Philosophy, Football And War

By Anthony Vickers on Jan 27, 09 02:51 PM

PHILOSOPHER-coach Tony Mowbray has confessed he is a keen student of influential ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tse and his seminal work 'The Art of War'. Me too.

It is always refreshing, and surprising, to see a hint of intelligence break through like a shaft of sunlight in a cloistered world usually shrouded in a cloud of willful ignorance, short-sighted self-importance and - let's be honest - stupidity.

Mogga's choice of light reading is to be applauded. For someone who wants to deepen their understanding of the underlying mechanics of competition and conflict across a variety of physical and mental landscapes and with a constantly shifting balance of forces and resources it sure beats playing Football Manager.
The Art of War, the general-turned emperor's 6th century BC treatise on the dynamics and principles of warfare, is a work that still resonates in the modern world. The warlord's theoretical approach to achieving success in battle and his development of a set of rules to increase the chances of victory has been a set text at Sandhurst for centuries and has under-pinned the national liberation struggles of the Viet Cong, Fidel Castro and AK47 wielding fatigue wearers everywhere. It is also popular among seasoned boardroom battlers as a guide to advancement in the ruthless world of office politics.

Mogga's oriental academic bent came to light in his pre-match press conference for the top v bottom clash against Manchester United.

Picture the scene: the hacks are ushered in to be met by the dug-out philosopher sat cross legged on rush matting, possibly with a bamboo flute close to hand, and maybe with a subtle picture of David Carridine as seventies Shaolin monk and crusader for justice, Kwai Chang Caine on a humble artisan crafted desk along with a well thumbed copy of The Analects of Confucius. In the back ground his pupil-coach Mark Venus is studiously preparing steaming bowls of green tea and Blur frontman Damon Albarn's retro-Chinese concept opera Monkey: Journey To The West is playing.

Asked if he would bid to out-muscle the mighty Manchester United juggernaut he prompted the sound of the assembled cynical hack jaws dropping and the cliche hounds' dictaphones clattering to the ground as he responded: "Sun Tsu once said you don't go to war and fight on the other side's terms.

"You wouldn't travel 1,000 miles to fight an army who has just eaten when you are out on your feet, " he continued. "You play on your terms. We can't go and play in a certain way if we have not got the players to get physical."

The assembled sports hacks no doubt initially thought Sun Tse was a disappointingly lightweight Chinese utility defender/midfielder once on Man City's books but Mogga explained it was a reference to the warrior statesman who united the Three Kingdoms.

"I have read Chinese philosophers - Art of War, all that stuff. You can take it as deep as you like but it's commonsense. If you look at football as a tactical battle then it helps."

Now, it is easy to dismiss any such signs of esoteric philosophical leanings as useless and irrelevant to West Brom's current plight and especially after their subsequent 5-0 battering by United. After all, team talks delivered in fortune cookie martial mantras will not get the Baggies out of the basement.

And it is also easy - nay, compulsory - to be deeply suspicious of anyone inside the football bubble who shows any signs of dangerous individualism or, worse, any hint that they may read anything more taxing than Fergie's autobiography and the Racing Post.

But in fact we should celebrate managers who are willing to take ideas and inspirations from outside the cultural straitjacket of football, who are ready to study other disciplines from both science and arts and mine them for progressive concepts and practices that can enrich the game.

It is not that long ago that Arsene Wenger was being lauded as a revolutionary and visionary with radical insight because he banned bangers from the canteen while the sports psychologists, Pro-zone operators and bio-mechanical analysts viewed as essential in other sports are still seen as just this side of witch doctors in football.

And it not just the mechanical improvements from sports science that football can benefit from. There is a whole world of knowledge out there crying out to be applied in what is a complex and dynamic environment.

And Mogga's choice is actually a sound one for someone engaged in the active planning or what is in essence a battle. Another fan of Sun Tse is Big Phil Scolari who gave every member of his Brazil 2002 World Cup winning squad a copy of the book as they entered their pre-tournament boot camp (look out for Juninho's mint copy popping up on eBay complete with "I (heart) Boro" doodle on the inner cover).

Why Art of War? Because it covers in detail many of the messages and habits successful leaders - managers - endeavour to instill into their teams in training and preparation, to foster winning habits and to influence the build-up to every game; issues raised repeatedly on this blog.

We know that the best team - that is the best equipped or strongest army - does not always win. A force that is weaker on paper can triumph in open conflict through conscious preparation, wise choice of tactics and timing and getting the crucial decisions right to take advantage when opportunities arise in the heat of battle.

Sun Tse - who himself repeatedly vanquished greater forces on his way to title glory - distilled the essence of that contradiction into a set of guidelines that he encouraged his generals to study in order to improve their chances of winning. Here are the high-lights:

  • Lay Plans: assess your own position, the venue, your leadership and tactics honestly and evaluate your competitive strengths against your opponent.
  • Do The Maths: understand the economic nature of competition, the resources both sides can call on and limit the cost of conflict. You may need to rest players.
  • Smells Like Team Spirit: the source of strength is unity, not size. The biggest battle is getting your side to believe victory is possible and that the cause and the prize is worth sacrifice and effort to attain. Want it more than they do.
  • Defend And Try To Nick One: "Invincibility lies in the defence; the possibility of victory in the attack." Defend your existing position and remain undefeated. To win you must take opportunities, not risk all to create them.
  • Find A Spark: well timed creativity can catch your opponent unawares and give you momentum at the critical moments. It only takes a second to score a goal.
  • Exploit Their Weakness: concentrate your attacks on the opponents areas of relative weakness. If they are small at the back, put it in the air for the big lad.
  • Vary Your Tactics: don't let the opposition second guess you and don't be predictable or your own forces will go stale; be flexible to suit shifting circumstances and anticipate and plan for those changes. Know what you will do if you go a goal down, or up or are against ten men. Always have a Plan B.
  • Weapon of Choice: use tactics to suit the environment - if the pitch is a cabbage patch, keep it in the air. Use your best weapons where they can do most damage and against the area of greatest weakness - sign Rory Delap.
  • Use Spies: foster good sources of information on the opposition and your own side to best assess the balance or forces, find weaknesses and choice tactics to exploit them. Develop the best scouting network possible.

