QPR vs Boro

Pulis hopes Boro show their class
at old-school reunion with Holloway

Werdermouth previews the trip to Loftus Road…

Boro travel to Loftus Road on Saturday as Tony Pulis looks to get his somewhat stuttering start to his managerial reign back on the right track after suffering two home defeats in his opening three Championship games. The Boro manager goes head-to-head with close friend Ian Holloway and fellow exponent of old-school methods, where neither man will be expecting favours on the pitch as they try to outwit each other. However, I suspect the problem both men face is that they will know each other too well to tactically out-manoeuvre each other and the game may boil down to which of the players can perform on the day.

Many Boro supporters called foul last week with claims that Boro were undone by two blatant penalty decisions being called the wrong way by a former Sunderland season-ticket holding referee with a motive, no alibi and several thousand witnesses – though there are no proven suggestions of impropriety on his behalf and unless a different kind of whistle blower comes forward then it will be put down to just bad officiating. However, it is reassuring to know that the man in charge at QPR is Oliver Langford from the West Midlands with no known club allegiances (other than rumours of a red and white striped pajamas under his pillow) – nevertheless, his record in 17 Championship games includes eight penalties awarded and just two red cards so it may offer some opportunities for post-match scapegoating.

Perhaps the real culprit against Fulham was inability of Boro’s forwards to take their chances in front of goal, particularly Rudy Gestede. Whilst the big Benin forward has his strengths, most notably being big, he does in theory offer more for a Tony Pulis style of play in terms of holding the ball and bring others into play than the other options available. Following Saturday’s disappointment, there were even some noises that Gestede may be considering a career change after he started being referred to as ‘fifty pence’ – though before heading to Twitter to announce a future as a rapper awaited, it later transpired it was a name given to him by those who questioned the shape of his head following the random nature of his attempts to find his team-mates with his aerial prowess.

The penny eventually dropped that being confused with the rapper 50 Cent was a mistake easily made in the devalued currency of social media rumours – nevertheless, while his American counterpart famously survived an attack from a former bodyguard of Mike Tyson’s after being shot nine times at point-blank range, I’d be grateful to people with more time on their hands than me to discover if Googling ‘having nine shots hit the target’ is something that returns the result ‘Rudy Gestede’ on the first 20,000 pages. Still, he’s probably not the first Boro striker to be confused with a rapper – remember Eminemnes who arrived straight outta Rotterdam, plus who were the alter egos of the likes of Row-Z, Kanye Shoot and The Notorious B.I.G. Lump that all took the rap up front as they tried to keep it real – though seldom in the Madrid sense.

Queens Park Rangers Middlesbrough
Ian Holloway Tony Pulis
P27 – W8 – D9 – L10 – F28 – A23 P27 – W12 – D5 – L10 – F35 – A27
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
14th
33
1.2
56
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
9th
41
1.5
70
Last 6 Games
Burton (A)
Cardiff (H)
Millwall (A)
Ipswich (A)
Bristol City (H)
Birmingham (A)
F-T (H-T)
3:1 (1:1) W
2:1 (0:0) W
0:1 (0:0) L
0:0 (0:0) D
1:1 (1:0) D
2:1 (1:0) W
Last 6 Games
Fulham (H)
Preston (A)
Aston Villa (H)
Bolton (H)
Sheff Wed (A)
Millwalll (A)
F-T (H-T)
0:1 (0:0) L
3:2 (1:2) W
0:1 (0:0) L
2:0 (0:0) W
2:1 (0:1) W
1:2 (0:2) L

QPR currently sit 5th in the form table over the last six games and 15th over the last ten, which may indicate they are an improving side under Ian Holloway. Whereas Boro are 10th in both the six and ten game form table, which probably indicates we’ve been consistently average in our performances and indeed we only sit one place above 10th after 27 games thanks to goal difference. This is the problem facing Tony Pulis, he needs to create a team that can win two out of every three games that remain just to make the play-offs – 2 points per game will now yield just 79 points, which is one less than Fulham achieved last season to make sixth spot. As for those still fantasizing about automatic promotion, well winning 16 of the remaining games may just about do it with 89 points – perhaps better make it 17 wins just to make sure.

The game on Saturday renews old acquaintances between Tony Pulis and Ian Holloway, who first met up in the Bristol Rovers youth team and have remained close friends ever since. Pulis recalls their days of being subject to strict discipline as young players and the task of cleaning the boots of the senior players was designed to keep them grounded. He viewed their days at Rovers as being instrumental in shaping their outlook “We learned our trade at a football club with really, really good people, who had old-fashioned values,” before adding “I truly believe that it’s because of the way we were brought up back then that we have managed to go on and achieve what we have done in the game”.

This was in the days before many young footballers arrived on the scene expecting to be treated as up-and-coming stars of the future, where a sense of entitlement has developed over the years to the point where it’s not unusual for young players to become millionaires before they’ve even nailed down a place in the team. The pay of course back then was no different to those apprentices who stood on the terraces – though recent concerns of having too much too young lead to clubs like Liverpool announcing a few years ago that they aimed to cap the wages of their under-17s at £40,000 for the first year of their contract, presumably so they’ll learn the lesson of hardship like all the other 16-year olds on Merseyside subject to the £4.20 an hour minimum wage.

It was actually Ian Holloway who recommended Tony Pulis for the Crystal Palace job after he quit as manager of the Eagles claiming he was exhausted after only 5 days off all year and had lost elements of the dressing room, mainly the new arrivals who hadn’t bought into his methods as the club dropped to second-bottom in the Premier League following promotion five months earlier. At a press conference when Holloway was unveiled as Millwall’s new manager a few months later he was asked if he still had his house in London and replied that Pulis had subsequently moved into it instead: “I had a flat in Langley Waterside in Beckenham and Tony has moved right in. I am not sure if he has got my old car, but he’s not having my woman, I can tell you that!” – though he quickly added “he’s got his own [woman]” before the gathered tabloid hacks started getting ideas from his old-school banter.

Holloway has always been good value for the media looking to fill column inches and he claimed: “If I had a fair crack at being a Premier League manager with a budget as good as some of these managers, I could do that. But I’m going to have to get there first – I’m not one of these foreign fellas who gets a job because he’s known Jose Mourinho for 10 minutes. I’m not being funny, but that normally gets you a foot in the door, doesn’t it?” It’s not entirely sure who he was talking about but he added “I did try to go to Jose’s training ground just to say, ‘I spoke to him once’,” but he claimed the special one only said ‘Get out of my way!’ – though given Mourinho’s recent spat with Antonio Conte he appears to be less old school and more kindergarten in his managerial approach.

With almost three weeks of the transfer window having now passed, Tony Pulis has managed to move out his first significant player with the £4.5m transfer of Adam Forshaw to Leeds. The midfielder had been seldom seen this campaign and it appears it won’t have any significant impact on the available options open to the manager. However, there were rumours Forshaw’s move to Leeds almost hit a snag when it was discovered during the medical that he may have dominant peripheral vision syndrome – a disorder that leaves sufferers prone to only see what is happening on their extreme left and right, which usually manifests itself in footballers by causing a propensity to only make sideways passes. There was perhaps a legitimate concern that the condition may be contagious and the West Yorkshire club were possibly minded to contact Boro to determine whether any other players who’ve played alongside him have displayed similar symptoms. Anecdotal evidence suggest there may have been quite a few outbreaks in recent years, though thankfully the visual impairment can be treated if caught early enough. Forward-looking therapy has been shown to reduce the symptoms quite considerably but it’s often a long and arduous process with the risk of relapse when placed under pressure.

The potential £4.5m fee of Forshaw has set a benchmark in terms of valuation for those still coveting other Boro players and it’s probably put Adam Clayton beyond the reach of former boss Aitor Karanka, who this week denied Forest had made a derisory offer of just £2m for the Boro midfielder. We shouldn’t forget that value should also be viewed in terms of what appears to be an inflationary marketplace and whilst making a profit on a player may tempt sales, replacements will undoubtedly not come at bargain prices in January either. Interestingly, Boro have not utilised the loan market to any significant effect this season, particuarly since in previous years they had represented quite proportion of regular first-teamers. Surely some of the bloated Premier League squads must possess players who are capable of doing a more than a bench-warming job for Boro – particularly at the sharp end where for all the money spent in the summer it hasn’t made the team looking any more of a goal-scoring threat. Also out of the picture this season is Marcus Tavernier, who joined MK Dons on loan – many had expected the young winger to build on his few appearances but perhaps he needs to be playing far more regularly at this point in time if he is to progress to a potential starter.

It remains to be seen whether Tony Pulis can mount a serious promotion challenge this season as he seems to downplay any thoughts that Boro will look to bring in any significant signings this January. At the moment the transfer window is being touted as a means to try and move on those players surplus to requirement in the eyes of the new boss and unless the club are secretly plotting behind the scenes, there has been little to indicate the arrival of game-changing players in the ilk of Gaston Ramirez.

However, Monk was ejected and replaced by Pulis due to fears our promotion chances were slipping away and it would seem a meaningless exercise to then to regroup for next year on the back of such a decision. Perhaps the scale of the task in creating a balanced team has meant the new manager can’t get his ideas working properly on the pitch – though it’s still early days despite the two home defeats that only yielded a single shot on target. It may now be a case of muddling through and trying to just pick up points and hope Boro finish as one of the best six teams – defeat against the Hoops may mean needing to jump through them to achieve that goal.

So will Boro players be top of the class at the old-school reunion on Saturday? Or will Tony’s team fail to make the grade to leave some players facing detention after the game? As usually your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus which players will be facing the threat of being expelled in January?

Advertisements

In2views: Kay Murray

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

1. The Overview – the woman and her career

Kay is best known as a well-respected and experienced sports presenter for USA and European football. She was born and raised in Middlesbrough and is a Broadcast Journalist with a degree in journalism. With over a decade of on-screen experience in Football Broadcasting, which includes working with such well-known clubs as our own Boro and Real Madrid. (I suppose this is due to the similar style of play and excitement watching these famous teams – OFB).

Kay is also a keen writer, with articles published in numerous football magazines and websites. (You never know, she may one day contribute to our humble Diasboro blog for our posters and lurkers worldwide – OFB).

She says that her career is entirely owed to the fact that she loves football. A devotion which was gained whilst spending her childhood watching our team, through good times and bad. The fact that she is attractive, personable, well qualified and intelligent probably helps her career as well.

She realized her dream, to closely work with the Boro and their players, when Kay got a lucky break and joined Boro TV Extra from June 2002 to June 2004. She had initially gone down to the club to model the latest Boro shirt for publicity, but whilst there she met the Executive Producer of Boro TV whom she used to live near to. It was to prove to be a lucky reunion for Kay and she subsequently hosted, wrote and co-produced a live weekly football warm-up show. This was Middlesbrough Football Club’s official channel and some of you may remember this was the first official football club channel well before Man United and Chelsea had thought of it. This experience of TV encouraged Kay to do her degree in journalism and the rest is history as they say.

Kay Murray - Bein

Her experience includes having worked for FIFA, UEFA, Fox Sports and shows covering the Spanish soccer league La Liga. From 2011 through 2013, she jointly co-hosted the FIFA Ballon d’Or awards ceremony alongside Ruud Gullit and between 2013 and 2016, Kay hosted the FIFA Interactive World Cup show.

In Dec 2012, she began working for beINSPORTSUSA, the North American sports network. She has also worked as a Spanish Football Correspondent for the Malaysian Astro TV network’s show FourFourTwo Eurozone.

Her work for the Real Madrid TV channel included both the international and Spanish speaking audience. Kay was a Pitch Side reporter for Real Madrid on match days, both home and away. She also travelled the world with the team, twice assisting them in their pre-season tours of the USA, reporting on the team’s day to day news in both English and Spanish.

Meeting Kay for the first time, it is obvious that she is an accomplished media professional. She puts you at ease and has a warm personality and unusually in her position, she also has a self-effacing attitude.

Kay Murray - Zidane

One story that she tells is, whilst she was at Real Madrid TV she was to be introduced to David Beckham for the first time. She got up early in the morning spent a lot of time in the Bathroom, doing her make-up and hair and popped some chewing gum to keep her mouth fresh. It was only whilst she was in the car on the way to the stadium that she realized she had forgotten to clean her teeth. Absolutely horrified at meeting him and greeting him in the Spanish style of giving and receiving a kiss on both cheeks, she managed the situation by adopting a typical English greeting of a formal handshake. She went on to say that her male colleague looked at her in some shock at this greeting and told her that she had just missed the perfect opportunity to get two kisses from Beckham! She remarked to me rather wistfully that Beckham had smelled gorgeous!

Her Real Madrid experience included contact with well-known and famous managers, including Fabio Capello and Jose Mourinho.

Whilst we attempt in our own way to pose her some pertinent and possibly impertinent questions in our interview, it should be noted that Kay has interviewed many famous stars for TV shows and specialist documentaries. These include the late Sir Bobby Robson, Jose Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka;

Her forecast for the Boro home game against Bolton was for a clean sheet, with a 2 0 win for the Boro (A good judge – OFB).

2. The Interview – a quick chat

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

KM: It was at Clayton Blackmore’s testimonial against Manchester United when I was about 14 or 15 at the time. I also vividly remember the last game we played at Ayresome Park when John Hendrie scored the last goal there.

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

KM: I had more than one, I loved Stuart Ripley because he came to see all the kids at Kader Primary School where I was. I loved John Hendrie because of the way he played, always with a smile on his face. French Frank-(Quedrue) due to his fighting spirit and of course Juninho. I had never seen a player before who was quite like the little fella.

OFB: How did you manage to join Boro TV as a professional presenter?

KM: It came after I entered the Boro Babe competition, I took on some work experience and got the opportunity to pilot a new show.

OFB: What has been your most memorable game, your own individual performance in front of the camera and best experience with the fans?

KM: The Carling Cup Final was unforgettable, in terms of performance – the Ballon D’or.

The Arsenal fans in the 03/04 season were particularly memorable. In my role as ‘Boro Babe’ I had to walk around the pitch in the new away kit, the Arsenal fans all started cheekily shouting that I should ‘do a Ravanelli!’ I, of course, declined to reenact his famous celebration but was still able to get a giggle from them and raise a cheer from the stands!

OFB: Is your job as glamorous as it looks?

KM: People often see only the glamorous side of the job, but a large part of the role is spent office-bound, researching and keeping an eye on all the latest news.

OFB: Is your job as exciting as it seems?

KM: Football is usually exciting, whether it’s a thriller of a game or one that offers up a lot of drama or storylines, so yes, the job is generally quite exciting.

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

KM: Barca 5 Real Madrid 0 in 2010 at Camp Nou. As I was working for Real Madrid at the time, being pitch-side for that game was tough. Things went from bad to worse when the heavens opened, and we didn’t have umbrellas either. That was a match when Real Madrid could not do it on a cold, rainy night in Barcelona!

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

KM: It’s hard to name the best manager, but Bryan Robson really did propel the club into the limelight. I love Tony Mowbray as he’s such a good guy and Aitor Karanka’s achievements cannot be overlooked.

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

KM: Undoubtedly it has been Middlesbrough Football Club, my granddad and my Mum who has been a big help. Also, a great influence was the late Sir Bobby Robson.

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

KM: Arsenal back in the Invincible era with Thierry Henry et al. I was at Highbury for Arsenal’s 5-3 comeback win against us. Years later, my first player interview at BeINSports USA was with Thierry Henry himself. We talked about that game and he remembered pretty much everything about it!

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

KM: Adama Traore, I have a soft spot for him, but I know that he hugely divides opinion.

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

KM: The biggest change is how much more glamorous and lucrative the football industry is today.

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

KM: Any of Pep’s team talks or for Bobby Robson’s England back in the 1990 World Cup.

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

KM: I regret not making it home for promotion as I had to work on a game later that same day. I wish I had done more to try and switch my schedule, but it was the year of my wedding, so it wasn’t easy.

OFB: Who was the nicest person that you have interviewed and why?

KM: Ruud Van Nistelrooy. He was very down-to-earth, spoke well and was always very kind to anyone he worked with.

OFB: Do you still follow the Boro and their results

KM: Is that even a question?! Always! Even my Italian husband is a fan…he has no choice, really!

