea for Inter Milan in 2008 it made him the highest paid coach in the world and his subsequent move to Real Madrid netted Jose a four-year contract worth £40m. Mendes also secured the deal that saw Scolari to move to Chelsea on a three-year contract worth around £6m – which was also rewarded by Scolari by allowing Mendes privileged access to the Portugal national team’s hotel during the Euro 2008 tournament so he could plot his players next moves.

In 2009, Mendes handled the £80m record transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo from Man Utd to Real Madrid and then in 2011 brokered three deals to Monaco worth £120m for James Rodríguez, Falcao and Moutinho. Mendes then ‘earned’ himself around £30m in 2014 when he saw through four big money deals for James Rodríguez again who went to Real Madrid, Ángel Di María who left Madrid for Man Utd, Diego Costa from Atlético Madrid to Chelsea and Porto defender Mangala who joined Man City. The figures involved in those 8 deals add up to around £400m and those are just but a few – in addition, it’s been assessed that Mendes was responsible for nearly 70 per cent of all players transferred from Portugal over a ten year period between 2001-2010 with deals from the big three of Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon amounting to nearly €550m alone.

It seems if you want to get ahead then it helps to have Jorge Mendes behind you and it’s probably no coincidence that England has seen a recent influx of Portuguese managers with contacts to the super-agent. Marco Silva, who recently managed both Hull and Watford is represented by Mendes, with fellow Portuguese manager Carlos Carvalhal also enlisting the help of Mendes in the January transfer window to bolster his squad, though despite agreeing fees for some Mendes’s clients it appears the players themselves weren’t too keen on joining the relegation threatened club.

Third-Party Ownership

Getting paid for doing transfers was just one aspect of the business but Mendes had set up a company, GestiFute, that was also involved in part-owning the economic rights of many of his players. The name GestiFute is the short version of Gestão de Carreiras de Profissionais Desportivos, which translates as Management of Careers of Professional Sportsman – and basically did what it says on the tin. Though when we talk about ‘economic rights’ we essentially mean third-party ownership and although the FA made this illegal in 2008 following the less than transparent ownership that surrounded the Tevez and Mascherano deals to West Ham, though it was still allowed by the Portuguese Football Association, as well as in South America and some other countries.

GestiFute was also involved in part-owning the economic rights of a number of their players and part of these were sometimes sold on. For example, Porto bought 20 per cent of Brazilian-born Portuguese professional footballer Deco’s rights from GestiFute in exchange for €2.25m million, plus 5 per cent of the economic rights for Ricardo Carvalho, 10 per cent of Benni McCarthy’s rights and then a further 15 per cent of Deco’s economic rights €1.25m. It meant that Mendes could generate cash from his players without even selling them, which is especially useful if clubs had players that were on long contracts.

Bebe

In addition, Mendes also bought the economic rights off his clients too and this proved particularly lucrative in the case of Bebé in a move to Man Utd Mendes received in addition to his nearly €1m agent’s fee, €2.7m from the €9m deal as part of the economic rights. Again, David Conn had also investigated this deal and discovered Bebé was playing in the Portugues third tier until his agent got him a free transfer move to Primeira Liga club Vitória de Guimarães. Before the season has even began, Bebé sacked his agent and joined Mendes, who also puchased 30 per cent of his economic rights for just €100,000 and reportedly inserted a €9m release clause in his contract.

Stories appeared in the Spanish press that Mourinho was keen on buying Bebé, which then apparently forced Ferguson into a quick decision to buy – just two days after Bebé had joined Mendes. In fact Bebé only actually made two league appearances for Man Utd before being sent out on loan and Alex Ferguson admitted he had never seen him play but reportedly bought him on the recommendation of his former Portuguese assistant Carlos Queiroz, who was also a client of Mendes and at that time was coach of the Portugal national team. Incidentally, Queiroz’s relationship with United had been important in the transfers of Anderson and Nani in 2007. Indeed, unspecified aspects of the deal were investigated by the Lisbon anti-corruption unit but ultimately nothing ever came from it.

Nevertheless, third-party ownership allows investors to receive part or all of the financial rights owed to the player from transfer fees or contract negotiation fees. These investors can be anyone from a football agent, company or even hedge-fund. We’ve seen in the past that clubs often don’t receive the lion’s share of big transfers as others get their slice of the action. The concept was often used in countries like Brazil and Argentina to encourage investors to pay for the training and accommodation of young players on the promise of getting a return in future transfer deals. However the problem then becomes that players are moved around or parked until their value increases so that the ‘investors’ get a bigger return on their investment and often the player becomes just a commodity, who is encouraged move around and doesn’t personally financially benefit from the moves.

Our man David Conn also did an investigative piece in 2014 for the Guardian on plans by Mendes and Peter Kenyon to raise €85m to buy stakes in footballers via a Gibraltar tax haven for a fund registered in the tax haven of Jersey. The Guardian were shown a prospectus in which Mendes’s Gestifute agency and Kenyon’s company, Opto, are described as advisers to the fund, helping to identify players and make “partnerships” with “development clubs” in Spain and Portugal, and using their “relationships” with clubs in the “Big 10”. All sounds none specific, but it suggests the fund will do substantial business with them, buying stakes in players who will then be sold on, at a substantial profit to the investors. The plan is for the fund to advance the money to an Irish-registered company, which will buy the stakes in players.