Gareth Southgate revealed this week he spends many a troubled night wide awake and agonising over team selection and tactics, the resources at his disposal relative to his opponents and wrestling with the frustrating minutae of a club in flux. He could do worse than spend that time studying Sun Tse. Cross-legged. By candle-light.

Next week: Steve McClaren on the dialectical militarism approach of Prussian general Clausewitz and the modern footballing application of his concepts of "total war" and the need to grind down the opposition's morale and motivation by all means neccessary, plus Harry 'The Prince' Redknapp on Machiavelli and media manipulation for political ends.


Boro suporter living in Spain said:

Wonderful reading.No tabloid trash for us boys, no we have a true scribe on our side to bring us cheer when all seems lost. Oh but, for a Mogga to plan the battle ahead.So lets dream a little and think what Sun Tse options might be.

Well he would see we have strengths, yes we do.At centre back we have the basis of a strong defence. But maybe he would play three as we can put out three top quality centre backs and still have two on the bench and it dose not seem wise to leave your best players on the bench.

With three big lads at the back we should defend with strength as most teams attack through the middle.Yet be more effective on corners for and against.

In the middle he would see that we have youthful players with pace that can get up and down the pitch quickly and run the legs off the enemy.Then I think he would be thankfully suprised to find two boys with great pace.Both played football in holland last year. Both can strike the enemy down if only the ball is played over or better still through the enemies defences.

Then Sun Tse would find he could call on the youth of Teesside to back his warriors on and off the pitch. He of cause is the greate SUN TSE. He can inspire. He can lead his men into battle against greater odds and quality.

We have all been there in the past. Remember Brucey as Manager of our first kids side captained by the same Mogga. It can be done - but not I fear by the clueless MR SOUTHGATE

Smoggy In Exile said:

Crikey, we must all be worried about the league if 2nd Century philosophy is our distraction of choice...

It's hard to argue with some principles though, which are the ones all teams of lesser standing should aspire too:

- be hard to beat
- keep it tight
- break with purpose

Boro have looked genuinely threatening on the break at times this season, but we've also looked continually brittle at the back. Consider as an alternative Everton, who rarely concede and therefore give themselves the platform to nick a 1-0 win.

It was admirable of GS to bring free-flowing attacking football, however it must be tempered by a solid spine and base. It is more exciting to me to watch us beat Arsenal and Man Utd at the Riverside with a tenacious display of defending followed by clinical finishing, than it is to watch kamikaze attacking for 80mins of a match against West Brom (or Reading last season) only to run out of steam and concede a goal.

Let's see whether the Art of War can teach Alves a thing or two about the tactics that fit-again John Terry will employ tonight, and how to beat them.

tonyblack said:

A brilliant article AV and one close to my heart, as you no doubt already know!

Money, of course, is without doubt the biggest factor but then how many times have clubs like Real Madrid won absolutely nothing for some time even though they spent and spent and spent ? How long did Inter go in Italy before they won the league in Italy ? They too spent an absolutely incredible amount and yet for years and years it did absolutely nothing for them.

There IS a truly vast array of things that Gareth COULD have done and SHOULD have done. The key question for me is that did he not do these things because he didn't have a clue or did he not do them because he was not allowed to do so by Gibson and Co? Is it still the age old footballing problem of jobs for the boys ? Personally, I think it is.

The Australian Institute Of Sports Nutrition is one of, if not, the very best in the world. The book by Louise Burke is simply on another level.

Just as with fuels for cars, the fuel for athletes is key.

Donald Chu is regarded as the leading authority of plyometric training the world over. He has transformed many a team with his ideas and training philosophies.

Bimal in London is regarded as one of the very top physiotherapy clinics in the UK. They were the ones who reconstructed Daley Thompson's knee and got him competing and winning again.

I could go on quoting...

We DO have some fantastic facilities at our training ground, but sadly we have filled it full of people who are very average at best.

If we had a small budget that allowed us to employ these types of people and use these types of facilities and clinics, then we WOULD do much better with what we have, in my opinion.

Add to that a manager who thrived on all the points AV raises and then people might begin to understand my fierce and ever continuing gripe against Southgate, Coops and Co.

As I have said before many, many times, it isn't just about money. It's about having the power from above, the know how and the will and the passion for excellence for looking at all of the small pieces of the jigsaw one by one in order to make the big jigsaw come together as one.

Add to this innovations in the way the club runs the stadium, innovations in PR and so on, subjects we have all covered here many times before and subjects upon which we have all come up with some truly great ideas, then for me personally this club COULD have done and SHOULD have done much, much more with what it allready had.

The pursuit of excellence is not connected to the size of your wallet. The burning desire to be the very best that makes you overcome all obstacles in your way is not connected to the size of your wallet.

If people want to know what I am talking about they need only look around the corner at the Gazette's Sports Awards as they will see endless people from households with absolutely no cash whatsoever who can't even afford food, heating and lighting achieving things that are truly incredible.


Werdermouth said:

I think it was Confucius who once said "the table never lies" - Chairman Maobray should probably spend less time reading and interpreting 'The Art of War' and concentrating on the game of football.

When it comes down to it, too many football managers (such as Rafa) start to believe their own publicity of being master tacticians - in reality having better players will more times than often win you the game.

If Boro had Torres up front, Gerrard in midfield and Carragher in defence we would all be hailing Southgate as a tactical genius and wondering what books he was reading.