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

KM: I live in Miami Beach, Florida and would love to continue working in football.

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

KM: Hayley McQueen, and all because of Boro TV.

OFB: Is it nice for you to think that you can act as an ambassador for Middlesbrough’s town, the Teesside area and its people?

KM: It means so much to me. I will always fly the flag for Boro, wherever I am in the world.

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

KM: I would have had a career in Advertising or possibly Property. I can’t really imagine doing anything else now though!

OFB: A huge thank you Kay for taking the time to talk to Diasboro and all our readers, posters and bloggers. She is going back to work on the recent El Clasico game between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Hurry back from Miami soon.

Postscript

Kay took a great interest in our blog and she has promised to retweet it to her Boro followers and others worldwide which is a staggering 115,000!

We look forward to her possibly joining and sharing our blog and taking an active part in our moans, groans and general discussions about the Boro, all things football related and sometimes cricxxx!

Boro 0 – 1 Fulham

Middlesbrough Fulham
Norwood 90’+5 (pen)
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
37%
 9
 0
 5
13
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
63%
12
 2
 1
12

Robbery by Ref at the Riverside

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s loss against Fulham at the Riverside…

The Whites hadn’t tasted success in this neck of the woods since March ’84 but with two points separating the two sides before KO past reputations, history and “Typical Boro” counted for very little as Fulham were attempting to gate crash the Play Offs. All eyes were on the tasty clash between Sessegnon and Traore and if they would decide the game or neutralise one another.

Pulis’ starting line up virtually picks itself these days with the exception of one or two places, a far cry from Garry Monk’s time in the Boro dug out. Jokanovic was expected to rely on Kamara to supply his main goal threat as both sides really needed something from this game to be considered serious Play Off contenders. TP is a controversial figure with Fulham fans going back 20 years to his time as Gillingham Manager with bad feeling over what appeared at the time to be insensitive behaviour regarding the death of a Fulham fan despite quotes from the man himself to the contrary. Nothing would give the travelling support more satisfaction than a resounding win against TP for the day trippers up from the capital.

As the teams took the field the Whites more resembled the All Blacks as obviously their White shirts clashed with Boro’s Red shirts in a cynical marketing ploy. Pulis had omitted Britt from his starting line up and went with Stewy, Braithwaite and Traore providing the ammo for Gestede with the rest of the side taking a very familiar look. Fulham had former Boro loanees Fredericks and Kalas in their squad with the latter on the bench to later come on to an appreciative applause.

As halves go the first half was probably the best and most entertaining football I have seen at the Riverside in a long time from a Boro side. Crisp passing including a 50 yard cross field beauty in the opening seconds set the tone for a confident and at times belligerent Boro as Traore tormented Sessegnon in the first half to the point where all he managed was a singular under hit cross which was weakly headed by Kamara without power straight at Randolph. The only other chances the Cottagers had were restricted to very wayward sliced shots from distance that had the Riverside Seagulls more stressed than Randolph. If this was to be the new look Boro then bring it on as there was only one side in those opening 45 minutes.

Those plaudits were all very well deserved but with one drawback. Despite having the classier and far more dynamic periods of play our finishing was abject. Gestede can win 90% of balls in the air but so far there appears to be no plan for the second phase of play with support unable to either keep up or capitalise on his knock downs wherever they go (but that’s another debate). Rudy himself was profligate on too many occasions with his high centre of gravity I suspect hindering his ability to twist and turn and trap a bag of cement. For me he is a last twenty minutes, throw of the dice type of Striker to throw on and lump balls up to when chasing a game. As an all-round Striker he struggles to add composure and control to his game and today had two really good chances including and almost identical one to the goal he scored against Sunderland and a header straight at the keeper. He wasn’t alone as the others in Red had clearly left their shooting boots at Rockliffe as Braithwaite, Howson and Downing were none too clever either with getting their attempts on target. Incredibly during the warm up Stewy was routinely ripping the back of the net out yet in open play the Corner Flags were in greater danger of being hit than the Uprights.

Against less technically adept sides than Fulham as often as not we would have ran out clear winners but tactically we were happy to sit deep and often with a back six made up of our back four reinforced by Martin and Adama as unorthodox wing backs. As negative as it was it was effective but at a cost to an isolated Striker whenever we broke. The shape, organisation and discipline were clearly there to see and it will get better but we sat far too deep too many times and if truth be told apart from Adama’s first half wizardry we lacked any real creativity where it counts. The first half finished 0-0 and despite the lack of a breakthrough the home fans where appreciative and clapped the players off the pitch.

The second half started with Boro out of the tunnel first and that was about the only thing that they were first to for the rest of the afternoon. Fulham were the more fired up and pushed up the field with Jokanovic realising that Boro were happy to just sit back with banks of 3 and 6. Despite our deep seated intent we never looked under pressure and appeared comfortable absorbing the Fulham forays into our half allowing them time and space to pass the ball around to little effect. Adama was our main outlet and was asked to remain up field at set pieces to take pressure off our backline and to give Fulham something to concern themselves with should we break out. That’s not to say that Adama was a liability at the back, far from it as he secured Sessegnon and Piazon on many occasions getting back with well timed tackles and even headers, combining well with Shotton.

This Boro side looked far more ruthless than under Monk. Never afraid to put their foot in with several no nonsense tackles from Grant, George (which earned him a Yellow), Howson and even Stewy sliding in. While overall Boro probably deserved to be in front in all honesty it didn’t look like it was going to happen anytime soon in the second half. TP presumably saw the same and hooked the largely lumbering rather than ineffective Gestede for Assombalonga. Little changed however and the momentum still remained in Fulham’s favour as we sat back deeper and deeper.

Nerves and anxiety were starting to build inside the Riverside as silence largely descended watching attack versus defence interspersed with Boro breakout attacks. In an effort to gain the upper hand Jokanovic had brought on Tomas Kalas for the largely ineffective former Monk target Ojo pushing Sessegnon further up field to much greater effect.

TP meanwhile had brought Adama over to his side of the pitch which in turn had now entirely handed the upper hand to Sessegnon who up until that point was not only shackled by Traore but frankly outclassed. Shotton was performing well but under growing pressure at this point and overall it just wasn’t looking as convincing as the first half. With Braithwaite managing to spurn a tremendous opportunity to break the deadlocked at an acute angle which he miss hit he was brought off to be replaced by Clayton in a further destabilising and unbalancing decision from the bench.

In the games second most debated controversy and prior to his substitution Braithwaite had a beautifully weighted and lobbed ball put through to him from Adama into the 18 yard box only to be slam dunked by Kalas in an effort to provide his former employers a concrete opportunity to take the lead. As clear cut a penalty as you will ever see as the Dane was literally manhandled and upended but apparently Ref Geoff Eltringham saw him as looking for it and ignored pleas for the stonewall penner from stunned Boro players and fans alike.

At that point the signs were ominous that this wasn’t going to be Boro’s day as the first half had failed to see a breakthrough and the second half thus far wasn’t offering a great deal of comfort. Britt’s arrival hadn’t ignited anything as he struggled to make an impact bar a solitary chance in the dying seconds when clean through he dinked the nervous and jittery but untested Keeper Bettinelli but hit the crossbar. Prior to that the burnt out Traore was removed for Johnson who managed to prove why he shouldn’t be on the bench for Pulis for the rest of the season. As bad as Gestede’s ball control skills may be the former Oxford wide man was just plain woeful and lacked confidence, composure and skill in the few moments he was on the pitch.

Fulham are a decent skilful footballing side and were going to come into the game at some point but as great as TP’s substitutions were at Preston they were head scratching and questionable this afternoon. His side had looked balanced and organised; switching Rudy for Britt made little difference to that but bringing on Clayts and Johnson for our wide outlets Braithwaite and Traore was frankly baffling and immediately handed the advantage to Fulham.

As the game ran down it had nil nil written all over it but for the last ten minutes Boro had retreated so far back they were almost in North Ormesby were it not for the obstruction of the South Stand. The home fans were getting impatient at the lack of closing down or effective defending as pressure was growing and Fulham looking the more likely to get something from the game. What had started so impressively in the first half had descended into desperate defending in another game of two halves and nobody able to shackle Sessegnon.

As mentioned Britt had a chance to secure all three points against the run of play but had hit the crossbar from which Fulham went down the other end and in a series of desperate bodies on the line style defending. Grant approached Norwood with 30 seconds of the remaining five minutes of added time remaining to provide a theatrical opportunity that I suspect Ref Eltringham was waiting for to award a Penalty that was as weak as dishwater especially contrasted with the one he had denied Boro previously.

Norwood stepped up and despatched Randolph the wrong way and so what had started out with so much optimism earlier in the afternoon ended up as daylight robbery. All three points went back down south courtesy of a Referee who won’t be welcome back at the Riverside anytime soon and had to be escorted off the pitch. We can blame the Ref certainly but why we sat so deep for so long with the game petering out and why some presumably exiting (and for good reason in many cases) players are in a match day squad are something Pulis and Kemp need to ponder in depth. Hopefully like Guedioura’s cameo TP will have seen enough of a couple more today.

Man of the Match was undoubtedly Traore in the first half but overall for the 90 minutes I would give it to Howson again.

Media curtains twitching as Boro fans
peek at gossip through transfer window

Werdermouth previews the visit of Fulham to the Riverside…

In the shadow of the transfer window speculation that has perhaps left some players in the dark over their Boro futures, an in-form Fulham arrive at the Riverside on Saturday ready to shed light on the progress that Tony Pulis and his team have so far made in turning Boro back into serious promotion contenders. Last week, the Boro manager went against the trend of fielding an understrength team in the FA Cup against a weakened Sunderland outfit and his players had few questions to answer as they eased into the next round. Tony Pulis will be hoping to avoid distractions as they attempt to narrow the gap on those clubs above them by collecting three vital home points – while those looking in will be keenly observing which players he has chosen to omit from his squad as they draw up their January shopping lists.

It’s unlikely that Boro will enjoy a similar afternoon to last week with Slaviša Jokanović’s having got Fulham back on track for a repeat of last season’s top-six finish following their slow start. The Cottagers had won just two of their opening eight games when Garry Monk’s team visited Craven Cottage in September and a late Christie strike rescued a point just two minutes after Fulham thought they’d won it in the 1-1 draw. The shock of becoming the only team to lose a game at the Stadium of Light in 2017 appears to have acted as a wake-up call for Fulham and they’ve since knocked in 12 goals in their last four games. No doubt Tony Pulis will be expecting that his team won’t be in the mood to concede many goals but we saw against Preston that the Boro defence is far from being back to its best.

Middlesbrough Fulham
Tony Pulis Slaviša Jokanović
P26 – W12 – D5 – L9 – F35 – A26 P26 – W10 – D9 – L7 – F39 – A34
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
8th
41
1.6
73
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
10th
39
1.5
69
Last 6 Games
Preston (A)
Aston Villa (H)
Bolton (H)
Sheff Wed (A)
Millwall (A)
Ipswich (H)
F-T (H-T)
3:2 (1:2) W
0:1 (0:0) L
2:0 (0:0) W
2:1 (0:1) W
1:2 (0:2) L
2:0 (1:0) W
Last 6 Games
Ipswich (H)
Hull (A)
Cardiff (A)
Barnsley (H)
Sunderland (A)
Birmingham (H)
F-T (H-T)
4:1 (0:1) W
2:2 (0:2) D
4:2 (1:0) W
2:1 (0:0) W
0:1 (0:0) L
1:0 (0:0) W

News that the Ex has moved in down the road with that big Greek called Evangelos who now owns the Forest has got the local media gossiping that metaphorical furtive eyes may have been glancing in the direction of Teesside in an attempt to turn a few heads at Hurworth. It’s been suggested that a few of those who remember the good times under the former Boro boss might be tempted if he came calling promising a nostalgic return to rigidly starched football with the lure of crisp clean sheets and regularly being told they were ‘amazing’. Even before the ink was dry on pressure-relishing Aitor Karanka’s contract at Trent Bridge the Trump-sized button marked ‘launch speculation’ was well and truly pressed as every conceivable Boro player who had any justifiable grounds to feel unhappy was linked with a move to the East Midlands.

It’s always been the job of those in the journalistic profession who occupy the football desks up and down the country to apply their creative mathematical talents in the absence of facts. Indeed, there was a time when a newspaper editor’s algebraic expectations were only that two plus two equalled five – but now the discerning football hack must be experts in probability, group theory and abstract constructs. The use of imaginary numbers is no longer frowned upon and it’s now widely accepted that string theory can be universally applied – particularly in terms of ‘how long is it’ and when used in conjunction with ‘stringing people along’. These seemingly precise quantum calculation, based on the mechanics of social media rumours that materialise out of thin air and then quickly disappear, are balanced by those classical rumours that derive from the momentum received from the observation of retrograde satellite channels, which go around in circles as they ultimately turn out to be Pi in the Sky miscalculations.

While those on the outside are reckoning up the possible permutations, I suspect Boro’s new figurehead Tony Pulis is not one to crunch numbers in order to find a way forward – though as to whether the disciplinarian manager retains any other possible threats of old-school crunching as he attempts to enforce his will is only speculation – but at least he now has Dave Kemp on hand to put a consoling arm around the shoulder of any squad member, that on catching the concerned expression on the physio’s face, may start to doubt their ability to ever sit on the bench again.

It has become a little clearer in recent weeks on the shape of things to come under Tony Pulis. Despite his initial promise to take a look at all the players before deciding on who he feels is best suited to his methods, it appears he’s almost settled on a favoured starting XI already. Defensively his preference for those who are bigger and offer a greater physical presence is no surprise – nor is his penchant for a big man up top and Rudy Gestede has perhaps been literally  the biggest winner so far under the new boss. His first-choice midfield pairing in the initial games has been to retain the continuity offered by Leadbitter and Howson, however we have seen the latter now being encouraged to do what many had expected to see from him when he first signed and pose a goal-scoring threat from midfield. In terms of the other forwards, Downing was always a player Pulis liked and his form this season meant he was always getting a start, though it looks like he is likely to spend more time on the left than he did under Monk and this has allowed Adama to become perhaps the surprise inclusion in his team. All of which has meant ten of the eleven shirts on offer are now increasingly looking to have been secured.

The table below shows the current Boro squad and their appearances – the only two ever-presents who have played every minute are Gibson and Randolph, though Assombalonga has also started every Championship game too. Whether Britt is about to get his first seat on the bench has been widely anticipated after missing out on start against Sunderland but a lot may depend on what has been worked on in training this week and how the top scorer is adjusting to life under Pulis. It’s early days, but the players highlighted in green are those who look to have won the shirts under the new manager – want-away Fabio is shown in red as he is likely to leave and Fletcher is shown in yellow after Pulis hinted he probably needs to move somewhere to get game time.

Player Mins Starts Sub-On Subbed Goals Yellow Red
GOALKEEPERS
Darren Randolph 2340 26 2
Dimi Konstantopoulos 0
Mejías 0
DEFENDERS
Ben Gibson 2340 26 1 3
Cyrus Christie 2119 24 2 1 7
Fábio 1435 18 6 1 1
Daniel Ayala 1140 13 2 2 1
Dael Fry 923 10 1 1
George Friend 903 9 4 2 4
Ryan Shotton 391 4 1 1
MIDFIELDERS
Jonny Howson 1902 21 2 2 2 6
Grant Leadbitter 1331 16 1 7 2 5
Adam Clayton 1083 13 3 5
Lewis Baker 586 6 4 2 1 1
Adam Forshaw 452 5 6 3 1
Adlène Guédioura 50 1 1
FORWARDS
Britt Assombalonga 2229 26 8 12 3
Stewart Downing 1505 18 2 10 1 1
Martin Braithwaite 1304 16 1 8 5 2
Patrick Bamford 899 8 13 5 1 2
Marvin Johnson 724 6 10 2 1
Adama Traoré 567 6 8 3 1 1
Rudy Gestede 550 5 7 3 1 1
Ashley Fletcher 443 3 13 2 1
Marcus Tavernier 253 4 1 4 1

It may be fanciful to expect much in the way of radical surgery to the Boro squad this January, as unless quality players who are able to hit the ground running are available to join Tony Pulis, then he may be reluctant to weaken his own squad by sanctioning exits of those who he may need to step up to the plate. It’s possible he’ll only look to move on the fringe players at this stage and it may well be that if he does get a significant signing then he’ll possibly listen to offers on those he’s unsure about. Whilst new favourites Adama and Gestede have not started many games this season, Britt, Braithwaite and Bamford have featured in nearly all the games between them so far this season – he would surely prefer to see what they can offer once he’s had more time to work with them and moulded them a bit more psychologically. Also, it’s hard to imagine that Adam Clayton is not his kind of player and speculation on his departure must be nothing more until a better replacement is photographed smiling with Neil Bausor. However, given Boro’s summer spending was pretty much balanced with outgoings, there is still plenty in reserve for Steve Gibson to back his manager should the right players become available.