The document says of Mendes and Kenyon that they have “developed many relationships throughout the football community. By leveraging these relationships, Peter Kenyon and Jorge Mendes have demonstrated a proven track record in brokering football Transfers” – Conn was unsure what ‘leveraging’ meant but it seemed to imply they would be able exert some kind of influence on which players were bought and sold. In addition, the article claims the document lists four other funds investing in third-party ownership of players which it says Kenyon and Mendes have advised – the Guardian claimed these were Jersey-listed partnerships and that Chelsea strongly appear to be involved in one of these funds. The document also claimed that Mendes may act as the player’s agent and may be remunerated independently in that capacity.

Conn argued that was likely in breach of FIFA regulations on agents, which stated: “Players’ agents shall avoid all conflicts of interest in the course of their activity.” and that FIFA “…imposes an obligation on clubs not to pay any part of a transfer fee to a player’s agent, and specifically prohibits the agent “owning any interest in any transfer compensation or future transfer value of a player”. The Guardian raised their concerns with FIFA but a spokeswoman only said: “We cannot provide comments based on a hypothetical situation. The disciplinary committee decides on a matter after analysis of all the specific circumstances pertaining to a case.” David Conn noted that FIFA has never brought any proceedings against any club or person in relation to third-party ownership funds.

In May 2015, FIFA banned third-party ownership, and specifically prohibited either clubs or players from entering into economic rights agreements with third-party investors. The European Parliament also announced a similar ban in sports, after raising concerns over the integrity of competitions as there was a risk players could be encouraged into criminal activities such as match fixing by unscrupulous third-party owners.

big sam

So is this the end of investors and third-party ownership? You would think so, but cast your mind back to England’s most successful manager (on paper) with a 100 per cent record. Yes, Big Sam Allardyce, who after one game and one win was shown the door by the FA after he was caught on camera by undercover reporters boasting to a bogus Far East business consortium how they could circumvent FA rules which prohibit third parties “owning” players. Over the course of two meetings Allardyce told the fictitious businessmen that it was “not a problem” to bypass the rules introduced by his employers. Big Sam added he knew of certain agents who were “doing it all the time” and claimed “You can still get around it. I mean obviously the big money’s here.”

So is it common knowledge in the game that players are still owned by third-parties? Perhaps the regulators are just not able to follow the money in a world where clubs, agents and players are often paid and operate through offshore holding companies – though like most things finding the proof is another matter and anyone making unsubstantiated claims will no doubt receive a letter from the expensive lawyers acting on behalf of their clients. It seems from what has happened in the past there is little will on behalf of the various footballing regulators, or perhaps even expertise, to investigate such matters.

An Agent for Owners too?

As well as representing an ever-growing list of the best players and top managers, Mendes has been also been involved in finding new super-rich owners for clubs too. In 2014, Mendes was instrumental in the takeover by Singapore businessman Peter Lim of a Valencia club struggling with €350m debts. Lim was the son of a fishmonger who grew up in a cramped two-bedroom apartment with six siblings, who went on to study accountancy at the University of Western Australia. He made his money after investing in an Indonesian Palm Oil start-up company that he eventually ended up taking over with a $10m loan before selling his stake for a staggering $1.5bn after the demand for palm oil in US food products rocketed. Lim had previously tried to buy Liverpool but failed and his preference was to invest in English football but was brought instead to Valencia by Mendes.

Mendes then brought in his old client Nuno Espirito Santo as manager, which had apparently been a condition of the takeover and the club were soon signing players from Mendes’s portfolio. Interestingly, Lim also acquired the image rights for Cristiano Ronaldo and then bought a 50 per cent stake in Salford City, which is co-owned by Giggs, Scholes, Butt and the Neville brothers. After a poor start to the 2015-16 season Nuno was dismissed and Lim’s co-owner of Salford, Gary Neville, was surprisingly installed as manager but was sacked just four months later after recording the lowest ever number of wins for a Valencia manager with 3 from 16 games. Valencia under Lim initially struggled and even flirted with relegation amid rumours that the new owner wished to sell the club – though six managers appointed in a little over two years with unrest behind the scenes can’t have helped the club.

It was claimed in Spanish newspaper El Pais that it used to be that “shambolic Valencia were regarded by some as a clearing house for players on the books of agent Jorge Mendes” – with one journalist, Aitor Lagunas, who writes for a Spanish football magazine saying “Valencia was seen as one of the showrooms for Jorge Mendes in European football. The way of Valencia used to be accept any kind of player with a Jorge Mendes profile.” He added that last summer was the other way around with new manager Marcelino sending the club’s owner Peter Lim to PSG and telling him: “Don’t come back without Goncalo Guedes. From all the players of Jorge Mendes, I want him.” And that is what happened – Guedes has been regarded by many as the player of the season in Spain and now Valencia are currently in fourth place, just one point behind Real Madrid.