You can have written the best plan in the world but if your centre forward keeps fluffing his lines or your defenders reliably shoot themselves in the foot just before the end then it is just a piece of paper.

I suggest Southgate starts reading 'The AA guide to Great Britain' so he can start familarising himself with some of the places we may be visiting next season.

Mike said:

Best blog ever.

John Gibson said:

I remember when the Beatles became followers of Ravi Shankar and his mystical teachings. They went down the plughole within two years.

My wife tells me that TheTimesOnline is reporting falling sales in Marks and Sparks foodhalls but that Gregg's are rocketing,especially sausage rolls !

Answers why on a postcard to M & S, Marylebone Rd, London


stockton red said:

Interesting article AV although I'm posting on a different subject.

Today's Northern Echo states Reading are willing to sell Harper at a hugely inflated fee around £4m. I'm totally underwhelmed by this proposed move. I recently watched a Reading game on Sky and was totally unimpressed by a very average Championship player.

I thought we had expanded our scouting network? Are they seriously saying that this is the best they can come up with. This is pitiful in my eyes-paying top dollar for a 28 year old journeyman

jiffy said:


Have I blinked and you have changed into Harry Pearson????

This must be a subtle wind-up. Do you seriously expect me to believe that a former Boro hero and legend like Mogga could actually read? He must have learned all this namby-pamby claptrap mumbo-jumbo during his time with those soft southerners of Ipswich. You'll be regaling us with Pally's poetry next!

Probably anything was a suitable alternative to tractor maintenance manuals.

**AV writes: What, Pally writes poetry? That's next week's column sorted.

Neil M said:

Bedside reading for previous Boro managers:

Fly Fishing by JR Hartley (Jack Charlton)

Army Basic Training Manual (Bruce Rioch)

Have A Whiter Smile (Steve McClaren)

Ste Mac said:

I don't understand a lot of that but of the "rules" it strikes me that this is the most important bit for us right now:

"the source of strength is unity, not size. The biggest battle is getting your side to believe victory is possible and that the cause and the prize is worth sacrifice and effort to attain. Want it more than they do."

I think that is what has been lacking in recent months. On paper I think we may be slightly better than teams like Hull, Sunderland and West Brom but they have all beaten us this season because they have been more up for it on the day.

One of the most worrying things about recent games has been hearing players do aftermatch interviews where they ADMIT (not hint or ask to read between the lines but actually admit) that the dressing room spirit is not right, that some players are distracted or want away and that not everyone is pulling in the same direction. That is what has hurt us.

Hopefully the exit of Mido and the Stewie situation being resolved (or postponed until summer anyway) will help. Once the transfer window closes and O'Neil realises he is here until summer that will help too.

From now until the end of the season we need to want every game more than the other team. We need to fight for every point. We need to show some unity and scrap for each other and the fans need to join their bit and support all teh way in every game too.


mickymac said:

After Westbrom's game last night,is there a chapter entitled "how to cope with crushing defeat".

I believe Sun Tse also said "do not fight if you cannot win",shall we cancel the rest of the season?.Good article Vic, gave me a smile.

**AV writes: Yes, the philosophy is constrained by the nature of the fixture list. Sun Tse (as updated by the Viet Cong) would have had his forces fail to show at the match but then ambushed the United team coach as they left the stadium. I'm not sure what the FA (or Sir Alex) would have made of that though.

CP (South Coast Red) said:

Excellent piece, I must say.

It should be remembered that Mr McClaren raised a few eyebrows (and indeed sniggers) when he employed a sports psychologist as his number two at the Boro, during which time we had a forward (Maccarone) whose crisis of confidence started after about four games and lasted until he left the club 5 years later, another in Boksic who truly couldn't be arsed with any of it, a keeper whose lapses in concentration often coincided with the ball approaching his hands and dear old Franck Queudrue with his "get your retaliation in first" approach to the game.

They seemed impervious to any amount of sports psychology that was flung their way - or would they have been even worse without it?? We'll never know.

borolad32 said:

Interesting read AV, however, lets get back to the important issues.

How come with a month of transfer window available, Boro still find themselves with the same problems in midfield. I appreciate that we were gazumped with the Watson deal, but where was the back up plan? where was plan B?

Are we to believe that there was not a plan B, given the very soft centre that the Boro have had for such a long time? The squad is woefully thin, and we started the month very short on midfield grunt, and i am afraid to say, that with only a few days of the transfer window open, the lack of recruitment is shocking.

If Gareth hasn't managed to get the middle of the park operating efficiently in the first 21 matches, what makes us think there will be any change without some additional midfield signings.There must be loan signings of some sort available.

If Gareth cant think of any, maybe he should go on the FMTTM website, there was plenty of postings there regarding out of contract players and potential loan signings.

All the teams that are struggling around us in the league are busy recruiting, and what do we do, swap a striker for a striker, it is laughable.

**AV writes: I think they club will know better than any gaggle of cyber-scouts or Footy Manager addicts exactly who is available. They will have agents bombarding them all day every day if nothing else. The problem is getting the right player at the right price and getting a player that fits their long term strategic planning. The days of signing someone to appease the masses are long gone.

They are still actively looking but there is no 'transfer kitty' burning a hole in Gareth's pocket. They still need to make a business case for each potential target. That is why they pursued Watson but didn't join the queue to offer Bullard £50k a week. There may be more flexibility with loans but it still needs to be costed.

The club are not deliberately leaving themselves short and they know where they are weak but they have created a financial structure they believe in and are not going to break it unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Nick said:

Very Interesting read.

I hope West Brom avoid relegation, but I can’t see them picking up the points needed. Stoke seem to be on an unstoppable slide and Hull look like the Championship.

