How Tony Pulis’s reign ended… Part 2 of the season review

It’s not clear how long Steve Gibson and Tony Pulis had to wait before  they got to share that famous bottle of red but the Boro chairman has announced this Friday that there will be no more glasses raised next season. The decision won’t have come as a shock to most on Teesside as it seems the local media had been tipped off well in advance of any official club statement. So in the end,  the argument that a seventh-place finish was a worthy achievement under the tough financial constraints, which possibly some automatic promotion  winners could only dream of, was placed in the context it demanded. Incidentally, given the  parody of Steve Gibson as Henry VIII  in the  ‘Man for all seasons‘ piece of a few weeks ago, today rather ironically coincides with the anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn.

It’s  probably fair to say that football is ultimately a results-based business and Tony Pulis will know deep  down that his team fell short of the expectations of both supporters and chairman alike. Nevertheless, as the year started, an automatic spot was still a distinct possibility,  which the recruitment of “leg-beater” Rajiv van La Parra from Huddersfield to add much needed pace and the classy experience of John Obi Mikel was hoped would help achieve it. Indeed, come mid-January, Boro were only four points behind second placed Sheffield United and third-placed Norwich, with the thought that once the new recruits were match fit they would help the team kick on.

The 5-0 thrashing of Peterborough in the FA Cup was possibly optimistically taken by some as a sign that the shackles were maybe about to come off. Sadly, the next round against Tony’s home-town club Newport proved that not to be the case and the meek exit in the replay was perhaps a sign of what was to come in the league campaign. The football had been far from convincing  but Boro had ended February by losing just one of their eight games of 2019 against in-form Sheffield United.  Although, perhaps it was that 11th-minute injury time equaliser by Leeds that was to put an end to automatic promotion hopes.

Then a disastrous March began with a goalless draw against a struggling Wigan side that was then followed by four losses, which continued into April to make it six defeats on the spin. Boro had dropped down the table to eighth and even the play-offs were beginning to look gone. To their credit, Boro rallied and won five of their not particularly demanding looking last six fixtures. However,  it was not enough and the damage had already been done with what was regarded as a too cautious an approach at home by many supporters.  OK, Boro had been the victim of a few bad decisions and defensive injuries had left the team in makeshift mode. Still, it was scoring goals that had been the main reason why Tony Pulis and his team found themselves finishing outside the play-offs and whilst the manager was not responsible for the misses,  he played a significant  part in the overall failure of the team to trouble the opposition defences.

So now that Tony Pulis has gone and we await news of who will be leading the new regime at the club,  here is part two of the season review and a summary of how the last 20 league games of the Welshman’s tenure panned out through the words of own Diasboro match reporter,  Redcar Red and the post-match comments of Tony himself. What is evident is the sense of frustration of both men as the season and indeed promotion increasingly began to drift away from Boro.

 

January… W1 : D2 : L0 : F4 : A3 : 5/9pts

26. Pride restored at the Park

Pos. 6th (43pts) TUESDAY 1 JANUARY 2019 Pos. 5th (43pts)
Derby 1-1 Boro
Wilson (2) 62%
8(2)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
38%
11(2)
Hugill (52)

RR: After an horrendous start, looking punch drunk and out on their feet for the opening twenty minutes or so Boro fought back bravely and arguably were unlucky not to have collected all three points in the end. There were some very strong and committed performances notably from Howson, Friend, Hugill, Ayala, Batth, Fry and Randolph back to his best kept us in it but MOM for me was Lewis Wing who was out on his feet come the final whistle. That sleepy start for which I’m sure TP will not be holding back from when holding accountability forced Boro to put in their best performance for months to maintain their credible away form. I would like to hope that it showed Pulis that the limitations he thinks we have are perhaps not as severe as he believes and with Tav and now VLP could actually be much better.

TP: We were disappointed to lose Aden just before kick-off, that was a massive blow, and I think we started like it. We were very much on the back foot at the back. They got the goal after two minutes but the response of the players was fabulous and I think we took control then for long periods and Danny Batth’s chance was the best of the game and he should score. The players have worked tremendously hard, especially after such an early setback. To give them a leg-up you think ‘blimey, this is going to be a long afternoon’ but they showed great character and the midfielders swarmed all over Derby at times.

Full Match Report…

FA Cup 3rd Round Five star Posh pushover

SATURDAY 5 JANUARY 2019
Boro 5-0 Peterborough
Assombalonga (47, 70)
Friend (50)
Wing (62)
Fletcher (87)
64%
10(7)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
36%
9(1)

RR: MOM was Lewis Wing who came on and changed the entire game but Grant was also worthy of a mention for his reading of the game and spreading the ball around. McNair had a strange game; he had a few wobbly runs that came to nothing but was always full of running and looked far better and coherent when he had Wing to link up with (as did everyone else to be honest). In a strange way I felt that Paddy had shown something there that could maybe be tapped into further, especially with Lewis Wing in front. An underwhelming first half which just didn’t knit together up front at all and then a second half that was light years away from it, yielding a scoreline that nobody was expecting at half time and as a consequence the fourth round now beckons.

TP: The application of the players was very good. In the first half, we played with five forwards really with Tav and Rajiv out wide. They all pushed on, and if anything, I’ve made a mistake doing that because it blocked all the spaces we were really trying to use. Bringing Wingy on, and then pulling him and Grant out to play a bit more, sucked them on to us, and then there more spaces for us to play in. I think the big thing is we’ve scored five goals, and I’m really pleased with the attitude and application of the players. We played really well, especially second half. But we’re playing against a League One side, we’re not playing against a top Championship side.

Full Match Report…

27. Britt’s Wing Man breaks down Brum

Pos. 8th (39pts) SATURDAY 12 JANUARY 2019 Pos. 5th (46pts)
Birmingham 1-2 Boro
Adams (79) 55%
15(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
45%
8(5)
Wing (37)
Assombalonga (82)

RR: Today was always going to be a tough game, away to a side that had only lost once at home this season and who will reasonably feel hard done to. A game which started dull increased in tempo with Boro deservedly going ahead. The arrival of Craig Gardiner changed the make-up of the second half with Boro initially starting the half confidently then literally clinging on just before and after the Evans equaliser. Out of the blue Wingy again produced a piece of magic to set Britt free to bring home the points totally against the run of play. Throughout the game there was great defending from Ayala and Batth. Fry and Friend done their bit at both ends, Wingy was superb as was Hugill’s battling (or battering despite his glaring miss). Britt started quietly once coming on but then started to cause problems and deserved his winner. Saville had a great first half albeit faded a little in the second or perhaps stood firm depending on your view point and what TP was asking of him. MOM had to be Wing, there were some good performances from those in Red but when the extra magic was needed Wingy was there!

TP: To come in just 1-0 up at half-time was a travesty. We should have been out of sight. We were by far the better team. I know we should have had two penalties so instead of being one up, we should have been three up at least. In the second half, they played very direct and we had to defend – and we did that ever so well. They’ve got a great goal and there were one or two other scares. But it was a great goal from Britt, too – he gets his chance and he finishes – and I think we deserved to win. Winning so well away from home shows the character of the team.

Full Match Report…

28. Lions versus Pulis Pussycats

Pos. 5th (47pts) SATURDAY 19 JANUARY 2019 Pos. 19th (21pts)
Boro 1-1 Millwall
Hugill (90) 59%
16(2)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
41%
7(3)
Wallace (21)

RR: Millwall were robbed and Pulis got a point when he weakly and negatively threw away all three before even a ball was kicked. MOM was Randolph and then VLP in the second half but who cares because having to sit through that farcical, incoherent steaming mess of a team selection had me considering a season ticket for Roseberry Park (or St. Lukes to most of us on here) rather than returning to the Riverside any time soon. So to summarise Millwall had some balls, put up a decent and credible show and were robbed at the end after thoroughly deserving all three points. In between Boro passed it sideways, backwards and sideways again, nobody made any runs off the ball to drag defenders wide or create anything other than offer a modern alternative to Mogadon. Next season I suggest that Steve Gibson offers a free Nitrazepam tablet instead of a free pint. This wasn’t negative football in the Karanka sense this was worse, much worse this was hard core garbage.

TP: I’m disappointed at the first half. We started slowly and looked nervous. The players have to play with the freedom they do away from home. I think some of them are a little bit affected maybe by the support but supporters pay good money to watch their team and they have a right to say what they want. You have to accept that as a player or a manager. The players kept going second half, kept at it. That’s one defeat in six games now, we just have to be more productive and more positive at home.

Full Match Report…

FA Cup 4th Round Exiled Dolan delivers bitter Pill

SATURDAY 26 JANUARY 2019
Boro 1-1 Newport
Ayala (51) 58%
19(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
42%
17(5)
Dolan (90+3)

RR: A strong Boro side should have blown their weaker opponents away but once again the familiar home frailties came to the fore by sitting deep and offering no credible attacking threat in open play apart from Wing having pot shots from distance and set pieces, who was MOM for Boro. Unfortunately, a draw was the last result Boro needed as they now face a trip to South Wales sandwiched in between a challenging run of Championship fixtures. A final word of congratulations goes to Michael Flynn and his side as they came to attack play football and were full value for the draw and indeed unlucky not to have put away some of their other gilt edged chances.

TP: I thought Newport played with great spirit and togetherness and they deserve all the credit that hopefully they will be given. The big disappointment for me was that we didn’t stop crosses – it was almost like we were quite happy for them to stick it in the box and there were lots of occasions we could have got our bodies in the way. It’s the first time Mikel’s had his boots on for a couple of months. John is a quality player, wonderful person, and he’ll be good for us but we’ve got to get him fit.

Full Match Report…

February… W3 : D1 : L1 : F7 : A4 : 10/15pts

29. Britt brace throttles Throstles

Pos. 4th (50pts) SATURDAY 2 FEBRUARY 2019 Pos. 5th (50pts)
West Brom 2-3 Boro
Rodriguez (42)
Gayle (63)
67%
19(6)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
33%
14(5)
Saville (17)
Assombalonga (75, 83)

RR: In Typical Britt style he looked languid and slow at times when he came on but then he has that incredible knack of scoring and not just once but twice. Wing was as ever magnificent, Saville had another good game, Shotton was rock solid in his duties and Friend and Ayala battled away but the scene stealer was Assombalonga who has to be the MOM for launching Boro back level on points with West Brom instead of facing a six point gap. More importantly perhaps was maintaining a three point gap between us and the chasing pack of Bristol and Derby. For a neutral the game swayed and changed, twisted and turned but despite the Baggies dominance in the possession stats it was boring Tony Pulis and his sides three goals who had the widest smile. Perhaps Boro hanging on to Britt in the window was a shrewd bit of business after all for all concerned.

TP: Being unable to add to the squad [in the transfer window] was a disappointment for everybody but we’ve got a great, resilient group. The thing we’ve got to do is play with a little more confidence and a little bit more freedom, like we did today, at home. It meant a lot [to the supporters] because there’s been a real negative feeling around the place in respect of us not bringing players in and I just wanted to say thank you for supporting the lads and that’s what we need, irrespective of whether we bring them in or we don’t. They have a great young manager – Darren is a fabulous lad. I wish them all the best, but I don’t want them to finish above Middlesbrough.

Full Match Report…

FA Cup Replay A Bridge too far

TUESDAY 5 FEBRUARY 2019
Newport 2-0 Boro
Willmott (47)
Amond (67)
44%
16(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
56%
13(1)

RR: As Newport keeper Day collected another lacklustre Boro cross the fourth Official held up three agonising minutes but the reality was that if this Boro side had another three years they wouldn’t have scored, collectively they could have set a Teesside record in the Bongo club. Boro didn’t turn up, didn’t look interested or remotely bothered to the extent that it made me think they genuinely didn’t want any more cup games and certainly not against Man City. Was it a case of more important fish to fry and they or TP at least would rather Newport get some glory and benefit than Boro get demoralised and battered next round? At least the FA can’t take three points off us on this occasion for not turning up. MOM was 28 year old Robbie Willmott for Newport, there wasn’t a single Boro player worthy of any more than a 3/10 and that would be by far the most generous score. Let’s hope it was just a fitness training exercise with an eye on Saturday. The good news of the evening was that Joe Day’s wife was able to hang on until the final whistle as he sprinted off the pitch to be at her side which was more than Boro’s defence could manage.

TP: They were the better team, they ran all over us. It was men against boys. Forget the conditions, you have to match people and that’s the real disappointment. Give them credit, they were fantastic tonight and they deserve their win. The tempo of the game was really poor from us. I am desperately disappointed at the lack of real commitment. We were outfought and outplayed. We’ve been fantastic away from home this year. They have regularly turned up and put in performances but it’s different circumstances tonight and we never coped with it.

Full Match Report…

30. Sit back setback

Pos. 5th (51pts) SATURDAY 9 FEBRUARY 2019 Pos. 1st (58pts)
Boro 1-1 Leeds
Wing (47) 33%
9(3)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
67%
17(4)
Philips (90+11)

RR: The inevitable late equaliser finally came as Shotton managed a tired headed clearance to concede a corner, which resulted in an unmarked Phillips heading it in past Randolph and Clayts and Assombalonga who had retreated onto the goal line to send the away fans wild and sink Boro hearts. The game restarted but the whistle went within seconds and those three points suddenly now reduced to one. In balance and in fairness Leeds were worthy of a point but I walked away feeling that if only we had been more positive in our substitutions it could have been a different story. MOM was Howson but had Wing stayed on it may have been a close call and indeed Saville and JOM were also worthy contenders. A frustrating day but at least a decent game of football tinged with sadness and concern over Jack Clarke (who required lengthy treatment after collapsing on the bench) but finished off by the inevitable trouble caused in the town after the game with hordes of Police chasing around after Football Hooligans.

TP: In the first half we were the better team and our midfield players were fabulous. When we were attacking, we were having five or six players in the box and around that area, which was fantastic. We tired a bit in the second half, Leeds came into it as the game went on, and we certainly didn’t need to concede a goal from a set-play – something that’s really disappointed me.

Full Match Report…

31. Blunt Boro fall to the Blades

Pos. 3rd (58pts) WEDNESDAY 13 FEBRUARY 2019 Pos. 6th (51pts)
Sheff Utd 1-0 Boro
Stearman (61) 56%
15(5)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
44%
10(4)
S/O Ayala (64)

RR: The determined and bold attempt by Wilder of switching to three up front turned the game on its head from the first half where Boro had ended it looking comfortable. Those three Strikers roughed up and upset the Boro defence. The irony was that the goal came from a Pulis style set piece (remember them from August?). A disappointing evening for Boro that culminated with Flint crocked and Ayala now banned and any hopes of an automatic spot all but gone. MOM for me was JOM for his first half showing, nobody for Boro put in any sort of performance of note at all in the second half. A real test now lies ahead for TP to rally his troops after two successive disappointments. Suspensions and injuries have now ravaged his back line and he will struggle to put out any sort of defence against Blackburn on Sunday. Those on the bench tonight won’t have made his selection dilemma any easier and indeed a few on the pitch didn’t cover themselves in glory either.

TP: I’m really disappointed with the goal. I think the linesman’s decision for it to be a free-kick is shocking. If they’re going to give a free-kick for that then the lad who scored the goal has pushed and jumped on Dael and the referee’s in a great position to give it and doesn’t give it. It’s a free-kick every minute of the day. It was such a big game tonight and we have a referee who’s only refereed eight games in the Championship all season. You look around and you’ve got other referees who are refereeing Premier League games and dropping down – that’s not the referee’s fault, that’s the person in charge and that can’t be right. That’s not good enough.

Full Match Report…

32. Boro Renaissance at Rovers?

Pos. 14th (43pts) SUNDAY 17 FEBRUARY 2019 Pos. 5th (54pts)
Blackburn 0-1 Boro
S/O Williams (45) 49%
5(1)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
51%
26(7)
Assombalonga (19)

RR: One nil and all three points was a very good result and after a great first half, then an optimistic opening ten minutes of the second half, it saw us hanging in at times when we really should have put ten men Blackburn to the sword. Twenty-six efforts on the Blackburn goal yet only one goal to show for it were both great and disappointing in equal measure. MOM was a tough one but thankfully for all the right reasons this time. There were some solid defensive performances from the three, Saville was full of tireless running and made things tick as did Wing along with Howson down the right. Fletcher did well despite his eagerness to score saw him make a few poor finishing decisions but there was no doubt his running led to both the goal and the sending off. Britt ran a lot more than usual, did some sterling defensive work and scored, Besic was calm and measured but the one who shaded it for me was Mikel, he was majestic in the middle, routinely broke things up, shielded his defence and set up attacks.

TP: I’m pleased. I don’t want to take the gloss off it because I thought we were very good today, but to get 27 shots on goal and just score one goal is something I’ve kept harping on about since I joined the football club. We’ve got to be more clinical in front of goal. We had really good opportunities to get the second one, and if you get the second one it’s game over and you can relax a little bit. What we’ve got to do is replicate the intensity we showed against Leeds for home games for the rest of the season and that gives us a chance.

Full Match Report…

33. Stroll in the Sun

Pos. 5th (57pts) SATURDAY 23 FEBRUARY 2019 Pos. 18th (39pts)
Boro 2-0 QPR
Howson (2)
Fletcher (32)
45%
10(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
55%
9(4)

RR: It ended two nil with Boro rarely looking to get out of second gear and almost disappointing after the swashbuckling start, which had graduated into overcomplicating things. But it’s a home win and three points are three points so job done. MOM was difficult since there were no poor performances and indeed some very commendable ones across the pitch. Besic was much improved though not without a few of those special Mo moments, Howson was excellent as was Wing. Saville stuck to his task on the left, Shotton was a colossus in the middle of the back three but Dael Fry looked like a young Franz Beckenbauer. He was winning aerial challenges with ease, dribbling the ball out of defence assuredly on numerous occasions and perhaps should consider having a go himself rather than passing it in the last twenty yards.

TP: It’s a great result. QPR are not as bad a team as some people think. They’ve got some good players and they played some good stuff at times. Besic and Jon Obi really controlled the game. They’re two good players, when they’re playing like that. I thought Dael Fry was the best player on the pitch. Once Ashley Fletcher scores the second goal, it was just a case of managing the game. Again, the end-of-term report, if you like, is that we’ve missed four or five really good opportunities. But we’ve only lost one game this calendar year in the league, and that was away to Sheffield United with ten men. The boys deserve a tap on the back for that.

Full Match Report…

March… W0 : D1 : L4 : F2 : A8 : 1/15pts

34. Profligate Boro draw a blank

Pos. 19th (36pts) SATURDAY 2 MARCH 2019 Pos. 5th (58pts)
Wigan 0-0 Boro
49%
6(2)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
51%
15(1)

RR: Boro had their chances but our finishing was woeful and not for the first time our strikers needed far too many chances to convert. A point was a disappointment as reality sunk in that this result pretty much made any hopes of a top two spot now a forlorn hope. MOM was undoubtedly Howson who was head and shoulders above everyone else in a Red shirt. We had spells of pressure in a scrappy game that we should have won but poor finishing was our Achilles heel as storm Freya was about to make the journey back across the A66 even more dramatic than our shots on target.

TP: I can’t fault the effort and the commitment. The quality of the chances we created was good but we didn’t take them. Four times we could have played people in but overplayed the pass and it’s that quality in the final third that we need to improve on, but it’s difficult to criticise them. There’s a long way to go in the season and we have got to give it our best. We’ve fallen short not on effort or commitment, but on quality.

Full Match Report…

35. Bees sting substandard Boro

Pos. 5th (58pts) SATURDAY 9 MARCH 2019 Pos. 12th (49pts)
Boro 1-2 Brentford
Fletcher (6) 37%
19(6)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
63%
14(3)
Shotton (70 o.g.)
Benrahma (73)

RR: Brentford had beaten Boro on Teesside for the first time since before the Second World War and deservedly so. With three whole minutes of the ninety remaining Tavernier was introduced to add that pace and urgency that we had been missing all afternoon and who knows what on earth he was supposed to achieve with the game all but over. However, the lad did try valiantly and he did have a few link-ups with both Wing and Friend but his arrival from the bench was so late it was farcical. There wasn’t a MOM for Boro because that would imply that someone played well when in fact so many were well below par. It was a collective nightmare made worse by a ridiculous and negative tactical managerial decision in a crucial part of the game which handed the initiative to the visitors when they clearly already had it.