Mendes also has had a long-standing influence at Monaco, where one of his clients the Portuguese coach Leonardo Jardim has been the manager since 2014. Monaco were taken over by Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev in late 2011, who appointed Jose Mourinho’s former technical scout at Real Madrid, Luis Campos, as Sporting Director in 2013. Campos was also a client of Mendes and it was he who appointed Jardim and Monaco were soon signing players from Mendes’s portfolio too – including James Rodríguez, Falcao and Moutinho. Another club where Mendes has influence is Zenit St Petersburg through his relationship with another Russian, Suleiman Kerimov, who was a major stakeholder in Gazprom, which bought Zenit in 2005 and both had good links with Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. In 2014, one of Mendes’s clients and a Mourinho former technical scout at Chelsea, Andre Villas-Boas, was installed as manager at Zenit – with more players from his Gestifute agency soon following such as Bruno Alves.

Opening Doors

Clearly Mendes now has influence at many clubs and he has many of his clients either operating as managers or directors of football, who are subsequently signing players from the portfolio of his Gestifute agency. Indeed, he now even has business links with the billionaire owners of some clubs, with Wolves being the obvious example who are quite open in having invested in his agency. When an individual is involved all the way down the chain from owner, manager and player you would think that the footballing regulators would see that as a conflict of interest but they seemingly have little interest in pursuing the matter. It’s quite possible that Mendes may in the future or already has been involved in a deal where both clubs and both managers, along with the player are all his clients. In such a case, what is the point in any of them being represented by someone who is supposed to act in the best interests of them as a client?

Perhaps it’s a case of nobody complaining because in the end everybody wins, one club gets the player they sought, the manager strengthens his team and the player gets a good contract – the other side offload a player and get paid a good return. Even when Mel Stein, chairman of the Association of Football Agents in England, who argued that agents can represent a player and be a broker in his transfer if efforts are made to avoid a conflict, he also declared “What is not acceptable is seeking to earn money from both ends of a transfer without ensuring that there is no conflict” – though Just how you can ensure there is no conflict of interest in such deals is hard to imagine. Of course the main winner is probably the man in the middle who gets another slice of the action for simply moving one of his assets from one of his clients to another and often banks a seven figure sum for ‘brokering’ the deal. In the end it’s not clear who is representing who – do the ‘clients’ represent the agency or does the agent still represent his clients?

The other issue that the Leeds owner alluded to was that it was not a level playing field because Wolves had access to an agency that controlled some of the top players at bigger clubs that were perhaps available at ‘mates rates’ and were out of reach for clubs who were not in the exclusive circle. It’s perhaps possible that if such agencies control a large group of players then for others to gain access to them may depend on accepting conditions dictated on the terms of these powerful operators. We shouldn’t forget that Steve Gibson also forged a relationship with Peter Kenyon in 2013 and gave the reason that “I’ve known Peter for almost 20 years… It’s of huge benefit that everyone in football takes Peter Kenyon’s call.” before adding “His contact book is extensive and he has given us a route to the most powerful agent in world football in Jorge Mendes”.

Mendes Karanka

It was through those contacts that Boro appointed Aitor Karanka, who was one of Mendes’s clients and Gibson also announced “We’ve got two Academy teams in Madrid as we speak and we’ve built up other links that we’re not able to announce. We see ourselves being part of a three or four-club group that will help each other.” There has been little to suggest Boro’s relationship with Mendes proved to be of major benefit in terms of transfer deals and perhaps the most notable deal signed from his portfolio was goalkeeper Victor Valdes. Negredo was a player who arrived from Valencia, where Mendes had a strong influence, but was not represented by him and had subsequently fallen out of favour at the Spanish club after questioning Nuno’s tactics – his £28m signing from Man City was triggered before Mendes’s time and the club were keen to offload his hefty wage packet.

Perhaps Boro are not big enough fish for the likes of Mendes who seems more keen on keeping company with the billionaires of Asia and Russia, along with their deep-pocketed clubs. Having asked Peter Kenyon as a “very successful man” to give his “outsider’s view” and “come and look at everything and say where he thought we could improve”, Gibson seems to have now asked a similar question of Tony Pulis, who will no doubt have given his no-nonsense opinion on what Boro need to do if they want to compete in a football world where money now talks in much louder numbers than Steve Gibson’s northern dulcet tones.

Money is Power

In conclusion, Jorge Mendes has been at the centre of many of the big money deals in football for over 15 years and has an ever-growing list of clients that either own, manage, sanction transfers or play for some of the biggest clubs in Europe. Football has long since become a big-money industry where transfer deals are now being measured in the hundred million pound bracket and new owners and investors are frequently billionaires. Indeed, many of those involved in football ownership often appear to let their hearts rule their heads and regularly make poor, sometimes foolish decisions in the fear of missing out or possibly let their vanity get the better of them. It’s probably easy to exploit such people and it may be no surprise that FIFA have not shown much interest in ensuring that everything is seen to operate as transparently as we may expect, after all their record in matters such as integrity is not exactly setting an example.

We’ve also seen in recent years that those who regulate the game are also busy trying to extract large amounts of cash from very rich people – The Football League have themselves been courting the same billionaires businessmen of Asia in search of investors, such as Mr Caraboa and the subsequent bizarre EFL Cup draws aimed at courting rich Asian businessmen. The FA have also deemed that billionaire owners of clubs, such as Wolves, have no conflict of interest by investing in a football agency that controls the players they are buying. Even the PFA Chief Executive, Gordon Taylor, awarded himself a £2.2m pay rise last year to reflect the belief that you’re nobody in football unless you can demonstrate your credentials through the size of your wedge. Football is probably just a more public face of what is happening in the wider world of business – very rich and powerful people now control all aspects of our lives with governments and regulators appearing either unable or unwilling to intervene.