I just hope our performance & discipline stays solid tonight & we leave the right impression. Marlon King has made a smart move in joining us and he won’t be short of crosses into the box. I would like to see GS stick with Adam Johnson and leave Arca on the bench for a few weeks. We must start blooding Johnson from the off and focus on getting forward in numbers.

Marvin Emmes is a better option to me than Arca as well. Gareth Southgate said that he wanted to introduce pace into the team and Arca is everything but.

Forever Dormo said:

I haven't yet had the time to read the posts sent in response to your piece, AV. But nice one, son, nice one!

Logic suggests that tonight we will see at least a couple of goals go into our net as we NEVER keep clean sheets. And logic suggests we will not trouble Chelsea's defence - probably creating only a couple of opportunities but squandering them. We are the team stuffed out of sight a couple of weeks ago by WBA when they were at the bottom.

One each then!

uxter said:

I enjoyed your summation of the ancient wisdom and its application very much, you almost talked yourself into a position of power at the club, a common sense and positive approach, yes the job was yours.....

............until I read the Marlon King interview. His words pointed to all that is wrong in the language spoken from the club.....if I hear the losing mantra of "hopefully" or "we must try" one more time I will scream, such negative talk sabotages the sub-conscious into believing you will lose.

You know when you say to yourself in say, a domestic situation "I bet I dont get the biggest slice of that lovely Lemon Meringue" well guess what, you won't, you make it happen.

Marlon's positive words shame your intellectualising by the very fact the team may listen to him, as its obvious for all your common sense AV no one at the Boro listens to you!

**AV writes: It was ever thus.

Clive Hurren said:

Gate may spend nights awake agonising over team selection, AV, but he clearly hasn't read the Art of War, nor even your fine summary of the rules. If only he had: Prepare for your enemy; play to your strengths, the possibility of victory lies in the attack.

Boro started at Chelski with King alone up front; Alves and Tuncay left on the bench, despite having fine games at Wolves. Matthew Bates in a 5 man midfield. Chelski scored on 57 minutes; it took us 7 minutes to get Tuncay and Alves on as subs. What bloody good is that? Surely, we needed our best players on the park at Chelski? How did Gate ever expect to put them under any pressure?

I was hoping the Wolves game might see a corner turned. Afraid not. The only conclusion I can come to after tonight is "You don't know what you're doing." Absolutely livid.

Tom Mindwell said:

Well... just got back from watching the chelsea match. And as soon as I saw the line up, I said we would lose. What on earth Southgate is playing with one striker up front on his own for, is absolutely unknown.

I am one of Southgate's fans, but tonight, he got it all wrong! Mohammed Shawky had an awful game, and Adam Johnson was woeful. at least one of them needed to be taken off at half time, but no, sit back, attempt to defend (which we cant seem to do at set pieces, and we have known this for about 5 months!!!) and watch the pressure just keep mounting until we collapse!

How you can keep your top scorer on the bench until an hour and a bit gone, when he is full of confidence, and looks like the only person who is going to get a goal is beyond me. I agree with tuncay on the bench, he isn't playing at his best at the minute, but at least start with a striker who can score.

Feel a bit sorry for Turnbull with the second goal, as I think he has been outstanding this season, but you still have to look at the other marking! What was it? Zonal or man marking? Havent got a clue, as everyone was all over the place at set pieces. Earlier this week Riggot said we have gone back to basics, well, that's clearly not true, two more goals from set pieces is a joke.

Let's hope this is sorted before saturday, and Southgate realises he has to play with at least two attackers against Blackburn, otherwise, if we don't win, I think its championship next season.

Neil (Korea) said:

Vic, send Southgate a copy of the books please, in fact any books, he obviously doesn't read the ones he has from his coaching courses. He obviously didn't do any homework, and he obviously didn't prepare anything other than "park the team bus" tactics.

"Middlesbrough had clearly arrived at Stamford Bridge intent on earning at least a point by the way they had packed their midfield"

"A right-wing cross from Jose Bosingwa found Ashley Cole unmarked at the far post; Lampard was invited to pick his spot by the static Boro defence; David Wheater could only partially head clear and Kalou volleyed the ball into the roof of the net"

"Middlesbrough's response was to send on Afonso Alves and Tuncay Sanli in place of Shawky and King in the 63rd minute".

Why not try Alves or Tuncay WITH King instead of the double substitution, or play all three? We were already 1-0 down, so I cannot understand the change if Southgate felt we needed to get back into it we may as well have gone for it, it might well have surprised Chelsea.

"Kalou rises unmarked to head home a corner from Lampard after Middlesbrough goalkeeper Turnbull had completely missed the ball".

Kalou, Lampard, Cole.....who was marking these guys?

Forever Dormo said:

Sorry chaps. I still haven't found the time to read the posts to AV's piece. Too busy watching then dissecting the game.

I thought we did OK in the first half, with lots of running and closing down. We ran out of energy in the second half, aided and abetted by conceding a goal, which no doubt damaged the spirits. Two goals from set peices (again). A bit of a trend, I think.

Many of us might have settled for 2-0, whilst hoping for better. As for me, at least I got the number of goals right,if not the distribution.

From now on, though, when we talk of "must win games" we really must win them. Has anyone looked at the run-in we have at the send of the season? We need to get some points in the bag before the last month. In which case we really need to start winning games, consecutive games, in the next couple of months or so.

Is it likely? How many consecutive games, in our Premier League history, have we won, let alone in recent seasons?

The season starts now. Talking to the chaps in the "Neutered Mule", there is a lot of fear and not a great deal of confidence. Loads of support and goodwill, but not many people prepared to bet we will have the stuff to stay up. I think they have been drinking too much and, after a good strong cup of Assam in the morning, they will come to their senses.

Hopefully the players and staff at the club feel the same way and will be busting a gut against Blackburn on Saturday.