TP: We’re disappointed obviously but Brentford are a good side. We got off to a great start, then we should have had a penalty – one of three definite penalties. Refs have to get those decisions right and how he’s got that wrong I don’t know. He has a clear view and that’s three definite penalties in a home game and we didn’t get any. I think the results this weekend have given everyone near the top of the table a bit of zip but we’ve just got to get as many points as possible in the remaining games.

Full Match Report…

36. Ref Justice at the Riverside

Pos. 5th (58pts) WEDNESDAY 13 MARCH 2019 Pos. 9th (54pts)
Boro 1-2 Preston
Fletcher (32)
S/O Ayala (61)
40%
22(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
60%
17(6)
Gallagher (63)
Stockley (81)

RR: Tav had come on for Mikel with five minutes remaining as we threw caution to the wind but there wasn’t enough time or even energy left to rescue anything. Our futile persistent passing around the Preston box was rubbed in our noses by that deflected “offside” goal. Shooting creates chances and passing simply retains possession in non-dangerous areas. Despite destroying Preston in the first half we just didn’t possess that instinctive killer touch. Disappointing and unfair in equal measure but that’s been the story of a season of wasted opportunity. MOM would have been Howson who ran all night but it was he who put Ayala in trouble leading up to the sending off so I’m giving it to Besic despite the state of my undergarments.

TP: I think it’s a poor decision [Ayala red card]. He’s miles away from it and he’s got people between him an the ball. How he makes that decision, a game-changing decision, from where he is, is just astonishing for me. In my opinion he’s made a shocking decision tonight. Dani is disappointed because he slides in, he definitely sides in, but he takes the ball with one foot, not two feet. People will say it’s aggressive but it’s a game of challenges, football. They scored the goal from a free-kick that shouldn’t have been a free-kick. Even if we get Dani sent off at that time, at the other end of the pitch we have to be scoring goals. I know I sound like a broken record saying the same thing but again we scored one when it should have been four or five.

Full Match Report…

37. Pulis raises white flag at Villa

Pos. 6th (57pts) SATURDAY 16 MARCH 2019 Pos. 5th (58pts)
Aston Villa 3-0 Boro
El Ghazi (28)
McGinn (44)
Adomah (88)
61%
18(5)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
39%
4(1)

RR: Again there was no Boro MOM, Downing was the best of a dire lot but to even contemplate saying that we had someone who put in the required effort to be remotely acknowledged as a performance of note was impossible. Three defeats in a row now and each of them with a bizarre story to tell and the fact that I expected and confidently predicted such a shambolic and humiliating display here at Villa Park weeks before hand is testimony to just how poor things are. Tony Pulis is very clearly a spent force and at this level has neither the nous nor the ability to get a side promoted. Today was a foretaste of exactly what will happen if we somehow managed to hang onto a play-off place which based on what I am currently witnessing I would rather miss out on than be put through any more of this dire negativity.

TP: They were three goals that were unlike us to concede. We haven’t given goals away like that away from home. There has been a flatness around the club since the defeat against Preston on Wednesday and for the first 20 minutes we still looked like there was a hangover – we didn’t get going at all. I’m really disappointed. Villa have had five shots on goal and scored three goals. That’s something that wasn’t happening when we were doing well.

Full Match Report…

38. Boro flapping leaves Canaries singing

Pos. 8th (58pts) SATURDAY 30 MARCH 2019 Pos. 1st (81pts)
Boro 0-1 Norwich
40%
17(6)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
60%
17(5)
Hernández (54)

RR: The second half had saw Daniel Farke’s half time team talk up the ante and Pulis’s Boro simply couldn’t live with it. Bristol are now coming up on Tuesday night who have leapfrogged Boro this evening on goals scored as we slide ignominiously down to eighth. Without energy and intelligent playmakers on the pitch Boro will like as not struggle again. No VLP or Tavernier apparently required for Pulis’s Boro yet Hernandez and Buendia destroyed us (as predicted) with similar skill sets. The MOM has to be Randolph who made up for his early concentration lapses to save us from another three or four going in. The scribbled note seems to be just causing confusion when that sheet goes onto the pitch and gets passed around. Surely by now it’s clear even to Pulis that it’s the wrong communication method or there again maybe it’s the right communication method but its what’s written on the note that is the problem not unlike the team selection and tactics.

TP: We had very good opportunities to score. We need to finish the chances we are creating and we have been saying that since I came here. Goals change games but when we get opportunities we don’t put them away. We came back into it, we had three, great opportunities to score and, again, we have to score goals. The big thing is we dropped our heads when they scored and we can’t do that. It’s an eight-game season and if we win on Tuesday we go back into the top six and players have to relish the challenge. We have to really really hope and pray things start to drop for us. Let’s bring it on and I hope the players feel the same as me. It is there for us and we have to make sure we graft.

Full Match Report…

April… W4 : D0 : L3 : F7 : A8 : 12/21pts

39. Robins go bob bob bobbin’ along

Pos. 5th (61pts) TUESDAY 2 APRIL 2019 Pos. 8th (58pts)
Bristol City 1-0 Boro
Webster (31) 54%
23(7)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
46%
14(5)

RR: Maybe it was just me being lost in the moment trying to figure out why you would bring on a circular running midfielder and take off the only remaining wide player who can at least put decent crosses into a box now habited by three, yes sits down in amazement, three Boro Strikers? It did seem however that Fletcher was now sitting deeper (or wandering desperate to get a pass) so in part that meant that we did still have two strikers, well one who hadn’t yet missed his prerequisite number of sitters to record a goal and a WWE wrestler masquerading as Footballer. In between behaving like an errant ten pin bowling ball in the skittle like Bristol defence Hugill did manage to get a semi volleyed boot onto a last second chance that went wide to a unified backdrop of both sets of fans agreeing at full voice that Tony Pulis’s football is indeed very reminiscent of faecal matter. I did however hear one of the cleaners on the way out take umbrage to the impromptu singalong complaining that what they cleaned didn’t stink the place out that badly. I did hear someone say on the way out that its the worst run for something like twenty years but that may have been just how long it feels like TP has been here.

TP: We created five or six chances and even the free-kick we worked on this morning nearly came off. There is no way in a million years I can fault them for effort. We had 23 shots at goal tonight, 17 on Saturday. That is 40 in two games, I don’t think I had that at Stoke for a whole season, never mind two games. Darren made a couple of great saves but all in all, there was only us and we needed that bit of luck.

Full Match Report…

40. Dead Ducks Swansong

Pos. 13th (53pts) SATURDAY 6 APRIL 2019 Pos. 8th (58pts)
Swansea 3-1 Boro
Grimes (34 pen)
Routledge (38)
Roberts (71)
61%
16(7)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
39%
13(1)
Saville (81)

RR: With another late Boro attack ending with Fletcher fluffing his lines, it summed up how the afternoon had gone for Boro. Despite being 3-1 down, the game had been toing and froing but it wasn’t worth commenting on as the match was now very much an irrelevance considering the wider state the club now finds itself in [after six sucessive defeats]. Dael Fry slightly raised very late hopes with some positivity and Howson had collected a despondent frustrated yellow. The Boro MOM can only be Randolph without whom the score line would have looked an awful lot worse.

TP: I am really disappointed. In the first half our tempo and decision-making were awful. We should have had a penalty in the second half for a clear handball. Swansea were a Premier League side last season and this was the game I was more worried about than all the others. Five games to go and it is all to play for.

Full Match Report…

41. Boro blues for troubled Bolton

Pos. 23rd (32pts) TUESDAY 9 APRIL 2019 Pos. 7th (61pts)
Bolton 0-2 Boro
57%
13(2)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
43%
18(5)
Fletcher (16, 28)

RR: There were many doubts if this game could actually go ahead and from the perspective of both sets of fans many more who probably wished it wouldn’t. However, a good Boro first half against a very weak and disparate Bolton side wasn’t built upon in the second half which was disappointing. So bad were the Bolton defence that Fletcher, Saville, Howson and Britt were tearing them apart with ease every time we went forward. The traveling army started cheering nervy Bolton passes in defence with a series of disparaging “ole’s”. So finally three points and in fairness the victory was never really in doubt but getting that losing streak off their back was important for Boro. Besic, Saville, Howson and Assombalonga all had good games but with two goals Fletcher earned the MOM award.

TP: I am relieved for the players as I don’t think they have deserved to lose six games on the bounce, irrespective of what people say. The difference tonight is we took two of our chances, whereas four of the six games we should have won and we didn’t. I thought we played really well in the first half – we controlled the game and looked a threat – and we had two or three opportunities in the second half. The most important thing is not worrying about other teams and other games, but making sure we do the business ourselves.

Full Match Report…

42. Stumbling Britt seals Boro victory

Pos. 7th (64pts) SATURDAY 13 APRIL 2019 Pos. 9th (60pts)
Boro 1-0 Hull
Assombalonga (25) 39%
15(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
61%
15(4)

RR: Battered and bruised the Boro defence were hanging on, desperate for the whistle made worse knowing Britt could and should have had three or four goals to his name to ease the anxiety. Then a heart in mouth time as a late Grosicki free kick was tipped onto the bar by Randolph before being booted clear by Flint with the Hull players appealing it was over the line. Hull’s season is now all but over whilst Boro’s still stubbornly continues as they find themselves a point behind Bristol in sixth. MOM for Boro could have been Randolph for two great saves, or Howson for being switched around yet competently adapting all afternoon, or Besic for buzzing around up until he went off. However, for me it was Dael Fry who stood defiantly whether at Left Back or Centre Back and stepped up a gear when Ayala went off injured.

TP: I just think again it’s déjà vu. The chances we had first half, we should be scoring more than the one goal. If it’s just the one goal, it’s going to be edgy all the way through and that’s the way it was. I think we had seven chances today where if we beat the goalkeeper, we score. We are obviously pleased with the result. I’m really, really pleased, they had to dig in and they did dig in.

Full Match Report…

43. Early Bird Britt collects the points

Pos. 6th (67pts) FRIDAY 19 APRIL 2019 Pos. 16th (52pts)
Boro 1-0 Stoke
Assombalonga (2) 36%
7(2)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
64%
14(1)

RR: Despite a very uncomfortable second half we had held on and earned the win the hard way. It wasn’t pretty nor was it entertaining for the most part but its points on the board that count now if Boro are to retain any hope of making the play-offs. MOM was McNair, it was his best game for Boro and he actually looked to be worth every penny paid for him last summer. Not his preferred role it has to be said but his composure and timing were impressive and he looked the most accomplished I’ve seen him play in a Boro shirt. Mikel was back to his best, Howson had another good game at right wing back and Besic looked up for the challenged before being subbed. Shotton did well considering he was on the left but McNair just caught the eye and for all the right reasons and maybe knowing he has a real opportunity of a run in the side gave him that extra edge of encouragement.

TP: I’m pleased with the win. We’ve played much better than that and lost games at this place. We’ve not been as fluent today. To have five players missing from the backline that we started with at the beginning of the season, it takes a lot of courage and determination from the players to go out there and play the way they played. They’re having to do jobs they are not used to. Like I say, I think we’ve played better in other games than we have but we just haven’t taken our opportunities and chances. It’s all about results as a manager, if you don’t get results you don’t hang around long.

Full Match Report…

44. Boro bottlers smashed

Pos. 11th (60pts) MONDAY 22 APRIL 2019 Pos. 7th (67pts)
Nottm Forest 3-0 Boro
Lolley (39 pen, 85)
Milosevic (64)
54%
20(9)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
46%
3(1)

RR: Getting beat away at Forest isn’t a disaster in itself but the manner of the way this Boro side was set up and then consequently failed in such miserable fashion to even threaten Pantilimon’s goal was a disgrace. Defensively we were down to the bare bones but our midfield was hopeless and a complete liability, our strikers had zero service as we sat far too deep from the off and Saville has never remotely looked capable out left. Boro’s black shirts were very apt on the day as it perfectly matched the mood of the travelling army. Randolph was the Boro MOM, which considering that we conceded three goals illustrates just how dire we were this afternoon. There have been far too many of these types of games under Pulis now, how many more do the fans have to endure?

TP: It was always going to be difficult – we’ve only got two real defenders on the pitch. We’re trying to put square pegs in round holes and it really caught us out today. I’m disappointed. We played with forwards on the pitch today, more forward-thinking players than I’ve ever played, and you want them to do a lot more going forward. We’ve still got a chance. We’ve got to dust ourselves down and we need all the players to be together and try and get a result Saturday.

Full Match Report…

45. Wing and a prayer

Pos. 7th (70pts) SATURDAY 27 APRIL 2019 Pos. 20th (46pts)
Boro 2-1 Reading
Wing (31)
Assombalonga (39 pen)
38%
18(6)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
62%
12(4)
Loader (11)

RR: Just like the last few home games it was the Alamo revisited again as nerves were shredded, enduring what was hopefully the last of the Pulis era at the Riverside. It ended with a 2-1 victory that was far from convincing and anything but enjoyable (that last emotion had long since been aborted since August). MOM was a joint one between Howson and Wing, Wingy grabbed his goal but Howson was Mr Duracell all game and it’s impossible to split the decision. Incredibly, the tantalising chance of a play-off spot still remains up until the very final game of the season but most of us know that top six should have been the absolute minimum. Now we find ourselves rueing the lack of goals and goal difference that TP had been at great odds to highlight in his programme notes. Unfortunately, those stats don’t highlight taking Britt off for Friend at home to Brentford or the abject negativity against the likes of Villa, Forest and Swansea nor the shameful capitulations to Newport and Burton. No team spirit, no belief, no determination, no confidence, no positivity and negative demoralising leadership has led us to where we now find ourselves.

TP: We played some fantastic football, especially on the right-hand side. I thought Howson, McNair and Wing were absolutely fantastic down that side. I was really pleased for Wingy. We kept it as quiet as we possibly could – we didn’t want anyone to know he was going to be fit. I apologised to him because I kept him on for 90 minutes, and I shouldn’t have done. He’s been the find of the season. He’s got a good character, a good attitude and he wants to improve. That’s what will take him further. If Derby win their two games, they win their two games, but we’ve kept the pressure on them, and that’s what we wanted to do today.

Full Match Report…

May… W1 : D0 : L0 : F2 : A1 : 3/3pts

46. Boro ground to a halt at the Millers

Pos. 22nd (40pts) SUNDAY 5 MAY 2019 Pos. 7th (73pts)
Rotherham 1-2 Boro
Smith (86 pen) 58%
18(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
42%
12(4)
Assombalonga (28 pen)
Mikel (37)

RR: With sixty-five minutes gone, Boro were 2-0 up and in a play-off spot as Derby were still being held 1-1 and Bristol were losing. Sadly, the news coming in from Pride Park after that changed for the worse and Boro were left hanging on to what they had. Boro fans were now left reflecting on all those games that we meekly surrendered over a season that had started so well then defended into despair. Indeed, MOM was the Boro Travelling Army. Boro had recklessly missed out on what was once a nailed-on position in the play-off’s, which was sealed after that calamitous run of six defeats in a row. Part of me was disappointed at today’s outcome whilst another part was relieved that this frustrating season was finally over and not spluttering incoherently and aimlessly on. Now put out of our misery but in truth we didn’t miss out today, our lack of goals, terrible home record, negative attitude and out dated tactics had sucked the heart and soul out of players and fans alike some months back.

TP: This has been a bigger achievement that last year really, if you’re selling who we have done, with the players that we’ve got and the players that we’ve worked with. Overall, although I’m desperately disappointed we’re not going to play Leeds over two games, I can’t be too harsh on the players. We’ve played clubs this year that have spent £50m or £60m, and they’re below us in the league, they’re not even in contention for the play-offs.

Full Match Report…

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How the season unfolded… Part 1: August to December

With Norwich and Sheffield United already off on their summer holidays and planning for life in the sunlit uplands of the Premier League, the fight has begun to see which other Championship side will fight with them on the exclusive club beaches. Still, as the play-offs get underway,  there will sadly be no postcard sent this year to Boro followers that are wishing they were here. Despite all the blood, toil, tears and sweat, Tony Pulis’s side failed to squeak into the top six as Boro in the end proved to be more like church mice than Churchill – close but no cigar as we were left to ponder those not quite immortal words of  ‘never was such much owed to so few goals’.

Back in August, the hope was that the club would build on last year’s disappointment after Tony Pulis’s side rather meekly exited the mini-league to riches against Aston Villa – OK, some may say that Boro did indeed build on that disappointment by adding to it with a feeling of dismay at the missed opportunity. Although, when Tony Pulis prepares to open the third bottle of wine  in his meeting with the Boro  chairman,  he will no doubt still be trying to convince  Steve Gibson that seventh place was a far greater achievement than fifth was a year earlier.

Nevertheless,  it’s probably a good idea that the chairman’s glass remains half full (or possibly empty) while he contemplates the important decision on whether his manager should have his contract extended. The question that will need answering for many supporters is how a promising start to the last campaign failed to see Boro at least cement a place in the top six, let alone the coveted automatic spots they once occupied.

The season began in the shadow that the club had failed to recruit the pacey wide players that the manager thought were missing from his squad and after Adama Traore made his expected departure,  it soon became clear they were not coming. Then as Bamford surprisingly left, the mood was that Boro would struggle to repeat their top-six finish without key additions.  However, against all expectation, the team had their best start to a season since our friend Otto Frederick Rohwedder had the novel idea that bread should be sliced before it was sold.

OK our promotion prospects may have ended up as toast but how did the season pan out? Instead of looking back in hindsight, it may be more enlightening to experience the thoughts of a couple of people in the moments directly after the game. Diasboro’s own match reporter, Redcar Red, normally ended by concluding his view of what he has just witnessed – which is then followed in this match-by-match review by the post-match  quotes of Boro manager, Tony Pulis. You may or not be surprised to see that quite often the two views don’t always seem like they were watching the same game.

So Here’s a look at the first part of the season from August to December from two people who have cast a discerning eye over the action. In addition, each game shows a graphic containing the relevant stats and the results are also collated to highlight the league performance of each  month. When we look back at the season now, it’s possible many on Teesside will perhaps have opted for the word unravelled rather than unfolded but it’s still interesting  to view events in the moment. Indeed, it’s easy now to forgotten that as Boro entered December, they were only two points off the top of the table and automatic promotion was still seemingly a real aspiration of the club.

August… W4 : D2 : L0 : F9 : A2 : 14/18pts

1. Young Guns silence Lions roar

Pos. 9th (1pts) SATURDAY 4 AUGUST 2018 Pos. 9th (1pts)
Millwall 2-2 Boro
O’Brien (12)
Gregory (37)
55%
12(3)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
45%
9(2)
Braithwaite (87)
Friend (90+7)

RR: Incredibly and unbelievably Boro rescued this game against all the odds thanks to the determination and fearlessness of youthful energy. Tavernier and Wing showed their mettle and if they can do that at the Den then they can do it anywhere in this division. A rollercoaster of an afternoon which was despondency personified, rescued by the introduction of the U23s. MOM has to be Tavernier who changed the game when he came on along with Wing. Once the shackles of the sedentary midfield was gone Howson was far more influential and Braithwaite who had got himself involved all afternoon was for me close runner up to Tav in the MOM stakes.

TP: Let’s put everything into perspective, we’re six short of who we finished last season with. It’s half the team we had last season. The first half we were poor – we sat back, never got after it, never got the ball forward or got enough possession in their half, so there were some choice words at half-time. We made some changes and in the last 25 minutes we showed our teeth, for the first time during the game.

Full Match Report…

2. Swashbuckling Boro Foil Blades

Pos. 1st (4pts) TUESDAY 7 AUGUST 2018 Pos. 24th (0pts)
Boro 3-0 Sheff Utd
Braithwaite (7)
Flint (18)
Downing (25)
41%
13(5)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
59%
16(4)

RR: MOM for me was Braithwaite who simply looked a class above and like a few others possibly had his best game for Boro. I heard Radio Tees gave it to Lewis Wing and I can’t argue against that and indeed had Stewy or Fry, or Shotton, or Clayts or, or, or, or… it was just one of those nights when it all worked, well at least for the first twenty five minutes which in fairness was all that was needed.

TP: We played really well first half and I thought the tempo of the game and everything we did was first class. Second half we dropped off a little bit. But it’s the first week of the season and to be asked to play after Saturday, to put in this performance, especially in the first half, was brilliant. We’ve got to make sure we dust ourselves down for Birmingham on Saturday, who didn’t play tonight and you would think will be a little bit fresher. It’s difficult to pick anyone out as there’s so many players tonight who have put in a wonderful effort for the football club.