Mendes is probably just the equivalent of a multinational company like Google or Facebook, which gradually become more powerful by giving everyone what they want until eventually they control a huge chunk of the market. So we shouldn’t be surprised that men like Jorge Mendes exist, it’s just the inevitable consequence of a super-heated market that only has light-touch regulation where ultimately the powerful just become richer and more powerful as they operate on the edge of the rules. Mendes may even be a nice guy, as many of his clients profess, who is just able to do things better than others in the same way Mark Zuckerberg apparently is. The problems come when others start to see opportunities to go a step too far as we have seen with Cambridge Analytica – by which time it’s too late for the regulators as the consequences have already happened.


Portugal Aljubarrota

Anglo-Portuguese relations: the story
of the oldest alliance in the world

Werdermouth takes an historic glance at Portuguese beginnings…

As an added bonus this week after some tangential research – here is a short historical meandering look at how the start of Anglo-Portuguese relations helped to ensure that Portugal is not just a region of Spain and whether there are any tenuous parallels to be scribbled between that and the UK’s exit from the European Union.

While you’ve already heard that the surname of Nuno Espirito Santa translates as ‘Holy Spirit’, his first name Nuno is quite a popular name given to boys in Portugal as it is likely derived from the important historical figure of General Nuno Álvares Pereira, who played a pivotal role in the country’s history. General Nuno was instrumental in seeing off the Kingdom of Castile (the precursor to what is now Spain) who invaded in 1385 during the battle between the rival camps for the contested Portuguese throne. It was a struggle that divided a country between those who wanted to join the wider alliance of an Iberian Kingdom and those who wanted to remain an independent country – unfortunately there were no referendums back then and sword was mightier than the pen when it came to making decisions.

The Portuguese struggle for independence is a somewhat complicated story that almost makes Brexit sound civilised. It involved a battle between the southern regions who wanted to remain independent of Castile and those to the north that sought to have Portugal annexed into a greater Iberian power. The situation arose after King Fernando heard the drums calling him to leave this mortal coil and left Portugal without a male heir – he’d earlier married off his only daughter Beatrice to King John I of Castile, which was viewed as an attempt to make Portugal a protectorate and deter the English from invading the Iberian peninsula. However, the prospect of being swallowed up into a greater Castile lead to an uprising in Lisbon, who backed Fernando’s step-brother John for the throne instead.

To add to the confusion both pretenders to the throne were called John – John, Duke of Valencia (who we are also confusingly told should not be confused with John of Castile, Lord of Valencia) and Fernando’s step-brother John, Great Master of Aviz (not an early horse rental organisation but a monastic military order that emulated the Knights Templar). Aviz John was the great hope for those who wanted to remain independent and is often referred to in Portugal as ‘the Good’, ‘the Great’ or even by the rather unforgettable catchy title ‘of Happy Memory’ – though to add balance he’s sometimes also referred to as ‘the Bastard’ instead, especially in Spain. I suspect that latter title is where similarities with Nigel Farage end, who I presume has been called far worse both in Europe and the UK, but nevertheless John was someone who was definitely in the ‘We want our country back’ tradition.

The story took another twist with the arrival of another John – this time it was John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and father of the future King Henry IV – who landed in Galicia to stake his claim to crown of Castile (his second wife Constance was heir apparent) with help from Portugual but failed to get the backing of Castilian nobility and instead returned to England after being paid off by a rival claimant. Although he did leave his daughter behind, not in the absent-minded David Cameron sense after a decent Sunday lunchtime session, but in order to seal the Anglo-Portuguese alliance with a marriage to the newly crowned John I of Portugal and the Algarve (who was formerly known as the Great Master of Aviz).

It’s probably worth noting that John of Gaunt (or Ghent as it’s now known) is perhaps responsible for many of the Royal houses in Europe through the descendants of his children. Although he was the third son of the Plantagenet King Edward III and never became king himself his children led to the three houses of Lancaster, York and Tudor and all subsequent monarchs of England since 1603. In addition his daughter Catherine married into the Castile Royal House, from which all monarchs of Castile and Spain are descended, plus all subsequent monarchs of Portugal are descended through his daughter Philippa – in addition, so too is the House of Habsburg descended from his children.

This union between John of Gaunt’s daughter and King John I spawned a generation of highly educated princes known as the “Illustrious Generation”, who led Portugal into its golden era of great explorers and the ‘Age of Discovery’ as the lands from Africa, South America, India and China were successfully navigated by a succession of great sailors such as Vasco da Gama who circumnavigated Africa and reached India. Incidentally, this Anglo-Portuguese Alliance that was ratified as the Treaty of Windsor in 1386 is the oldest alliance in the World and still exists today with neither country ever fighting on opposing sides – even when Portugal was absorbed into the Iberian Union in the late 16th century many of the deposed Portuguese Royal House fought with the UK in the Anglo-Spanish war.

Although, it’s mainly thanks to Nuno Álvares Pereira that Portugal remains a separate country and is not just a western province of Spain – for his efforts, Nuno was bestowed many titles and had great wealth but went on to build numerous churches and monasteries before giving his wealth away and joining the Carmelite order of monks following the death of his wife. He actually died on Easter Sunday in 1431 and was later beatified in 1918 by Pope Benedict XV.