Forever Dormo said:

I have just read again the post I sent down the wire at 5.35pm.

Obviously I should have listened to Logic as Hope proved far too optimistic. Curses!

Keenog in Indiana said:

Did anybody watch Tunny closely tonight.. I think he has given up, his touch was awful.

4-4-2 on Saturday, King and Alves up front, Downing and Johnson on the wings (Emnes waiting in the wings).

We got to win don't we, learn some bloody lessons..


Smoggy In Exile said:

Tuncay and Alves on the bench? Very worrying tactics. I wasn't surprised by five in midfield, but none of those five being Tuncay? That was very worrying. We set our stall out to defend, and unfortunately without our lively Turk (arguably our only real creative force through the middle) where were we going to relieve the pressure from?

Hopefully GS was simply resting them for the Blackburn game, however as others have pointed out on here, a point last night would have done more for confidence than simply resting people and hoping for the best.

Blackburn at the weekend then. Let's be simple - we MUST/HAVE/NEED to win this game. A draw isn't good enough, nothing but 3 points will do.

I know the optimists say "we're still in touch" and that there is only a three point gap to some teams - but we need POINTS!!! It's no good sitting here in May before the final game saying "the gap is only three points - we can do it".

By then it will be too late.

Ian Gill said:

Confucious says 'Man needs lottery ticket to win it.'

It was always going to be tough to get anything from Chelsea. Pre match John thought King and Alves up front with Tuncay behind as attacking midfielder. I preferred King with Tuncay just behind. Instead we got a Compass Royston revving up at 7.44pm.

Most would have thought a 2-0 defeat likely. A stubborn hour of resistance, a bit like at ManU, before our legendary set piece defending caved in.

The main event is the Blacburn match. We keep saying such and such match is the most important. This truly is immense, lose and we are then starting to get separated by a couple of points plus a poor goal difference. A draw isnt much better.

At least there is some humour elsewhere. Following Beniteses rant earlier in the month, the ManU fans at West Brom were singing 'top of the league, thats a fact'. A lesson there of the dangers of foot in mouth disease.

James Emmerson said:

Never mind GS trying to read 'The Art Of War', after the latest supine surrender last night, I can reveal the contents of Keith Lamb's letter which has been leaked to the media and will be winging its way round the loyal but dwindling red book majority shortly.

"Dear Fans

"As you know this season has been a great success, meeting our expectations entirely. Our dashing young manager has talked a high-octane brand of dazzling 'pass & move' football which has been the envy of the Premier League. And as everyone can see, when the opposition are passing it, we are moving all over the place trying to get it back.

"Some fans have been openly questioning our exciting project. Having seen another valiant '10-behind-the-ball-and-launch-it-anywhere' Boro away day fall short of nicking a point after last night's travesty of a result at Chelsea - some reporters were saying it should have been 5 or 6-0 - hopes are still high.

"In fact I can honestly say optimism has never been higher. MFC remains confident that we are in a good position to weather the storms ahead, and I cannot disagree more with those moaners who claim we are over-staffed with incompetent lightweights.

"Indeed everyone at the club, from the assistant coach sat-nav operator, through the kitchen staff (yes, the daytime, evening, and weekend units), all nineteen physios, the psychologists, ontomologists, 68 of the 75 groundstaff, right up to all of us in the directors box and our wives, says they are very happy with the direction in which we are going.

"Today we are taking an unprecented step and revealing AHEAD OF SCHEDULE the next stage of the 'Riverside Revolution'.

"1) Our supporters are the most valued part of the club. We are therefore allowing red book holders to have four tickets per match so they can watch matches lying down or doze off as you wish.

"2) New executive boxes will have plush seats after we got a good deal from the 'Land Of Leather' fire-sale. By popular demand these seats will all face AWAY from the pitch.

"3) In the close season the perimeter track round the pitch will be dug up and turned into a moat. Next season fans will be able to hire gondolas and float round the pitch during the game, watching from various angles. A novel way of retaining more stupid punters on match days I'm sure you will agree.

"4) On the pitch we will be all out to avoid relegation (again) and to this end we will be selling the entire first team squad and choosing the team from the first eleven fans to turn up on match day.

"5) We will actively head-hunt an imaginative and forward-thinking manager to lead us through the championship years so that we will be well-prepared for all the challenges that lie ahead, especially turning semi-pro and getting a team together for Sunday morning kick offs. I cannot reveal any names as yet but as soon as the newspapers come up with some suggestions rest assured I will personally follow them all through.

"All the best

Cunners said:

I'm going against popular opinion and I have to say I agree with what Southgate did last night. In my opinion, it was sensible.

We are on a massive winless streak and we were playing title contenders, so we set out to get 10 behind the ball and counter attack when possible with a target man (King). A point would have been a point earned, and I think that's how Southgate sees it too. Once we conceded then that didn't matter so pull the target man and defensive midfielder off and bring our flair(ish) players on.

Yeah it didn't work but you could see the thought was there. Why play three up front and risk them overunning the midfield and giving us a drubbing, resulting in further loss of confidence throughout the team?

'Ignorant' of boroland said:

I didnt expect much from the chelsea game and now its over can we get some attacking football on the go before its too late?

I understand Gareth was trying to not over tire players before the Blackburn game but the One isolated up front is a waste of time , its got to be King and Alves up front now 4-4-2 from now on.

Blackburn got a point in the end after going 2-0 down and putting three strikers on- Roberts - Santa Cruz - Mcarthy.

We need all three points in a match and defending alone is not gonna do it.
If we are losing anyway then it would be nice to see Alves , King and Tuncay pushing forward!

We are not scoring enough goals to stay up and sitting deep and letting the opposition push onto us constantly is disastrous. Attack is the best form of defense.