As for the current players, something appears to be missing of late – the steady hum of white noise from the local media may in fact be masking the sound of silence ringing in the ears of Boro followers from those normally heard screaming in the space between the news void. What has happened to that steady stream of self-conscious utterances that proclaimed each week that the team is working hard to bounce back or build on the foundations and put the expected promotion back on the agenda? Has unofficial club spokesman Stewart Downing been gagged or even had his mouth gaffer-taped by the gaffer to avoid off-message ramblings undermining his carefully constructed mythology of a team that will do its talking on the pitch.

Indeed, why should our competitors catch a glimpse of the sometimes wavering mindset within our camp? Boro are now a Tony Pulis team that shall show no doubt – we’re no longer Monk’s work-in-progress, unable to put a finger on the problem, misfiring into our foot and discussing it all in public! The club now go quietly confident about their business and the onus should be on the opposition to ponder where the weakness lies and whether there is a way to beat his team. It serves no purpose to show your hand, lest it be seen as over-confidence, uncertainty or lack of belief – teams that win don’t need to explain how the trick works in case they destroy the outward illusion of invincibility.

So will Tony Pulis offer the Boro players a window of opportunity to prove he’s got little need to enter the transfer market this January? Or will Fulham give the Boro manager more than he bargained for as the guarantee runs out on some of the summer purchases? As usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus who will be joining Fletcher on making an arrow for the exit as some Boro outcasts look to escape and join Aitor Karanka and his merry men at the Forest?

In2views: Alan Foggon

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

1. The Overview – the man and his career

Alan was one of my favourite players whom the crowd loved as well, when he played for the Boro in their famous promotion team of 1973/74. Utilised by our manager Jack Charlton as a super-fast forward, founded on his performances as a junior sprint champion, He latched onto through balls played over the top by Bobby Murdoch and Graeme Souness and although opposing teams knew the tactic, it didn’t stop him becoming our leading goal scorer at the end of that famous promotion season.

He was born in West Pelton, County Durham and made his first-team debut for Newcastle United, just days before his 18th birthday in a 0–0 draw at Arsenal. Alan talked to me about his first games in Europe when he made two appearances as a substitute. He is remembered famously by the Magpies for the second leg of the 1969 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup Final in Budapest. His shot on goal was pushed onto the crossbar by the Újpest keeper, then he followed it up to lash the ball into the net and make it 3–2 on the night, 6–2 on aggregate. It was a night that he will never forget, and he still had a smile on his face when he was recounting it, indelibly imprinted in his memory.

Alan Foggon 6

Boro signed him at the age of 22 from Cardiff City in 1972, initially on loan, which was another astute signing by Stan Anderson at Boro, but was largely due to the scouting talents and contacts of the late Harold Shepherson. Alan had wanted to return to the North East of England and he made his debut for us on Saturday 25th November when he came on as a substitute in a 2 0 defeat at home to Swindon. He went on to make over 105 league appearances for Boro, 10 as a substitute, scoring over 45 goals, which is a quite impressive goal scoring ratio to games played.

After he left the Boro in 1976, he had brief stints with Rochester Lancers and Hartford Bicentennials in the United States before moving to Manchester United. He only made three league outings at Old Trafford before he switched to Sunderland.

Later moves took him to Southend United, Hartlepool United (loan), Consett. and Whitley Bay. He finished his career as one of only a handful of footballers who have played for all the big three football clubs in the North East.

He is a quiet, almost shy man, but he was quick to point out with a grin, that despite his Geordie roots, his son who was sat next to him, is a smoggy, having been born during Alan’s time on Teesside.

As an aside, he thinks that Tony Pulis is a good appointment for the Boro as he is thorough, and all his teams have been hard to beat, based on a solid defence. He thinks Gestede is a big tough forward and well-seasoned professional.

Alan wishes us well, however he acknowledges that we will have to go through a transitional period before achieving promotion as our current performances are quote “dire!” unquote.

2. The Interview – a quick chat

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

AF: 1973

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

AF: I lived in Hartburn, Stockton in my own house.

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

AF: Bobby Murdoch, Graeme Souness and all of the 73/74 promotion team.

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

AF: Me and Me!

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

AF: We usually travelled by using the team coach the day before playing a game, but if we played in London we sometimes travelled by train.

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

AF: Usually there were 13 players and the Directors used to travel with us on the coach.

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

AF: We always stayed in nice hotels and when we played in London stayed at the Waldorf.

OFB: Who did you room with for away matches?

AF: Bobby Murdoch.

OFB: Who was the joker in the team?

AF: David (Spike) Armstrong.

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

AF: Absolutely none that you can put into print!

OFB: Whose boots did you clean as an apprentice?

AF: Jim Iley (Ex Newcastle United Captain)

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

AF: No, I always played my own game with my own individual style of play.

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

AF: I have a few memorable games. The Fairs cup games for Newcastle United. The Boro game against Oxford when Bobby Murdoch scored.

The best experience with our fans was when we won at Luton 1 0, during our promotion season in March 1974. Boro clinched the 2nd Division Championship with a goal from David Mills. and we travelled back from London with our fans on the train and I’ll never forget it.

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

AF: Every game that I played in and lost was my worst game and experience.

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

AF: I would have loved to have played for Boro and won the League Cup at Cardiff.

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

AF: Jack Charlton, his record at Boro speaks for itself.

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

AF: Stan Anderson, I will always be grateful to, for rescuing me from Cardiff, as it allowed me to go on and become part of Big Jack’s team.

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

AF: I hated playing against West Ham and particularly Billy Bonds because he was so big and strong.

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

AF: (Laughing!) All the teams I played against and scored a goal.

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

AF: Bobby Murdoch, because he and Jack Charlton taught us and helped us all to develop as players. We learned so much, which was of great benefit to us and assisted our careers in football.

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

AF: I’m afraid I haven’t seen enough of the Boro team to form an opinion.

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

AF: The game is much quicker these days than when I played football and the players are a lot fitter too.

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

AF: Yes, I’d like to listen into the Manchester City dressing room, it could be interesting.

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

AF: You only make decisions which are right at the time, but later can prove to have been the wrong one. So you only have yourself to blame.

OFB: Do you still follow the Boro and their results

AF: Yes

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

AF: Jarrow, Tyne & Wear

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

AF: Bob Moncur and Jim Smith from Newcastle United.

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

AF: I’ve no idea I started playing for a club at 13 and signed for Newcastle at 15 years old.

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

FA Cup: Boro 2 – 0 Sunderland

Middlesbrough Sunderland
Gestede
Braithwaite
10′
42′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
51%
17
 8
 7
16
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
49%
 7
 3
 5
 7

Toothless Black Cats limp out of Cup

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s victory in the FA Cup…

All the talk before the game was about who TP would select and if Chris Coleman even had 11 fit players to select. Many in the Boro fraternity thought that Pulis would give his squad a run out in the Cup with the likes of Dimi getting a game but when the side was announced, far from it. It was as clear as the hail stones which had battered the Riverside just minutes before that Mr Pulis was taking the FA Cup seriously and respecting all its traditions and the fee paying fans.

Britt was dropped to the bench with Paddy out of the squad altogether and seating space made for Clayts and Forshaw with Gestede alone up front. Downing was in a free roaming central role with Traore right once again and Braithwaite on the left. The Makems had brought 4,500 with them which from my personal visual memory was probably the biggest away following at the Riverside since the visit of Everton in the Cup on a Tuesday (or was it a Wednesday?) night a while back. Whilst they attended in numbers they were largely quiet for the most part and as the game commenced it was little wonder that the 4,500 at times sounded more like 450.

As visiting teams go this Sunderland side was one of the poorest and should they inevitably drop to League One I suspect that they may keep dropping such was the paucity of their threat. In truth Sunderland were shocking and the score line is more a reflection on how mundane Boro looked in truth. The early stages saw a bit of Sunderland possession but without really hurting us and once Adama picked up the ball in the middle of the pitch he went on one of his mazy dribbles where nobody including his own team mates have a clue where he is going to end up but by the time he had left half the Sunderland side dizzy he played Gestede through with a well weighted ball and the big striker stroked the ball past ex Boro Goalie Steele. 1-0 up and only ten minutes gone and immediately the Sunderland team and fans looked very flat and disillusioned.

At this stage there was the likelihood and indeed strong expectations that the floodgates would open. Sunderland had little phases of possession but Boro were knocking the ball around confidently and with one or two slick interplays which gave a statement of intent that this Boro side had more goals in them. A Downing corner saw a familiar Steele flap at the cross with Shotton I think trying to get to the ball and somehow hook it to Braithwaite who poked home from six yards out to make it 2-0 just minutes before half time. So far Adama had terrified them, Braithwaite was a lot more effective than of late, Downing as usual was pulling strings but Howson was the one who caught the eye, full of running and energy in both breaking up and setting up attacks.

Both sides came out for the second half unchanged and Sunderland went on the offensive in a desperate effort to get back into the game but the quality in their final balls was less than atrocious. It was so bad it literally felt like pantomime season had been extended. Prior to the first half kick-off as the Teams entered the pitch the Red Faction held up a banner of a small Black Cat being dwarfed and growled at by a huge intimidating Lion, as the game wore on that banner was looking very prophetic indeed. Bereft of their star Striker Lewis Grabban who had enough and threw the towel in to return to his parent club Bournemouth in the week the Black Cats looked toothless and clawless. The young lad Maja was left on his own to fight for scraps which he did manfully to his credit but he was never a match for Gibson and Ayala at this level who probably had their easiest game in years. In many ways it was a sad site to look down upon as despite being local rivals it does the region no good economically in the wider context not to have sides competing at the top end of the Football League structure.

Throughout the second half Boro sat back and at times too deep, inviting pressure on themselves and apart from a Gordon Banks style Randolph save from a point blank header from Browning they never really looked in trouble. The home fans had been looking forward to an action packed second half goal fest but like our previous games of late it was a game of two halves although this time thanks to that Randolph save we kept a clean sheet against a much weakened side. Whilst Boro were underwhelming in comparison to our first half endeavours Sunderland’s efforts were extremely poor and the second half has to rank as pure rank!

It was poor as a spectacle and whilst we did enjoy a series of “ole’s” as we passed the ball around teasing the Makems it wasn’t really entertaining. High balls lumped up to Gestede were not creating anything as he won his share of headers but then what? Perhaps TP’s mantra was simply sit back, keep it tight and hang on to the clean sheet and play them on the break and used the game to instil a mind-set for the longer term good of the club rather than get carried away chasing meaningless goals. If so then it has undoubtedly served as a useful exercise in the grand scheme of things.

Adam Clayton received a rousing cheer as he warmed up on the touchline and eventually came on for Braithwaite in the 65th minute as TP sensed the Black Cats were a solitary goal away from making the game a nervy finish for Boro. With that Substitution, Downing went right and Adama left presumably to be within ear shot of Pulis and Kemp coaching from the side-line. Howson pushed further forward to support Gestede while Grant and Clayts renewed their former roles anchoring the middle. With ten minutes remaining Adama was then subbed for Marvin Johnson, which gave the ex-Oxford wide man come erstwhile left back some game time to impress and he did have a few good touches in his short cameo to his credit.

It was good to see Adama receive a standing ovation for his efforts from the Riverside faithful with his name being chanted as he made way for Johnson and then high fived the entire bench after receiving a Pulis hug. I suspect the lad is very much a confidence player and the experience will have done him good to hear his name deservedly echoing around and ringing in his ears.

In the four minutes of injury time George was clattered on his right knee and looked to be in great discomfort and despite strapping and bloody minded courage the bench took the right decision in putting on Christie to see the dying seconds out. My MOM was almost Traore for sheer excitement and creating the opener brilliantly for Gestede and for forcing a stretching Steele save in the second half but for all round steady involvement and contribution I think Howson just edged it with Downing and Leadbitter also having decent games, the latter of which received a round of applause from the visitors when taking a corner in front of them in a nice show of appreciation to their former player.

This result then chalks up another victory for TP, the first half of which showed lots of promise, the second half was perhaps a little too measured and controlled but we kept a clean sheet and scored two goals so job done. What did concern me though was that the opposition was poor and against a better side on another day that level of performance in the second half will see us punished more often than not so something for Dave Kemp and Tony Pulis to mull over. In the after game interview Pulis did say that the players would be back in for double training sessions this week which I guess answers my concerns that the Manager himself knows it isn’t the finished article yet. That message was further reinforced further by goal scorer Rudy Gestede’s interview saying that the training methodology under Pulis is totally different to Garry Monk’s in terms of emphasising roles, duties and responsibilities. For me I still am more concerned with the Championship and the thought of our Home Sheffield Wednesday game now shuffled out to a mid-week sometime but I can’t deny I will be looking out for ball 19 on Monday nights draw!

Pulis enters the third round of
his assessment of the Boro squad

Werdermouth previews the visit of Sunderland in the FA Cup…

So once again it’s that time of year when the players pulses quicken and their hearts jump while they eagerly await the teamsheet as the early January excitement of the FA Cup takes on an extra significance. As Tony Pulis takes charge of his third full game, the players will soon discover if they have been selected to prove they deserve one last chance to secure a place in his squad as the transfer window creaks open. The de-romanticised supporters up and down the country have long since put their practical heads on and now see the third round of the FA Cup as little more than a chance to rest players after the exertions of the congested festive fixture programme. Even the followers of middle to lower end Premier League clubs have lost the notion of the early rounds being the beginning of the Wembley dream and their chance to experience glory – in fact ‘cup’ and ‘glory’ have become etymological strangers in the lexicon most football supporters.

However, for many Boro supporters the fact that the game is against local rivals Sunderland automatically elevates the contest beyond a game that they can nonchalantly retrospectively claim in the event of losing that it wasn’t their priority to progress in the Cup. Neither I suspect will supporters of the Black Cats claim they are free to concentrate on the league, as so far as I can see they’ve seemingly failed miserably to concentrate on winning league games in a very long time. If you thought Boro fans were glad to see the back of 2017, then spare a thought (no matter how fleeting) for those who have turned up to witness the gloom at the Stadium of Light in those twelve dark months, which saw the Mackems win just one solitary league game – a 1-0 victory in mid-december against Fulham that only just prevented them having the indignation of a miserable winless calendar year. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for Sunderland, Boro would have had to chalk off half their Premier League victories last season – so it was a little more than the usually schadenfreude in our case.

To add injury to insult, Sunderland are currently struggling to field a team on Saturday with 9-10 players currently sidelined – including Lee Cattermole, Didier Ndong, Darron Gibson with Aiden McGeady and Paddy McNair both claimed to be major doubts. Manager Chris Coleman has indicated his bench will likely consist of mainly academy boys drafted in to make up the numbers – so on the face of it this is a tie Boro should be hopeful of progressing in. Sunderland are planning to bring in a couple of midfielders in January and Adam Clayton has been muted as a target – though news that Aitor Karanka is bookies favourite for the Forest job has fuelled speculation in the press that he may come shopping at Teesside and already quite a few Boro players are being linked – including his former midfield destroyer.

Tony Pulis has indicated that he will use Saturday’s game to have a look at some of those players he’s still undecided on. The danger is whether we’ll see them deliver a first-half Deepdale-type display if it ends up being a cobbled together team lacking balance. The Boro boss must have already learned that he maybe only has a limited squad and without a few key players on the pitch it then becomes scary to watch. Perhaps Christie has already had his card marked defensively but it’s possible he could still be a right-sided attacking option, who we know also has a long throw and a decent cross and shot in his game. I suspect some of our academy players will also looking for a chance to impress and what better place than a local derby. Besides, Sunderland have only managed to score three goals in their last six games so it may not be too dangerous for Pulis to experiment a little.