Whether any parallels can be drawn between the quest for Portuguese independence and Brexit is another matter entirely. Whilst Lisbon survived a siege early in the conflict thanks to England sending four ships laden with food (though only one got through), the current British Government appears to have been under siege since it triggered Article 50. The country is still divided on the issue and neither side on the Brexit argument has subsequently been convinced by the other that they made the right decision.

It seems the argument will continue to be conducted by attempting to scare the other side into submission or just hoping it will go away in order to return to a quiet life. The latest surreal stunt of throwing dead fish into the Thames by the Ukipper who shall not be named as proof that the final deal will ultimately be a stitch-up is just one in long line of Red Herrings. Perhaps the parting words of the EU in the yet to be written ‘A Hitchhikers Guide to Brexit‘ will just be unerringly similar to the Douglas Adams classic ‘So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish’ as the UK is cast adrift towards Trump’s America to make way for a European bypass…

Talking Point: Selfishness in football and its consequence

Beneath the sustained communal triumphs and disasters of football lies something else entirely. Simon Fallaha explores the inherent individualism and egotism in “The Beautiful Game”

Let’s start with a roleplay.

You’re a centre-forward who has become accustomed to starting under a certain manager. But, most recently, things have gone awry for you.

At a time when the manager, and fans, really needed you to deliver the goods, you missed some “gilt-edged” chances in a 0-0 draw.

Despite this, you believe, quite rightly, that the dropped points weren’t entirely your fault.

You think you played as well as everyone else, and deserve a chance to put it right in the next game.

Unfortunately, you have “one of those days” at the next training session.

You miss chance after chance in training. The manager, visibly unhappy, switches you for your understudy.

The understudy, delighted to be given a chance himself, scores goal after goal, putting you to shame.

It goes without saying that the understudy and first-choice roles, as far as forwards are concerned, have been reversed by the time the next match comes around.

This is too much for you. You emotionally confront the manager about your omission.

The manager does not take kindly to being challenged. And you pay the price, remaining second choice under the manager as long as your former understudy is available for selection.

❈ ❈ ❈

How do we react to this, as fans?

Some, even most, are not inclined to be sympathetic. Especially if the manager is a hugely popular figure and the team are enjoying success as a unit, as was the case in this situation, adapted from real-life.

They will think that the centre-forward would have been better off to man up, keep schtum and deal with being benched. But how would we feel if suddenly demoted in our jobs?

Imagine your whole life having a point leading up to a certain time because a manager, or if you’re freelance, a client, depends on you, and then circumstance unexpectedly intervenes to reduce your privileges or remove them from you entirely.

The reality of football is that a player is expected to put on the appropriate face for the sake of public unity. It is common for a dropped footballer, for example, to appear as sad as everyone else after a defeat while smiling on the inside because his own chances of a recall are enhanced.

Here, the frequently promoted and celebrated myth of the team ethic trumping everything else is thoroughly debunked – it is the pursuit of personal success and greatness that drives football. That’s football’s beauty and its beast – passionate entertainment and painful egotism at once.

What we see, or what we choose to see, is all there is. If a player can’t make the transition from a small club, where he felt loved, to a better-paid but more demanding role at a bigger club, we tend not to see his personal struggles. We only see a player not succeeding like we hoped he would.

Or, in the case of Albert Adomah, not succeeding in the manner in which we wanted him to succeed. How often has an individual surrendered, or curtailed, his individuality for what, we are told, is the good of the team? Because he is not considered a big enough name or suitable enough player to lead or inspire the attack himself, he is given a clearly defined role which can be upgraded when the right time and the right player comes along.

Some would have advised him to be “professional”, to grin and bear it while Adama Traore gradually found his touch. But he had other ideas. Many will not settle for being a “commodity” just because “it is what it is” at bigger clubs, such is the value of a player enjoying his craft as well as admiring his graft. With that in mind, Adomah’s departure may have been messy, but it is understandable.

How easy it was, and I’m entirely guilty of this, for the long-distance analyst to laud the aspects of Adomah’s improving team play under Aitor Karanka, hailing the intelligent off-the-ball movement, all around commitment, organisational skills and accuracy of the passing.

How much more difficult it was for the paying fan and the player himself to have the entertainment siphoned away for the sake of professionalism.

It’s like, to another degree, comparing Romario to Andres Iniesta for their national teams. You may admire the latter’s dedication and subtly intuitive passing, but you’d have willingly paid to watch more of the former, despite his renowned laziness in training.

That is what separates the admiration of the analyst from the desires of the fan – head versus heart, rational objectivity versus emotional subjectivity. It’s what makes many a fan forum, or comments section, so interesting – multiple points of view from a series of individuals divided by opinion but united by wanting the best for their team.

The ugly side of individualism is something else entirely. Thanks to The Secret Footballer, I’ve read of instances where a manager was so much of a control freak that he wouldn’t even let the club chef cook with salt anymore. Or of a selfish captain who betrayed the rest of the squad when the club didn’t want to negotiate their bonuses, getting fully kitted out for the team photo while every other player boycotted it.