Full Match Report…

3. Britt gives ex-Boss the Blues

Pos. 1st (7pts) SATURDAY 11 AUGUST 2018 Pos. 19th (1pts)
Boro 1-0 Birmingham
Assombalonga (12) 52%
10(2)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
48%
11(4)
S/O Gardner (83)

RR: The lack of a Traore type outlet was noticeable as clearances were coming straight back at us for large parts of the second half. Looking at the bench TP didn’t have many options and played the hand that was dealt to him. Like on Tuesday night there were no bad performances and in fact Shotton and Howson in particular are playing their best Boro football, likewise a few others like Downing and Braithwaite are worthy of mentions. The back three are looking more solid as the games progress and Randolph never looked seriously troubled. Clayts was magnificent in shielding and protecting and we witnessed another good game from Lewis Wing who didn’t look out of place. All that said let’s be under no illusions that as good as it is to be top of the league it’s not viable to stay there unless our recruitment team unlearn the habit of a lifetime and get some credible loans in and quickly.

TP: They’ve been fantastic, the lads today, when you think it’s the third game in a week, and conditions on the three games were very warm and very humid. And let’s be fair: we should have won the game by five or six goals. It’s an absolute travesty that the game has finished 1-0. The lads certainly deserved it. Some of the football that we played to create the opportunities and chances was absolutely first-class, and you have to put them away when you’re creating them.

Full Match Report…

EFL Cup Round 1. The Boys penalise Magpies

TUESDAY 14 AUGUST 2018
Boro 3-3
(4-3 pens)
Notts County
Fletcher (27, 74)
Mahmutovic (44)
55%
22(7)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
49%
9(3)
Crawford (2)
Stead (34, 63)

RR: The game was definitely not one for the purist but it was entertaining and one that you couldn’t take your eyes off. Leaving the tactical error strewn car crash out of it for a moment, Mahmutovic for me was outstanding in the first half and very good in the second. McGinley grew into the game and Tav was a constant threat along with Johnson (once the WD40 started to seep in). Walker when he came on was superb and will have given TP the right sort of headache. Wood’s appearance was a fairy tale and Lonergen saved two penalties but overall I think Fletcher just edged things for his two goals.

TP: I’m a great believer that if you feel confident taking a penalty then you give it to the person who feels confident. There were six out of the seven (debutants) who wanted to take one pushing people like Fletch and Grant out of the way saying ‘I’ll take on, I’ll take one,’ so that was absolutely fantastic. Football clubs spend a lot of money on their academies and sometimes you get criticised for playing them in these competitions but I’m a great believer that the kids have got to go out. So if you gave me the option I’d get the kids out playing every week.

Full Match Report…

4. Boro Pair Better Bristol

Pos. 19th (2pts) SATURDAY 18 AUGUST 2018 Pos. 1st (10pts)
Bristol City 0-2 Boro
33%
18(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
67%
13(3)
Braithwaite (13)
Assombalonga (32)

RR: The whistle went and Boro remained top of the league thanks to some well taken opportunities but in the main some sterling defensive work. MOM is difficult as Britt and Braithwaite were both very good but then so was Downing, Wing and Clayton but I think Dael Fry just slightly edged it, no doubt helped by the thought of a fit Dani Ayala breathing down his neck.

TP: We were strong. Our two centre-halves, Fry and Flint, look a good pair. We were pretty dominant. They’ve still got to do certain things I’m not pleased about, but they gave us a solid base. The five in midfield again worked really, really hard. Stewart was always a threat down the right-hand side and Braithwaite really could have had another two. Our quality in the changeover of play has got to be better, because there were chances or opportunities to play people in and we missed those chances because we didn’t see them or the pass wasn’t very good.

Full Match Report…

5. Dan dare deflates Baggies

Pos. 1st (13pts) FRIDAY 24 AUGUST 2018 Pos. 7th (7pts)
Boro 1-0 West Brom
Ayala (90+1) 38%
18(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
62%
13(2)

RR: An intense game finally broken by last season’s goal machine on his return and boy did he enjoy it. There were no poor performances in Red so picking the MOM was really difficult, Downing was instrumental all game, George had a great match as did Fry, Clayts was superb, Britt played probably his best game from a team perspective and Braithwaite was entertaining and unlucky not to get a brace but for his determined never say die spirit and running it has to be Howson for me although I feel that Clayts also put on a great show.

TP: West Brom have a lot of quality players and I still think any team that finishes above them will get promoted. This league is really, really tough and every game you play you have to be at your maximum. We’ve turned up again tonight, realised it was going to be tough, worked hard and got the break at the end – which we deserved.

Full Match Report…

EFL Cup Round 2. Boro avoid Rochdale upset

TUESDAY 28 AUGUST 2018
Boro 2-1 Rochdale
Johnson (37)
Hugill (53)
47%
13(5)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
53%
20(10)
Delaney (83)

RR: The final whistle pierced the Riverside bringing respite and relief and saved a late upset and then on to penalties. In balance Rochdale have had a few good Cup displays of late and they certainly will feel unlucky tonight as Lonergan was the undisputable Boro MOM. So some fitness levels are further improved, Lonergan looks match sharp and a few of the youngsters got another opportunity to impress but it was far from enjoyable and best described as functional but on the positive we are into Thursday night’s draw for the next round of the Cup.

Full Match Report…

6. Leeds wrestle a draw from Boro

Pos. 1st (14pts) FRIDAY 31 AUGUST 2018 Pos. 2nd (14pts)
Leeds 0-0 Boro
62%
11(3)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
38%
9(3)

RR: A draw was a fair result but Boro did have a few strong penalty shouts with both Britt and Flint being subjected to WWE tactics rather than football. MOM was Clayton for his commitment to the cause which shone like a beacon. Dael Fry made a couple of Beckenbauer runs in the game to his credit, Shotton was involved all game and Besic did start to influence things far more in the second half but Clayts was the one that was everywhere and putting in the sort of gritty display that will have him first on TP’s team sheet after the International break.

TP: We knew it was going to be a tough game. We’re two teams with momentum going their way.We’ve looked and studied the shapes Leeds use and their patterns. We worked very hard on making sure we filled certain spaces. The players have taken it on and there were only a few occasions where they had half a chance.

Full Match Report…

September… W1 : D2 : L1 : F3 : A2 : 5/12pts

7. Pukki strike finishes sick Boro

Pos. 16th (8pts) SATURDAY 15 SEPTEMBER 2018 Pos. 4th (14pts)
Norwich 1-0 Boro
Pukki (58) 62%
16(6)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
38%
8(2)

RR: Playing like that away to Leeds made sense but today was an opportunity totally and utterly spurned through a lack of endeavour. More creativity in the first half could have given this fixture an entirely different complexion from a Boro perspective and hopefully lessons will be learned from that, uninspiring summed it up. In terms of a MOM the only Player I could give it to was Clayton who crunched into tackles and literally gave his all for the cause before being forced off. The experience on the bench looked very impressive at three o’clock but when we went behind the lack of raw energy from the likes of Wing and Tavernier that we witnessed at the Den was sorely miss.

TP: It’s disappointing, I thought we had a pretty good start. A couple of opportunities, a couple of chances, an array of corners and we dropped off after about 20 minutes and they came into the game, and they were the better team up until half-time and they were better after the break as well up until they got the goal. From there they get their goal and it’s a fortuitous goal, it’s going wide, the lad toe pokes it, hits Ryan Shotton on the inside of his foot and goes in. Not our day in lots of respects.

Full Match Report…

8. Britt sucker punch breaks Bolton

Pos. 2nd (17pts) WEDNESDAY 19 SEPTEMBER 2018 Pos. 15th (11pts)
Boro 2-0 Bolton
Saville (34)
Assombalonga (90+5)
61%
19(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
39%
7(2)

RR: Two nil and back up to second place, one point behind the Dirties with Swansea up next. The League maybe doesn’t lie but that tonight was less than impressive. Should Bolton make the Play offs we may over time be a little less dismissive of the performance but the truth is that two unforced errors handed us three points on a plate. We can’t rely on other sides being so generous. MOM is a difficult one as there weren’t many outstanding displays. In the first half Howson and Braithwaite looked good but overall I thought Shotton did well, Saville showed some fight and a goal but it has to be Clayts again who rarely put a foot wrong despite his wounds.

TP: In the first half we dominated the ball and got in the final third a lot. Little breaks didn’t got for us, but we still got a great result. They are resolute. They get bodies behind the ball. There is no space to play and they work hard and are a credit to their management team. In the final third, there were two occasions where people have shot from unbelievable angles where there is someone to tap it in. Getting your head up and showing a little bit more composure in the final third is what makes this game easier. We have to look at those situations and people have to show their quality a little bit more.

Full Match Report…

9. Swans break evens

Pos. 2nd (18pts) SATURDAY 22 SEPTEMBER 2018 Pos. 14th (13pts)
Boro 0-0 Swansea
42%
16(5)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
58%
5(2)

RR: Apart from a cross come shot that hit Randolph’s crossbar in the second half and the Olsson effort Swansea showed why they haven’t scored many this season, in fact both sides showed their inability in the final third allied to their credible defensive statistics and so 0-0 probably wasn’t such a huge surprise. Considering the amount of first-teamers out of action I think Swansea will progress this season and looking back this may be seen as a point gained rather than two dropped. MOM was again the usual contenders, Clayts was simply Clayts, Braithwaite gave reason for optimism and Howson was involved all game but Shotton just edged it with his defending and tireless running.

TP: I was last in the Championship working 11 years ago, you look at it now and there are more quality players, playing in better stadiums. The pitches are better, the quality is better, and there are better players who are playing international football. And yet we are asked to play eight more games than the Premier League, there’s more Premier League players playing international football, someone has to look at it, to ask players to play Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday.

Full Match Report…

EFL Cup Round 3. Boro spot on at Deepdale

TUESDAY 25 SEPTEMBER 2018
Preston 2-2
(3-4 pens)
Boro
Robinson (27)
Barkhuizen (66)
60%
21(8)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
40%
17(6)
Fletcher (34)
Tavernier (69)

RR: The game ended 2-2 and 4-3 on Penalties in front of a credible Boro Army following. On the night Wing was consistent and influential all game. Gestede good in the first half, and McQueen had a very good second half but MOM was Danny Batth who was impressive.

Full Match Report…

10. Limited kit suits limited Boro

Pos. 21st (8pts) SATURDAY 29 SEPTEMBER 2018 Pos. 3rd (19pts)
Hull 1-1 Boro
Bowen (69 pen) 52%
10(3)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
48%
12(4)
Assombalonga (51)

RR: I can’t award a MOM because Boro were almost as bad as when Strachan was here with the players looking as disjointed and confused as under Monk. From the kick off they lacked the confident swagger of a team about to go top of their league. The cold truth is poor selection, poor tactics and even poorer execution has been a continued story of late and as a consequence we threw points away yet again. The one common theme in all this is TP clinging to some very overrated and overpriced Men at the expense of Boys who can actually make a difference.
That performance was nowhere remotely near good enough from anyone in a White shirt which was a good colour choice based on the display. As a third kit I can’t see many sales ensuing based on the memories it created today. I’m guessing we will have Hummel working on a Yellow kit as we speak.

TP: We need to get more goals, we have to take the chances in the final third and be more clinical. You’ve got to be 100 per cent every game, but today I didn’t think we controlled the ball enough. We had some great chances. But after we got that first goal, we had chances to get more and take the game but we didn’t. We just need to be more clinical and I think we are getting there slowly.

Full Match Report…

October… W2 : D2 : L1 : F5 : A4 : 8/15pts

11. Boro plough on with promotion ambitions

Pos. 23rd (6pts) TUESDAY 2 OCTOBER 2018 Pos. 2nd (22pts)
Ipswich 0-2 Boro
58%
8(1)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
42%
14(4)
Besic (12)
Downing (16)

BBC: Redcar Red couldn’t make the Ipswich game so here is how the BBC saw it: Tony Pulis switched to a 4-3-3 system in a bid to deliver more goals for Middlesbrough after successive draws and left leading scorer Britt Assombalonga on the bench. The Welshman’s tactics paid instant dividends as they raced into a 2-0 lead and the victory left Paul Hurst still searching for his first win as Town manager. Boro have now lost just once in their past 15 league games.

TP: It was as good as we have played all season. The big disappointment was that we got sloppy in the second half. Ipswich got the ball up the sides in the second half and I knew this was going to be more of a football game with a slick, quick pitch. It’s the third game on the bounce away and that’s tough, the way they worked I thought we looked a little bit tired.

Full Match Report…

12. Boro Bottlers Stumped

Pos. 4th (22pts) SATURDAY 6 OCTOBER 2018 Pos. 5th (19pts)
Boro 0-2 Nottm Forest
53%
17(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
47%
16(5)
Lolley (49)
Grabban (77)
S/O Robinson (80)

RR: A crescendo of boos greeted the final whistle which in my opinion was far too complimentary. MOM was Downing whose nearest competitor was a young lass who served me in the concourse who without a single days training at Rockliffe was managing to serve burgers, pints and operate a till simultaneously. Today wasn’t just a bad day at the office, to say that would be to sweep evidence under the carpet. Signs were there at Ipswich despite the scoreline on the night that we can’t dominate and impose ourselves on teams. The eulogy of Wing and Tavernier just grew by several volumes today (and I haven’t commented on the heated “Bamford out and Hugill in” debate a few rows behind me that was in overdrive mode in the dying minutes). Something has changed recently and not for the better, what that something is will be up to TP to identify or perhaps admit to.

TP: The first 20 minutes we were like a bag of potatoes. We’re playing on our home ground in front of a decent crowd and we never, ever looked as though we were at the races and that’s not just one of the players. I’ll take Stewart Downing out of that most probably and say he was head and shoulders above everybody else today. The rest of them were well below par.

Full Match Report…

13. Owls comeback kept out of Reach

Pos. 6th (19pts) FRIDAY 19 OCTOBER 2018 Pos. 1st (25pts)
Sheff Wed 1-2 Boro
Reach (82) 51%
14(3)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
49%
15(5)
Besic (49)
Assombalonga (55)

BBC: Redcar Red missed the game at Hillsborough so here’s how the BBC saw it: After a poor first half, Boro hit the Owls with two goals in six early second-half minutes – one beautifully worked, the second self-inflicted and both involving on-loan Everton midfielder Besic. Former Boro man Adam Reach gave his side hope with an 82nd-minute volley from 20 yards. And the visitors had to survive an almighty last-minute scramble on the line in an incident that could have gone either way as bodies piled up like a rugby ruck. The win edged Boro above morning leaders Sheffield United on goal difference heading into Saturday’s fixtures.

TP: The game should have been out of sight. You’re controlling the game and, from nothing, they’ve suddenly got a goal from nowhere and they sniff a chance. In the end, that one stayed on the line. I don’t mind how we kept it out as long as it didn’t cross the line but we should have never been in that position. We have to see games out better. Now we’ve just got to stay level, keep calm and remain competitive. We’ve won a game of football, that’s all. People get too carried away when you win and too carried away when you lose.

Full Match Report…

14. Blank Boro ground down

Pos. 1st (26pts) TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER 2018 Pos. 20th (13pts)
Boro 0-0 Rotherham
66%
20(5)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
34%
8(2)

RR: Tony tinkered far too much and the failings of the night rest upon his shoulders and his decisions alone despite Britt’s glaring miss. The continual failure to score at home and the poor tactical shuffle which screwed us on the night will be punished on Saturday against much better opponents than tonight. Strange how we can be top of the league yet upon leaving the Stadium feel almost as bad as when Trashcan was here. Patience wore thin tonight and the fans let their feelings be known. You can fool some of the people some of the time but tonight just stunk the Riverside out and left a bitter taste to boot.

TP: We had 49 crosses – I don’t know how many times we hit the near post. Martin Braithwaite’s chance in the first half, you’ve got to finish those chances and then it’s a different game. The problem we’ve got is the top end of the pitch and I keep saying, we’re getting into really good positions and those opportunities are not being turned into chances.

Full Match Report…

15. Randolph rescues outclassed Boro

Pos. 3rd (27pts) SATURDAY 27 OCTOBER 2018 Pos. 6th (25pts)
Boro 1-1 Derby
Bogle (84 o.g.) 41%
10(0)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
59%
18(7)
Friend (19 o.g.)

RR: There was an obvious MOM, Darren Randolph was incredible and single-handedly saved TP and half a dozen of his team mates from a deserved savage outpouring on the final whistle. Excuses about missed chances and so many crosses wear very thin when it is blindingly obvious what the problem is or at least in part. Today the youth of Derby tore us apart and humiliated static, staid footballers who could not live with them let alone cope. We have endured four games now without a Riverside Boro goal apart from Bogle getting TP out of a hole of his own making today. Three points from a possible twelve; this isn’t survival form let alone promotion.

TP: In the first half we started really, really poorly, really on the back foot. We did some work this week about getting up to the ball and we started on the back foot. We got really sloppy and it just gave them the momentum. Randolph has kept us in the game and at 1-0 you’ve always got an opportunity and a chance. Second half, the game wasn’t as fluid but we ground it out. We worked very, very hard.

Full Match Report…

EFL Cup Round 1. Wing Wizard’s Magic Strike

WEDNESDAY 31 OCTOBER 2018
Boro 1-0 Palace
Wing (45+3) 37%
12(2)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
63%
14(4)

RR: The game was one of two halves; the first half saw us get at the opposition with pace and tenacity. The second saw us sit tight and defend in numbers defiantly. Statistically we had nine shots to Palaces eight with only one of ours on target but it counted and showed the value of Lewis Wing in breaking deadlocks. MOM is difficult as there were many in Red who merited it. Wing is the obvious one as he scored the winner but for me Tav was the threat, the one wizard that worried Palace when he got on the ball, and the one who provided an outlet. Ayala was great, George Fiend was immense and arguably equally deserves MOM, Batth was solid and dependable and McNair looked a different player to the one of late so fair play to him. Hugill was a real handful and caused problems and when he came on Fletcher showed a new side to his game in getting back defending as did Saville and Gestede in the closing stages to add height at the corners. Braithwaite looked class in the first half and Dimi rolled back the years near the end and I suspect wickedly enjoyed himself. The only negative was the injury to McQueen which looked like a long term one sadly.

TP: The first-half performance was excellent and again we got into a lot of great positions and had opportunities, said Pulis. It takes a wonder goal from Wingy to give us that lead. He’s signed a new contract and I’m really pleased he’s with us. He’s got a long way to go and there’s things that he needs to improve on, but his enthusiasm to play and to want to play and to learn is first class. We’ve got to make sure we encourage that.

Full Match Report…

November… W2 : D3 : L0 : F9 : A2 : 5/2pts

16. Goalless in the Potteries

Pos. 15th (21pts) SATURDAY 3 NOVEMBER 2018 Pos. 3rd (28pts)
Stoke 0-0 Boro
62%
13(1)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
38%
11(4)

RR: It ended 0-0, which wasn’t exactly the surprise result of the weekend and kept Boro in third spot at least until Leeds play on Sunday. MOM was between Friend, Clayts and Batth for me but it has to be Batth who was making his first Boro Championship appearance. He was cool as a cucumber all evening and can rightly consider himself harshly treated if Ayala reclaims his place on the basis of this evening’s performance. If only we can sort out the sharp end of this side but how many times have we said that. I do feel however that there is something between Hugill, Wing and Tavernier if given the chance and persevered with.

TP: Finishing has been our Achilles heel, even Tav, who I think has got a fantastic future in front of him, when he goes through, he’s at a very tight angle. When he’s in training, he’d shape and and would pass it with his right foot. If he’d done that, we had two players in the box he could have passed to, and it would have been similar to Sheffield Wednesday, where they’re tapping it in from five yards. I thought Jordan went down far, far too easily a couple of times today. I don’t want that as a manager. That’s not right. I don’t like all that nonsense. That’s got to stop, and he’ll know that now.