Middlesbrough Sunderland
Tony Pulis Chris Coleman
3rd Round History
Sheff Wed (H)
Burnley (H)
Barnsley (A)
Hull (H)
Hastings (H)
Shrewsbury (H)
SEASON   F-T
2016-17  3:0 W
2015-16  1:2 L
2014-15  2:0 W
2013-14  0:2 L
2012-13  4:1 W
2011-12  1:0 W
3rd Round History
Burnley (A)
Arsenal (A)
Leeds (H)
Carlisle (H)
Bolton (H)
Peterborough (A)
SEASON   F-T
2016-17  0:2 L
2015-16  1:3 L
2014-15  1:0 W
2013-14  3:1 W
2012-13  0:2 L
2011-12  2:0 W
Last 6 Games
Preston (A)
Aston Villa (H)
Bolton (H)
Sheff Wed (A)
Millwall (A)
Ipswich (H)
F-T (H-T)
3:2 (1:2) W
0:1 (0:0) L
2:0 (0:0) W
2:1 (0:1) W
1:2 (0:2) L
2:0 (1:0) W
Last 6 Games
Barnsley (H)
Nottm Forest (A)
Sheff Utd (A)
Birmingham (H)
Fulham (H)
Wolves (A)
F-T (H-T)
0:1 (0:0) L
1:0 (1:0) W
0:3 (0:1) L
1:1 (1:1) D
1:0 (0:0) W
0:0 (0:0) D

Ahead of the FA Cup game against Sunderland, Tony Pulis has been busy putting his coaching team together with news that his 64-year old long-time assistant Dave Kemp has come out of retirement and the garden shed to join him at Boro as his number two – along with his former goalkeeping coach at West Brom in Bobby Gould’s son Jonathan. It’s been quite a good day for Jonathans as Woodgate is also to remain as a first-team coach too. Though the most interesting news to emerge was that Pulis has only signed a 18-month contract – perhaps that may indicate he’s potentially on big bucks as coincidentally that is when Boro’s parachute payments run out. Clearly Pulis is an appointment solely geared towards the Premier League and I fancy a manager who has spent the last ten years managing in the top flight wouldn’t sign up to the prospect of needing to be a selling manager in the Championship come the 2019-20 season – particularly with the prospect of Brexit suddenly limiting his buying options of European former bargains who may soon need to qualify on the international criteria.

For new Boro boss Tony Pulis, the Cup is essentially his first ‘pre-season’ game and a chance to look over some of the players that are probably not foremost in his mind as he gets ready to prepare to trim the overgrowth of his over-sized squad. Those who have yet to feature in the new boss’s selections must be doubting their future at Boro – particularly the likes of Clayton and Forshaw, who were overlooked in favour of the invisible lad from Watford who stunned supporters after he took off his precious rusty ring and magically appeared in the starting XI. Also someone likely to be feeling a little depressed as he hopes to hitchhike his way into the boss’s plans is the so far overlooked Marvin Johnson, who will be even more paranoid if he’s only on the bench.

Guedioura has barely kicked a ball since he was a surprise £3m deadline day arrival at Boro almost a year ago and although he’s previously worked with Pulis it would be an even bigger surprise if suddenly became part of his plans – especially if that significant fee was dependent on him making three appearances. Other players yet to get a glimpse of the pitch under Tony Pulis are loanee Lewis Baker and youngsters Dael Fry and Marcus Tavernier – I suspect he’s under no immediate hurry to test the academy boys but with Ryan Shotton now becoming his first choice right-back, then Fry is the only other available recognised centre-back in the squad and the Boro boss will want to cast his eye over his potential. As for Baker, well when you want to trim the squad a non-playing loanee is as pretty surplus as they come and Connor Roberts has already unsurprisingly returned to Swansea after barely getting a chance to move his career forward – though Baker is a year-long deal so it might be a case of not picking him to make Chelsea cancel the deal for us.

I raised the point previously that shifting players who arrived on inflated fees and contracts is not going to be easy if they decide they don’t want to lose out financially. Whether Boro are prepared to subsidise their moves to other clubs is not known but if individuals are informed that they are not in Tony Pulis’s plans then it must be clear it is for their foreseeable future and beyond. Ashley Fletcher in theory could be offered the chance to go out on loan if as anticipated there is little interest in paying anything approaching £7m for a player who rarely makes the Boro bench – but then again I presume Villa never thought a Premier League team would pay £6m for their bench-warmer Gestede a year ago so you never know.

Perhaps the club will keep an open mind and will listen to offers on most players bar those Pulis is 100% determined to keep hold of. One player with a question mark over him is surprisingly (or not) Britt Assombalonga, who hasn’t got off to the best start under the new manager – he doesn’t appear overly suited to being a Pulis-style target man as he’s not a striker who likes to play with his back to goal nor is he comfortable anticipating knock-downs from a target man either. In theory, he could be the Plan B striker if he’s being fed from Downing on the left and Adama on the right – but you imagine he’ll be waiting on the bench if he doesn’t fit into the shape of things to come from what recent games have shown us. I suspect only a PL club would pay anything like £15m for him and it may well be that his value will only be redeemable while he’s still viewed as a 1 in 2 scorer – albeit with 90% of his goals coming against the bottom six Championship teams. The problem is also once you advertise a player as unwanted his value will likely fall – perhaps the club will play their cards close to their chest in a similar way to the summer selling, which realised pretty good value on players we knew were facing the exit.

Some players have seemingly already impressed Tony Pulis enough to be singled out for special mention, with perhaps Adama Traore being a surprise full 94-minute participant against Preston. The speedy ex-Barcelona graduate divides opinion between those who think he flatters to deceive and other who believe he is potentially a deceptively good player. It’s possible to make an argument about the potential of any player but we can only judge someone on what they have so far shown – undoubtedly Adama is quick, possibly the quickest but as yet his game consists of receiving the ball, mainly in a stationary position, before attempting to use his explosive pace to get past anyone ahead of him – at least he can now look up and make a pass but so far hasn’t shown that he has the ability to collect himself to shoot on target. The other aspect of his game missing is the ability to move into space to make himself available for a pass or anticipate where a ball may be delivered from by a team-mate.

In terms of where to play him, Adama has been more effective playing on the right rather than the left where he can be more easily dispossessed when turning into traffic. Many may think such pace is better utilised in a more central position but unless he discovers aspects to his game that are currently not evident then it’s only hypothetical that Traore has the ability to play a more sophisticated role. Pace is a valuable weapon and if Adama perfects the right-sided role of getting to the by-line and crossing the ball into dangerous areas then that will be more than useful at this point in time – maybe we’ll see his understanding of the wider aspects of the game develop but often when someone has the gift of lightening speed their personal understanding of what happens on the pitch is skewed towards using their main talent. At the very least he makes the opposition think of how to stop him and that sometimes creates space for other Boro players to exploit. Indeed, there is an argument to have him stand close to the halfway line when defending corners with instruction to his team-mates to hoof the ball – plus I suspect he’d be attended by at least two opposition players.

There has also been mention that maybe Bamford is not a Tony Pulis player, though I would like to see Paddy given until at least the end of the season to get a fair crack at playing the supporting striker behind the target man. We know Bamford is an intelligent player and can also score goals, but he needs regular time on the pitch to sharpen his game and it’s hard to imagine other players with his all-round game will be readily available in January.  Given the choice between Braithwaite and Bamford, I’d lean towards the latter as whilst the Dane has looked busy and occasionally explosive, he has quite often looked a little uninterested at times and has drifted out of too many games in the last few months. However, Bamford must have been the happiest man on the bench when his number came up just after half-time instead of the last ten minutes under Monk – though I suspect Preston’s unused sub Kevin O’Connor was probably the happiest man on the bench, as even though he didn’t play, his numbers unbelievably came up on the lottery ticket his uncle bought him for Christmas, which remarkably netted him a cool one million Euros! Just how happy his aunty is pretending to be is not known.

So will the Boro players show Tony Pulis they are just the ticket as they collect more winnings from the Sunderland AFC gift that keeps on giving? Or will our lucky streak come to an end as the Black Cats walk across our path to the next round of the FA Cup? As usual your predictions for score, scorers and team selection – plus which Boro players numbers will be up when the manger sits down with the chairman to decide who’s not worth a gamble?

Preston 2 – 3 Boro

Preston North End Middlesbrough
Robinson
Hugill
14′
40′
Ayala
Howson
Shotton
13′
65′
73′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
63%
20
7
7
12
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
37%
7
4
4
9

Dani double in a game of two halves

Redcar Red reports on the victory against the Lilywhites…

It’s been almost like a quick-fire round in a quiz this last week or so with comings and goings along with games arriving think and fast. After the disappointment of Saturdays barren spell in front of goal hopes were slightly raised as opposed to being high that the Preston ground staff might at least have to give their posts a fresh lick of paint come 5.00pm. Unbeaten in their last nine matches and sitting 5th in the form table for the last ten games to Boro’s 9th and with home advantage it was understandable to the uninitiated at least that this game had low scoring home win written all over it.

The hope for Boro was that Tony Pulis would provide something entirely different to our previous ten games (indeed previous twelve months) whereas Alex Neil will have been hoping for more of the same please. Despite the difference in recent form the sides actually started the game in 8th and 9th places with only two points separating them. A win for Preston would see that gap stretch to five points and Boro slipping further away from any Play Off hopes. A win for Boro however would see them leap frog the “Invincible” Lilywhites and keep those dreams alive. Boro’s problem has been keeping clean sheets away from home but with Pulis now sorting things out that hopefully will become a diminishing statistic. Preston on the other hand are hardly prolific in front of goal and had conceded one goal or less in 75% of their last twenty home games so the likelihood of a high scoring game was extremely low.

The team news revealed a few changes for Boro after their second half malaise against Villa with Braithwaite totally omitted from the match day squad and Christie coming back in at RB for Shotton (maybe fatigue or possibly punishment for allowing Albert’s cross on Saturday). Guedioura made his first start this season (possibly his first start for Boro ever?) which seemed a bold move as his match fitness and sharpness at this level had to be questionable. With Clayts and Forshaw nowhere near the team Adlene’s inclusion was a very brave shout (or very stupid one depending on viewpoint). The most exciting change however was Traore starting instead of Gestede which would necessitate a slight change in style from hoofing high balls to playing quick balls out of defence for Adama to chase.

The conditions were going to be a test for both sides with the rain persistently pouring down on a dark miserable New Year’s day in Preston. Boro were quick off the mark earning a corner which came to nothing but at least showed intent. Middlesbrough born Hugill then had an opportunity for the “Invincibles” early on but played it straight into Randolph’s arms. Shortly after Adama broke away after being fed in by Friend as Pulis was screaming to George to just “feed him”.

The match generally descended into a scrappy affair with neither side really getting a grip of the game and Maxwell in the Preston goal generally untroubled. Once again Traore broke away but was brought down for a free kick. Stewy launched the ball by lofting it over the Preston defence for Ayala to power home an unstoppable header in the 13th minute. Within seconds Barkuizen ran up the same flank and launched an almost identical ball to unmarked Callum Robinson to make it 1-1 with a question mark at the returning Cyrus Christie’s marking plus the closing down on the left flank of Barkhuizen and failing to cut out the cross in what has now become almost a trademark “back post” conceded goal for Boro.

The game then resorted to how it was before the goal flurry as Preston probed and tested the Boro backline with the best opportunity falling to Hugill after Christie was skinned, the cross fired in saw Hugill test Randolph to tip it around for a corner. Boro were sat back defending but Preston were now growing in confidence and Boro needed to get a grip both of themselves and the game. Robinson came close again from the corner of the 18 yard box with the ball headed for the top corner of our goal but once again Randolph came to the rescue. Up until this point Guedioura had been largely anonymous until Hugill clattered into him on 35 minutes to let him know he was in a game. Boro were now struggling to keep possession and were constantly being pushed back by Preston with nothing coming out of the Boro defence or midfield to feed a very lonely Britt.

Guediora let Harrop know he was still around by clattering into him in a desperate effort to break up Preston’s dominance that at this stage had the lion’s share of possession and indeed far too much for it to be comfortable for Boro’s travelling Army. Nothing was sticking up field for Boro as Preston after their sudden equaliser had the wind behind their sails and knocking at the Boro door. Then the inevitable happened when the pressure finally proved too much and five minutes before half time another ball into the Boro box found the waiting Hugill who simply nodded into Randolph’s goal from 6 yards out, so much for having big lads at the back! Just before the half time whistle Barkhuisen this time had an opportunity to almost make it 3-1 and deservedly so as yet another cross came in undefended to Christie’s side which was then headed back to Barkhuizen central in the 6 yard box whose header fortunately hit the crossbar this time.

TP had his work cut out at half time to sort out his back four who were looking edgy and a midfield who were outfought. His changes and tactics were failing miserably and apart from Stewy’s free kick and a couple of Adama runs Boro were as bad as they were in the second half against Villa. The selection of Guedioura looked an eccentric one that had back fired badly but at least he had the opportunity to take a look at him. Christie’s positional defending was once again very poor and overall the side looked disjointed. The Travelling army booed them off at the half time whistle and based on only 135 minutes of football under TP it wasn’t looking good in fact it was looking appalling. Too much tinkering perhaps, confusion in the back line and midfield with consequently once again Britt finding himself treading a very lonely path.

It takes time for a new Manager to get his message across but what was clear in that first half was that too much had been changed too quickly with Boro looking at sixes and sevens without any idea of how to get themselves back in the game. I’m not sure what the record is but for a Boro Manager to hear boos after less than two games takes some doing. TP had to radically alter something during his half time team talk as it was heartless to watch and there was nobody out on that pitch who was prepared to drive the side on. Christie was poor, Howson and Grant were a shadow of themselves, Friend was struggling, Ben and Ayala looked like strangers and Britt was cut adrift. If it wasn’t for Randolph we could have been three or more goals behind.

Incredibly TP made no changes at half time as the same Red Shirted “disconsolates” came out again to face the “invincibles” who were being handed the opportunity to live up to their preferred nickname. It has to be said that if GM was still in charge of this performance the backlash from the travelling army would have been heard back on Teesside. Despite TP’s half time team talk apart from the midfield pushing further up nothing changed in the opening exchanges as Preston flew into challenges. I’m guessing that warnings were given and ignored as TP made a double sub after only five minutes into the half and brought on Bamford and Gestede for lonely Britt and anonymous Guedioura.

My take on that was that TP realised what Boro fans realised a year ago about Guedioura and has also concluded that Britt simply doesn’t work hard enough in his system despite scoring goals, a luxury that he isn’t enamoured with. An early chance came for Bamford who threw himself at the ball but unfortunately no real power behind his header. Traore ran past Harrop who took him out again and after a quickly taken free kick the ball was passed around the Red shirts and passed around some more and then it all fizzled out as it has so many times this season. Preston regained possession and attacked Christie who succumbed to a free kick that looked like it could have been a penalty but Ref David Coote reckoned that contact was initially outside the box so a yellow card sufficed and Harrop’s resultant free kick flew over the wall calling on Randolph to be alert.

Preston were lively and active, pressing Boro reminding them that they were looking for a third. TP responded once again by removing the yellow carded and susceptible looking Cyrus and putting on Shotton. Moments later Johnson cleaned out Traore but the Ref deemed it just a yellow despite Johnson ignoring the Officials request to come to him for the booking. Traore again started a move that involved Bamford and Downing break down but an ensuing Ayala long ball up field saw a downward Gestede header poorly cleared, falling to Howson who outside the 18 yard box beat two defenders and precision chipped the ball in an arc into the far corner of Maxwell’s net to make it 2-2 and Boro were back.

As bad as Boro were in the first half TP’s changes had a positive effect and Boro’s tails were up once again. Boro’s front and midfield seemed more joined up but now with some pace and energy to the fore with Paddy in contrast to Britt’s seemingly lackadaisical style. As Boro sensed another opportunity Bamford crossed to Gestede whose shot went wide. Preston were now rocking as Boro then won a corner courtesy of Howson which Downing sailed in to the big lads in the box but Preston cleared for a throw in. Shotton launched the throw in towards Gestede but Preston cleared and as Pearson breaking chased the ball into the Boro half George took one for the team and earned a yellow for his troubles.