It seemed that his big moment was more important than the well being of the squad itself. They never forgave him, and as TSF said, “this lack of leadership contributed to a very tough time for the team on the pitch”.

In football, we may all want the same thing. That is to say, the best for our club and country. But we all want them in different ways. For managers regarded as cult heroes, selfishness is a common trait. If said manager resigns, or changes tactics during a game or a season, he is, in a way, admitting a weakness, because if the team’s fortunes improve, questions about why he didn’t quit or change earlier arise. It may well make him happier to stand by methods that work most of the time, so that he can be proved right and hailed as the architect of triumph. This, of course, is damaging for him. It raises insecurity and neediness. The desire to be reassured of his greatness is more important than anything. Not good.

Most seek self-assurance, not critical dissections or self-examination. And that rings true for players also. We all know that the dressing room wasn’t really a happy place to be even after the wins began to flow again at the end of 2015-16. But we needed to make it out to be, so as not to create a public veil of a mutiny not quite quelled.

❈ ❈ ❈

I started with a roleplay, so I’ll finish with one, adapted from a real-life situation and the writings of The Secret Footballer. It’s an example of how toxic the consequences of selfishness in football can be.

You are the manager. A successful manager, at that.

Not everyone agrees with your methods. Not everyone likes your manner. But, in bringing consistent success to a club starved of it for years, you have rightly earned something representing cult status in the area.

Things, however, have fallen off the rails in recent weeks. After being in control of your destiny for so long, a combination of rigid tactics and executive meddling, including the arrival of a player who doesn’t fit in with your plans, has broken the momentum of the collective you created.

Where you once seemed invincible, you are now vulnerable, and this has affected the confidence of yourself and the team. Nonetheless, you do enough to stay in touch with your end-of-season goal.

At least until it all comes to a head in an away match you are favoured to win, and dominate, but end up undeservedly losing.

An achievement that once looked a mere formality is now out of your hands.

On the surface, your lips are sealed. But inside, petulant anger is bubbling and boiling, waiting to explode in the dressing room.

There, you lay into forward-thinking players who failed to convert their chances and defenders whose positional play let you down.

You’re giving them one of the worst messages imaginable: it’s not my fault. It can’t be. If all of you had done the jobs that your huge wage packets paid you to do, we’d still be in control of our destiny.

One player is brave enough to pipe up and suggest that the strategy ought to be a bit more flexible.

Except you’re too proud to admit that you’re wrong.

So you spit your dummy out. You throw a giant wobbly. And you give the players another awful message: if that’s how you all feel, and none of you want to stand by the man who worked so hard to build the foundations for the success you’re enjoying, then I’m out of here. If all of you think managing a team is so easy, why don’t you try it?

Everyone can see you ranting childishly. But that’s what you want them to see. What you’re implying, as TSF puts it, is that “you care so much that you don’t care anymore”.

You storm out of the dressing room and find a hotel room for the night while the shell-shocked players travel back on the team coach, without you.

This wasn’t what you had in mind. You wanted the player who spoke to come running after you and tell you that he’s sorry. That it wasn’t really your fault, and that he shouldn’t have undermined your authority.

But it didn’t happen. And, as a result, you get more than a little paranoid. Your thoughts are no longer about the club, but about what the players, the staff and most importantly the chairman must now be thinking about you. The nature of the event ensures a sleepless night.

The next morning you return to the wife and kids. But the devastation, confusion and betrayal that everyone at the club who isn’t you must be feeling still isn’t a priority. Instead, you desperately wait for someone to call or text with an apology, telling you that they understood the pressure you were under. It doesn’t come.

Not for a few days anyway. By that stage, the panic, depression and frustration subside and the chairman chooses to pay a visit.

He convinces you that you must return to the training ground, and lead the team again, as we’ve all still got an important goal to reach. It doesn’t take a minute for you to shake his hand enthusiastically and tell him you’ll be right there, first thing in the morning.

Tellingly, he hasn’t apologised to you, nor has he said anything about the players feeling remorseful. All he’s said is that he wants you back.

But back at the training ground, that’s the last thing on your mind as you set out on your new mission: to remind everyone at the club of how important you are and to lead the team to their ultimate goal.

It doesn’t matter if the players are still talking about your temper tantrum, because you’re too focused on proving that if they’d kept quiet, rode the storm of your critique and accepted that wobbles happen at all clubs anyway, or something like that, all would be well.

Except things are still not well.

The team are ignoring you when they should be listening to you.

And why is this? Because, rightly, they still feel very hurt by the manner in which you deserted them after the unjust defeat. You expected apologies from them, but they’ve never heard an apology from you. Now, suddenly, you need them again? They won’t be your lackeys.

That’s their message. That becoming part of the club again must be earned. Before the previous game, for all the ups and downs, they had come to accept you as one of them. Now they can’t rely on you anymore. Your selfishness has been painfully exposed. Not understood as the momentary overreaction of a troubled soul under pressure, but as the explosive rant of someone who found that he wasn’t going to have things all his own way after all. A guy who wanted respect from everyone but respected no one.

In the direct aftermath, you do absolutely everything to make amends. The team start winning games again, you work extra hard in the office and when training, and you’re ultra nice to people and staff. You and the team achieve your ultimate goal for the season – but no one congratulates you or applauds your “recovery”, because what you’ve done since the dreaded dummy spit is everything that was expected of you as a professional anyway.