Full Match Report…

17. Hugill brace Penalises Latic’s

Pos. 2nd (31pts) SATURDAY 10 NOVEMBER 2018 Pos. 16th (20pts)
Boro 2-0 Wigan
Hugill (38 pen, 44) 42%
19(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
58%
13(1)

RR: We won two nil; it was an unconvincing start, a decent bit of pressure followed and two welcome goals and all in all a happy ending to the first half. The second half is best forgotten about and was worryingly similar to the Rotherham game. Despite winning it still didn’t feel like any corners have been turned and yet incredibly we are second in the division. MOM is a difficult one as there were no stand outs, Clayts was his usual influential self, Fry was excellent in saving our blushes twice early on and put in a solid display at RB, Friend was flying down the wing without the safety of his mask and Downing was taking on defenders. All OK but nothing great or outstanding so for his two goals and all round efforts it goes to Jordan Hugill.

TP: I was really pleased that Jordan got the two goals. What people have missed, and I’ve said it before, is that the lad went from Preston to West Ham and was never involved in any football at all in the Premier League. Then in pre-season he got an injury, so he hasn’t really done anything for six months. He came here really cold, his fitness levels were nowhere near those of the rest of the group, but he’s worked really hard and, in the last few games, we’ve seen some good signs. The great thing about him is that he’s got that little bit of steel about him. He’s a local lad and he’s desperate to do well for this football club.

Full Match Report…

18. Tavernier stings Bee Keeper

Pos. 15th (21pts) SATURDAY 24 NOVEMBER 2018 Pos. 2nd (34pts)
Brentford 1-2 Boro
Judge (75) 58%
17(9)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
32%
11(4)
Hugill (56)
Tavernier (61)

RR: Despite the late Brentford onslaught Boro held on for all three points and jump back into second spot again two points behind Norwich.Job done even if it was a bit of a rollercoaster at times, MOM had a few contenders, Randolph for his save, Tavernier for his goal and overall game, George Friend for his endeavours in the first half but once again it has to be Clayts for fighting, battling, never giving up and never giving in.

TP: This is a very difficult place to come, it’s a very tight ground and they move the ball around really well. They are a good side so this is a very good win. Once we were two up I thought we could have consolidated and looked to add to it, but we fell back a little and that allowed them to get back into the game which was disappointing. But we were resilient, well organised and always posed a threat going forward, so I can’t complain too much about the outcome.

Full Match Report…

19. Tav trumps Tony’s tactical torpidity

Pos. 15th (22pts) TUESDAY 27 NOVEMBER 2018 Pos. 3rd (35pts)
Preston 1-1 Boro
Browne (43) 64%
13(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
36%
11(3)
Tavernier (46)

RR: Seeing the positives, two away games in quick succession yielding an average of two points a game is good form but the worry is that had Gestede not picked up an injury we would have likely lost that game and perhaps by a damaging margin so poor were the tactics, organisation, set-up and selection. Let’s hope lessons have been learned and we get back to basics against Villa. Despite the four points from two away games our defence has been uncomfortably overly reliant on Randolph of late and looks far from the lock-out kings of the EFL. The midfield didn’t function tonight but it’s hard to pin the blame solely with them given the shuffling both there and at the back, over-thinking nearly cost us a point that could prove crucial come May.

TP: We take a point, and we’ve taken four points from two away games at Brentford and Preston, who are the form team at the moment, especially at home. It’s always difficult going to Brentford. Four points, it’s not too bad. It’s the second one on the bounce, and it’s the second one where we have to travel and bed the lads down again and we didn’t get much time. I’m really pleased again with the effort, but there’s certain things we didn’t do that we did the other Saturday, but having said that I still think we deserved what we got.

Full Match Report…

December… W2 : D1 : L3 : F5 : A7 : 7/18pts

20. Bolasie batters bruised Boro

Pos. 3rd (35pts) SATURDAY 1 DECEMBER 2018 Pos. 8th (31pts)
Boro 0-3 Aston Villa
42%
10(3)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
58%
21(8)
Chester (20)
Abraham (64)
Whelan (83)

RR: This Villa team scores goals under Smith but they also concede and have a Keeper who has a trick in him but somehow the normally dependable Randolph picked up that bug tonight (which was about the only thing he did pick up cleanly). Prior to the game I had been reading about how great the team spirit is and how the camaraderie is top notch with the players turning up for training in fancy dress. I would like to suggest that the pantomime tactics stop and next week they turn up dressed as footballers because it looked distinctly like familiarity breeding contempt or abject confusion.

TP: On the day we weren’t good enough, not bright enough. Right from the start, Marcus Tavernier ran round the wrong side of Jordan, and from that moment on we didn’t look bright enough, didn’t play as well as we can do. The difference against these teams, every player has to be on it. They were better than us. Full stop. People can have a go at Randolph, others, I am not. We look at the league, and we look at today and we got beaten badly. I can pick holes in everything, from the back to the front. I am not going to because I don’t think they deserve it.

Full Match Report…

21. Britt’s best thaws Besic brain freeze

Pos. 6th (36pts) SATURDAY 8 DECEMBER 2018 Pos. 11th (30pts)
Boro 1-1 Blackburn
Assombalonga (62)
S/O Besic (21)
34%
12(5)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
66%
15(5)
Mulgrew (22)

RR: Shotton returning was a huge plus and his re appearance today was both timely and impressive. Hugill and Britt looked a handful together and whether it was because of the ten men mentality or just the additional body to create a foil up front, for the first time they looked a real formidable and credible offering. Besic should be under strict instructions to track no further back than the half way line, his self-belief is several levels greater than his actual ability. MOM for me was Ayala with Shotton a hairsbreadth in second spot but Dani did stop a few nailed on opportunities in both halves without which we would have been dead and buried. Britt’s goal was the first from outside the box this season ending the dubious only 100% such record in the Championship.

TP: The referee doesn’t send him off – it’s the fourth official and the linesman on our side. I’ll say it now – Besic does pull his shirt. But I believe our goalkeeper was getting to the ball first before their lad. I think it’s a yellow card, not a sending off. How they make that decision from that distance and a decision that ultimately changed the game is beyond me.

Full Match Report…

22. Rangers Reffing pains pointless Pulis

Pos. 13th (31pts) SATURDAY 15 DECEMBER 2018 Pos. 6th (36pts)
QPR 2-1 Boro
Wzsolek (4)
Wells (60)
49%
17(2)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
51%
8(1)
Saville (51)

RR: More puzzling tactics and again nothing to show for it as Boro succumbed to their second away defeat of the season. I can’t award a MOM award in what was really poor and unconvincing fayre. Things were very reminiscent of this time last year when the Manager just didn’t seem to know what he had or how he wanted them to perform. Apart from Saville’s goal I can’t recall Lumley being tested at all. How we hope to get promoted by sitting deep defending from the off and no longer with a resolute defence to rely on but with no attacking threat whatsoever can only end one way. It seems that Boro fans are once more having to watch an intransigent, defiant Manager sticking to failing tactics have that all too familiar Groundhog day feeling.

TP: We need a few breaks. We certainly don’t need decisions going against us like they did today. We had an incident in their box, from a corner, where Assombalonga is actually rugby-tackled down and the referee is just five yards away from it and doesn’t give it. Then we’ve got an incident in the second half where an offside is given but their player had touched the ball last, so Jonny Howson is 100 per cent not offside. Not only does he give offside, but the goalkeeper then takes it from the edge of the box from a rolling position when the incident has happened 25 yards away. We had four or five players then past the ball when they scored the second goal. It’s got to be an even playing field. The referee has got to look at those and we’ll see what he says.

Full Match Report…

EFL Cup Quarter-Final. Pulis goes for a Burton

TUESDAY 18 DECEMBER 2018
Boro 0-1 Burton
63%
8(3)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
37%
11(2)
Hesketh (48)

RR: The whistle went and I suspect with it quite possibly Tony Pulis’ tenure on Teesside as loud boos from the 17,000 or so home fans echoed around the Riverside on an evening that even edged out Southgate’s Cardiff Cup Tie. Everything that has been wrong and that has gone wrong over the last few weeks was repeatedly magnified. All the flaws and known weaknesses were laid bare in glorious Technicolour. Ultra-cautious nerves allied to negative tactics and a distinct lack of pace and an opposing Coach who wasn’t afraid to attack, change tactics and then sit deep and hang on to what they had justly earned sealed our fate. In fairness Burton thoroughly deserved their win. MOM, yer jokin aren’t yer!

TP: They started better than us in the first five minutes and then we got hold of the game, got a good grip of the game and we had four opportunities where we are through with just the goalkeeper in front of us. What summed it up was Flinty’s miss in the second half. How he’s missed that, goodness knows. I’m desperately disappointed.

Full Match Report…

23. Friend fires binary Boro victory

Pos. 21st (19pts) SATURDAY 22 DECEMBER 2018 Pos. 4th (39pts)
Reading 0-1 Boro
57%
12(4)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
43%
18(6)
Friend (77)

RR: There were many questions on tactics, selections and performance at the Madejski Stadium but importantly we left with all three points and it was far from convincing. MOM for me was Johnny Howson but a special mention for McNair who came on and put in his best performance since arriving at Boro and for Randolph who kept us in it. With two fortuitous Penalty claims going our way this was far from a resounding away win and could have very easily ended far differently. Playing a lone Striker against a very poor side and then keeping to the same format but with different personnel did not go down well. The result was the right one but the manner of it did little to convince or sway growing sceptical attitudes.

TP: When things are going well, everyone gets too excited. When things aren’t going well, everyone gets down in the dumps. Week in, week out, it’s tough and it’s hard. But we’ve got an honest group. We need to add to it because there’s a lack of real pace and power that we need to find. If we can do that, then we’ll push on and we’ll be fine. If we don’t, then every game is going to be a tough one.

Full Match Report…

24. The Pulis that stole Christmas

Pos. 5th (39pts) WEDNESDAY 26 DECEMBER 2018 Pos. 16th (30pts)
Boro 0-1 Sheff Wed
56%
12(3)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
44%
4(2)
Reach (20)

RR: As for what happens now and what the club should do is open for much debate. No doubt TP will point to the restrictions in his squad and diabolically poor recruitment but whilst they are absolutely genuine charges to be levelled at Steve Gibson and his senior club management team the selection and tactics are down to Tony Pulis. Neither Steve Gibson nor the Recruitment incompetents decide that Britt Assombalonga can operate as an isolated lone striker, they don’t decide to play against a struggling opponent at home and line up as though they were facing Barcelona with an overkill of slow defenders and midfielders. Today was the worst of everything and not for the first time this season, any slight improvement came about as a reaction to the negative failure of Pulis’s preferred methodology and favourites. As unbalanced and poor as the squad may be in certain areas it is ridiculous, futile and unprofessional to force square pegs into round holes instead of playing to the strengths and abilities of what you do actually have to work with. The continued omission of the likes of Wing and Tav in favour of non-productive expensively assembled flops was laid bare this afternoon as the lone Striker insistence failed yet again and yet again failed miserably.

TP: I thought we started brightly enough and got into some great positions. They got their goal with their first shot on target. One or two of the lads dropped their heads a little bit, and didn’t play with the brightness and confidence that they should do. In the second half, we had a go. The team worked hard in the second half, they gave it everything. The majority of them really showed some character and kept going.

Full Match Report…

25. Boro double eases tension

Pos. 5th (42pts) SATURDAY 29 DECEMBER 2018 Pos. 24th (15pts)
Boro 2-0 Ipswich
Hugill (37 pen)
Tavernier (72)
42%
19(9)
POSSESSION
SHOTS (on target)
58%
6(4)

RR: The game was dire in the first half, improved from a Boro perspective in the second and when Tav came on we played our best football. Friend was solid and put in some immense challenges and got some good crosses in. Howson was lively and alert down the right and caused problems and Wing was playing intelligent balls for Howson to both run into and onto instead of those dull midfield passes to standing targets. MOM for me was Howson but Randolph kept us in it and Friend was impressive, Wing was a breath of fresh thinking and Tav scored again!

TP: It was a good result, I thought the players played well but, again, we could have scored more goals. But the two goals that we get, we’ve had easier chances, but it’s a great win and I’m really pleased for the lads. We’re in the top six, we’ve got an opportunity now to add to the squad in the transfer window and push on. I think the way the lads kept going, at 1-0 we had a couple of chances, we should have had a penalty again that we don’t get, it was more a penalty than the first one, but in the end we could have scored three or four. I’m really pleased for them and the confidence is important.

Full Match Report…

Rotherham 1 – 2 Boro

Rotherham United Middlesbrough
Smith 86′ (pen) Assombalonga
Mikel
28′ (pen)
37′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
58%
18
4
6
12
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
42%
12
4
5
16

Boro ground to a halt at the Millers

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s final game victory at Rotherham…

The Final game of the season and somehow despite trying to self-implode Boro are still in it with something to play for albeit relying on the Baggies to hold the Rams to a draw or better still beat them. FLDC failure to win against the Swans midweek meant that the footballing ennui currently smothering Teesside had to be endured once more for another 90 minutes or at least until Derby took a convincing lead plunging the stake firmly into the Diasboro heart for another season.

TP had declared that he only had the three defenders still out with no new selection headaches. Warne seemed optimistically resigned to their fate and I suspected we would see a Rotherham playing without fear wanting to put on a show for a capacity last game in the Championship. Paul Warne made two changes from their defeat to West Brom last Saturday. Vaulks hadn’t recovered from an injury and goalkeeper Rodak was missing through illness. Due to that illness their lack of a Keeper on the bench was hopefully an omen for Boro with Lewis Price making his first start of the season between the sticks for the Millers. The only change for Boro was on the bench with Wood dropping out and Spence coming back in.

A vociferous jam-packed banner festooned away end roared on the dark blue/black shirted Boro for one last final effort. Rotherham kicked off and immediately McNair was forced into a header with the home side starting off on the front foot. As expected, we had three at the back with Howson and Saville in the Wing Back roles. Early exchanges saw Rotherham getting the ball out wide quickly and pressuring Boro with Shotton looking a little questionable in the reaction stakes. There were certainly no relegation hangovers from the Miller men. Boro were under serious pressure, Randolph had to palm away an early effort from Smith who had bettered Shotton testing the Boro Keeper with a shot fired across the face of goal. Truth be told Boro looked very uncomfortable, slow and unprepared for Rotherham’s onslaught.

A minute later and a ball into the Boro box was fortunately left by Forde and Smith, going out for a Boro goal kick. Ten minutes had gone and it was all Rotherham until a Besic taken free kick led to a corner for the visitors. The big lads went up but the corner came in low to Saville who hit it poorly and it went well wide. The anxious hope was that Boro were just keeping things cool, absorbing early pressure and looking to pick the relegated side off but hope is one thing reality wise it certainly didn’t look or feel that confident. Scrappy, disconnected and a lack of composure best described the Boro showing in the opening quarter of an hour. A header over the bar by Ajayi in the six-yard box was another warning but then Britt broke, was through on a one on one and as has been typical of Britt he sliced his shot left footed wide as he had darted between two static Rotherham defenders after a Fletcher knock on.

Bleak news then filtered through that Derby had taken the lead against the Baggies at Pride Park. Again, Shotton looking increasingly awkward on the left of the defence was skinned by Smith, allowing the attacker to get into the Boro box and fire in his shot. Fletcher then duplicated Britt’s effort by lashing a shot well wide from the same spot and going wide of the same post. A Lewis Wing free kick was delivered perfectly to Shotton who repeated his defensive frailties at the other end hopelessly putting his header over the bar for what was a nailed-on opener. That miss was unbelievable but at least Boro did now look to be showing some endeavour but as soon as we felt that warm breeze of confidence Rotherham went up the other end and it was inevitably Michael Smith who had another shot that went just wide under pressure from Shotton.

Just before the half hour mark Fletcher played Assombalonga through and in going to receive the one two Britt was hauled down in the box allowing Britt to put away his second penalty in as many weeks.

One nil and just as the travelling army were in full celebratory mood Britt was played in again by Fletcher but he completely missed the gaping goalmouth with his shot going out for a goal kick near the edge of the eighteen-yard box. Elsewhere Derby were still winning, Bristol were drawing but Ipswich were beating Leeds which hopefully would serve as an incentive to WBA to try and get something at Derby to avoid Villa. Meanwhile Smith was again causing us problems and looking very much to me like a player that was maybe worth some speculative interest in the summer. Twenty-seven years old, from the North East, Championship ready and unlikely to break the bank.

On thirty-seven minutes a Wing corner was met powerfully by McNair, headed back in towards the packed six-yard box deflected back out (or laid off depending on perspective) by Fletcher into the path of Mikel on the penalty spot who smashed it home to make it two nil. With just a few minutes to go until the half time whistle news had filtered through that Leeds had pulled back an equaliser at Ipswich. That was a sickener as the hope was that the chance of leapfrogging Leeds to avoid Villa might have been an incentive for the Baggies to push Derby a little harder in the second half. As the seconds of the first half ebbed away, Rotherham had a cross come shot palmed out by Randolph reminding us we still had work to do. The resulting corner was headed clear and the whistle went to end the half.

A nervy opening twenty minutes for Boro but the penalty broke the back of the Millers and settled our nerves. In truth with three very poor misses we could and possibly should have had another three goals despite Rotherham creating some really good opportunities themselves.

Paul Warne made one change at half time with Williams on for Forde as news simultaneously came through that Ipswich had taken the lead again versus Leeds but the Baggies had now drawn level at Pride Park sending the Travelling Teessiders into orbit. We now potentially faced the longest forty-five minutes for Boro fans as the two thousand six hundred travelling army turned the New York Stadium into Rotherham by the Tees, uncomfortably a few bursts of “Derby County, it’s happening again” rang out.

Fifty-five minutes gone and it was still 2-0 to Boro and still 1-1 at Pride Park, Bristol were drawing 0-0 at Hull so as it stood Boro were at least momentarily in the Play Offs. Rotherham had a chance and then at the other end a Corner won by Howson was delivered in by Saville but a shove by Flint was blown for by Ref Andy Madely for a foul. Despite the effervescent enthusiasm from the travelling army if Rotherham pulled one back nerves would be jangling even more and of course if Derby scored it was dream over. At Hull the final knife was plunged into Bristol City hearts as Irvine had put the Tigers one up to end vague South West Play Off hopes.

Meanwhile Boro were slipping up and looking careless, Paul Warne had clearly told his side to go out and get at us with nothing to lose. Mikel made a hash of things, Fletcher done likewise as nerves were clearly getting to everybody in the New York Stadium. Half an hour to go and a third Rotherham Corner in quick succession was plucked out of the air by Randolph. At this stage I’m not sure if another West Brom goal would have eased jitters more than a third for Boro. Either or preferably both would have done. Besic picked up a sloppy Ajayi pass, charged forward and just inside the box let fly but his effort went well over Price’s goal. Down at Hull Bristol had pulled one back but so long as we were wining their result was irrelevant to us.

Sixty-five minutes gone and the Pride Park result was still 1-1, Boro were still leading 2-0 and Bristol’s goal apparently wasn’t and it was still 1-0 to the Tigers. Paul Warne made another sub bringing the long serving Potter on as Boro were really making hard work of this and a Newell shot blocked by Saville drew huge sighs of relief and immediately Saville again defiantly blocked the follow up attempt.

Then the killer news came in that FLDC had taken the lead again against West Brom and were now 2-1 up. The mood in the away end was suddenly darker than the Boro shirts.

Ajayi had a great effort brilliantly saved by Randolph and once again he had another follow up effort just as news arrived that Derby had just had a Penalty to put the Rams 3-1 up and effectively ending Boro’s hopes that had momentarily, ever so cruelly flickered. A Penalty claim by Rotherham was brushed aside after it was adjudged that Saville’s hand had made accidental contact. With just under a quarter of an hour of the game and season to go Newell came off for the Millers with Kyle Vassel entering the field of play, Fletcher went off for Boro at the same time and Downing began the likely end of his second Boro chapter.

There was little impetus out on the pitch and in the stands, the travelling army were now somewhat restrained other than a brief “he’s one of our own” welcome to Stewy’s arrival. Clayts was warming up to replace Besic in what was probably the Bosnina’s final game for Boro and the switch was made at the next break in play. Leeds had meanwhile missed a Penalty at ten man Ipswich but it all seemed a irrelevant now as the only thing that really mattered was in the hands of West Brom. The text messages trickling through was that they looked less than likely to rescue TP and Boro’s season. Tav then came on for Wing to get five or six minutes under his belt but straight away the Rotherham Sub Vassell smashed the post and as the ball came back in to the edge of the box Mikel stuck a silly foot into the path of Vassell who went down for Andy Madely to blow for a penalty.