Smoggy In Exile said:

Being a Boro fan at the moment feels like watching a car crash in super slow motion, as we hurtle towards the brick wall of Championship obscurity, whilst our defensive systems (ABS brakes/big Wheats) fail us in our hour of need.

That's probably too simple an analogy, but right now I feel depressed.

I have been looking at the fixtures for this weekend, the fixture list is a veritable arrangement of "6 pointers". Almost all of our relegation foes are slugging it out against each other, including of course, us against Blackburn.

The future is still in our hands. Win on Saturday and we usurp Blackburn. Providing Stoke don't win by a better amount of goals than us (they're home to Man City) then we will get out of the bottom 3.

Psychologically this could be the difference between going down and staying up.

So those of us who are able should take advantage of the clubs offer of tickets to both Blackburn and Wigan games, get down there and give them backing from the 1st to the last minute. They might only play for the first 80mins, but lets back them all the way. Fingers crossed we can get the win and drag Blackburn back in.

Nick said:

If Gareth Southgate had played with two strikers at Chelsea, Scolari would have been clapping his hands instead of becoming hot & frustrated at their lack of goals. Some teams in the bottom cluster will get crushed by both Manchester United and Chelsea, because goal difference could well decide the title.

We need to keep clean sheets and beating Blackburn 1 – 0 would be a great result. The West Brom v Hull City game will be interesting, but I can’t see Mogga’s team losing all the points.

stockton red said:

Cunners I agree with you . Clearly we were going to try and keep it 0-0 as long as possible in the hope they would overcommit forward towards the end to give us a chance to steal it.

This IS the right tactic when you are playing a team where every player is superior to yours bar possibly Downing.The idea of going 4-4-2 with Shawky and O'.Neill up against Ballack Lampard and MIkel in the middle is a recipe for a hammering.

Unfortunately the Harper rumours gather pace.These are comments from a Reading fan." A very fit and energetic player but limited in everything he does. Can't tackle or head the ball and passes sideways. Can't dominate a game from the middle of the pitch or create anything".

How utterly depressing.Can our scouting system not do better.

Werdermouth said:

I agree with Neil and Tom Mindwell that the marking at set pieces was shocking - surely with Southgate and Coops in charge we should expect better in this department.

If this is the standard of marking on Saturday against a team of Big Sam's - who is famous for writing the manual 'How to score from set pieces' - then we'd better play three up front from the start in order to score the four goals we'll need to win.

OK it's highly unlikely we'll score four as we've only managed 18 in the last 23 games this season under our 'more attacking' style of football. What chance have we got with the lowest scoring attack in the PL bolted onto the 4th worst defence?

Southgate may be better off reading the Bible and start praying for a miracle!

Nigel said:

While I understand Southgate's frustration at conceeding two poor goals from corners, the second in particular was appaling defending.

I dont agree that without those two mistakes we wouldn't have lost. The truth is our defensive tactics meant we were under constant pressure from the off. In the first half we hardly ventured out of our own half and playing like that inevitably means at some point either a mistake or a moment of genius from the opposition will lead to a goal, which is what happened.

While I never expected anything other than a defeat last night, if Tuncay had played it would have given us the occasional outlet to relieve the pressure.
It was like watching The Alamo, you could see that eventually the gallant defending would fail.

II think it would have been better to be slightly more adventurous, the result would probably have been the same but the team may have come off feeling as though they had given it a go rather than lying back on the ropes taking hit after hit until the knockout comes, which to me just reduces morale further.

We'll have to be a lot more positive and adventurous on Saturday.

To round off my night when I left Stamford Bridge a very nice traffic warden had kindly left me a £120 parking ticket...marvelous!

Inspiring article AV, lots of food for thought.

I have to agree with the opinion that the team set up was correct at Chelsea. Every team plays 4-5-1 away from home these days, some even play that system at home, including Chelsea by the way.

To have gone with an open game simply would invited the same kind of walloping we suffered in the home game against Chelsea, and that would have destroyed our goal difference, which is not brilliant as it stands. Trying to achieve a 0-0 scoreline at Stamford Bridge is not to be criticised. I bet every last Boro fan would have been delighted with a point.

What amazes me, reading all the posts above, is the continuing, almost blind, support for Tuncay. I agree that he can be a great player, the kind that is rare in the PL, he IS a great player when he is on form. But he has been a big letdown over the past 6 to 8 weeks. Not one good game, not the slightest influence on the game, not even one flash of brilliance and yet the support remains undying.

Alves has been much more effective in recent weeks yet there are shouts for him to be dropped to the reserves or even sold on at a significant loss. Saturday. To suggest one game will make or break a season may seem an exaggeration but this one is huge. Lose and we are in big trouble not only because of the loss of points but because the team morale will be shot to bits. Win and the net positive effect would inject a massive boost of confidence to take us to Man City in a far better mental shape to bring points home from there.

This it is GS. It is time to deliver.

paul bell said:

Lets be honest, all this started when SG appointed GS after we lost the UEFA cup. Most fans were hoping foe a seasoned experinced manager,instead we got the most boring manager in football. He will never make a top flight manager.

All this guff about SG being a good director is garbage. He took on GS because he was cheap. Along with the backroom staff, along with the grey man of soccer, KL. I think there are many deep rooted problems at the club.

I feel sorry for Downing, he has stayed with the club as he thought SG had ambitions, not anymore I fear. I think the Blackburn game should be treated like a cup tie,as this is a must win game, but the club then has to have not losing sequence games of about 6 or 7.

Is GSs capable of this? If not why is he still at the club,12 games without a win. Surely this is not acceptable.

James Emmerson said:

Cunners and Stockton Red - be very careful what you say! You are putting yourselves in the frame to be the next MFC manager by revealing a thought process that is clearly 'in-step' with current management thinking.