That is arguably the boundary and the price of the selfishness inherent in football.

In2views: Gary Pallister

The latest in a series of profiles and interviews, Orginal Fat Bob gives his personal view on the life and career of a footballing guest, before sitting down for a chat and asking a few questions. Our Diasboro special guest this week is Gary Pallister.

1. The Overview – the man and his career

Gary was born in Ramsgate, Kent although he has always been considered by most of us a local lad. He is one of those football players who began and ended his professional career with the Boro. When you see him strolling down Yarm High Street, or still patrolling the corridors of Middlesbrough and Manchester United, where he usually acts as a match host at their grounds, he is welcomed and greeted with smiles at every turn. Tall, greying at the temples and still handsome and athletic looking, he has the appearance, now in his early fifties, of being self-assured and a man comfortable with life. This can be evidenced when seen on Television, when he appears as a guest football summarizer on Sky Sports and other Televised Sports Channels.

He says “I didn’t come into the game until late. I was 19 when I turned pro and I hadn’t done an apprenticeship or anything like that, so I was privileged to end up having such a good career. You take it for granted at the time but, looking back now, I realise how lucky I was.”

He is always ready to laugh, and joke and he obviously loves still being in the football environment, where he can enjoy the craic with his fellow former team mates, as they playfully make digs at one another. Just like the young lads they once were and how we all remember them.

Pallister - Young

Pally was signed as a youth player from Billingham Town when spotted by the late great Willie Maddren and his management team. A fee was agreed and paid to them of a new football strip (a bargain signing OFB). I remember seeing him as a tall gangly youth and he was quickly packed off to Darlington on loan, to get used to the rough and tumble of lower league football. He came back determined to make his mark and he was helped in that, because he was to have alongside him another Boro legend, in the form of Tony Mowbray. He played as a centre-half and made the rare achievement of representing the English national side in 1988 before appearing in the top flight. He did this whilst playing in the Second Division for the Boro. I remember listening to that game on the radio, in my Managing Director’s office at work. We were surrounded by another ten keen Boro fans, eager to hear how he was doing. Well the boy done well; he was capped 22 times by England between 1988 and 1996 and I tried to see every one of them, proud that we had one of our own, playing for our Country.

Partnered by Mogga, the defensive partnership went from strength to strength and is still considered by many (including me – OFB) as one of the best that the Boro have ever had. Later that year Pally helped ‘Boro win our second successive promotion and reach the First Division, just two years after we almost went out of business. However we were relegated on the final day of the 1988–89 season. As one of the highest regarded defenders in England, his days at Ayresome Park were looking numbered as soon as Boro were relegated, but he did begin the 1989–90 season. He was still at the club in the Second Division, before his move to Manchester United was completed.

He played for Manchester United from 1989-1998, for which was then a club-record of £2.3 million for a Second Division defender. It was also the highest fee between British clubs, and the second highest fee to be paid by a British club (second only to Ian Rush’s return to Liverpool, from Juventus a year earlier).

A few eyebrows were raised when Alex Ferguson paid such an amount of money for him, but Fergie needed a centre-back to partner Steve Bruce. Pally was the only man to feature in the first 10 major trophy successes for the manager at United where he won four Premier League titles and three FA Cups.

Pallister and Fergie PFA

Following a blazing row with the Manchester United boss, Gary tells how he feared his career under Sir Alex Ferguson would last just 12 months, though as we now know he survived the dressing room confrontation with Fergie as an Old Trafford novice. Speaking in a documentary to celebrate Ferguson’s 25 years at United, he reminisces about that incident and it reveals a different side of Fergie to that we think we know.

“I’ve certainly witnessed the good cop, bad cop versions of Sir Alex Ferguson. I could take you through a whole file of them! There are far too many to mention. But he does have a public persona and a private one. We all see the fiery Scotsman on TV, at loggerheads with the press, and referees, but I can tell you he is a well-balanced individual. Yes, he put the fear of God into players, but you wouldn’t last 25 years at United if that was all you were about. There is so much more to him than the facade the public get to see. His man-management is great. He’ll rip into you if you deserve it, but publicly he’ll protect his players.”

“I recall once at Anfield, when I was having a shocker and he took me off at half-time, but when I read the papers, I discovered I had an injury. He’d told the press that was why he’d substituted me.”

“But one incident that really stands out for me happened after about a season at the club. I’d joined in 1989 from Middlesbrough, for a British club record of £2.3m and it is no secret that the first few months were difficult for me.”

“In that first year it always seemed to be me, Lee Sharpe and Steve Bruce who copped for the hairdryer. But in one match he really laid into me at half-time in the dressing room. I thought he had over-stepped the mark with what he came out with and I’d had enough. He pushed me too far and I responded.”

“I had an almighty bust-up with him. I thought my United career was going to be over as a result of that. A couple of days later I was called to his office. I went there expecting to get my P45 and be told I was on my way. I entered his room and I was still full of anger and adamant I had been right. I was readying myself for another argument and to be told I was being put on the transfer list.”

“But he really took the wind out of my sails. He deflated my balloon by apologising. He said he had crossed the mark and was wrong for what he had said. I was so taken aback, I forgot to say sorry myself.”