Michael Smith stepped up and despatched it into the bottom corner past the outstretched Randolph to pull it back to 2-1 to Boro. In fairness Rotherham had deserved it as news arrived in that fellow relegated Ipswich had apparently scored a third against Leeds. Sadly, there was nothing coming in from Pride Park as Boro were now hanging on to what they had. Boro fans now left reflecting on all those games that we meekly surrendered over a season that had started so well then defended into despair. The only things now left to report on the day were that West Brom had gone down to ten men in injury time and Mikel picked up a yellow card for frustratingly kicking the ball away.

MOM was the Boro Travelling Army. Boro had recklessly missed out on what was once a nailed-on position in the Play Off’s sealed after that calamitous run of six defeats in a row. Part of me was disappointed at today’s outcome whilst another part was relieved that this frustrating season was finally over and not spluttering incoherently and aimlessly on. Now put out of our misery but in truth we didn’t miss out today, our lack of goals, terrible home record, negative attitude and out dated tactics had sucked the heart and soul out of players and fans alike some months back.

If you wish to leave a comment about Redcar Red’s match report please return to the Week 40 discussion page

Will Gibson decree that Pulis is not a man for all seasons

Championship 2018-19: Week 40

Sun 5 May – 12:30: Rotherham v Boro

Werdermouth looks ahead to the final league game of the season…

As Boro supporters once again steel themselves to postpone their return to the Utopian uplands of the Premier League, they still await news from their noble defender of the faith on whether he’s contemplating yet another divorce after what appears a fruitless union with his latest consort. More will not be welcomed on Teesside should the supreme governor decide to subject them to another season of what has gone before. However, Gibson it seems is keeping his own counsel as he strolls regally through the manicured grounds of Rockliffe Hall in deep conversation with his chief courtier and trusted Welsh confident. Despite the position of the Boro manager now appearing close to untenable for many, he’s still apparently of the mind that his business at the club remains unfinished – though after an underwhelming campaign, few now even regard him as the man for next season, let alone all seasons.

As matters of the state weigh heavy on the shoulders of the divine ruler, he must soon decide whether to stay loyal to his close aide as his subjects openly demand his head. While the pious Pulis may still retain the backing of his master, it’s not been echoed in the wider court of public opinion after he made the cardinal sin of failing to deliver a change in fortunes. After the dissolution of the previous regime and the banishment of the lavish Monk, the coffers are still much diminished and the promises of reaching new riches under the austere hand of his successor have once again failed to materialise.

Parallels between Henry VIII’s councillor, Sir Thomas More, and a Boro manager that has probably led to quite a few supporters seeking counselling this season, are hard to find. While More was the author of the highly influential book Utopia, Pulis is perhaps merely the author of his own downfall – although, if you said that the faithful on Teesside would regard the vision offered by the Boro manager as anything resembling Utopia, it would possibly be regarded as a bigger work of fiction than the original.

Incidentally, the name Utopia was actually a Greek pun that derived from the words ou-topos (no place) and eu-topos (good place) – which perhaps quite aptly describe the mythical land of the Premier League. Although, some Greek scholars who regularly attend Boro press conferences have argued that Pulis could possibly have been based on one of the book’s characters, Raphael Hythlodaeus, whose surname we are reliably informed translates as “peddler of nonsense”.

Of course, peddling nonsense is not necessarily a handicap in the footballing world – indeed it’s been the staple of many a manager over the years and it’s this cliché punctuated prose that is normally the favoured method of communication. However, for those who claim to say it as they see it, stepping into the world of spin and offering half-truths will ultimately only undermine their wider message. OK, not everything that Pulis espouses is completely wide of the mark but it’s often the desire to create a somewhat skewed narrative that has led to some questioning his overall sincerity.

We saw another example of this last week as Pulis once again overplayed the club’s spending before he arrived by quoting the headline figure of £55m spent rather than also mentioning the nearly £48m that was raised in sales. The Boro manager has tried to portray himself as almost a hard-up Tony Mowbray figure who has needed to manage on very tight budget and seems to indicate the club have needlessly overstretched – although he may well be right with that latter statement. Pulis declared: “There’s more than one way to skin a cat and this club has to understand and recognise there are different ways of doing stuff. But you have to be patient if you’re going to do it that way. We’re still on the back foot and still catering for a lot of players who came in.

While those who have watched Boro at the Riverside this season will no doubt agree about still being on the back foot, many will have observed that most of his pedestrian players have looked incapable of skinning a defender, let alone a cat. Although, the call for patience is unlikely to be received with much enthusiasm after most on the terraces believe theirs has been more than tested this season.

Indeed, if the season was in search of a metaphor to describe Tony Pulis’s tenure, it was duly delivered in the last home game against Reading when an over-inflated dinosaur drifted slowly across the Riverside pitch. Perhaps it was attempting to emulate much of the tumbleweed that had passed in eerie silence before it, which had often became the scourge of the groundsmen at half-time. Still, the ineffective and some might say overblown dinosaur was then duly stamped on and burst by an opposition player – providing two metaphors for the price of one as a dinosaur that had offered little threat was left permanently deflated. While one or two may have been upset to see the demise of the impromptu entertainment, there were few signs of an extinction rebellion emerging on Teesside.

Pulis resorted to his own favourite metaphor about his chairman last week as he sought to back him over over his latest “dog with a bone” moment following his stance against the EFL for not appearing to enforce their profitability and sustainability rules – you may recall Tony had previously taken on the role of the bone after the Boro top dog tried to persuade him to join the club. The Boro manager claimed in his press conference that Boro were forced to sell key players Adama Traore and Ben Gibson last summer in order keep them within those rules. However, there can’t be many who are by now not aware that the club were powerless to stop Adama being sold after the £18m release clause was met by Wolves – indeed Pulis even announced at the time that the club had offered the player an improved contract to try and persuade him to stay.

In addition, it was widely accepted that Ben Gibson would be allowed to leave last summer if Boro’s £15m valuation was met in order for him to further his career and play Premier League football – the transfer was never touted at the time as being required to balance the books. In fact, with MFC having made an £18m profit over the previous two seasons and with them theoretically being allowed to post a £61m three-year loss this season, there was never any chance the club were in danger of not complying with the rules.

OK, without promotion this term, the club will have needed to sell players this summer as the parachute payments ended but there is little evidence to suggest that there was an actual need to raise cash last summer – the truth is Adama had a release clause and Ben’s sale was good business as his value would probably have declined with another indifferent season in the Championship. The key to the transfer market for those with a limited budget is simply to maximise the profits and minimise the losses – although, you could be forgiven for thinking the reverse was true sometimes!

Indeed, the world of football has now become primarily about money and how to chase it while trying to avoid losing too much of it in the process. Perhaps the sentiments expressed in this quote from Robert Bolt’s play and film of A Man for All Seasons could quite easily also describe the game’s lost purpose and excesses:

If we lived in a state where virtue was profitable, common sense would make us good, and greed would make us saintly. And we’d live like animals or angels in the happy land that needs no heroes. But since in fact we see that avarice, anger, envy, pride, sloth, lust and stupidity commonly profit far beyond humility, chastity, fortitude, justice and thought, and have to choose, to be human at all… why then perhaps we must stand fast a little – even at the risk of being heroes.

Talking of risking becoming a hero, after Lewis Wing’s unexpected return to the Boro midfield saw him score a goal, hit the post and generally trouble the opposition defence, Tony Pulis declared “He’s been the find of the season” – by which he presumably meant that he’d misplaced the influential playmaker for nearly four months before suddenly reclaiming him at the Rockliffe lost property desk after he was handed in. The Boro manager could barely even find a place on the bench for “Wingy” when his mono-paced midfield was struggling to score goals and create chances for the last three months of 2018 – in fact Pulis was often dismissive of supporters who pressed for his inclusion as he insisted he still needed to learn the game.

Still, thanks to that Wing-inspired win over Reading, Tony Pulis’s team at least have an outside chance of finishing in sixth place – though all eyes on Teesside will be glancing nervously towards Swansea on Wednesday to see if they answer Boro’s Mayday call and come to our rescue. However, should Frank Lampard’s Derby County win in South Wales it will make the trip to newly relegated Rotherham on Sunday an even less happy place to be than a coulrophobia junior convention at a McDonald’s restaurant that’s run out of Happy Meals while hosting a Ronald McDonald lookalike contest. Fortunately, any Boro supporters previously suffering from a fear of clowns will have had their condition cured by many years of aversion therapy at the Riverside while being subjected to Pigbag at full volume on the PA.

With luck, the season will head to the final day with something to play for and the hope that a win at Rotherham will be enough. It will depend on how keen Tony’s old club West Brom are to do him a favour and try to edge Leeds out of third place – though surely even the faltering Mighty Whites can’t lose at home to Ipswich. Of course, Boro may be rueing the dropped points in that 0-0 draw against Rotherham in the Riverside reverse fixture – along with many others no doubt.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine that Boro have been looking like a promotion side since those heady days in August that blinded us with that bright unbeaten start. It doesn’t feel like Tony Pulis has progressed the team into a side that’s ready for the next level – it’s barely coping at the current Championship level. Indeed, few of the current team have developed into players that look in any way capable of being able to cut it in the Premier League. Contrast that with a Cardiff side, who competed well against Liverpool last week, when they fielded nine players that had played for the club in the Championship last season.

Pulis has stated this week that Boro as a club need to do things properly if they are to become an established top tier side again – his argument is: “Clubs are going to get promoted and struggle in the Premier League, unless it’s done properly. So you’re chasing to get there, you get there, you get relegated, you’ve got this massive bill, then you chase it again because you’ve got parachute money then you get deeper and deeper in trouble. You look at how many clubs have done that in the last ten years, it’s ridiculous.”

OK, that’s pretty much a logical commentary on the pitfalls of promotion but is there any real substance or plan to avoid making that happen? Pulis followed up that analysis with: “You’ve got to have strength of character and understanding to know where the club is going. And you’ve got to be honest and open and say this is how we’re doing it. But you’ll be stronger at the end of it and break the mould of ‘I want it, why can’t I have it? Why can’t it be done?”

Why indeed! But unfortunately it all sounds like typical management consultant talk that appears profound on the surface without actually saying anything other than there has to be a better way of doing things. The only solution Pulis is suggestion appears that Boro need to find a plan and stick to it, which essentially involves unearthing better cheaper players and having a method of playing that is more effective. Basically, it’s a promise to deliver alchemy to Steve Gibson if he’s given enough time and patience to make it work.

If you were being kind, you would say it’s almost the naïve optimism of a younger manager – if you weren’t, you would fear they were just the empty promises of an old Charlatan. No doubt Tony Pulis will point to what he built at Stoke but the football landscape is being altered every year by the arrival of richer owners and increased TV money. Plus the tactical side of football has developed to the point that the successful teams are not the ones that predominantly try to shut out the opposition but are those who are creative and score goals. Pulis is perhaps not the progressive manager with the new ideas that Boro need at this moment who can make his team play without fear. A fact bourne out by the touchline microphone used by the TV company that screened the Reading game – all that could be heard was Tony Pulis barking out basic micro-management instructions to every Boro player for the full 94 minutes from his technical area.

Ideally, in our own vision of footballing Utopia, the philosophy of being a supporter should pretty much mirror life itself – in that it should really be all about the journey and not necessarily the destination. If it is indeed about the football, then we should only try to enjoy the journey and not over focus on reaching an end – or at least be given an opportunity to enjoy that journey. Many Boro supporters have regarded this season as one of the worst they’ve endured, which given the club have been in the top six for nearly all of it must raise a fundamental issue of why that is the perception.

The problem it seems comes when those leading the way appear to care little for the pleasure they provide along that path. OK, successful football that is pleasing to the eye is not easy to achieve but to not want to aspire to that is often what makes supporters long for the journey to end. Sadly, ambition for most clubs in some ways ends when they make it to the inequitable Premier League as the aim thereafter is simply to avoid failure and relegation. Perhaps the prize on offer has just distracted everyone from what football was meant to be about.

Boro 2 – 1 Reading

Middlesbrough Reading
Wing
Assombalonga
31′
39′ (pen)
Loader 11′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
38%
18
6
7
14
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
62%
12
4
4
12

Wing and a prayer

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s come-back victory over Reading…

Jose Gomes had his first game his season without serious relegation pressure as only a mathematical miracle could send his team down. The Royals pulled clear of the relegation zone after a run of only three defeats in their last sixteen games largely down to no longer conceding goals in the dying minutes. One point would be enough to guarantee safety but as it stood they were already six points ahead of Rotherham in the remaining relegation slot with a plus thirteen better goal difference. That Rotherham had only scored 50 goals in 44 games this entire season and therefore needed to score something like 25% of their entire goal haul in two remaining games was never going to happen and of course besides they have to face the mighty Boro in their last game.

TP had the usual casualty list perhaps with SG’s injured pride to add to that after fellow Championship competitors blew his “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” accounts strategy out of the water midweek to make it two humiliating defeats in 48 hours in Nottingham. Then yesterday we heard that they had managed allegedly to “knack” Stewy in training to add to Dael Fry from the previous week.

The big shock was the inclusion of Lewis Wing coming in for Clayts who we thought would be finished for the season after his hernia operation. Other than that, the only other change was Spence making way from the bench for Clayts. The sides took to the Riverside pitch under dark grey overcast skies with the Spirit of Steaua banner being optimistically passed over the heads of the South Stand. If only we had seen some “Spirt” in evidence at the Riverside at any time this season since August.

Boro kicked off and got at Reading straight away down the right side with Wingy earning a corner and having a shot and all before 47 seconds had ticked over linking up well with Howson. If this was a sign of intent then it was refreshing to see a Boro side finally looking like they wanted to actually win a game. Reading however had objectives of their own, quickly settled and started passing the ball around stretching Boro and exposing our weakness of playing a fish out of water at left back yet again. Being fair on Saville he gives 100% but at best he is a 6/10 performer with the odd 7 every now and then but as a wing back a 2/10 would be a compliment, not his fault I hasten to add as its the chalice that’s been handed to him.

McCleary was looking lively and starting to stretch a Boro backline that looked edgy and before long it was clear that Jose Gomes and his charges knew that their opponents’ collective defensive vulnerabilities was a given. Boro however were very busy themselves at the other end and Wingy managed to hit the inside of the post and a cross from Fletcher was just marginally too high for Britt to meet. The inevitable then happened as a poorly defended ball from a Gunter throw in worked in from our right side seen youngster Danny Loader drift past Mikel who had struggled to pull any strings thus far and was beaten all too easily for a deftly lofted ball to curl into the top corner of Randolph’s net in a very soft and soul-destroying manner.

0-1 and like the inflatable dinosaur that had previously provided lofty entertainment (and irony) floating above the Riverside environs had been well and truly burst. The Stadium atmosphere had been low key and quiet up until that point and the away fans now had something to sing about with a chorus or two of “we’re staying up”. The industrial heritage of Teesside was evident in thoughts and opinions which were muffled in fairness but certainly scathing and eye watering in terminology. The fear was that this would be the key that unlocked months of pent up anti dinosaur frustration

and anger but the fans kept their powder dry but the atmosphere was now just as dark as those foreboding grey skies.

Reading were now enjoying momentary relief from pressure knowing that a draw let alone a victory would see them definitely safe from the drop. Boro on the other hand looked jittery nervous and a comedy of errors then ensued. Saville couldn’t hang onto the ball, Shotton was all over and Flint looked a liability and as we desperately needed to get back into the game Besic started his circular pirouettes and landed us in trouble. He looked every inch a luxury we can’t and wouldn’t want to afford.

At this point the atmosphere was now starting to turn toxic and what had been previously muffled was now being individually vented in full fury at was truly shambolic defending. A makeshift defence is one thing but what was witnessed was below schoolboy level. Mikel was weak in midfield, Besic was in a delusional world of his own, Saville was struggling, Flint was impersonating a carthorse and Shotton was running around trying to hold it all together but in reality, in doing so losing what little organisation and structure we had.

Then came a moment that simply beggared belief. Barely surviving a calamitous period and now trying to get an equaliser to keep our slim hopes for the season alive the ball broke to Besic. Desperate to launch another attack and screaming at him (not for the first time this afternoon) to propel it back into the box he turns and knocks the ball out of play. Vitriol was now at bubbling point. A Reading player was down but not unconscious or fitting or even blood pouring from him. Besic seemed to be totally oblivious to both the importance and the meaning of this match. It was made a lot worse as the Reading player who must have looked like he needed life support got himself up, dusted himself down and got on with it. So embarrassed were Reading when they took the resultant throw in instead of hitting it back to Randolph as would be the norm they sheepishly just knocked it ten yards back to Boro in the middle of the pitch.

Having dicky danced his way through the half to date the Bosnian international was lucky that the only pelters he received were verbal ones because there were a few blokes near me that apoplectic doesn’t even remotely describe their mental state. What the game had shown thus far was that there is very clearly a mental issue with this side in terms of where their heads are at and reality of the task in hand. Something is evidently dysfunctional compounded by a lack of leadership on the pitch. I couldn’t have pictured a player knocking the ball out like that with a Grant Leadbitter or a Nigel Pearson out there.

Boro’s sole outlets were Wing and Howson who were both a class or even two classes above the rest, Randolph excepted. Besic made some amends when he found Fletcher who in turn played in Britt but when it looked like we were back in it his effort had hit the post. Wing then tried his luck next but his effort went both a yard wide and just over the Reading goal. Finally after a great piece of play involving Jonny Howson (who is looking like a serious long term solution to the right wing back role) his cross evaded Fletcher but was headed out by a defender to Wingy on the penalty spot who wrapped his boot behind it and made darn sure that that ball was only going in one place and it was 1-1. In fairness what perhaps wasn’t appreciated and won’t be reported elsewhere is that Saville was up and pressuring that Reading defender in the box who couldn’t leave it and was desperately forced into the poor header.

Just over thirty minutes gone and things were level again. Boro now regrouped, cleared their stuttering heads but it was still Howson and Wing that were the only creative forces behind everything that we mustered. Our left side was sterile, totally bereft of any threat. Saville was getting caught and with a lack of pace struggled to build anything from defence whatsoever, the thoughts in the North Stand were that Stewy’s training “injury” was just more of Pulis’s spin to defect from his decision to go yet again with what had failed each and every time it was utilised.

In stark and blatantly obvious contrast Howson and Wing continued to test the Reading defence on the right side (fanciful thoughts of a Downing and Tav combo on the left entered my thoughts). Wing then had another yet another effort pushed over for a corner. With five minutes of the first half remaining Besic played a great ball to Howson and as he played it into Saville (again getting up into the Reading box) Yiadom brought him down but the ball simultaneously broke to Britt who rifled his shot into the gaping goal to make it 2-1 except eccentric Referee John Brooks (who seemed to be on a neighbouring orbit to Besic) blew for a penalty. From cheers and jubilation to abject disbelief at the whistle along with more Anglo-Saxon nouns. Britt stepped up and as the inevitable “Typical Boro” thoughts were to the forefront of everyone’s minds he calmly sent Martinez the wrong way smashing it into the net once again finally making it 2-1.

Despite going behind early, Besic having an aberration along with Flint, Shotton and Saville ensuring there were more than just smokers queueing for the cubicles at half time somehow (thanks mainly to Howson, Wingy and Britt) we were back in front against a side that were still looking over their shoulders. Just before the half time whistle had gone Shotton had a scrambled attempt that rippled the side netting as we almost dared to dream that we could enter the break with the rarity of a two-goal cushion.

The second half started much the same way as the first with this time Besic putting in an early cross that Fletcher deftly nodded goal wards with Martinez committed to a dive to his left but by sheer fluke his trailing legs managed to comically keep Ashley’s effort out. That was a great and positive restart as surely the need for goals as well as a win was paramount in Pulis’s and the Players’ minds especially with the half time news that Derby were winning away at Bristol.

What ensued next was just a repeat of the Stoke and Hull second halves except even more negative. Sitting back, absorbing pressure, desperately clearing lines, hoofing up field where Britt was out muscled and Fletcher managing to give lightweight a new Collins Dictionary definition. Powder puff and half-hearted our two attackers were getting no backing from the Ref even when Britt had his shirt almost ripped off him, held back, dragged back on the half way line he blew for a foul in favour of Reading.

That was it I’m afraid, nothing else worthy to report or comment on in the half other than digging deep and hanging on for grim death or dear life. An entire second half of desperate, defensive dross interspersed by three substitutions from either side. TP brought Clayts on for Besic and Tav on for Fletcher who it has to be said looked equally light weight and just as disappointingly ineffective. Hugill then came on for Britt and at least dished out a bit of what Britt had been receiving in vain and took a yellow for his troubles. Like the last few home games it was the Alamo revisited again as nerves were shredded, enduring what was hopefully the last of the Pulis era at the Riverside.