And it is UTTER RUBBISH. How on earth anyone can believe that the right tactic is 10 behind the ball and hope for a bit of luck on the counter is beyond me. These are highly paid professional players we are talking about and this club is currently dying of shame with its pathetic, aenemic approach to away matches, where a point is welcomed with open arms.

Why are the players sent out with the negative and defeatist mentality ringing in their ears from a manager who clearly doesn't believe in the players he has?

When Sunderland played at Man U this season they lost 1-0 to an injury time goal and were generally praised for their dogged determination. The stats of that game - possession was 73%-27%, and Sunderland had precisely 0 shots at all, not even off target - would and should have caused many Sunderland fans to hang their heads in embarrassment.

Boro under Southgate have become exactly the same. He prepares them to defend, hang on, slug it out, and if we nick a goal, well, happy days. Our away stats this season and every season under him bear this out.

I run an under 12's side and this Saturday just gone we played our league leaders. My team is 2nd but this side at the top have some excellent players, and they beat us 4-0. However, every one of my parents raved about my team's performance because we had a right go, we hit the wooodwork more than once and forced their keeper into two amazing saves.

My point is that we were prepared to have a go, and while the standard of football at U12's and Premiership level is obviously vast, the mentality is exactly the same. Nobody minds losing if you have a go, but to just sit back and go for damage limitation is unforgiveable at professional level in my opinion.

Games are fast running out for Boro to save their status this time round. We have eight home games, including visits from Villa, Man U, Liverpool which will yield at most a point. We have Fulham, Hull, Blackburn, Wigan and Pompey to come also - I would guess at six or seven points max from these.

We have to travel to West Ham - nailed on loss; Arsenal - maybe a lucky draw; Spurs - not such a happy hunting ground these days and a likely 2-1 defeat. We've only ever scored two goals at the Reebok in six or seven visits, we have to go to Citeh, Sid James's & 'a portaloo on Mars', as Stuart Hall once memorably described the Brittania Stadium.

Again I can honestly only see five or six points accruing from these trips. In other words I am predicting 14 points, 15 if we are lucky, between now and the end of the season. 36 in total. Nowhere near enough. And a direct result of negative thinking and gutless management. Just like we saw - again - at Chelsea last night.

Denis said:

A predictable outcome in the end despite the vain hope we might achieve something from the game. Its becoming tiresome seeing and hearing about the same defensive mistakes being repeated.

I have lost confidence in the team to win comfortably as much as I have in Southgate to engineer a victory but that has to happen on Saturday.

I am hoping to see us win for only the second time, the last victory I saw was Stoke,(value for money coming up from S Yorkhire?) Like everybody else I am desperate for us to stay in this League but somehow there seems an inevitable pull towards the Championship - we are behaving less like a Premiership team, witness Wigan attracting better players than us.

Added to the inexperience and naivety he has shown over the last two and half years Southgate has also had very little luck in matches with decisions and the outcome of games. He'll need it in spades on Saturday.

GeoffC said:

James Emmerson, absolutely brilliant.

The truth is our club are staggering headlong into the Championship and no one at the club seems able to say or do anything that is going to change our destiny.

We are in such freefall that I cannot think of any player at any fee that would make any difference to our team. Spending £2-4m on an average Championship player is absolutely pointless.

The facts are that we cannot score goals and we cannot stop conceding,( the defending at set pieces last night was appalling). The same mistakes are being made week after week and the management team seem incapable of solving this.
We have had many watersheds during the course of this season but surely the Blackburn game is now a must win game.

Even the most optimistic fans must know we have to win this game.Yes if we lose we will not be adrift but at some point reality has to set in and if we can't muster a win on Saturday, then realism tells you we won't win any of the forseeable fixtures.

Ian Gill said:

I tend to agree that 442 against Chelsea would have invited trouble.

The problem with 451 is if the the two wide men and one of the central midfield players dont get forward. What happened last night was there wasnt an outlet and no one was penning back the full backs. It also appeared that Mikel was allowed to step forward and pass the ball. O'Neill and AN other could have held the fort with Tuncay linking and almost marking Mikel.

Just too defensive unless players were confident enough to go forward.

Anyway, Blackburn next. Picked my wife up from a trip away and told her I was off to the Blackburn match. I got a pitying look along with 'they always lose when you go'. I was a bit like Vickie Pollard; 'yes, but no, but'.

So tried a bit of this AV philosophy. It is a bit like the old saying 'all storks are birds but not all birds are storks. Boro are the same'.

'Doesn't matter they always lose. Don't you want them to stay up?'.

Bugger! Still, thats life. I apologise in advance for the result and dont forget, someone will have a new outfit when I get back. How can you argue you will get more enjoyment out of a a 280 mile round trip and a possibly miserable match than she will out of retail therapy and a new outfit.

Redcar Red said:

Typical Boro go to park the Bus but didn't realise it was a topless tour Bus............doh!

Well onto Blackburn, win and we still have a glimmer of hope, draw and there will be an outpouring of abuse. Losing simply isn't an option.

Neil (Korea) said:

The reported pursuit of Harper indicates to me the first real signs of panic at MFC. Following the unsuccessful punt on Watson, MFC suddenly find (allegedly) £5m to spend 2 days before the window closes, on a player who even the Reading fans think is mediocre at best.

However he ticks all the boxes from MFC's point of view, especially the fact that he's scored against us which appears to be the No.1 attribute that lingers from the ex's reign. One has to ask, is this best MFC's scouting network can do?

I personaly don't believe any player we bring in now will have enough of an impact to make a difference in our current plight regardless of who it is. You could argue that with the current injury/suspension situation we need someone to fill the hole in midfield, but whoever they bring in will still have the same players around him who have failed to deliver week in week out for the whole of this season.