“It was a pivotal moment in my United career, because my respect for the manager grew enormously. He was man enough to admit he was wrong. More than ever before I knew from that day on that this was a manager I could work for.”

“He has dealt with so many different personalities and nationalities and has managed to adapt from pre-Premier League days when the job was so different, to the modern-day game and how the power of the player has changed. He was an old-school style boss, but has managed to adjust. He embraced everything and took new styles on board.”

It seems unfair to point to Pally’s lack of goals, when his main job was keeping out the opposition at the other end. The two headers at Liverpool to virtually clinch the 1996/97 title for Manchester United were truly special but there was something magical about his free-kick in the final home game of the 1992/93 campaign against Blackburn, when Old Trafford celebrated ending the 26-year wait for the championship. Everybody was willing him to get off the mark for the season and his perfectly-placed set-piece proved he was no ordinary centre-half and that he had skill in abundance.

By the time of his departure from Old Trafford after nine years, he was the only player to have collected winner’s medals in all of the club’s successes under Alex Ferguson’s management, and second only to Brian McClair (who left United at the same time) he was the club’s longest serving player.

Pallister Returns

Pally came back to the Boro for £2.5million, signed by Bryan Robson who had played alongside him until 1994. The fee was actually more than the money Manchester United had paid for him nine years earlier in July 1998. He scored once against Southampton in 55 League appearances, as well as appearing in two FA Cup matches and four League Cup matches.

His final playing season, in which we finished 14th in the table, was season 2000–01. He retired from playing due to a succession of injuries on 4 July 2001, at the age of 36. This was just three weeks after the appointment of Steve McClaren as our new manager. I was always grateful that I saw him play and he talks to us now.

2. The Interview – a quick chat

OFB: What year did you join Boro as a professional footballer?

GP: I joined the boro in 1984.

OFB: Where did you stay? Did you rent, or did you live in digs?

GP: I was living with my parents in Norton, so I didn’t have to live in digs.

OFB: Who was your favourite Boro player and others that you have played with?

GP: The best Boro players I played with were Alan Boksic and Gazza.

OFB: Who were the best and worst trainers in the team?

GP: The best trainers in the Boro team were Curtis Fleming and Gary Hamilton.

OFB: When did the team travel for away games, how did they get there, by bus or by train?

GP: It was usually the day before and nearly always by bus.

OFB: How many players usually travelled and did the Directors travel with you?

GP: In my first spell it would be a squad of 15 then about 18 in my 2nd spell, no Directors came with us.

OFB: Did you have nice hotels or was it just bed and breakfast?

GP: It was always a decent hotel that we stayed in.

OFB: Who did you room with for away matches?

GP: During my first spell with the club it was Bernie Slaven, then Colin Cooper in my 2nd spell.

OFB: Who was the joker in the team?

GP: First it was probably Slav, then it was Gazza.

OFB: Can you tell us any amusing anecdotes or pranks that were played?

GP: None that I could tell publicly!

OFB: Whose boots did you clean as an apprentice and who cleaned yours?

GP: I was never an apprentice, so I never had to clean any boots.

OFB: Did you try and emulate your style of play, on any individual player who played in your position?

GP: Alan Hansen

OFB: What was your most memorable game, your own individual performance and best experience with the fans?

GP: The Chelsea play-off game in 1988 at Stamford Bridge

OFB: What was your worst game or experience and why?

GP: I suppose it has to be the Leicester game, the last game of the season in 1988 when we failed to win the game and get automatic promotion.

OFB: Is there a game that you wished you had played in, either for Boro or another team?

GP: The 1999 European cup final for United.

OFB: Who was in your opinion the best manager that Boro have ever had?

GP: Jack Charlton.

OFB: Who was the manager that had the greatest influence on your career and why?

GP: Willie Madren, he took me under his wing and pushed me to be a success.

OFB: Which opposing team and which player did you fear playing against?

GP: I used to hate playing at Plough Lane, home of Wimbledon and never really feared playing against anyone.

OFB: Which opposing team and which player did you like playing against?

GP: I liked playing at Anfield, it was always the biggest test for me.

OFB: Who is your favourite Boro player of all time and why?

GP: Willie Maddren, because he believed in me.

OFB: Who is your current favourite Boro player and why?

GP: Ben Gibson, I like the way he’s developing as a leader of the team.

OFB: How do you think the match day has changed from the time that you played professional football to the present day?

GP: I Think the pitches have changed dramatically, it’s so much better to play good football on now.

OFB: If you could be a fly on the wall, is there any dressing room you would wish to eavesdrop on?

GP: Pep Guardiola at Man City.

Pallister picks up Trophy

OFB: Do you have any regrets in your career, or missed opportunities?

GP: It’s hard to have any regrets, when I was so fortunate to have the career that I did have.

OFB: Do you still follow the Boro and their results

GP: Yeh, I go to most of the home games.

OFB: Whereabouts in the Country do you live these days and what do you do?

GP: I still live on Teesside in Yarm (He is also a TV Pundit – OFB)

OFB: Whom have you made a lifelong friend through football?

GP: Slav, Mogga, Brucey.

OFB: Finally, if you hadn’t had a professional career as a footballer, what do you think you would have done as a career?

GP: Ha Ha, not got a clue, probably something involving sport.

OFB: A huge thank you Gary, for taking the time to talk to Diasboro and our readers.