It ended with a 2-1 victory that was far from convincing and anything but enjoyable but that last emotion had long since been aborted since August. MOM was a joint one between Howson and Wing, Wingy grabbed his goal but Howson was Mr Duracell all game and it’s impossible to split the decision. Incredibly the tantalising chance of a play off spot still remains up until the very final game of the season but most of us know that should have been the absolute minimum. Now we find ourselves rueing the lack of goals and goal difference that TP had been at great odds to highlight in his programme notes. Unfortunately, those stats don’t highlight taking Britt off for Friend at home to Brentford or the abject negativity against the likes of Villa, Forest and Swansea nor the shameful capitulations to Newport and Burton. No team spirit, no belief, no determination, no confidence, no positivity and negative demoralising leadership has led us to where we now find ourselves.

Our hopes now despondingly rest on FLDCFC taking the field at Swansea full of fear and trepidation Pulis style.

If you wish to leave a comment about Redcar Red’s match report please return to the Week 38-39 discussion page

 

In2views: The Spraggons

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 guests this week are Linda and Frank Spraggon.

1. The Overview – The Spraggons

This In2view is quite different to the normal singular questions and answers profile. Usually I talk to just one player or a person who has been closely associated with Middlesbrough Football Club. This time I have been talking with two people whose lives are intertwined, not only with each other as husband and wife, but have both lived and breathed the highs and lows of the Boro. They have seen the perspectives from managerial and coaching aspects of football and also from the playing field.

Linda and Frank - bw crop 1Linda and Frank Spraggon have both had a long association with Middlesbrough Football club and have many fond memories of the club

Many Boro supporters will remember Frank Spraggon as one of the famous Charlton’s Champions, which was one of the highlights of a long career at the club. Born on 27th October 1945 in Newcastle Upon Tyne, he signed for the Boro in 1962 and made his debut for the club on 2nd October 1963 at the age of seventeen, which was in a League Cup game against Bradford Park Avenue. Frank made over 300 appearances during his time on Teesside and later played for Minnesota Kicks in the North American Soccer League in 1976 where he played against the famous Pele. Frank returned to England and had a short spell with Hartlepool in the 1976/77 season before finally retiring.

When England won the World Cup in 1966,  a nineteen year-old Linda Spraggon had a very good reason to be proud as her father Harold Shepherdson was the England trainer at the time. She has always thought of him as the backroom boy to Sir Alf Ramsey and probably never received the plaudits that he deserved – though he did receive an MBE in 1969 for services to football. When England lifted the World Cup it was customary at the time that only the 11 players on the pitch at the final whistle were awarded medals. Although, this was rectified in June 2009, when members of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad who had not received medals, were presented with winners’ medals at a reception in Downing Street. Prime Minister Gordon Brown handed out the medals to the squad players and families of the backroom staff with Margaret Shepherdson receiving the medal on behalf of her late husband. She was accompanied by her daughter, Linda Spraggon, for whom football has played such a major part of her life.

I knew Harold personally for quite a few years, as part of the three-man refereeing team who worked with him, officiating for all the Boro trial and junior matches. Harold was always courteous and welcoming and whilst the facilities at the Hutton Road training ground were sparse, he ensured that we were well paid for our efforts. He also provided at the end of a match, a sumptuous tea, which was waiting for us when we re-entered the dressing room after the game.

Harold Shepherdson - cropHarold Shepherdson standing with his famous kit bag watches nervously from the dugout during England’s World Cup final triumph

Harold always asked if we had seen any promising talent during our travels. The only one I can remember him not following up, was when we recommended Mick McCarthy of Barnsley to him one Sunday afternoon. All three of us referees had been at Barnsley the previous day and one of my colleagues had been the senior assistant referee. Mick had been superb during the game and we had all been impressed. Our loss was Manchester City’s gain but Harold Shepherdson or “Shep” as he was fondly known certainly put the miles in to look at players. He was responsible for bringing in some key junior and senior players to the club including, Mark Proctor, Graeme Hedley, Stuart Boam, Craig Johnston, David Hodgson, Stan Cummins and many more.

What is a little-known story about Harold, is his success in attracting Graeme Souness to join the Boro. “Shep” had been with the England players for a game at Wembley and the then Boro manager Stan Anderson had asked Shep to look out for a young midfield player to join the ranks. “Shep” dutifully looked at all the available prospects and whilst in the England dressing room before the game, asked the players if they knew of any up and coming players that they could recommend to him. Immediately Martin Peters and Marin Chivers, who were both England and Tottenham Hotspur players responded in unison, “Graeme Souness.” Apparently, Graeme and Bill Nicholson the Spurs manager had a bust up during training and young Graeme wanted to return home to Scotland. “Shep” gratefully followed up the lead as he knew Bill Nicholson very well, had a chat with Graeme, pointing out how close Middlesbrough was to Scotland and the rest of course is history.

So following a long and enjoyable lunch that my wife and I had with the Spraggons at Middlesbrough Football Club last year, it was obvious that they both had interesting and historical stories to tell. After speaking with the male half of the partnership in Frank, it was  suggested to do a combined In2views article – though he assured me that it would probably be the female half of the partnership who would be taking charge of the answers! I agreed with him, thereby ensuring that the resultant responses would prove to give an enlightening view of what it has been like to be so close to the club, so, welcome to Linda and Frank Spraggon…

2. The Interviews – a quick chat

Linda, Frank and Joanne - crop 2Linda met Frank when he was an apprentice at Boro and they later married and had a daughter Joanne – pictured here ahead of his testimonial

Linda Spraggon…

OFB: Linda, when did you first become aware of Middlesbrough Football Club and your father’s relationship with football?

LS: I can’t remember a time when football wasn’t in some way part of my life. As a very small child I would accompany my dad to Ayresome Park every Sunday morning, where he would be treating players who had been injured on the Saturday. I started going to matches when I was about five, my Grandad took me to every home game. MFC was part of my childhood and in fact has always been a big part of my life.

OFB: Did he teach, you to play football and what were the laws of the game?

LS: No, he never taught me to play football or what the laws of the game were, but I suppose I learnt a lot from watching games and then listening to him talk about them afterwards.

OFB: Did he take you to see any matches and are there any memorable games of football you saw?

LS: Yes, he took me to matches and after he was appointed England Trainer in 1958, I often went to England games at Wembley. One of my most memorable was in April 1961, when England beat Scotland 9-3. A Middlesbrough favourite of mine, Mick McNeil played Left Back for England, Johnny Haynes was brilliant in Midfield and Jimmy Greaves scored a hat-trick. After the match my Dad took me onto the team bus and I travelled back to Hendon Hall Hotel with the team.

OFB: Did Harold ever talk about football at home and did he ever bring players round for tea?

LS: Football was my Dad’s life, so of course he talked about it at home, but with three daughters to keep in check I recall our conversations were much more about keeping us on the straight and narrow and making sure we were doing well at school. Dad didn’t bring players home, but he often got the apprentices to come around and cut the grass or clean his car!

OFB: Who were his biggest friends in football and did you meet them?

LS: He had many friends in football as you would imagine and was in regular contact with them. Locally, Wilf Mannion, Micky Fenton and George Hardwick were great friends. Frank and I continued to keep in touch with them up until they died. Dad was also very friendly with Bill Nicholson, Bob Paisley and of course Alf Ramsey, his friendship with Alf continued long after they both retired from football.

OFB: Where did you live, were you always living around the Middlesbrough area?

LS: We lived in Southend, until I was 18 months old but when my Dad was appointed Assistant Trainer at Middlesbrough we moved to Grangetown, where we lived until I was 6 years old. We then move to Burlam Road in Linthorpe, before my mum and dad moved to Marton in 1967. I lived there for just over a year before we got married in 1968. Frank and I bought a house in Hartburn, Stockton, but then moved to Marton in 1971.

OFB: Can you remember the first football game you watched and how old were you?

LS: I can’t remember my first game, but I do know it was at Ayresome Park and I was 5 years old.

OFB: Did you ever see England play live?

LS: Yes, as I have previously said I have seen England play live on several occasions at Wembley and was able to take my Mother Peggy to see England play at the new Wembley Stadium in 2012 when she was 88, they beat San Marino 7-1 and we had a great day.

OFB: Did you meet the players who were associated with Harold and did you meet Sit Alf Ramsey?

LS: I have met all the 1966 World Cup Players and Alf Ramsey several times, many of the squad including Bobby and Jack Charlton, Alan Ball, Ray Wilson and Gordon Banks came to my Dad’s funeral in 1995.

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

LS: There are only two who I could say were my Boro favourites; Graeme Souness and Juninho, both world class and very special. Other players who stand out for me are Bobby Moore, George Best, Bobby Charlton and Alan Shearer all of them exceptionally talented and great to watch.

Linda and TLF - bw crop 2Linda gets a photo with one of her favourite Boro players of all time

OFB: How did you meet Frank?

LS: Frank and I met in Rea’s café on Linthorpe Road, he was 16 and I was 15. He used to train on a Tuesday and Thursday night with the apprentices and then go to Rea’s afterwards. I was there with a school friend and I liked the look of Frank, we made eye contact but didn’t speak. Next day I had a letter, hand delivered to me at school asking for a date. We met the following night to go to the cinema, but I didn’t dare tell my Dad as he had warned me to keep away from footballers as they were all womanisers, gamblers and drunkards!

OFB: When did you both get married?

LS: We got married on May 1st 1968 in Marton, we had to get married on a Wednesday to fit in with the Boro Fixtures and my Dad’s England duties. We went to London for a 2 days honeymoon, then Frank had to leave me and join the team on the Friday to prepare for their game against Crystal Palace on the Saturday, they drew 1-1. He played a blinder.

OFB: Did you go and watch him play football?

LS: Yes I went to all the home games he played and many away games. It was great when they won but miserable when they got beat. Frank always took defeat to heart.

OFB: When Frank played in the USA did you go with him and did you make friends there?

LS: In 1976 Frank had the opportunity to play in the USA for Minnesota Kicks in the NASL. We went as a family with our daughter Joanne who was then 5 years old. It was a fantastic experience, something I would not have missed for the world. Peter Brine and Alan Willey were also signed at the same time. We have remained friends with them and it was great to see Peter recently at the Charlton’s Record Breakers dinner in May this year. We also became great friends with Mick Kelly who was the ex-QPR keeper and Boro and England goalkeeping coach. There were so many top class players including Pele, Eusebio, Rodney Marsh, Bobby Moore and George Best playing in the NASL at that time.

OFB: Whom have you made friends with through football and do you keep in touch?

LS: We have many great friends in football all of Jack Charlton’s 1973-74 promotion side. We are in regular contact and love to meet up as often as possible, Jim and Sharon Platt, David and Maureen Armstrong, David and Sandra Mills are good friends as are Gordon and May Jones, Alan Peacock, Alan Foggon and Alec and Michelle Smith.

OFB: It must have been such a proud, yet poignant moment when you and your mother collected your father’s world cup medal can you tell us about it?

LS: Yes, it was a very special experience to take my 88 year old mother Peggy to Downing Street to receive a World Cup Medal on behalf of my late father. All the England Squad players who weren’t presented with a medal at the end of the 66 final were present, including Jimmy Greaves and Jimmy Armfield. In those days only the actual 11 players who played in the final received medals and of course there were no substitutes allowed. Alf Ramsey did not even get a medal after the game. We were guests of the FA and attended a reception at 10 Downing Street, hosted by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. It was a very proud moment for all the family to see my Dad recognised for his contribution to England’s World Cup win, and an amazing opportunity to visit 10 Downing Street.

OFB: Finally, Linda, can you tell us what is the most memorable event that you can remember associated with football?

LS: I have 2 memorable events, probably both very predictable. The first being England’s 1966 World Cup win and the second memorable event being Middlesbrough’s 73/74 Division Two Championship promotion to Division One. To be closely involved with both of these events was very special and leaves me with wonderful memories

Frank and Hickton - crop 1Frank celebrating winning the Division Two championship for Boro in 1974 and is pictured here lifting the trophy with John Hickton

Frank Spraggon…

OFB: You joined Boro in 1962, can you tell us how you came to join Middlesbrough and not another North East Club? also, who was the Manager who took you to Boro, and what was your relationship with him?

FS: Actually I joined in 1960 as an Apprentice Professional. I was 15 years old and left home in Newcastle to come to Middlesbrough and went straight into ‘digs’. In 1962 I signed as a full-time professional, I could have gone to Preston or West Brom but chose Middlesbrough. Sadly, Newcastle didn’t show any interest in me. Bob Dennison was the Boro manager who signed me, but I can’t say I had any relationship with him.

OFB: You were born in Marley Hill, so who did you support as a boy?

FS: Marley Hill is a small mining village just outside Newcastle I was black and white through and through and never missed a Newcastle game until I came to Middlesbrough.

OFB: What was it like playing for the club in the sixties, compared to when you left the club in the seventies?

FS: In the 60’s individuals were allowed to express themselves and play ‘off the cuff’ there was not as much emphasis on rigid formations. In the 70’s as the game progressed we were conditioned to make sure we didn’t lose at any cost. We spent more time thinking about the opposition and preparing for games in training.

OFB: Can you remember your debut for the club, and what were your feelings on it. Did you play well?

FS: My 1st team debut was in 1962 at home in the League cup against Bradford Park Avenue. I was 17 when I made my debut and was given very positive feedback from the manager Raich Carter but I have to admit, I was so nervous the game passed me by. My League debut was away to Huddersfield and I held my own and didn’t let anyone down and again was given good feedback.

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

FS: Manchester United’s Duncan Edwards was my role model when I was a youngster; sadly he of course was tragically killed in the Munich air crash where a lot of players and staff lost their lives.

OFB: You played mostly in defence for the club, was this always your preferred position or did you want to play in a different position?

FS: Defenders always fancy themselves as forwards but I knew my limitations and defending was my strength, so I stuck with it. I always played wing half until I lost the sight in my left eye following a bad reaction to the anaesthetic after a cartilage operation. After months of rehab and trying to adjust, Jack gave me the chance to convert to full-back and the rest is history.

OFB: What was your most memorable game, your own individual performance and best experience with the fans? Was it with the Boro or another club?

FS: It was playing at home to West Ham in the FA Cup up against 3 World cup winners in Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst. In regard to my individual performance, I would say it was an 8 out of 10 and we won 1-0. My best experience with the fans was at home to Sheffield Wednesday when we won 8-0 in the 73/74 promotion season. Also, my testimonial against Dynamo Zagreb was well attended and I very much appreciated the fans support after being at the club for 15 years

OFB: Did you have any nicknames and why were you given them?

FS: Micky Fenton always called me ‘Fred’, why I don’t know but it stuck and all the lads called me Fred. When Jack came to the Boro as our manager, he got everyone’s name wrong and frequently called my ‘Craggsy’. (priceless and so typical of Big Jack! OFB)

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

FS: The worst trainer I have ever experienced was Willie Wigham, the best was me! I loved training…

OFB: Who did you room with for away matches?

FS: I always shared a room with John Hickton, except on one occasion when I shared with Nobby Stiles and you would think a bomb had dropped on the room. He was so untidy, often losing his teeth or his contact lenses in the mess that he had created.

Frank in attack - cropLike most defenders, Frank fancied himself as a forward, but unlike his room-mate Hickton, he didn’t make the switch permanently

OFB: Who was the joker in the team?

FS: Eric McMordie, an Irishman, say no more!

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

FS: Too many to mention, but one of the best was when Cliff Mitchell, the Gazette sports writer, arrived at Darlington station to travel with us for an away game in London. He was very proudly wearing a brand new trilby hat. On the way home after the match, he left it the compartment on the luggage rack while he went to the buffet car. McMordie took the hat and bet us all he could throw it through the small open window of the carriage. We all put money in the pot convinced he wouldn’t do it, on his 3rd attempt, however, it sailed through the window somewhere North of Peterborough, Cliff was devastated and didn’t know how he was going to tell his wife. I don’t think he ever really found out what happened to his hat but he spent months contacting British Rail lost property without success. (sounds like this episode is well remembered by the Boro players – OFB).

Another prank I was involved with, was whilst as an apprentice and with two others. We were summoned to Bob Dennison’s office following a complaint from the Evening Gazette. I had to explain how the sponsored Gazette scoreboard at Ayresome Park had been changed to read “Game tonight cancelled, Bingo instead”. We were read the riot act and made to apologise to the Gazette and had to clean the boss’s car for the next 4 weeks.

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

FS: Notts Forest away 73/74 season we lost 5-0 and every one of us had a nightmare of a game.

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

FS: Yes, in the 2004 Carling Cup final when Boro beat Bolton 2-1 at Cardiff, also I would have loved to have played for Newcastle in any game when Kevin Keegan was the manager.

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

FS: I have got to say Jack Charlton, he was a great leader and got us organised, made us hard to beat and had us all playing to our strengths. He was very popular with the fans and still is. I feel very lucky to have played for him.

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

FS: Many coaches gave me help throughout my career, including my father in law Harold Shepherdson. As a manager, Jack had faith in me and helped me finish my career on a high.

OFB: I often ask some of the former players during these In2views, what it was like to play for the club during the great Jack Charlton side of the seventies so what was your take on it, and what was Jack like?

FS: As I have said, playing for Jack was the best, he had us playing for each other as a team, we knew where we stood with him, it was his way or no way. Jack was always right.

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

FS: I didn’t fear any team or any player but certain teams and opponents would be difficult including: Keith Weller – Millwall, Rodney Marsh – QPR, Hughie McIllmoyle – Carlisle, Ken Wagstaff – Hull, Bob Hatton – Birmingham, Duncan Mackenzie – Notts Forest, Malcolm McDonald – Newcastle, George Best – Man Utd and Steve Heighway – Liverpool.

OFB: Who was your footballing hero and why?

FS: Duncan Edwards, as I previously mentioned, he was a complete footballer and could play in any position.

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

FS: Sunderland when we beat them. Although I only played against them once, it was fantastic to be on the same pitch as Pele when he played for New York Cosmos.

OFB: Did you have any pre-match superstitions?

FS: Yes, I wore the same clothes for every home game in the 73/74 season and would never shake hands with team mates before we went out onto the pitch, having been beaten twice before after doing this.

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

FS: Graeme Souness, a complete midfielder a great team mate, good friend and a genuine lad.

OFB: Now this is a question that may take some thinking about and needs answering diplomatically, but who in your opinion, were the best eleven Middlesbrough players you played with?

FS: Jim Platt, John Craggs, Cyril Knowles, Bobby Murdoch, Stuart Boam, Willie Maddren, Graeme Souness, Bill Harris, Hughie McIllmoyle, Nobby Stiles and David Armstrong.

OFB: What was your relationship like with Boro Fans, especially when you played so close to the infamous “chicken run”?

FS: I would like to think I had a good relationship with them and still do. The chicken run gave everyone stick especially Millsy! But it was all in good fun.

Frank and Pele - crop 1Frank left England to play ‘soccer’ in America in 1976 and is seen here competing against one of the legends of the game in Pele

OFB: When you left us in 1976, can you give us details of how you came to join Minnesota Kicks in the American soccer league?

FS: I was coming to the end of my playing career and Jack suggested I should go to the US, benefit from the experience and get a good last pay-day. Jack’s good friend the late Freddie Goodwin had been in touch with him wanting a left back and he recommended me to him. I loved my time in America and we got to the soccer bowl final, playing in the Seattle Kingdome only to be beaten by Toronto Metros, who had Eusebio on their team. Sadly I had to return home after 1 season because of a knee problem, but it was a great experience, and I returned to the US a number of years later to take up coaching roles in Washington.

OFB: I know you still watch the Boro, as we often meet, who is your current favourite Boro player today and why?

FS: George Friend, us full backs have to stick together! George is a good professional and an excellent role model for youngsters today.

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

FS: Everything about football has changed not always for the better. The corporate hospitality at games now was never available when I played, but I must say I thoroughly enjoy it. Sponsorship has developed into big money for clubs, agents have a big influence and most clubs are run by business people who often know very little about football. Very average players can now earn mega bucks.

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

FS: Newcastle United.

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

FS: Not being able to stay longer to play in the USA. Not playing in a final at Wembley and not representing my country.