The game had opened up but Boro now looked much more of a threat with Preston chasing to get back into it and after a short corner Traore crossed towards Gibson who flicked the ball off the top of his head for Ayala arriving at the far post to pile in again with yet another header to make it 3-2. The transformation since the substitutions was unrecognisable from the absolute dross that was served up in the first half. In fairness to TP he gave the chance to redeem but was quick to address those shortcomings when it was clear that they didn’t respond to his talk at half time. The mood in the away end had changed and when Adama launched a “shot” (being kind) that ended up amongst the travelling army the ball was tossed around in an effort to wind down the clock and of course wind up Preston.

Horgan and Gallagher came on for Preston in a double Substitution from Alex Neil to rescue something and tipped the balance back in Preston’s favour as they pushed forward in a frantic last few minutes. With two minutes left Bamford took the ball into the corner flag and held it up in contrast to those who say he hasn’t physical strength or the desire to scrap. Gestede then “inadvertently” kicked the ball away for a yellow after it was adjudged an infringement had taken place. Boro then had to defend but as the end to end tide turned again they broke away with Gestede getting his heels clipped for his troubles. Traore then saved a ball from going out of play but unfortunately it favoured Preston who collected it, broke to attack but fortunately it petered out as the seconds of the four added minutes ticked down slowly. Randolph was next to pick up a yellow for Boro as he was adjudged to be taking too much time as he took an eternity to take a goal kick.

A last minute onslaught from Preston had nerves jangling once again but still David Coote let the game go on to almost five minutes of added time before finally putting the whistle to his lips ending the torment and TP getting his first victory.

MOM was probably more “Man of the second half” because the first 50 minutes were frankly atrocious. So should it be Howson perhaps for his goal and second half endeavour, Traore for constantly causing mayhem, Downing for safe and solid again or Ayala for his two goals, even Randolph for keeping us in it in the first half? I’m not sure but the one from the above that maybe just edged it was Howson who played a major part in driving the second half resurrection and his drag back to beat two defenders to score was a treat to watch.

Well that was a real seesaw of emotions and a real test of the Manager’s credentials who got things disastrously wrong in the first half but corrected the deficit and pulled a win out of the ashes which is a very rare feat in recent Boro management history. Considering Preston had been unbeaten in their last nine games and notorious for tight low scoring games that turnaround was all the more remarkable. Boro are now just a point behind the Blades in 6th spot with the same GD of +9 goals and two points off Leeds in 5th. Villa of course are playing Bristol this evening and so things will likely change but a victory was so important for TP’s credibility and for Boro to keep alive any hopes of a Premiership return.

Pulis looking to de-clutter his squad
ahead of January sales

Werdermouth previews the trip to Preston…

Boro head to Preston looking to begin 2018 in a manner that will hopefully indicate it’s going to be a year of resolution for Tony Pulis and his team. He’ll no doubt be looking at his midfield to get their first foot in to bring good luck for the remainder of the season and those who don’t shape up may also be getting a rocket or two from the manager in the half-time interval pyrotechnics – particularly after the damp squib of a performance against Villa. Steve Gibson may indulge in the old tradition of throwing coins to celebrate the arrival of January and the transfer window but on reflection he may have decided throwing money, particularly after bad, has not brought him much luck at all recently. However, Pulis may also be reminding his squad that there is also a new year tradition of getting rid of old possessions to symbolise a fresh start.

While many may be nursing a hangover on New Year’s Day, few will have as big a headache as Tony Pulis apparently has after he woke up to the realisation of the mind-throbbing task of making a team in his image from a set of players seemingly no longer fit for purpose. It may be January and the start of the sales but those impulsive purchases from the summer spending spree are still cluttering up the club’s wardrobe and blocking their entrance to the magical kingdom that is ruled by the Premier League Lion, from which they have been frozen out of.

Monday’s opponents are in good solid form at the moment and Alex Neil’s team last tasted defeat ten games ago after a wobble that saw one of the early season pace-setters lose four on the spin. In an uncharacteristic winless run, Preston conceded 15 goals in just six games – they’ve since only conceded four goals in their subsequent unbeaten run of nine games. From what we saw at Villa, Boro may have their work cut out at Deepdale to make a mark on the Lilywhites clean sheets – just one shot on target doesn’t bode well against a defence seldom troubled. Many will be suspecting this game has 0-0 written all over it, then underlined three times, before getting out the yellow highlighter pen. Boro appeared quite pedestrian against Villa and a repeat of that won’t be rousing those still sleeping off the New Year celebrations in the back rows of the stands – though Tony Pulis was critical of the slow play that he saw from his players and is demanding they move the ball quicker. Hopefully, quicker doesn’t mean higher and longer – otherwise I suspect the Preston centre-backs will be looking forward to an easy afternoon’s work.

Preston North End Middlesbrough
Alex Neil Tony Pulis
P25 – W10 – D10 – L5 – F28 – A23 P25 – W11 – D5 – L9 – F32 – A24
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
8th
40
1.6
74
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
9th
38
1.5
70
Last 6 Games
Cardiff (A)
Barnsley (A)
Nottm Forest (H)
Sheff Utd (H)
Burton (A)
QPR (H)
F-T (H-T)
1:0 (0:0) W
0:0 (0:0) D
1:1 (0:0) D
1:0 (0:0) W
2:1 (0:0) W
1:0 (0:0) W
Last 6 Games
Aston Villa (H)
Bolton (H)
Sheff Wed (A)
Millwalll (A)
Ipswich (H)
Bristol City (A)
F-T (H-T)
0:1 (0:0) L
2:0 (0:0) W
2:1 (0:1) W
1:2 (0:2) L
2:0 (1:0) W
1:2 (0:0) L

Having started the season with a plan to recruit an array of attacking riches for the purposes of blowing away the opposition, the chairman sadly discovered the Championship was going to be anything but a breeze for his expensively assembled squad paid for by the parachute windfall. The team created by Monk only managed to huff and puff before eventually hyperventilating, which left the young manager being asked to take a deep breath as he was told to sit down and prepare for some bad news.

As early as August, many Boro observers were wondering where Garry Monk was planning to fit in all these newly arrived forwards and the former manager struggled to accommodate them without resorting to mind-distorting foam-fumed formations. Now that we’ve reached January with the less expansive inclined Tony Pulis in charge it’s become even more of a stretch of the imagination to picture where they will fit in. It was noted against Villa that Boro had a very attacking looking bench, which is hardly surprising given just how many forwards there are in the squad – I suspect Pulis will not be expecting to retain all their services.

The size of the Boro squad was a concern for Boro’s new manager in the post-match press conference on Saturday – Pulis proclaimed “The squad is definitely too big. I don’t like big squads.” Though he wants to find out about all the players before deciding who will move on as he added “Steve [Gibson] spent an absolute fortune in the summer and out of respect to him I really have to be prudent with what I do and don’t. Not make rash decisions.”

I suspect the problem the club will face when trying to move on the unwanted players in the transfer window is that Boro probably paid over the odds in the market and quite a few of the players reportedly said they were made offers that were too good to turn down. It will be hard for many potential buyers to match the contracts these players currently enjoy, something we discovered when an unwanted Downing decided not to take a pay cut to join Harry Redknapp at Birmingham, which in the end has fortuitously turned out to be probably Boro’s best piece of business in the summer.

It’s been often argued by managers that they want two players for each position so that they are adequately covered. However, this is perhaps problematic when you have players who arrived or were currently in place that were used to being considered in the starting XI. It is especially difficult to keep a contented squad if the manager has settled on his core group of players and there are few opportunities for those left out in the cold Teesside air. This may be fine for big clubs who are involved in European competitions to keep their squads relatively happy and motivated – but surely a squad at Championship level should make use of versatile players who play different positions and instead offer their promising academy players a place in the matchday squad when senior players are unavailable.

It’s looking increasingly that if Boro are to entertain (and I use that word loosely) the prospect of a promotion bid under Pulis then we may be looking at more than a few tweaks in terms of the squad make up. We saw in the new manager’s first starting XI that he likes defenders who defend and players who have a physical presence – this appears to have cast doubt on the futures of quite a few who became regulars under Garry Monk. Gone were Christie and Fabio as their defending was not up to the standards expected by a Pulis team, whilst that may have created a more solid back line it suddenly removed much of the wide service to our front men too – albeit erratic. The question for many is whether George Friend can regain his form, otherwise Pulis could be looking at quite a few full-backs this January – Connor Roberts is surely going to be heading back to Swansea in search of other avenues to develop and Christie and Fabio must be already doubting their futures under the new boss.

Other players though will be anticipating becoming centre-stage under Pulis – Rudy Gestede didn’t need to stand on tip-toes when they lined up for inspection and was soon having a target stapled to his shirt in training – though the key will be if his team-mates are good at guessing in what direction the ball will bounce off his head. Assombalonga is not the type of player who looks to play off a target man and run the channels and link up with the players around him – we have seen he is a player who needs feeding in the box and he probably wouldn’t also be ideally suited to being a Pulis style target man either. In theory, Bamford would be a better player to play off a target man as he reads the game well and tries to anticipate what will happen and is much more mobile for that role. Whether Paddy will be deemed physical enough for his manager may depend on him showing the right attitude and returning to the gym to bulk up even more.

While some players will be wondering how to impress the manager, perhaps Adama pulled off a master-stroke late in the Villa game by sprinting back to his own half at a blurring speed past his manager in the dugout to put in a last ditch tackle as Villa broke away. Whether Pulis will succeed where all those before him have failed in trying to integrate that breathtaking ability to cover the blades of grass is something few will be tempted to place a wager on – there was a moment in the Villa game when one of his team-mates was about to release a ball down the line for him to run on to, but pulled out of the pass as he discovered Traore was standing motionless in the centre of the pitch waiting to be given the ball. It’s been said before but if Adama had a footballing brain he’d be playing in the Champions League and not on the bench in the Championship.

Well the good news for Boro followers is that 2017 has ended, we started last year in 16th spot in the Premier League as we travelled to Leicester to face the title-holders just one place below them. Just a few weeks earlier in mid-December, Aitor Karaka’s team were feeling confident as they despatched Swansea 3-0 to climb within just three points of Southampton in 9th. Supporters were anticipating the squad being strengthened in the January window and comfortably retaining our top-tier status. Sadly the wheels came off, key player Gaston sulked in trying to force a move to the Foxes and none of Karanka’s targets were interested in joining him as the club ended up with a limited out of favour Championship front man in Gestede, a struggling Bamford who hadn’t hardly played for a year and the underwhelming euphemistic ‘Lad from Watford’ Guedioura.

It was not the end of our Premiership dream but the beginning of the end as Boro had to wait 17 games before their next victory at home to fellow strugglers Sunderland – it was all too late and by then the manager had imploded and left along with many of the players in their heads as a divided camp seemingly kept their fighting spirit for the dressing room and not the pitch. Boro limped out of the Premier League with out so much as a whimper as temporary head coach Agnew proved to be just that.

The summer saw Steve Gibson attempt to lift the spirits of supporters with claims of wanting to build a team capable of smashing the league. He appointed Garry Monk with the mission of producing an expansive team that would fire its way back to the Premier League and gave him his blank chequebook to finance the project. Sadly his new young manager never really convinced that he knew how to keep that promise on behalf of the chairman and after a half a season of ‘false dawns’ and ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’, Boro were left limping in the dark and Garry Monk became Gibson’s third managerial casualty of 2017. He was replaced on Boxing Day by an older wiser more pragmatic man in the form of Tony Pulis – whether he will be able to galvanise the club to put in a promotion challenge is too early to say but it appears the chairman has nailed his colours back to the mast of pragmatism and a more steady sturdy vessel to realise his dreams.

It certainly gave everyone at Diasboro plenty to write and comment about after coming into existence on 3 January 2017 and we have bore witness to the whole difficult year unfold – it’s seldom been pretty and for many it has been a year of frustration and lost opportunity. We hope 2018 will prove to be a different ball game – but as long as it’s football (of whatever description) we’ll be here to keep an eye on proceedings. So here’s to wishing everyone in the Diasboro community all the best for 2018 or Guten Rutsch as we say over here (it means have a smooth start to the year and not have a ‘good slide’ as it is sometimes literally translated) – Anyway, let’s see what it brings for Boro – hopefully not a slide!

So will Boro start the year as they mean to go on and get back to winning ways as they turn over a new leaf? Or will Boro still be suffering a headache from the previous 12 months with the self-inflicted pain of repeatedly running into a brick wall? As ususal you predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus what are your predictions for Boro in 2018?

Boro 0 – 1 Aston Villa

Middlesbrough Aston Villa
Snodgrass 75′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
45%
13
 1
 5
16
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
55%
11
 5
 9
12

Prodigal Son punishes Pulis

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s loss against Villa at the Riverside…

Well this one was our new manager’s first game in charge in the Championship for nigh on ten years as he came face to face with Steve Bruce who has never beaten Pulis on home soil. All sorts of rumours about who would be playing went from the bizarre to the ridiculous, some thought that Pulis would rip it up and start again with a complete new look Boro whilst some more rationally thought that he would just gently tweak one or two positions and gradually mould the team in his image over a few games.

Adlene Guedioura’s name surprisingly kept cropping up on various forums which would be one heck of a shock given his lack of game time and questionable fitness levels. As Pulis seemingly picks players for the Team rather than individual skills and abilities stranger things have happened I suppose and I suspect may happen over the coming weeks.

The most likely change that most of us figured would be George Friend back in for Fabio purely because of height which is a characteristic of TP’s teams especially defensively. Albert Adomah’s injury in Villa’s last outing at Brentford meant that his dead leg may have kept him out of his return to the Riverside as Villa desperately needed to get a result as they hadn’t won in their previous five games and their fans were becoming restless with Bruce under pressure.

The eagerly awaited line ups at a damp and bitterly cold Riverside announced that Friend indeed was starting and that Fabio was nowhere to be seen but more surprisingly that Christie had also been dropped for Shotton with Ayala coming back in to partner Ben centrally. Incredibly Guedioura was on the bench despite not starting a game in almost 11 months. Albert of course wasn’t going to miss this one as he took his place on Villa’s left flank with his dead leg seemingly repaired.

The game started as a tense cagy affair with Villa sitting deep and Boro having most of the ball. Villa relied on Hutton and Albert in the early stages to get at Boro’s new RB Shotton supported by Downing and in fairness they both coped pretty well with the “Returnee”. Snodgrass on the other flank took some time to get going against George who responded well at least when Snoddy was actually on his feet as he seemed to spend more time rolling around on the immaculate Riverside turf like a Jack Russell with an itch. Hogan who was leading the Villa attack was anonymous throughout.

Boro’s back four seemed to be well drilled and looking more Karanka like in terms of discipline except without the sideways passing as balls were lumped forwards up field to find the head of Gestede which unfortunately they rarely did or when they did it was anyone’s guess which direction they would fly off in. Britt paired up front with him was (I’m guessing) supposed to collect the knock downs won by Gestede but not many as mentioned were won and running about chasing lost causes doesn’t really suit Britt’s game. Braithwaite was bright and lively and started a few forays and tried to cause Villa problems as did Stewy on the other side but that was about it as far as attacking effectiveness went. As well drilled as our new look defence seemed to be our attacking pair were tactically decapitated from the rest of the shirts in Red.

Neither side were great but Boro did have most of the possession in the first half and looked the more likely to well maybe not score but perhaps do something and therein lay the afternoon’s problem. Apart from Shotton’s poor man’s Rory Delap impersonations we gave Jaffa Orange’s a bad name in fact Eunuchs show more spherical intent than our “striking” pair despite a series of long balls, high balls, diagonal balls and even Shotton’s long throws. It was very poor fayre as games go and when the half time whistle went there was polite applause around the Stadium more out of courtesy to our new Manager than for what had been on display. There were some positive signs of more bite, grit and determination at the back and from the midfield and even Stewy was getting stuck in but on a few occasions we were almost the Architects of our own downfall as both Ayala and Ben were guilty of handing possession straight back to the black shirted villains and on one occasion Ben gifted Albert who fortunately took pity on his former team mate and spared his blushes.