OFB: Whom have you made a lifelong friend through football and do you keep in touch?

FS: I hope I have many I can honestly say I have remained life-long friends with all those players I played with at Middlesbrough and in Minnesota and I keep in touch with most of them.

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

FS: I think a career in the armed forces would have suited me. The opportunity to see the world, keep fit and be part of a team is the closest I can think of to being a footballer. Also I have the highest regard for anyone who serves their country. I do however feel very privileged to have been a professional footballer and an FA coach.

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

If you wish to leave a comment about OFB’s latest In2views article with Linda and Frank Spraggon then please return to the Week 38-39 discussion page

Forest 3 – 0 Boro

Nottingham Forest Middlesbrough
Lolley
Milosevic
39′ (pen), 85′
64′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
54%
20
9
7
9
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
46%
3
1
2
14

Boro bottlers smashed

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s defeat at Forest…

Just a few days after a record equalling third win in a row since August for Boro Pulis’s depleted squad left the Tees and headed for the Tent to face the Karankaless Tricky Trees. The Spaniard was replaced by the Forest dream team of MON and Roy Keane but the way their season had since dipped it would appear to have been more of a nightmare team. Changing Managers and expecting an improvement only works if the Management can work with what they have regardless of what they ideally want. It appeared that the expensively assembled AK squad wasn’t a good fit with O’Neil and Keane’s philosophy or at least not just yet.

With play off hopes now a distant memory Forest dreams are already focussed on next season. Pulis had his ongoing selection concerns and was allegedly thinking of rotating his thinning squad which was already bereft of Ayala, Friend, Wing and Fry. His options for rotating were somewhat limited bearing in mind that he had two youth players in Spence and Wood on Saturday’s bench.

The possible switches could only be Downing on the left from the start for Saville which is what he should have done from the off on Saturday but TP seems to see things very differently from his perspective in the Technical area. Another likely one would have been to give Hugill a run out possibly as a one man attack or bringing in Tav for Fletcher. MON had a few selection problems of his own with both Colback and Benalouane definitely missing this afternoon due to suspension.

With the City Ground bathed in sunshine TP had made absolutely no changes whatsoever despite his talk and went with the same line up which worryingly meant that he still thought Saville could play as a left wing back. The Boro bench also remained unchanged with Spence and Wood keeping their seats. Martin O’Neil had made five changes in an effort to stop their rot, two of them through suspension as mentioned and one through concussion and the other two tactical.

Forest lined up with three Centre Backs as they kicked off. Almost immediately Besic dithered and put us straight into trouble inside his own half allowing the Trees early optimism. Forest were fired up for this from the off pushing forward and keeping the pressure on black shirted Boro, pegged back in our own half. Carvalho was looking busy and Joe Lolley had already had a few runs down our right which surprised me as I thought they would have identified Saville as the weak link. The first real scare came on eleven minutes when Howson had to come to the rescue after Cash had beaten Saville and then from the resulting throw in Flint had to clear his lines.

Boro had started disappointingly slowly and considering the weather conditions the choice of kit colour wasn’t exactly the cleverest. Two minutes later Cash again flew down the wing and got another cross in as Forest now started to confidently settle into the game with Boro looking like their tactics were all at sea. Approaching twenty minutes and TP needed to do something to push us up and ease the pressure, this game was headed in only one direction. Assombalonga and Fletcher had been spectators, literally isolated from the rest of their teammates. Besic then done his best to enter Referee Peter Banks book with a challenge that had the Home fans baying for a red and Roy Keane gesticulating that he wasn’t best pleased with the tackle and even a tad upset.

News before the game was that Villa had beaten Millwall in a lunchtime kick off but Wednesday had just gone a goal up against Bristol. That was the only cause for celebration so far with the travelling army as we were looking unbelievably poor. We were being exposed in the wide areas and Clayton, Besic and Mikel just weren’t controlling the midfield at all and had struggled to thread a few passes together. Any pre match hope of Boro getting the Home fans rattled was now a non-event which was also an accurate descriptive term for Boro’s showing. Carvalho, Lolley and Cash were twisting and turning, driving forward and nobody in a Black shirt apart from Howson had any answers.

Saville once again looked like a fish out of water, our Midfield was desperately slow and easily picked off and without Howson and Randolph we could and should have been two down. There was little Boro possession and as a consequence we presented zero threat to Forest who were now absolutely bossing and dominating Boro. Our defensive midfielders couldn’t organise themselves, penetrate or set anything up and we were in containment mode at best even at this stage in pure Pulis puerile purgatory.

A rare Boro offensive move saw a Shotton throw in flicked on by Flint and then Assombalonga chased the ball but got in the way of Clayton and the two of them somehow managed to put the ball harmlessly out of play. Half an hour gone and that was the only notable bit of Boro action in what was a flat, dispiriting display so far. Besic then played in Fletcher who passed to Howson but his cross was over Assombalonga and nowhere near the quality of that early ball against Stoke. This was the best period of Boro play but even so it looked very clunky rather than credibly smooth and sophisticated passing moves but at least we were offering a threat of sorts.

Fletcher then had a good ball played into him but he failed to control it. McNair was pushing forward and started to become the nearest semblance to an outlet we had all afternoon but ahead of him Fletcher was looking weak and short on confidence. A rare Boro corner was wasted by taking it short and almost immediately Forest broke quickly and Randolph had to be at his best to keep them out with a flying save. The contrast of that break couldn’t have been in more contrast to Boro’s slow almost geriatric style of play. That Forest corner was cleared out for another and as the second one came in a free kick for a foul on Clayton allowed us to momentarily ease the mounting pressure.

The relief didn’t last long as Shotton then caught the heels of Ansarifard for a lucky yellow card and a Penalty which Lolley despatched without hesitation to put Forest one up and it has to be said deservedly so as thus far we were as clueless as that Swansea performance a few weeks back. Not long after the opener Mikel sliced the ball awkwardly and then Besic had another of his idiosyncratic moments as Boro looked absolutely farcical. To put it mildly as a unit we were completely detached from one another and any semblance of a team seriously looking for a play off position was nothing short of ludicrous, our opening forty five minutes were a disgrace. To rub salt in the wounds Flint sent another set piece header over the bar in the final seconds of the first half.

Pulis needed to make some major changes at half time. Boro had looked like a side finishing in mid table with absolutely nothing whatsoever to play for. There was no pace, no intent and absolutely no desire to win this game. We were negative with a complete inability to string two passes together; it was looking like a defensive back eight with nothing or nobody at all to spark or create. Considering the importance of this match it just completely reaffirmed my rationale for not early birding. This first half was unacceptable and simply not good enough on effort alone. Pulis now had to work some magic to turn this game around in the remaining forty-five. The folly of continuing with Saville as a left wing back had a few of us bemused while Downing was on the bench. Fletcher was weak and had been poor on Saturday and continued in exactly the same vein today was irritating to put it politely when he had Tav and Hugill as options to have “freshened” it up and “rotated”.

The travelling army were watching with forlorn anticipation for who came out for the second half and sure enough Hugill and Tav were waiting on the touchline with Fletcher and Besic ominous by their absence. The Black shirts kicked off towards the travelling army in what was now a must draw as a minimum game and a fantastic opportunity to put distance between ourselves and Bristol who we had learned were now two nil down at Hillsborough. Hugill had a quick opportunity after the break down the left and he hit it first time but was deflected straight into the arms of Pantilimon in the Forest goal. Ryan Yates was meanwhile laid out receiving treatment after a tasty challenge from Tav who at least showed passion and desire. After treatment to Yates Tav broke up field but there was nobody at all near him in a Black shirt so again we lost possession and Forest went straight down our throats for the umpteenth time. Carvalho put a ball in to Ansarifard who tested Randolph once again and very unlucky not to put Forest two up.

I’m not sure how we were set up after the two subs as it looked like Britt was playing wide left in front of Saville which wouldn’t have been my preferred pairing down that flank and so far despite the two new arrivals we looked just as dysfunctional. A Boro corner saw an in-swinging Saville ball cleared and then Forest broke again and fortunately Saville had managed to get himself back and put it out for a corner at the other end which was then nervously cleared by Flint for a Forest throw. Downing and Gestede were warming up as Pulis considered his last throw of the dice to change the balance of this game. Downing could at least have injected some hope for a creative outlet of sorts if brought on, Gestede however would indicate the tactical and technical competence of our resident Dinosaur.

Every time we tried to build up an attack or get up the pitch, it looked like Forest could carve us open at will. At this stage we didn’t look like we had any plan or even an understanding of who was supposed to be doing what meanwhile Lolley had claimed a handball and a penalty as he launched another effort towards Randolph. Ansarifat then went off for goal machine Lewis Grabban as MON clearly felt there were more goals to be had for his Forest side and little wonder based on the embarrassing ineptness of the opposition. On cue Forest then doubled their lead as Milosevic smashed the ball unmarked just outside the corner of the six yard box into the Boro net. In response TP brought Saville off and Downing on, the incompetence of the Manager in repeating the same error with Saville was just staggering.

A ponderous Boro build up was predictably telegraphed then snapped up and Grabban set off towards Randolph’s goal with Flint challenging and the ball going out for a corner. Twenty minutes to go and so far Boro hadn’t even been second best to Forest. The ease and regularity at which they cut us open was quite frankly terrible. Mikel then played a suicide ball to Tav losing possession with Grabban and Pele then quickly combining to nearly put us three behind. A performance like this at this stage of the season was incredulous, it was yet another insipid nervy, defensive Pulis showing. Forest then had another attack with pace and grace, one on one Randolph had to spread himself to somehow keep the ball out from Osborn. Howson got a block on the shot from the corner which went back out again for another corner as Forest were sensing that this Boro side were anything but play off challengers. They were giving their home fans a footballing fiesta.

It looked like Howson was now left back and Shotton right back and we were either 442 or 433. Make your mind up because I’m not convinced that those in Black shirts knew any more than I did. A cut back from the touchline from Grabban to Carvalho who was allowed too much space on the edge of the box curled in a peach of a ball that hit the far upright when it looked destined for the net, three nil would have been a fair reflection indeed four or even five nil at this stage wouldn’t have flattered or been unreasonable.

Five minutes remaining and I made it one real effort on target for Boro in another spineless away day showing. Pele then made way for Yacob as MON had the luxury of teasing and toying with his sides dominance. Just as the last substitution had affected the game, within seconds Lolley was delivered a perfect ball by Carvalho to smash it left footed past Randolph. MON then brought Carvalho off to a hero’s reception for Adlene Guedioura to see off the last few minutes. Getting beat away at Forest isn’t a disaster in itself but the manner of the way this Boro side was set up and then consequently failed in such miserable fashion to even threaten Pantilimon’s goal was a disgrace.

Defensively we were down to the bare bones but our midfield was hopeless and a complete liability, our strikers had zero service as we sat far too deep from the off and Saville has never remotely looked capable out left. The Black shirts were very apt on the day as it perfectly matched the mood of the travelling army.

Randolph was the Boro MOM which considering that we conceded three goals illustrates just how dire we were this afternoon. There have been far too many of these types of games under Pulis now, how many more do the fans have to endure?

If you wish to leave a comment about Redcar Red’s match report please return to the Week 38-39 discussion page

Boro 1 – 0 Stoke

Middlesbrough Stoke City
Assombalonga 2′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
37%
7
2
2
12
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
63%
14
1
10
8

Early Bird Britt collects the points

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s victory over Stoke City…

Ex Hatters Boss Nathan Jones had brought one of TP’s former sides to the Riverside for the first time since the opening day of our ill-fated Premiership dalliance a few seasons back. Judging how its supremely likely that Nathan Jones will now be facing his former club next season in the Championship he must have wondered at times what he has let himself in for. A club supposedly saddled with disaffected “Premiership Players” indignant at where they now find themselves of which the irony is likely lost being that it was themselves that has brought them to this juncture. Such dressing room prima donna drama is something that we are now well rid of, almost as quickly in fact as it was hastily assembled way back then before the last visit of the Potters. For Stoke their relegation hangover continues as Championship life now becomes a reality.

From pre-season favourites to a sad and sorry looking dejected bunch Boro were hoping that the Potters miserable season continued as we now looked to make it three defeats on the trot for them whilst building the same number of wins on the trot for ourselves. The likelihood of that seemed very diminished yesterday when it was announced that not only Friend and Wingy were out but Ayala was finished for the season as well. The bombshell however was that Dael Fry had torn a hamstring in training and would also miss the rest of the season. Defensively that left Flint and Shotton as the only two recognised defenders standing.

TP’s line-up conundrum was solved with a back three of McNair as right sided Centre Back with Shotton going over to the left and Flint Central. Howson and Saville were the wing backs with Clayts and Mikel doing the dirty work, Besic providing the thrills and spills and Fletcher and Britt up top. Nathan Jones gave seventeen-year-old youngster Nathan Collins a debut coming in for the injured Shawcross. Jack Butland was on paternity duty with Federici taking his place between the posts. Mikel was captaining Boro and Danny Batth was captaining Stoke resplendently adorned in “Perple” on his return, so befitting for a Good Friday.

The match started a bit messy with both sides struggling to calm themselves via a lot of misplaced passes. A poor clearance out from Federici was pounced upon by Besic as he had done against Hull, fed Mikel who splayed the ball out wide immediately to Howson who hit a first time cross across the six-yard box for Assombalonga to get a left boot to it deflecting it in from close range. The lack of judging and decision-making time had again seemingly working in Britt’s favour. Two minutes gone and 1-0 up was as good a start as Boro would have dared hoped for. The early mid-day kick off between Bristol and Reading ended in a draw so the goal had effectively put Boro back into the play-offs.

What ensued wasn’t the prettiest game of football but Boro put in a solid display for the remaining 87 minutes. We hadn’t beaten Stoke at the Riverside since 2008 so there was always a niggle that this wouldn’t end with Boro keeping a clean sheet despite Stoke’s woeful scoring record this season. After the restart they came straight back at Boro and applied pressure. Afobe was giving Shotton a busy afternoon but in fairness Ryan coped and mastered the ex Wolves striker pretty well for most of the half but Afobe did have a first half header on twenty minutes go wide with Shotton losing the flight of the ball in the warm spring sunshine beaming over the West Stand. Flint was solid if unspectacular but won everything in the air whilst McNair looked very composed and comfortable, reading the game exceptionally well and cutting out any sniff of a threat down the right from boo boy McClean. So far the makeshift defensive trio looked the business with no cause for alarm.

It was easy to see why Stoke are in the position they are in the league as despite taking the game to us and winning a few corners there was little to no real threat on Randolph’s goal. The three CB’s were doing their job and Howson was busy bringing the ball out and setting up attacks. JOM was back to his imperious best while Besic was beavering away chasing everything like a demented Terrier, running in circles as ever but also the main instigator of creativity from Boro. Up front Britt was battling but was being battered and struggled to hold up play or more accurately get the rub of the green from Ref Darren Bond. It seemed a very biased whistle from the man in black as any time Britt responded with equal force, he was penalised yet when he was being pushed over or manhandled the offence was ignored. Fletcher was having a poor game after a run of decent performances. He was weak in possession and struggled to impose himself with his highlight being a turn and swivelled shot that went well over. That attempt did at least lift the quiet, nervy atmosphere in the Riverside, kept alive only by the solemn beat of the South Stand drummer.

As predicted Saville was struggling again in the left back role and a bit of dithering from him allowed Edwards to get in a cross necessitating Flint to get his head to the end of it conceding a corner in the process. Boro were having some forays of their own with JOM getting a long-distance effort in and McNair dribbling the ball out of defence and kept going unleashing a long range shot of his own that went wide of Federici’s goal. The end effort wasn’t great but it was a mark of confidence and an indication that he was settling nicely into the new role and confidence levels growing. Its hard to realise sometimes that Paddy is only a few weeks off his 24th birthday.

North Stand hearts were in mouths as Mikel tapped the ball off the toe of Clucas in the Boro box as he theatrically fell over pleading for a penalty. It was one of the few decisions that went Boro’s way from Bond all afternoon but a massive one that would have taken the air out of the Boro balloon and could have ended play off hopes with it because as solid as we were defensively, we didn’t really look like adding to that early Assombalonga goal. It was a bizarre game because despite not looking like adding to our solitary cushion Randolph hadn’t been seriously tested and most of his involvement consisted of collecting long over-hit Stoke balls and routine back passes.

The final five minutes of the first half ended with a McClean shot going well wide and a Vokes effort that was delivered in by McClean but as was the standard for the afternoon, headed wide. Nothing to get too worried about but equally nothing to get too excited about either. There was a generous round of applause as the players left the pitch, the result being more emotionally important than the quality on display.

No changes at half time from either Manager as the teams ran out for the second half. Boro needed to step up a gear in this half as although Howson had looked lively and Besic buzzing in the first there was little end product apart from that early surprise goal to inspire the home fans. Easier said than done as what followed was literally cut and paste from the Hull game. Sit back, absorb pressure and hang on to a solitary goal in the hope of a break out or a set piece.

Speaking of set pieces Besic sent in a free kick that was met by Shotton in the opening few minutes but yet again it was well over. A minute later and that man Afobe repeated Shotton’s miss with a header of his own that was well wide of the intended target. The chances were nowhere near as clear cut as those missed by both sides in the Hull game but an independent observer may have remarked on how few goals both of these sides have scored all season. Their combined “Goals For” was Brit’s one goal opener more than Norwich had scored this season who weren’t playing until later this evening.

Stoke definitely had all the momentum but they never really looked like they could cause us any pain. A Clucas effort was then hit well over as if to emphasise just how poor the finishing was for both of these sides this season. Approaching twenty minutes into the half and Downing was being warmed up. Strangely it was Mo Besic who was taken off again in similar circumstances to the Hull game. Our liveliest and most creative player was now off with Downing going to left wing back and Saville restored to a more comfortable and familiar role in midfield.

That substitution almost immediately added better balance to Boro and also another outlet with Downing emulating that other George, Friend getting down the flank providing some width and a serious threat to Stoke that they now had to keep an eye on. Saville also looked far more comfortable left midfield and linked up well with Stewy now putting some real pressure on the visitor’s defence. Defensively however Stewy was getting back and doing the necessary to keep that clean sheet, fully prepared to do the mundane stuff and even winning a few balls and playing us out of trouble at the back.

Stoke did have Boro penned back for large parts of the half but tactically that looked to be more a game plan on Pulis’s part rather than the quality that was sorely lacking from the “Perple sherts”. There were a few positive Boro moments, Clayts played a ball in to Saville who glanced a header wide and Fletcher had probably the best chance of the half but hit a weak low shot from outside the box straight at Federici for a routine kneel down and scoop. That was the last bit of action for Fletch as Tav came on for him to add some much needed energy up top as Britt had battled vainly but opportunistic goal aside without much joy and Fletch had just had a bad day at the Office.

Ten minutes later Hugill then came on for Britt to provide another outlet which he did really well by beating the Stoke defenders to the ball by pushing Batth and co., shoving back at them, giving them a taste of their own medicine, something which suited his style perfectly. In fairness he stayed on his feet and was the perfect Sub under the circumstances. enabling to take the pressure off a little, chasing and harrying the Stoke backline giving them something else to worry about and in doing so it brought Tav more into the game.

Stoke with their season already effectively over were playing for pride and their vocal following. They had me and several others watching through our fingers as a Corner ended with the ball bouncing in and out and around the Boro box eventually ending with Randolph bravely diving down amidst a flurry of feet winning a free kick to relieve the pressure. A draw would mean nothing to Stoke but a win meant everything to Boro with Bristol dropping two points earlier in the day. With the game now in its dying embers a Clayton challenge on Clucas half way between the Boro box and the touchline ended with a series of pushes and shoves as Darren Bond seemed somewhat detached not for the first time to what was going on in front of him.

With handbags packed away and calm finally restored Boro managed to clear their lines from the resultant kick for Downing and Hugill to eat up some of the four added minutes near the Stoke corner flag in the North West corner. Just as the ball was about to be cleared up field by Federici the whistle went and all three points belonged to Boro. Despite a very uncomfortable second half we had held on and earned the win the hard way. It wasn’t pretty nor was it entertaining for the most part but its points on the board that count now if Boro are to retain any hope of making the play-offs.