The second half started around 60 minutes, I say 60 minutes as the opening 15 minutes were non-existent, like a sort of parallel universe out on the pitch or an episode of the Open University from 1972 in glorious black and white complete with kipper tie and dodgy side burns. Both sets of fans sat in quiet contemplation for that quarter of an hour, presumably thinking of their New Year resolutions. I have no idea what Boro’s half time team talk consisted of but it sure must have been comatosing stuff. It was disconcerting, nothing seemed to be functioning any more, the defence looked ill at ease at times as Villa now started to creep into it realising that they could leave their back door open with all their Bank cards and passwords on the Kitchen table and Boro would still probably try to pick the front door lock with a knitting needle.

Pulis obviously realised that it wasn’t working but bizarrely he took off Braithwaite who at least looked like he may create something and left on the anonymous Britt and Rudy who looked like they were total strangers. Adama came on for the Dane which lifted bums off seats with a few trademark runs that of course came to nothing not least of all because to keep up with him required movement and that’s something that our Strikers hadn’t been particularly good at on the day. As the game was winding down and we were pushing for something we came unstuck up top and Traore chased back 50 yards in a sprint that would leave Olympians in shame to prevent Villa’s debutant sub Hepburn-Murphy from scoring.

Further tweaks had been made when Bamford came on for Gestede who up until that point had succeeded only in making a great impersonation of a pogo stick albeit one with a bent spring and then the uninspiring Britt was removed for Fletcher. When Fletcher came on he performed a similar role as Gestede except with greater mobility and energy. Bamford ran more miles in his twenty minutes than either Britt or Gestede had attempted collectively all afternoon. It has to be said without the more cavalier wing backs our Strikers did suffer from a lack of quality service.

We did I think have two shots in the game, just before half time Gestede had blazed an attempt well wide and over and in the second half Howson blasted it over the crossbar from the edge of the 18 yard box into the North Stand. The deciding factor between two poor sides was ironically down to Albert who managed to get round Shotton and deliver a cross to the far post and as has been our modus operandi all season there were no defenders with Villa piling in and Snodgrass momentarily upright to head home relatively unopposed apart from a despairing George.

And so it was, Villa ended their five game streak without a win, Bruce finally won in the League at the Riverside and beating Pulis on his home turf in doing so. Boro? Well on that basis TP has a heck of a lot of work to do at Rockliffe before New Years day. If he wants a high tempo hard working side with everyone grafting and pulling together then he needs to have more up his sleeve at the sharp end than what was witnessed today. Its early days and new tactics will take time to bed in but effort and willingness is the minimum expected. Graft as TP himself alluded to during his introductory Q&A is a Teesside byword for Steel, it’s no use having graft at the back, steel in the middle and a dogs breakfast up front. I’m sure in time it will all come together but that day definitely wasn’t today.

I was questioning whether to award a MOM and honestly can’t, there were not many stand out displays. Stewy again was probably the pick of the bunch and got stuck in to his credit with Howson once again putting in an improving effort. For me Bamford when he came on emphasised what the Teesside public expect, running, chasing, closing down, busting a gut and a desire to win. Reputations and past glories I am led to believe count for nothing with TP so for that reason it will be interesting to see who gets the nod up front at Preston and more importantly how they are integrated into the rest of the team. My head welcomed the changes but my heart felt that it was perhaps too many much too soon.

Pulis not promising any miracles
as supporters hail their new messiah

Werdermouth previews the visit of Villa to the Riverside…

Boro’s stumbling journey back to the promised land appears to have been given a boost with the arrival of the sure-footed experienced Tony Pulis at the club – though he has made it clear he is not the new messiah by declaring that supporters shouldn’t expect miracles as he “can’t turn water into wine”. I’m not sure where the new Boro boss normally buys his water but it may need pointing out that our sparkling squad cost us around £50m in the summer, even though it quickly went a little flat under Garry Monk’s after he became unscrewed trying to get a grip at the top. Unfortunately for the connoisseur, there have been few performances that could be described as vintage this season and many supporters have been unable to bottled up their frustrations at what has been chillingly served so far. The Riverside crowd will be looking to Boro’s new manager to at least make their glasses appear half-full rather than half-empty and ensure the team’s performances are full-bodied with no bad after-taste that sticks in the throat.

The appointment of Tony Pulis just a few days after Garry Monk was dismissed by Steve Gibson caught supporters a little by surprise. Normally, Boro followers have several weeks to trawl through the prospective candidates and either dismiss them as unworthy or hail them as an inspired choice – unfortunately many were still stroking their chins and contemplating if a nearly 60-year old man should still be wearing a baseball cap. Though for many pragmatic fans, the cap is not a deal-breaker and some off-duty fashion police casually wandering around Teesside this week suggest a non-custodial sentence of perhaps around six weeks community service would normally be an acceptable punishment for such a faux pas – especially given Middlesbrough has never been a fashionable club.

Though one of the main issues of doubt expressed was if his style of football would be entertaining enough for the Riverside masses. Admittedly they have been spoiled recently by Garry Monk’s one-touch tiki tacky sticky patchy football – albeit quite often one touch before losing possession on the edge of our own box. Then there were the expansive years under Karanka that had many on the edge of their seats unable to move with anticipation before willing themselves to fall off and bang their heads to numb the pain of boredom. It appears the time has arrived to once more re-educate the Teesside public in the aesthetics of football tactics and forget that the next Pep Guardiola who can work on the fraction of the budget has still not been unearthed by the Rockliffe Google operators. Happily for Boro, the aforementioned Google operators thankfully didn’t confuse Anthony Pulis, to give him his proper name, with the football manager Anthony Pulis, who is currently the head coach of US club Saint Louis and the son of Tony Pulis – hopefully that cleared up any confusion.

Departing manager Garry Monk seemed also genuinely surprised to be unexpectedly shown the exit last Saturday following victory over Wednesday – he claimed it was Boro’s best performance and a corner turning moment for his team that had so far appeared to be going around in ever-decreasing circles for many observers. To make matters worse, not only was the victory insufficient to keep his own job, it resulted in Owls boss Carlos Carvalhal losing his and then rather ironically him being subsequently installed as Swansea manager ahead of the ex-Boro boss, who was strongly tipped to take over at his former club – maybe he’ll now get the gig at Hillsborough instead?

Meanwhile all the hype and hyperbole that surrounds the appointment of a new manager shouldn’t distract from the business of gaining points on the pitch. Aston Villa arrive at the Riverside after suffering a dip in form recently, which has seen them drop out of the play-off places and below Boro on goal difference. There will be plenty of familiar faces in the dugouts on Saturday with Steve Agnew fronting up alongside Steve Bruce and news that Jonathan Woodgate has joined the coaching team of Tony Pullis. Also returning to the Riverside will be crowd favourite Albert Adomah who’s been in good form this season but many will hope he keeps his best moves for the pre-match warm-up. I’m sure there will be plenty of handshakes before and after the game but Boro will be hoping that Villa continue their bad form and the new era begins with three points.

Middlesbrough Aston Villa
Tony Pulis Steve Bruce
P24 – W11 – D5 – L8 – F32 – A23 P24 – W10 – D8 – L6 – F32 – A24
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
7th
38
1.6
73
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
8th
38
1.6
73
Last 6 Games
Bolton (H)
Sheff Wed (A)
Millwall (A)
Ipswich (H)
Bristol City (A)
Derby (H)
F-T (H-T)
2:0 (0:0) W
2:1 (0:1) W
1:2 (0:2) L
2:0 (1:0) W
1:2 (0:0) L
0:3 (0:1) L
Last 6 Games
Brentford (A)
Sheff Utd (H)
Derby (A)
Millwall (H)
Leeds (A)
Ipswich (H)
F-T (H-T)
1:2 (1:1) L
2:2 (2:2) D
0:2 (0:1) A
0:0 (0:0) D
1:1 (0:1) D
2:0 (1:0) W

Tony Pulis has described himself as a ‘football man’, which has probably not come as an unexpected admission, even by the less observant supporters on Teesside. I’m still not sure if it’s just stating the blindingly obvious or has some deeper philosophical meaning that separates him from many of his counterparts. OK, I suppose if he’d come out and said he was a ‘gardening man’ many would presume we could be looking at another Steve Agnew or someone lacking confidence in his ability to succeed in the job. I suspect at this level, the manager’s job is seldom advertised with ‘must be interested in football’ as it’s normally a given – hopefully we’ll get a bit more meat on that particular bone in the coming press conferences, along with answers to that other chestnut of what ‘old school’ actually means in practice.

Though it seems we’ll first have to get any particular bone that needs picking over well away from our growling chairman, since Tony Pulis apparently finally chose to join Boro after Steve Gibson was thus described as ‘like a dog with a bone’. Though what particular breed was not alluded to, perhaps a nice loyal labrador that’s getting a bit grumpy and impatient in its old age after many years guiding the blind faithful through the crowded thoroughfares of English football and gently past the pitfalls of ambition. Perhaps Pulis finally relented after Gibson’s last email “Hi Tony, just been messing around in Photoshop and thought you might be interested to see how you’d look in a Boro red baseball cap – btw I’ve also took the liberty of ordered some extra letter T’s and P’s for your training kit just in case – p.s. Just about to make that call I mentioned to Garry”.

Tony Pulis has already been busy trying to connect with the Teesside public and has emphasised his shared working class roots as the son of steel worker from Newport. As luck would have it Newport also has a Transporter bridge to add to the symbolism, although to increase the confusion Middlesbrough has a Newport bridge that doesn’t appear to be based on any particular one from Newport – he’d be wise to do his homework on his industrial architectural cross-references in order to avoid going a bridge too far. However, I’m still awaiting the ‘Ed Milliband’ style photo of Tony tackling an iconic 2,500 calorie parmo in front of the media pack just to prove he’s ‘one of us’ but he may keep that in reserve for any badly digested results in the near future.

Steve Gibson may have perhaps found a manager he can personally relate to and share the experience once again of taking Middlesbrough forward. Gibson celebrates his 60th birthday in two weeks time, which is just seven days before Pulis celebrates his – perhaps on the face of it nothing more than a coincidence but it will be a shared milestone between two men looking forward to the next journey with the feeling of wanting to enjoy a new challenge while they still have a feeling of unfinished business and the drive to take it on. You get the impression that there is already good chemistry between the two men and maybe after the last difficult 12 months endured by the Boro chairman it will be something of a re-energising experience to have someone by his side who knows what it takes to get a team working for each other.

Some of the issues around the appointment of Boro’s new manager, which have become problematic in fully accepting him as an appropriate appointment, are those that surround events relating to his previous exits from former clubs. These may at least encourage Steve Gibson to be clear with Tony Pulis regarding any bonus incentives offered to him. Coming between Pulis and his bonus is a bit like getting between a Hippo and water as he doesn’t take kindly to not getting what he thinks is due to him. In his earlier managerial career he had a major falling out with Gillingham chairman Paul Scally and the resulting court case over the settlement was reported in the Guardian – Scally had testified that there was an alleged blackmail plot by Pulis to obtain his outstanding bonuses after documents came into his possession that claimed financial irregularities on the chairman’s part. The case was eventually settled out of court with Pulis receiving £75,000 instead of the £200,000 he had sought and it resulted in an acrimonious feud between the two men.

In 2016, Pulis famously lost an appeal to a commercial court that saw him having to hand back a £2m bonus plus £1.75m in costs and damages to Crystal Palace. He was accused of “Fraudulent behaviour” by the judge in his representation of the events surrounding the early payment of that £2m bonus, which was awarded for keeping Palace in the Premier League. The problem was that it contained a clause that Pulis must stay at the club until 31 August to qualify for it but he subsequently left two weeks before that deadline.

Without going into all the details, it was claimed Pulis had persuaded the chairman Steve Parish to pay him the £2m early as he urgently needed the money – though he then left the club shortly after it was paid. The main reason for leaving by Pulis was that there was player unrest after a meeting about unpaid bonuses to them – the deciding argument in court seemed to be over whether that meeting had taken place before Pulis received his early bonus or after. Pulis claimed it took place after and made his position as manger difficult. Parish claimed it was before and Pulis only used this incident to justify his exit after promising to stay. It had also been reported in some newspapers that Pulis and Parish didn’t get on and that Palace had accepted their manager’s departure by mutual consent.

Though in terms of the spirit of the £2m bonus it could be argued that Pulis deserved to be paid most of that sum given he finished the season in 11th place and preserved their Premier League status – which probably secured the club around £100m. The purpose of the bonus was not that he stayed at the club until 31 August with the caveat the club also avoided relegation – it was definitely that the reward was based on Pulis keeping Palace up and he achieved that aim and then some. It appears from what I’ve read he may have been unhappy at the club and suspected from the player unrest that promised bonuses were not forthcoming. Perhaps he tried to ensure he got his first before leaving – as it turns out it proved to be a costly error of judgement on his part and a severe public blow to his reputation.

As for this new chapter in his career, Tony Pulis didn’t waste much time in getting his hands dirty as after watching his new charges huff and puff from the director’s box alongside Steve Gibson. As he headed to the dressing room for the half-time team talk he presumably asked the Boro chairman before leaving his seat – “Who’s that little guy playing left-wing?” and “Where’s Friend? Is he injured?” – since his first action in charge appears to have been to bulk up the defence by replacing Fabio with George, who incidentally he’d previously been interested in signing. It’s encouraging that he’s already working out what he wants and is already looking at aspects he would like to change. He strikes me as the kind of manager who knows how to build a team and more importantly get the group to add up to more than the sum of their individual parts. I suspect he doesn’t take nonsense from his players and he’ll gain instant respect in the dressing room – though many ex-players also regard him as very good man-manager, who will also get the best out of each individual.

It will be interesting to see who comes into the starting XI on Saturday and whether we’ll see a change in formation. OK, it might be early days to attempt anything too radical but perhaps we’ll see some differences in approach with set plays – I can’t imagine for a minute Pulis will be happy with the short sideways free kicks that are normally on show. Also I get the impression Tony will be lining up his players to check their physical attributes as his team are never bullied out of games. Rudy Gestede may be about to discover if he’s the new Peter Crouch – his neck may be about to discover whether his head is screwed on tightly!

So will Tony Pulis turn out to be Boro’s new Messiah or is he still being viewed as just a very naught boy by the doubters? As usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus how many Tony Pulis baseball caps will the the club shop sell before the game?

Boro 2 – 0 Bolton

Middlesbrough Bolton Wanderers
Braithwaite
Assombalonga
49′
67′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
59%
16
 6
 2
15
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
41%
 9
 0
 4
22

Boro’s BB guns blow Bolton away

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s victory over Bolton at the Riverside…

After the drama of Wednesday on Saturday today’s game had potential to take the shape of a banana skin with a temporary Manager in charge. Four challenging games in just over a week was always going to be a challenge but jettisoning our Manager after the first game wasn’t factored into it. On paper Boro should still have gone into this game as favourites but as this season has panned out as we know to our cost it hasn’t always worked in our favour.

The announcement of Tony Pulis was timely in that it steadied the ship albeit he wasn’t in the dugout but watching on from the West Stand upper. An incentive if needed for those playing today to push their claim for inclusion in his plans going forwards. Early morning punditry on Sky Sports indicated that they couldn’t understand why GM was only given 23 games and that Boro probably knee jerked because TP was available. The phrase “a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing” came to mind as the “experts” in the studio clearly had no idea what was happening at the Riverside since August.

Bolton on the other hand will have seen Boro’s managerial hiatus as an opportunity to try and snatch their first away win of the season and build on what can only be described as a spluttering run of form of late which has dragged them to within a point of the Championship safety zone including the recent scalp of Cardiff. Craig Liddle went with the same again from the Wednesday win with Shotton retaining his place in defence. Within a few minutes of the KO he was required to be alert in dealing with balls up to Madine who not unlike Nuhui previously can be a bit of a handful but Ryan was up to the task all afternoon and only put a foot wrong once yet managed to somehow get his right leg extended and hook the ball back quickly redeeming himself.

Bolton looked like the league table suggests, workmanlike but other than ex Boro loanee Ameobi had nothing to really trouble the Boro backline. Another Ex Boro lad Andrew Taylor behind him tried manfully to support the long legged Ameobi but Downing tore him apart on a few occasions in the first half and he went off injured although a few around me felt he was perhaps sulking at being skinned repeatedly by our elder statesman.

Tony Pulis sat beside SG looking down on proceedings will not have been impressed by the profligate waste of chances by our forwards in the first half. Assombalonga was battling but never imposed himself on the game, Bamford was energetic and full of running but no end product and indeed at times very frustrating. The two linked up well in the first half when Britt won the ball on the half way line after a Shotton headed clearance, held off defenders and played a through ball for Paddy to run on to but Alnwick got down and saved what in reality was a tame effort.

The nearest Bolton came to scoring was when Randolph cleverly dragged a back pass from Gibson to his right then scuffed his clearance putting us straight into trouble. Madine did manage to beat Shotton once in the air from a forward lobbed set piece but it sailed well over the bar. The half ended 0-0 but Boro had by far the Lion’s share of the ball but were misfiring at the sharp end. Braithwaite had a chance through on the keeper and in fairness looked more lively and purposeful than his outing on Saturday but his effort was saved or went wide depending on the Officials view.

Tony Pulis had departed his seat in the West Stand a few minutes before the half time whistle and was stood waiting for his new charges as they entered the dressing room. Whether through injury or tactical intent Fabio didn’t appear for the second half and George Friend lined up in his familiar LB role. Interestingly Friend was linked with Pulis previously so perhaps he was questioning why one of the Championships best LB’s was sat on the bench anyway George put in a steady and reliable display with only one of his trademark foraging runs abruptly ended by another of our Ex’s David Wheater on the edge of the Bolton box which was perhaps just as well as George otherwise would have been clean through with only Alnwick to beat and so its likely his blushes were ultimately spared.

Just as torchlight started to sparkle around the ground in the build up to the Leo tribute on 50 minutes Braithwaite went to the right of the Bolton goal after being put through by Howson and his deflected shot off the heels of the Bolton defender saw the ball spin up and curl over Alnwick to put Boro ahead as the celebrations morphed into the original planned Leo tribute which lasted for a credible five minutes declaring support for Leo and his family with a sentimental rendition of “he’s one of our own”. The timing of the goal could hardly have been better timed and after that any remote hope Bolton had to get something out of this afternoon’s game ended with the huge emotional tide now engulfing the Riverside.

The game was finally put beyond reach when Britt burst through on goal after a quiet afternoon, cutting in between two White shirts after Howson back passed to Shotton who then lumped it “Pulis style” up into the Bolton half for Braithwaite to head it on to the path of Britt who despatched with aplomb. 2-0 and for his troubles Britt was then brought off with Gestede already warmed up to take his place much to the goal scorers obvious disappointment.

If Gestede’s introduction was an indication of things to come then I think we can rest easy just now as the big Benin striker had his 50p head on and nothing came of anything played up to him. It almost seemed as if the ball bounced off his head rather than directed with any intent. Despite Bamford trying to play off any knock downs it was a tactic that is best described as a work in progress. The second goal provided comfort for Boro and the remainder of the game was merely confident containment with a few forays for Boro but most were eventually adjudged to be either fouls or misdemeanours of some sort by a very eccentric Referee.

All in all no poor or suspect performances, the introduction of George and later Gestede may give speculation as to how TP may want us to play but I think it is very early days and no doubt he will want to assess what he has at his disposal and how best he wishes to utilise his assets and those he regards as excesses. Grant was full of energy and crunching into challenges and Howson alongside was energetic and had another good game and indeed nearly added another goal in the dying minutes of the second half after a clever Bamford back heel.

MOM for me was Shotton, from zero to not quite hero just yet but he put in a commanding, resolute, solid performance and Ben alongside looked calmer and more comfortable than he has for a long time

Boro enter market for a new manager
as Gibson heads first to Liddle

Werdermouth previews the visit of Bolton to the Riverside…

After Steve Gibson got tired of waiting to see some fine fare on the pitch from Garry Monk he’s headed off to Liddle to deliver the goods this Christmas. There was little hint on what was to follow by the chairman but he’s now looking for a safe way to protect his investment after the Boro manager got more than he bargained for following Saturday’s victory. Within a few hours of Garry Monk’s team swooping to steal victory against the Owls, he no doubt entered the chairman’s office in good festive spirit after the coach journey sing-song back to Teesside of “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!” still ringing in his ears – before being informed that sadly the Boro faithful would no longer be coming to adore him this Boxing Day or indeed any time there after.

Few had expected this post-match silent night of the long knives, as remarkably his opposite number in the Wednesday dugout, Careless Carvalhal, was also facing Christmas keeping the turkey company at home and arranging the Brussels sprouts on his plate in a 4-2-3-1 formation. It seems bar any remaining feeling of humbug, Steve Gibson had presumably already made his mind up that there was no time like the present to wrap up his struggling manager’s tenure in preparation for his Boro Christmas sack.

It was not a major surprise for Boro followers, the romantic return to the Premier League for the chairman and his new young manager had not been going smoothly and the marriage was not working out as hoped after Monk had received a shorter honeymoon period than expected. No doubt there were some awkward silences in the morning as they didn’t meet eye-to-eye over the Championship table as Gibbo woke up to smell the coffee and Monk began to wonder if he’d soon be toast as the bank statements were brought up again. Social media rumoured that Monk had been flirting with a return to his Welsh Ex and it was also suggested in the press that Steve Gibson had already been making overtures to the more experienced Tony Pulis, who he’d apparently admired from afar for many years. Matters came to a head on Saturday as a seemingly upbeat Monk was preparing to enjoy a night out celebrating what he labelled Boro’s best performance of the season. Instead Steve had already made his mind up to dump Garry in favour of the prospect of pulling a cracker with Tony this Christmas and discussing a long-term future together.

Ending relationships is never easy and local media suggested it was done with a heavy heart by the Boro chairman – though it will be with a considerably lighter wallet given it was his third managerial dismissal of the year, along with their coaching teams. It was getting so crowded on the club’s immaculate lawns that Gibson had already let one of his gardeners move on to pastures new as Steve Agnew had taken his golden trowel to help Steve Bruce at that nice Villa down the road keep his play-off borders in good order.

As expected, the club have kept their supporters fully informed on the MFC website on these managerial developments and it’s a shame we don’t have space for the full statement…

Middlesbrough Football Club have parted company with manager Garry Monk. The club would like to thank Garry for all his hard work and dedication, and wish him all the best for the future. The club’s Academy manager Craig Liddle will take temporary charge of first team affairs during the interim period while a successor is appointed. The club will be making no further comment until an appropriate time.

…Erm, actually that appears to be all of it – anyway it perhaps would have been inappropriate to say too much as apparently it would have spoiled all the fun on social media of speculating on every rumour that materialised over Christmas.

We shouldn’t forget that amongst all the managerial shuffle sideshow there is still a game to be played and hopefully won! It’s unlikely Craig Liddle will attempt anything radical as he’s just keeping the seat warm and in theory the second bottom Trotters shouldn’t have enough to blag the points off Boro – though we shouldn’t forget they beat second-place Cardiff at the weekend, so along with fools and horses, the players will also need to work hard to gain victory. It’s important that the players start the game in the right frame of mind and not get distracted by the off-field activities, Boro are still only three points from the play-offs with half a season to play – they only need to have a slightly better second half to be in the promotion mix.

Middlesbrough Bolton Wanderers
Craig Liddle Phil Parkinson
P23 – W10 – D5 – L8 – F30 – A23 P23 – W4 – D7 – L12 – F23 – A41
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
9th
35
1.5
70
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
23rd
19
0.8
38
Last 6 Games
Sheff Wed (A)
Millwall (A)
Ipswich (H)
Bristol City (A)
Derby (H)
Birmingham (H)
F-T (H-T)
2:1 (0:1) W
1:2 (0:2) L
2:0 (1:0) W
1:2 (0:0) L
0:3 (0:1) L
2:0 (2:0) W
Last 6 Games
Cardiff (H)
Burton (H)
Nottm Forest (A)
Barnsley (H)
Wolves (A)
Reding (H)
F-T (H-T)
2:0 (0:0) W
0:1 (0:1) L
2:3 (1:1) L
3:1 (2:1) W
1:5 (0:2) L
2:2 (2:0) D

Making sense of the timing of Garry Monk’s departure will depend on which rumours you choose to give credence too, if any. If you are of the opinion that Steve Gibson has decided Monk was not going to produce the two points per game average that was needed to be sure of making the play-offs then now was the obvious time to make the call – any later and the new man would be at a disadvantage in assessing the squad before the January transfer window. Furthermore, if it’s true that Steve Gibson had been sounding out Tony Pulis on whether he fancied the Boro project then it’s likely other clubs who are prone to getting twitchy at this time of year would also be showing interested in a man who is in a similar bracket to Big Sam for avoiding the drop. If the rumour that a mature man in a baseball cap has visited Rockliffe over Christmas is also true then it would have been somewhat awkward if Garry had spotted him checking out the size of the cones outside his office. So it may well be that Monk had to be out of the picture once Gibson got the green light from the former Baggies boss.

If there is no new manager lined up then it would be a very odd time indeed to sack Monk as the positive energy gained from the comeback victory over the Owls would be lost – plus Boro would then have their academy manger Craig Liddle taking over and trying to get up to speed for three crucial games in seven days. OK, some may suggest that wouldn’t be less confusing than some of Monk’s recent tactical showings, but the second half performance at Hillsborough would have been a good lift for the squad and probably enough to see off Bolton and then confidence could have been carried through to the next game against Villa – so it seems doubtful a new appointment isn’t imminent.

The other rumour doing the rounds, which I’ve now heard from several sources, is that Monk postponed the Thursday press conference to Friday on family grounds but secretly met up with Swansea officials to discuss their vacant post. On the face of it that sounds both far-fetched that both parties would risk such a meeting and somewhat naïve if it turned out to be true given millions of people walk around with smartphones in their pocket and enjoy nothing more than posting up random photos and messages on social media. We now live in a Big Brother society where everyone is watching everyone and those who aren’t being watched like watching themselves and telling the world what they having for breakfast. Though the big problem with social media rumours is that they all feed off unverifiable sources that so often feed off themselves – fake news is now indistinguishable from real news for many and it now only matters what is believed to be true, before being liked and forwarded, rather than actually knowing what is true.

What seems to be gathering pace is that many in the know believe Tony Pulis will be unveiled as Boro manager in the next 48 hours – it’s quite possible he will be introduced before the Boxing Day kick-off wearing a Boro baseball cap in the centre-circle to shield his eyes from the glare of disbelief of many at the Riverside who were hoping for entertainment as well as results. It seems that entertaining football now only belongs to the super-rich clubs with billionaire backers who can afford to risk winning in style. It’s long since been conceded that winning trophies is the preserve of the big clubs but now even enjoying watching your team play exciting football has also been given up as foolish nonsense. The name of the game now is making up the numbers and accepting that pragmatic dull football is your only option if your want to rub shoulders with the elite for more than just a brief flicker of the limelight that surrounds the circus that is top-level football – the dream is now being able to rub shoulders with rich and famous but first you must accept drab mediocrity is the price of the ticket.

So will Boro show that their promotion goose isn’t yet cooked and give the supporters a festive treat? Or will the players go cold turkey and look like difficult to swallow left-overs from Monk’s reign? As usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will Tony Pulis be drooling in the stand at the prospect of seeing long balls hoofed up to Rudy Gestede?

Sheff Wed 1 – 2 Boro

Sheffield Wednesday Middlesbrough
Wallace 30′ Howson
Shotton
71′
83′
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
45%
11
 5
 4
15
Possession
Shots
On target
Corners
Fouls
55%
13
 4
 4
 5

Howson Shot on target
as boo boys seal the points!

Redcar Red reports on the victory against the Owls…

After Werder’s brilliant Christmas blog opener this game was always going to be a big ask to try and usurp on entertainment value alone. As it was the build up to this game was perhaps less Dickensian and more the mood of an Edgar Allan Poe tale with two adversaries facing a swinging Pendulum. I doubt “The Bench and the Pendulum” would make a Hammer horror list with today’s generation but both benches would have been hearing that encroaching heavy hiss and swoosh as the air parted above their heads with each sideways pass of the axe. By this stage of an underwhelming season I doubt if either set of fans would be remotely bothered if Charlie Cavalier or Garry Magnolia’s fate would be decreed by the random swing of the axe this afternoon, win, lose or draw. Any festive spirit in evidence was as a consequence of being consumed en-route to the ground for this mid table sack race.

The line-up surprisingly saw Shotton returnwith no sign of Fry and Ayala on the bench. My guess was that Shotton’s experience and physical bulk was brought in to deal with the threat of the giant Nuhui. No Clayton or Traore on the bench seemed to ask more questions from the Boro faithful than provide answers to Garry Monk’s mind.

Boro enjoyed the opening first few minutes before a handful of Wednesday corners seemed to turn the tide. Boro started to work their way back into the game with a series of slick interplay and passes working their way up the pitch with Downing, Bamford and Braithwaite linking up well. Fabio gave away a strange free kick presumably for handball but it looked more like he was shoved. The resultant free kick on the quarter hour mark sailed way over Randolph’s bar. The best opportunity of the game fell to Bamford when Downing set up Christie who came inside beating the offside trap and from 6 yards out Paddy inexplicably headed it straight across the goal when hitting the target was easier.

Downing was scythed down by Pudil as he rounded him but the resultant free kick came in low and wasn’t really a threat. Grant tried a 25 yard shot that was weakly hit and deflected but still required Wildsmith deputising for Westwood to get down to his near post. With the game entering twenty four minutes Boro looked to be the better of the two sides but nothing to show for their efforts and possession. An opportunity lost by Bamford and Assombalonga saw Wednesday break but Hooper was thwarted by Randolph as the home fans started to vent their disappointment.

Just as Boro looked to be getting a foothold the Owls teased us out then broke down their left getting in behind us with four red shirts chasing the cross leaving Wallace completely unmarked and impossible to miss as he blasted it past the stranded Randolph. Poor dysfunctional defending yet again highlighting just how disorganised this Boro side are defensively, totally bereft of confidence. As Boro tried to get themselves back in the game Britt was dragged down by Palmer on the edge of the 18 yard box, despite Britt’s penalty appeals the Ref rightfully deemed it outside. Despite a seasonal pantomime in deciding who was going to take the free kick between Braithwaite, Leadbitter and Downing it was eventually Downing who skied it well over much to the merriment of the Home fans.

A Howson effort moments later also sailed over the bar then a Braithwaite chance fell to Assombalonga who couldn’t get his reward as his shot was blocked to go out for a corner which Downing fired in but Britt couldn’t connect with. Just before half time Braithwaite fed in Bamford then to Howson but the move came to nothing. Despite their goal to the good Wednesday still looked very vulnerable as Boro enjoyed the greater of the possession yet we couldn’t find a way through their backline. A Wednesday break after Howson lost possession saw an attack which Randolph required Gibson’s interference to spare his blushes. Another late Wednesday effort came to nothing just as the half time whistle went as the travelling army let their feelings be known as the sides departed the pitch.

No changes from either Manager at half time as Boro came out first as the game meandered into a slow start. Nuhui went close early on but fortunately the quality of his attempt was up to par for the game as a whole and went well wide. A Fabio cross on fifty four saw Braithwaite collect a knock down from Britt via Bamford but his attempt was straight at the keeper. A Bamford run then saw him brought down providing another free kick opportunity which Braithwaite despatched into the Leppings Lane lower tier as was now becoming the norm for the game and the disgruntled away fans held their collective sore heads in their hands.

False Boro hopes were quickly dented as Britt manged to put the ball in the net only to be ruled offside as he slid in too early on 60 minutes. Marvin Johnson was readied for Braithwaite three minutes later as GM tried to rescue something from the game as ex Boro man Jacob Butterfield came on for the Owls goals scorer Ross Wallace. As the game succumbed to a scrappy series of attack and defend (poorly) a quick Randolph throw out to Christie saw Boro break away and as the ball came into the box Bamford was brought down for a clear Penalty which Grant then took an eternity lining up, eventually hitting it waist high straight down to Wildsmith’s right. Just as Wednesday fans were celebrating their stand in keepers save a Fabio cross was cleared out to Howson who volleyed it straight back at Wildsmith through a crowded box who this time failed to keep the shot out with Paddy and Britt closely shepherding it in. 1-1 and Boro were back in it with twenty minutes to go.