MOM was McNair, it was his best game for Boro and he actually looked to be worth every penny paid for him last summer. Not his preferred role it has to be said but his composure and timing was impressive and we just hope that he still has something left in the tank for Monday after being out of the picture for so long. Mikel was back to his best, Howson had another good game as right wing back and Besic looked up for the challenged before being subbed. Shotton done well considering he was on the left but McNair just caught the eye and for all the right reasons. Maybe knowing he has a real opportunity of a run in the side gave him that extra edge of encouragement, who knows but he looked the most accomplished I’ve seen him play in a Boro shirt.

If you wish to leave a comment about Redcar Red’s match report please return to the Week 38-39 discussion page

Tony Pulis hoping to call time at the Last Chance Saloon

Championship 2018-19: Weeks 38-39

Fri 19 Apr – 15:00: Boro v Stoke
Mon 22 Apr – 15:00: Forest v Boro
Sat 27 Apr – 15:00: Boro v Reading

Werdermouth looks ahead to an Easter uprising in the  Championship table…

The bartender at the Last Chance Saloon on Teesside always has a smile for his regulars – indeed some would even say knowing. Although, as closing time approaches on another Championship season, business seems to have been a little brisker than usual with the need for a stiff drink never being more in demand. As Boro entered through those rather creaky swing doors just over a week ago, it seemed they’d only have time for their usual wayward loosener of Single Barrel Reserve before it was chucking out time – though after a few shots have surprisingly hit the spot, it appears the boys are still up for another round.

While some suspect Tony Pulis is probably more of a bitter man rather than one who indulges in spirits (especially when it comes to raising them) – others are still hoping he is perhaps longing for southern comforts. Although, he’s probably not the sort of guy who’s tempted by the fancy colourful cocktails of a whisky liqueur – especially as promotion is no longer the Slam Dunk it was anticipated back in September and has instead become more of a Paradise Punch to the lapsed six-packs of the faithful on the terraces. Indeed, few will be in the mood for happy hour if the season ends up on the rocks and the promotion party is once again put on ice for another year.

Nevertheless, the Boro manager is not quite ready to drown his sorrows and cry into his beer – that’s apparently the job of Steve Gibson, whose harvested tears from another expensive and potentially missed opportunity of a season are once again being prepared to homeopathically water down the complimentary matchday pints. As to whether the cost cutting next season will continue to serve more than a few halves of a somewhat flat and less than stout home brew of no specific gravity is at this point still uncertain – much will depend on whether the Riverside landlord decides to change rather than scrape the barrel this summer.

Still, few who enter the Last Chance Saloon will ever get to raise a glass in celebration – not even one that’s optimistically half full. Tony Pulis has been busy lining his stomach with his carefully controlled stodgy diet as he prepares for a drinking competition with his play-off rivals – although it will be a tough contest against the seasoned campaigners of Big Frank Lampard, Dean ‘Martin’ Smith and Lee ‘Marvin’ Johnston. With hostilities resumed on Good Friday, Boro will be hoping to avoid being left incapacitated under the Championship table – it may likely be more a case of spills rather than thrills as the Boro manager attempts to be the last supper at the play-off bar.

At least Boro have just about recovered from the mother of all hangovers brought on by the six-game bender that left their promotion chances all but in the gutter. Although, with the team still appearing shaky in front of goal, Pulis now has a defensive headache that will take more than a few aspirins to resolve. After George Friend was already ruled out for the season, he was joined by Dani Ayala after he was stretchered off against Hull and taken to hospital with what looked like a serious knee injury. The prognosis for the Spaniard is not good and the ligament damage means he’s not now expected to play again until the beginning of next season. If that wasn’t bad enough, Pulis then announced at his pre-match press conference that Dael Fry has torn his hamstring in training and will be out for three months.

Defensive cover was already down to the bare bones but that just leaves Ryan Shotton and Aden Flint as the club’s only specialist defenders in any of the positions across the backline. Boro have no senior recognised full-backs or centre-backs left and no doubt Paddy McNair will be preparing to fill in again if he can remember where he left his boots. Ordinarily, you would imagine Pulis would opt for a back four in order to cut the risk of losing another one of his three central defensive option – however, with Boro having no full-backs it would seem the manager may have to continue with makeshift wing-backs instead. Howson is likely to get the job on the right and it may be toss-up between Downing and Saville on the left – though it could perhaps be an opportunity for some of the youngsters to step up with the promising Nathan Wood having previously started in the Carabao Cup a possible candidate.

The defensive crisis comes at time when the Boro manager has little room to manoeuvre after also losing his midfield playmaker in Lewis Wing and he’s also been unable to rely on his profligate strikers to provide a safety net. It is yet another burden for Pulis to struggle with and it will no doubt be a heavy cross to bear for a man who seemingly prefers to focus on keeping out the opposition. As the season reaches it climax (anti or otherwise), we are reminded rather appropriately that Easter is a time marked by suffering and redemption – whether it will also be a time for salvation will depend if both the manager and players can atone for their previous sins of falling off the righteous path to the play-offs. So at this time of year, many on Teesside will hope Boro can draw inspiration from that famous story and at least try to look on the bright side of life – though few have been convince that Tony Pulis is indeed the real messiah.

Talking of false profits, Steve Gibson has seemingly come up with a Plan B as his sizeable investment in getting the club back to the promised land starts to falter. The Boro chairman is planning to raise the issue of the compliance of profitability and sustainability rules at next week’s EFL Stakeholders meeting. Gibson has claimed three clubs: Aston Villa, Derby and Sheffield Wednesday are in breach of the rules and should be facing a similar penalty to what Birmingham received – i.e. a nine point deduction. He argues that the clubs have not submitted transparent accounts and that they have circumnavigated the rules by using loopholes. Derby have said to have ‘sold’ their stadium to their owner Mel Morris and then leased it back to register a profit – whereas Villa reportedly made a £50m loss last season that is unlikely to be cancelled out by June after this year’s business dealings.

Gibson believes that the EFL need to enforce their rules before the season ends and not let clubs get the advantage of being in breach of the limits. We know that Wolves easily exceeded the spending rules last season and any subsequent punishment will not worry them now that they have reached the Premier League. Whether the Football League will be minded to hand Villa and Derby points deductions before the season ends is perhaps unlikely – any process that starts now will no doubt be challenged by the clubs and then what would the EFL do about arranging play-offs if either finished in the top six? The Boro chairman has also argued that Boro sold £40m worth of players to ensure they complied with the rules and it’s unfair if other clubs ignore the limits.

In theory MFC could have posted a £61m three-year loss this year (£35m + £13m + £13m) given they can include their allowance from a season in the Premier League – plus we know that Boro have also registered a profit of £18m in their previous two seasons so it would have been almost impossible to be in breach. In addition, the new sustainability rules mean that if a club breaches the £15m lower three-year loss limit it will need to agree a financial plan with the EFL to ensure their debts don’t become unmanageable and they can meet their financial requirements in the coming years – plus there are restrictions on the size of the wage bill relative to annual income. All of which means it’s more complicated to enforce and given provisional accounts are only submitted on 1st March, it means Boro fans (including the chairman) shouldn’t get their hopes up of rivals being deducted points this season.

So Boro must do their talking on the pitch if they are to get ahead of their play-off rivals and Tony Pulis hosts his old club Stoke on Good Friday. It’s been well documented this week that since leaving the Potters, Pulis has never lost a game to them with seven wins and seven draws. Nathan Jones took over the reigns at Stoke in January after replacing Gary Rowett and the former Luton boss has only won 3 of his 16 games since he arrived. It may be something in the air at the Potteries that effects managers but Jones and his team have had problems scoring goals – in fact Stoke have just recently come off the back of four successive 0-0 draws. It may be sign of what is to come at the Riverside but at least the Boro supporters on the terraces will get to see former player Danny Batth prove why they could have done with holding on to his services – especially given the defensive crisis.

Although, it’s hard to see why the recently relegated club have struggled this season as on paper they have quite a few ‘names’ in their side: Sam Vokes, Bojan, Joe Allen, Ryan Shawcross, Ashley Williams, Charlie Adams, Ben Afobe and Jack Butland – perhaps it’s the classic case of thinking that they’re better than the league they’re in. With 52 points on the board they are essentially safe from relegation with nothing really to play for – it’s the kind of game that Boro should win if they start with intent as Stoke will probably lose interest as they mentally plan their summer holidays. Still, at least Pulis may get the odd sensation of hearing some fans at the Riverside singing his praises for a change – albeit from the away end.

Easter Monday sees Boro travel to Nottingham with a chance to gain revenge for the 2-0 defeat at the hands of Aitor Karanka in the earlier fixture at the Riverside. Unfortunately, the Spaniard is no longer at the club after apparently asking to be released from his contract in January – perhaps something the club were expecting as they appointed Martin O’Neil a few days later. The former Irish national coach has also been joined by Roy Keane to keep their bad-cop bad-cop routine – it must be hard for the players to decide who is the most scary or psychologically damaged. Whatever their style, it hasn’t proved to have given Forest the boost they were looking for and the expert analysis from the pair of ITV pundits has only managed to produce five wins from their 15 games in charge. Any play-off hopes have drifted off into mid-table obscurity and the Tricky Trees have just fallen to three-successive defeats and seem like another team looking forward to their summer hols – perhaps another fixture that a focused Boro side could steal three points from.

Should Boro negotiate the Easter fixtures, then the following Saturday appears another less than demanding game against strugglers Reading at the Riverside. Having said that, the Royals have only lost two of their last eight games and indeed have won four of those. However, Portuguese manager José Manuel Martins Teixeira Gomes has fared less well on the road, winning just one of their four away games at bottom club Ipswich. With Reading only four points above a relegation spot, then they will most likely not be dreaming of golden sands and lounging by the pool. The hope on Teesside will be that the Boro players won’t also run onto the pitch in their flip-flops and sun hats – as it will probably have meant there was no Easter uprising and the play-offs will have already been fully booked.

So with three games in a week (or 8 days if you’re not Tony Pulis) then this is the moment of truth for the Boro manager and his team. Although, while the drinks may be flowing in the Last Chance Saloon, the Boro manager has been supping with the devil for most of the season and we won’t know just yet if selling his footballing soul was a price worth paying. However, should Tony somehow manage to turn the season around at the eleventh hour then it’s still not impossible to think the impossible could still happen. Perhaps the footballing gods have sent a message by removing most of the defenders from his team – the problem is that someone will still need to take the chances at the other end if time is not to be called on Boro’s season.

Boro 1 – 0 Hull

Middlesbrough Hull City
Assombalonga 25′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
39%
15
4
4
7
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
61%
15
4
5
10

Stumbling Britt seals Boro victory

Redcar Red reports on a return to winning ways against Hull at the Riverside…

Nigel Adkins has turned Hull around since his arrival from looking down the table to looking up. Considering the state the club is in off the pitch with open discord between owners and fans his achievements are worthy of considerable respect. This week marks exactly five years from when the Allam’s put the Club up for sale following a rebranding disaster not helped two years later with a controversial “membership” scheme. Boro fans however were just hoping that despite Adkin’s hard work TP didn’t show too much respect to his opponents as has sometimes been his want this season.

A win for either side would keep faint Play Off hopes alive, defeat or even a draw would surely condemn either or both clubs to another year in the Championship. Mind you there was always the Villa vs Bristol game, which could suddenly throw an unexpected lifeline to a victor. Adkins side were looking to extend a winning streak to four consecutive games whereas Boro have just managed to end one of their worst runs in recent memory. Grosicki and Bowen would be the stand out danger men in the Tigers side while Boro still haven’t quite worked that one out yet from the start of their season but possibly Fletcher could be the one in form.

Hull’s last win at the Riverside was in the FA Cup back in 2014 when a rusty Dimi struggled to get down to Hull’s opener from which we never recovered. Hull’s last league victory on Teesside was at Ayresome Park so there was that niggle that today could be a “Typical Boro” day especially if the visitors took an early lead and Boro heads went down.

There were bright blue skies and sunshine at Kick Off but with a very wintry wind blowing in from the Tees towards the South Stand. Wing and Friend were out for the season for Boro as both Managers went with same again from their respective mid-week victories. The game started with Shotton and Saville as wing backs with Fry, Fint and Ayala as a back three. Hull immediately got at Boro, pushing and probing keeping Boro pegged well back and forcing a series of hurried scrappy defensive passes that put us in trouble. We were looking very unconvincing and after a couple of minutes Pugh fed Lichaj down our right and cut back a cross into the Boro box where a scuffed Frazier Campbell shot on the edge of the 6-yard box saved our blushes. That was a very telling moment, had it gone in the Riverside could have turned septic instantly.

The opening ten minutes looked ominous as we couldn’t get out of our half to mount any assaults. Heavy clouds started covering that welcome and warming sunlight previously covering the Riverside, darkening the mood almost as much as the feeling from the stands started to reflect misplaced Boro passes and a series of nervy rearward passing. Besic was lively and looking for the ball but he was both enthralling and frustrating in equal measure. Once in possession he would make things tick but as well as showing composure (sometimes to the point where he slowed all Boro momentum) he would circle himself three times causing problems and uncertainty both with those behind and ahead of him. Fortunately, as the game progressed, he did start to become the playmaker, making things tick positively for Boro in the centre of the park.

The atmosphere tellingly was fairly flat around the Stadium and that knife edge feeling looked like it was affecting Boro with every miscued pass or recycling movement to retain possession earning sighs and moans rather than distinct outright groans. The 200 or so die-hards that remain in the back of the decimated North Stand were trying their best to get behind the team but shortage of numbers and the poor fayre on offer didn’t enthuse many to join in.

Those onerous doom-laden clouds were broken when a hoofed ball (or well weighted 40-yard pass) up to Britt saw him give chase but only to find himself offside. Moments later he had an effort that ended up in said clouds as things were not clicking at all for Boro. The opening twenty minutes saw Saville turned inside out, struggling to compose himself as it was clear he isn’t a left back nor a wing back. To add further problems our attempts to break out were thwarted down the left because of the lack of pace from the Northern Ireland International. Score goals he may have done at Millwall but he was never renowned as quick or silky skilled and looked like a fish out of water facing Grosicki and Bowen. On the opposite flank Shotton was lively and making runs but nobody was seemingly alert enough to see him in acres of space.

We looked like total strangers who had no idea of who was supposed to be where and any synergy that you would normally expect at this stage of the season was totally absent. Britt was bustling but struggled to hold his shorts up let alone the ball, giving it away cheaply a few times while danger man Grosicki tested Randolph. Things were not looking very convincing and a Hull goal would have started the simmering witch-hunt.

Approaching the half hour mark and the former goal machine that is Aden Flint headed a great opportunity wide of the target as the groans were mounting. Then as the ball was poorly played out by McGregor, Besic pounced and reacted best twice in quick succession to nick the ball inside the Hull half to find Shotton (FINALLY!!!!!) who ran towards the edge of the Hull box and played in Fletcher who crossed across the gaping Hull goal where a stumbling and off balance Britt closing in hit or stubbed the ball and into the net. 1-0 and it has to be said that despite the fact we were now starting to get back into it Hull could genuinely feel aggrieved after their early onslaught. Ironic chants of “we’ve scored a goal, we’ve scored a goal, we’ve scored a goal, we’ve scored a goal, we’ve scored a goal” rang around the Riverside.

Just after the restart and with Hull still reeling Fletcher again sent a lovely tempting and inviting ball into the box for Howson to tee himself up on the far side only for the hapless Saville to collide and nick it off him for what would have been a certain goal. Having endured a torrid time as left wing back TP had meanwhile reshuffled his pack to play a 4-1-4-1, with Fletcher now wide left and Saville in a more familiar midfield role alongside Besic and Howson going to a back four with Shotton and Fry right and left backs meant that Saville would have otherwise been nowhere near the opposition 6-yard box. Mikel was meanwhile being kept very busy just in front of his defence and behind the mercurial Besic which at times was just as well.

Five minutes later Bowen looked to be pulling the sides level but for a sliding Ayala challenge to close off his route to goal. Boro were now enjoying their best period of the game when Fletcher fluffed his lines and then Britt spun around and hit the crossbar as Boro seemed determined to make very hard work of an afternoon and it remained 1-0 at half time.

Both sides remained unchanged after the interval except that Grosicki had swapped wings to try his luck on the same side he had in the first except now in the opposite direction facing the South Stand. Adkins tactical tuning seemed to have worked as the opening stages were all Hull as they started the second half in the same way they had the first. A draw was of no value to either side and for the loser their season would be effectively reduced to mundanely completing fixtures safe in the knowledge that they would finish in an upper table position.

That inevitability was enough to see Hull keep pressuring and Boro defending deep sometimes desperate and sometimes comical and sometimes comically desperate or should that have been desperately comical? The corner count was now building in Hull’s favour and we looked to be out of ideas in how to get the ball to stick up the pitch. There was no pace or energy on our flanks and Britt battled but with little finesse and both he and Fletcher seemed to have swapped Dubbin for Silicone on their boots.

I was surprised at why Downing was omitted from starting now that his contract is resolved especially with Friend crocked, we looked unbalanced and disjointed on the left. As Eric Morecambe might have remarked we had all the right players just not necessarily in the correct order. As the second half wore on things didn’t improve, in fact they got even worse, a lot worse. As Ayala challenged Campbell he was now laid out motionless, requiring lengthy treatment and having to leave the pitch on a stretcher with his leg encased in a splint. That necessitated another swap around as TP now went with Shotton, Flint and Fry as centre backs and Howson and Saville ominously again as wing backs. Clayts had come on for Ayala filling a vacated midfield slot.

Sitting back with Besic the only capable outlet we were still scrapping and battling as Hull continually upped the pressure and both Campbell and Bowen somehow missed sitters that were even more nailed on than those spurned by Boro in the first half. A Howson ball up to Fletcher saw McGregor block the rare Boro half chance and then Campbell who had headed wide a minute earlier now sliced a shot just as wide with Boro leading a charmed existence.

Britt then had another opportunity with a Boro break to seal the three points when he closed in on the advancing McGregor only needing him to slot it past the Hull Keeper but he incredibly squared it two yards ahead of the advancing but marked Fletcher who had no chance of ever reaching it. The North Stand language was choice to put it mildly but I would wager much cleaner than that from the Boro technical area.

Two minutes later as if to rub salt in the Britt inflicted wounds the away fans were hyped up momentarily as the ball seemed to be going in but somehow cleared by Mikel. Miraculously the score remained 1-0 as Adkins must have been convinced there was a Gypsy curse on Hull’s fate at the Riverside. As it happens it was Ali’s 60th Birthday so maybe we did have a little bit of help somewhere because to all intents and purposes Hull should have been level if indeed not a few goals to the good.

Recognising the lack of pace and that nothing was sticking upfield TP made a double substitution with Downing and Tav coming on for Besic and Fletcher. For me Downing should have started but taking Besic off seemed strange as he was our only creator and a constant threat to Hull and needed an outlet to work with of the sort that Downing and Tav could offer. Up until now Saville had had a poor game by his own standards and yet bizarrely after Downing went on the right side and Tav left in front of Saville he upped his game and put some real telling challenges in including one where he won the ball, burst out of defence up the left wing all by himself and managed to hold the ball up until he eventually was bundled over to win a decision. At this stage of the afternoon there was little in the way of organisation or tactics from Boro, it was now a case of dig in, hold on and scrap for every ball as though your life depended on it.

Seven minutes added time came up on the fourth officials board for all six substitutions and Ayala’s injury. It seemed light to me as it did Nigel Adkins but Boro were now clinging desperately to those three precious points and nobody in Red was complaining about the shortfall. Pushing forward Hull exposed themselves as Britt picked up on a mistake in the Hull box but incredibly yet again missed his target. As someone remarked near me “it’s a good job he was off balance when he scored that goal otherwise would have missed that as well”.

Battered and bruised the Boro defence were hanging on, desperate for the whistle made worse knowing Britt could and should have had three or four goals to his name to ease the anxiety. Then more hearts in mouth time as a Grosicki free kick (after a reckless Clayton challenge earned him a yellow card) was tipped onto the bar by Randolph and when it looked to be in, booted clear by Flint with the Hull players appealing it was over the line. The whistle went and Hull’s season was now all but over whilst Boro’s still stubbornly continues, finding themselves a point behind Bristol who lost at Villa but have a game in hand.

MOM for Boro could have been Randolph for two great saves, or Howson for being switched around but competently adapting all afternoon or Besic for his buzzing up until he went off but for me it was Dael Fry who stood defiantly whether at Left Back or Centre Back and stepped up a gear when Ayala went off.

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