Johnstone went down with cramp after a run into the Boro box and bizarrely Boro generously allowed the ball to go out for treatment. I’m not sure that a club in our predicament can be that generous, just as well they didn’t have me to face when they left the field of play as I think I would be less than sporting when I opined my seasonal thoughts of good will to all men. That one moment I felt summed up what is so very wrong with this side, too nice for their own good. As the game entered the last ten minutes the Owls looked knackered but still Boro struggled to break them down. Balls were fizzing about and being put into the Wednesday box as we looked to have far greater levels of energy but we still weren’t troubling Wildsmith. Joao came on for Pudil as Carvalhal tried to change things as Gestede was also readied by Monk to enter the fray.

Just as Gestede came on for Paddy at a corner Shotton came up for the same set piece and managed to bulldoze his way through the box to get his head first to the ball putting Stewey’s corner kick into the top far corner. In fairness to Shotton he hadn’t been outstanding but ploddingly effective all afternoon as he dealt with Nuhui which is something that a long and growing list of Boro CB’s have all failed to do. Six minutes to go, Boro 2-1 up and now Jordan Rhodes comes on for Wednesday along with that horrible “Typical Boro” feeling.

A few frantic moments ensued as the Owls threw everything they had left in their tired legs at Boro. Tavernier was brought on for Downing to run the clock down and put some more zest into the Reds attack. Just afterwards the 4th Official held up the board with a ridiculous five minutes on it. Hooper and then Rhodes fluffed their lines as Wednesday pushed forward and Boro’s defending was less than clinical again. A Tavernier break saw Gestede and Howson supporting as the ball was ran into the corner flag by scorer Howson after Rudy failed to get off his shot. Seconds later came the relief as the whistle went for the end of the game and the exhausted Boro players huddled and celebrated with each other.

The result was more important perhaps than the manner of it and whilst there were some very good passages of play the game for a Boro fan was frustrating to watch made worse by the fact that Wednesday were so poor themselves. As it happens two of the hitherto Boo boys sealed the Victory and whilst Stewy for me was MOM (yet again) Shotton generally had a steady, strong game and to his credit score the winner, perhaps that was just the tonic he needs to kick-start his Boro career. Three points are three points albeit against another lower placed side but whilst we will happily take them it was far from convincing caused mainly by poor defensive awareness. Avoiding defeat today was the main objective at all costs so on the basis of that it was mission accomplished.

Is the season of goodwill over for Monk?

Werdermouth previews the trip to Hillsborough…

Saturday’s game sees the halfway point in a season that has failed to deliver anything other than a bleak mid-winter for Boro supporters. It had all promised to be quite different after the summer break, many of us had thought we’d been gifted an early Christmas present by our own Magi of Middlesbrough, Steve Gibson, as he made a pledge to bankroll the assembly of the best team in the Championship. Following the grimmest of bad fairytale endings to our long-awaited Premier League return, our spirits were lifted by the promise of a Boro team on song as Gibbo proclaimed “Tis the season to be jolly” – though we’d got confused in all the hype and it turned out it was indeed just the festive one and not the football season he was talking about.

However, we are still waiting for all the joyful Fa la la la la la la la la’s that were expected to follow in what is now a stuttering spluttering of a season. Not for the first time has the anticipated product delivered on the pitch failed to be as advertised – or did we just neglect to read the small print or spot the asterisk claiming terms and conditions apply. Perhaps in all the excitement of seeing selfie addict Neil Bausor pictured grinning with the latest big money signing, the chairman’s aspirational nonsense talk lead to misplaced over-exuberance on our part. Indeed, to make matters absolutely clear I almost expected to see a Steve Gibson advent calendar launched with ‘I didn’t say we would smash the league’ written behind every door rather than treats.

With each passing week it’s looking less and less likely that there is any kind of painstaking gelling process being engineered behind the scenes. Last week, as the Christmas period approached, Boro put on a naivety play and were made to look less than stable for crucial periods amongst Millwall’s burdensome beasts. Garry Monk struggled to identify one let alone three wise men despite seeing many of his players bearing gifts, which were badly received by the Boro faithful who were left feeling galled and frankly incensed. Sadly the gift of mirth was missing from the comedy of errors on display and few now believe the Boro manager is a rising star to follow to the desired destination.

After losing four of their last six games Garry Monk cannot afford to preside over yet another self-inflicted defeat otherwise he could be having quite a ding-dong with the Boro hierarchy as they contemplate sending him merrily on his way. Boro are at the point where Monk has pared down his squad to those who he trust to pick and there seems few options left to see any radical change in fortunes. As his chosen few continue to make errors it hard to return back to those who he’s already deemed incapable. The only solution put forward seems to be work harder and avoid making mistakes but the worry is that there is an overall absence of leadership on and off the pitch as the shapeless season drifts on.

Our latest opponents are also looking short of what they were expecting to see and Carlos Carvalhal is under pressure to improve matters. Sheffield Wednesday have struggled to win games this season and have become draw specialists as they’ve offered less threat without the injured Forestieri. However, some Boro fans will be expecting inevitable goals from their former players – Jordan Rhodes will no doubt be keen to prove a point as will Adam Reach, who is the kind of left-sided option that Boro appear to be missing. Also among their ranks is former Boro midfielder Jacob Butterfield and it will be interesting to see how he fares in the ensuing battle.

Although Carvalhal has claimed to have done plenty of homework on Boro, the good news is that he has appeared to have copied it from a dodgy site on the internet. His conclusion was quite amusing to read as he declared he does not think there is much difference in the styles adopted by Monk and former boss Karanka. He continued with “They’re a solid team. Most of their players played last year in the Premier League and they were promoted two years ago”. With such pre-match analysis I’m now beginning to understand why the Owls are languishing in the bottom half of the table.

Sheffield Wednesday Middlesbrough
Carlos Carvalhal Garry Monk
P22 – W6 – D9 – L7 – F26 – A27 P22 – W9 – D5 – L8 – F28 – A22
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
15th
27
1.2
56
Position
Points
Points per game
Projected points
10th
32
1.4
67
Last 6 Games
Wolves (H)
Norwich (A)
Hull (H)
Reading (A)
Ipswich (A)
Bristol City (H)
F-T (H-T)
0:1 (0:1) L
1:3 (1:0) L
2:2 (0:1) D
0:0 (0:0) D
2:2 (0:0) D
0:0 (0:0) D
Last 6 Games
Millwalll (A)
Ipswich (H)
Bristol City (A)
Derby (H)
Birmingham (H)
Leeds (A)
F-T (H-T)
1:2 (0:2) L
2:0 (1:0) W
1:2 (0:0) L
0:3 (0:1) L
2:0 (2:0) W
1:2 (0:1) L

Many supporters initially had great expectations for the season but they have now witnessed the team fall on hard times as we wait for our mutual friend, Steve Gibson, to get his bleak house in order. Before I continue with this analogy, I should warn you that Martin Chuzzlewit is literally not a promising Dutch midfielder on Boro’s radar this January window – nor is David Copperfield the playmaker magician waiting to fill the sulking boots left by Gaston Ramirez. Though as Christmas Eve approaches, there is perhaps a Dickensian tale to tell that may, or may not be about to materialise before the very eyes of the Boro chairman…

This festive story begins with a rather tired but pensive Steve Gibson, suitably attired in his club-shop MFC-monogrammed onesy, climbing into his four-poster bed at Rockliffe Hall. As he contemplates the importance of the Boxing Day visit of the Trotters from Lancashire, he is unaware of the Ebenezer-style ethereal visions about to visit him. The first apparition to appear is the Ghost of Promotions Past, an androgynous figure of indeterminate age in a white robe with a strange blue band across his chest that bear the large and meaningless words of ‘Ramsdens Currency’. The ghost takes a rather astounded Gibbo by the hand and then flies with him over Teesside and first shows him the padlocked gates of Ayresome Park as a warning of the times when money was scarce, before revealing a vision of his younger self celebrating promotion with Bryan Robson not only once but twice. They both enjoyed the thrill of spending money in these earlier times and he let Bryan buy whatever he asked for – though both of them loved to see exciting players and they rarely thought about buying defenders back in those distant care-free days.

However, Gibson also remembered how his friend Bryan couldn’t make his dream come true but he found it too hard to tell him it was time to say goodbye. The spirit then showed Bryan as an official ambassador to Manchester United stood next to Alex Fergusson – his friend had finally found true happiness with his old bigger club. After this vision, Gibson pleads with the spirit to show him no more, to which the spirit replies: “These are the shadows of things that have been. It is what it is, do not blame me!” Gibson wondered why the spirit was talking like Mogga and it made him feel sad as it reminded him of a time when he was much meaner with his money – but as he turned around to speak the spirit was gone.

Next to visit the Boro chairman was the Ghost of Promotion Present, he spoke in broken English and had dark slightly curled hair. He came as a messenger from someone special and wore a scabbard with no sword to represent that he offered no threat – especially to the opposition. The spirit once again transports Gibson around Teesside showing him scenes of both celebration and deprivation. He then shows Gibson a vision of his nephew struggling alongside a poor weak tormented soul, both left exposed by an impoverished emaciated midfield “If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the promotion dream will die”.

The spirit finally reveals to Gibson two weak and confused coaches who he named Ignorance and Want, then warns “Beware them both for they know neither method nor madness but most of all beware Ignorance for on his brow I see that written which is Doom unless the writing be erased”. The spirit said he must now leave for he has just a brief time left and will only remain on the earth until his gardening leave doth ends.

The Ghost of Promotion Present finally disappears at the stroke of midnight, leaving Gibson to face the Ghost of Promotion Yet to Come. As it approaches “like a mist along the Riverside ground”. The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached. In the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery that is so often craved on Teesside. The ghostly figure was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched spectral hand and a long scythe held in the other. Gibson stared at the apparition and was transfixed as he wondered if the hooded cloak and scythe was an obvious metaphor that Monk is soon to embark on gardening leave too.

The eerie figure before him does not speak – not even to the local newspaper – but instead reveals a vision to Gibson of three unknown wealthy Chinese businessmen standing in the Riverside director’s box as the crowd applaud them enthusiastically. The spectre then points to another scene of the same crowd a few weeks earlier shouting “Gibson Out! Monk Out!” This is too much to bear for the crest-fallen chairman and he asks the ghost to show if there were any who felt any emotion over his departure. The ghost can only show him a creditor momentarily rejoicing that he has gone, giving the club more time to pay off their debt. A horrified Gibbo pleads with the ghost for another chance to redeem his reputation and “sponge away the writing on the wall”. As he stares in disbelief he asks “How I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!”

Gibson suddenly awakes and finds himself back in the present on Christmas morning – the visions he has seen make him want to transform himself into a better chairman. He vows that from now on he will only give money to those who know how to spend it wisely and never again will he wait until it’s too late to make difficult decisions. His mind is made up, Monk is only getting another six months to show he’s up to the job and he’s having no more than £20m in January to spend on decent League One players – from now on I will will be a different man he thought.

So will the expectations on the players prove too great as the Boro chairman finally begins to wonder what the Dickens is going on as the hard times continue? Or will the Boro supporters finally have a hoot as Garry Monk’s men show the Owls they are no pussycats in their determination not to miss the promotion boat? As usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will Steve Agnew leave his garden unattended while pretending to watch his nephew as he plots Boro’s downfall for his new employers?

In2views: Andy Campbell

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

1. The Overview – the man and his career

I must admit that of all the Middlesbrough players I have met and will meet and talk with, I probably know Andy the best of them all. Watching him grow from a little lad of nine years old, to the mature family man he is today with his lovely wife and two daughters. His brother Neil, was and still is, close friends with my youngest son. They played for local T.J.F.A club member Nunthorpe Athletic together for five years, before Neil signed as a professional footballer with York City. Andy used to come along to the Nunthorpe games to watch, but was already heavily involved over those years with the Boro at junior level.

Whilst working in London, I went to see the Boro play Wimbledon in a cup game one cold and miserable night in the 2001/02 season. At that time Wimbledon were using Selhurst Park as their home base and walking to the ground with my youngest son, we saw our team coach approaching. Andy saw us and gave us a wave through the window of the bus. It somehow made the match and supporting the Boro more personal even though the match itself was dreadful. He is a close friend of both my sons these days and they still play the odd game of football together for fun, or for charity.

Andy Campbell 1

Born in Middlesbrough, Andy started his career in 1995 with his hometown team and was signed as a professional by Bryan Robson who gave him his debut at the age of 16 against Sheffield Wednesday. I remember when the Boro were away against Liverpool and he was called on to play as a substitute. Unfortunately, no one had packed a team shirt for Andy and luckily enough a Boro supporter in the crowd gladly handed his over so Andy could play. Some of his career highlights include scoring against Manchester United in the FA Cup in a 2–0 win for us and also playing for England at under 21 level. That flame haired head could be seen storming with pace down the pitch leaving defenders struggling in his wake.

He left the Boro in 2002 when Steve McClaren had taken over as our manager, to join Cardiff city and Lennie Lawrence, initially on loan, before making the move permanently for £1million. His Cardiff career got off to an explosive start, scoring 6 times in his first 4 appearances. He scored once on his debut against Northampton, twice on his third appearance against Blackpool and a hat-trick in his fourth appearance against Oldham. Overall, he had two fairly productive years at the beginning of his spell at Ninian Park, including a fine lob over goalkeeper Chris Day at the Millennium Stadium to give Cardiff a play-off victory over Queens Park Rangers to put them into the Football League Championship. He is still revered by the Cardiff fans who keep in touch with him to this day.

He moved to Halifax Town in 2006 although his season was interrupted by a serious knee injury. He made a good start to the following season by scoring two against Altrincham in the second game of the season and then a hat-trick against Droylsden later in the month.

He departed Halifax after the club folded at the end of the 2007–08 season then later went to Bradford and Whitby. In June 2012 he was appointed as manager for Norton & Stockton Ancients where he was extremely successful using his contacts within the game to sign talented players. In June 2015 he was appointed as manager for West Auckland Town, but he left last year. His career now, is that of a highly regarded and respected teacher. He can also be found at the Riverside Stadium most match days, where he joined this season as a match day host and M.F.C. ambassador.

2. The Interview – a quick chat

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

AC: I joined the Boro in 1995 although I had been with them as a junior since the age of 10, which seems a long time ago now.

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

AC: I was and still am, a local lad and lived in Marton just outside Middlesbrough, which as everyone knows is where Captain Cook the explorer was born.

OFB: Who was your favourite Boro player that you played with at the time?

AC: It was actually not just one, but two players that were my favourites. The first was Jan Aage Fjortoft and the second was the gaffer [Bryan Robson] whom I grew up watching him on TV and admiring his style of play and leadership on the pitch.

OFB: Who was the best trainer in the team?

AC: Robbie Mustoe.

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

AC: Now, there is comprehensive and additional media focus and football is more of a business today than a sport.

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

AC: We generally got the bus, or if it was a long journey then we flew. We travelled on a Friday afternoon once training in the morning was finished.

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

AC: There were generally 20 or so players and 5 staff, no Directors travelled with us.

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

AC: We always had very nice hotels that we stayed in.

OFB: Who did you room with for away matches?

AC: I used to room with Mark Summerbell.

OFB: Who was the joker in the team?

AC: Oh, it was Gazza!

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

AC: There were far too many, Gazza had us in stitches every day!! [None of these incidents and stories can be published – OFB]
OFB: Who was in your opinion the best manager that Boro have ever had?

AC: Bryan Robson.

OFB: Why?

AC: Because he gave me my debut in the first team and my chance in professional football.

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

AC: Bernie Slaven.

OFB: Who is your current favourite Boro player?

AC: Stewy Downing.

OFB: Do you still follow the Boro and their results?

AC: Yes!!!! [Andy insisted on three exclamation marks – OFB] I have started this season acting as one of the hosts for the Boro on matchdays and really enjoying it.

OFB: Do you still live in Middlesbrough?

AC: Yes, I live next door to you and have done for the past thirteen years! [Yes, indeed he does – OFB]

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