I would have thought, nay expected, that SG/GS would have been talking to one or more of the top 4 or 5 with respect to a loan signing, at least then you are likely to get a player who has some PL experience. They did it with King up front so why not the same tact for midfield, the area where the need is greater in my opinion.

In the end I doubt we will get Harper anyway, his team are in the running for promotion, why would he join a team of dead men walking. I said earlier in the season, that we are stuck with the players we have and it's they who will keep us up or take us down.

Cunners said:

James Emmerson

I don't think it's utter rubbish to try and win a point against a title contender when we are bottom of the league and rock bottom in confidence. A platform to push on from for the Blackburn game which is a must win.

If we were second in the league (like your team) then it's a whole different ball game and of course I would be disappointed in sitting back. Unfortunately we are not in that enviable position and we need to cut our cloth to suit.

It also can't have escaped your notice that in the U12s there are not millions of pounds at stake.

John Gibson said:

Kevin Nolan to Newcastle ? Was he on the scouting radar as he is the type of grafting, tenacious player Boro sorely lack - he has been a pain in our rear many times. Or is it a case of us not been able to attract someone when a 'big' club is competing.

Look at the Championship and who's at the bottom - Derby, Charlton, Southampton, recent Premier casualties. This could easily be our fate as I suspect Boro's cash flow would plummet and regrouping would be a slow process. I doubt if any of the current squad would still be there when/if we got back to the first tier. Except perhaps Mido who would still be fresh after doing the rounds of several loanees.


Smoggy In Exile said:

Breaking skysports news this morning - Newcastle possibly agreeing a fee for Bolton's Kevin Nolan. I don't know what kind of fee - but it can't be huge.

He is someone who I would DEFINITELY have at Boro. I spoke about getting him in the summer, but it didn't seem he was available! He's 26yrs old, massive amount of PL experience and would be the perfect tonic to give our lot a rollocking and give us some drive through the middle.

Get a bid in Gareth!!! Plus, long term, he's excellent captain material, allowing us to drop Pog if needed and not have to shoe-horn him in to the defence next week.

Clearly he's a better option than Harper?

Neil (Korea) said:

£5m for Harper versus £4m for Nolan.

No doubt the wage package will be daft at NUFC, but in todays financial climate maybe not. Either way, the £5m looks way over the top for a player who is no way in the same class as the ex-Bolton man.

Could we get George back on loan?

Simon in the USA said:

GeoffC, I agree with you about the comments of James Emmerson (fantastic - give him GS's job), but don't agree that no one at the club seems able to say or do anything that is going to change our destiny. THEY JUST DON'T CARE.

They are taking us into the Championship and THEY JUST DON'T CARE!!!

They are more worried about balancing the books and giving us a team THEY can afford.

I have never seen such an incompetent man run a team of any sort - not just football. Motivate your players for gods sake and stop sending them out onto the field of battle, because that is what it is, with the mentallity of 'it's not about the winning'!

Get yourself some B!@#S man. Tell them to go out and win at any cost, and to show the people who spend their hard earned cash what they are wanting to see. BLOOD, GUTS and GLORY.

GIBSON, go out and get someone else in to show Southgate how it is done!

Sorry, I am just fed up to the hind teeth of this insipid man and his unmotivated team. Come on BORO, go out and stuff Blackburn 3-0.

Andy (Hants) said:

James Emmerson;

Oh the irony! In summary, you had a go against a better team with better players, got absolutely walloped, but thats OK because the parents loved it! I think you've disproved you're own argument there haven't you? "Utter rubbish"; very apt!

James Emmerson said:

May I be allowed another insert on here please Vic.

Cunners: allow me to apologise if I sound disrespectful of your views. The point I am trying to make in disagreeing with you is that mental preparation is everything, especially in professional sport, as AV's wonder-blog demonstrates.

Therefore to send out highly paid full time pro players to basically keep the score down is, to me and it seems many others, completely and totally wrong. We ought to be concentrating on what we could do to our opponents, and while all opponents deserve respect, we ought not to be overly focussed on what they might do to us.

This negative mentality unfortunately has clearly swept through the side and it starts at the top, and as I say, our away stats over GS tenure do not lie. Weds night was just yet another example in a long line of examples.

Andy (Hants) said:

"Oh the irony! In summary, you had a go against a better team with better players, got absolutely walloped, but thats OK because the parents loved it! I think you've disproved you're own argument there haven't you? "Utter rubbish"; very apt!"

I see where you are coming from Andy but you are way wide of the mark. On Saturday my U12's were 4-0 down after 18 minutes, against a marvellous little side that has scored 115 goals in 14 matches, and conceded two goals all season! (And it was us that scored the two in a previous fixture!)

Everyone including me feared the worst, a right walloping, but the way the boys picked themselves up, refused to buckle, fought, and in the end took the game to our opponents, made everyone very proud. We became the first side they haven't scored against in a half -largely because they were penned so far back in their own - and their manager gave his keeper man-of-the-match - "he has never had to work so hard" was his comment to me. I have had other managers ringing me congratulating me on the result, such is the reputation of our opponents and the mad world of U12's football!

I know that 4-0 sounds bad but believe me, everyone, including the boys, is still on a massive high. We did not just surrender, we had a go, and came away with a huge boost to our pride. And that is something that translates itself onto future performances, because self-belief grows.

That is where Middlesbrough are so sadly lacking and it shows. Self-belief is dying on its feet, pride is all too clearly absent, and there is no clearer indicator than on the pitch, and in the league table. And that is a direct result of management policy.

I could go on but I don't want to labour the point, thanks for the opportunity to comment.

stevo said:

If we dont pick up three points on Saturday against Blackburn then it underlines the fact that we are highly unlikely to pick up many more points at all this season.

If we lose on Saturday relegation is almost certain - not based on the Maths at time now - but purely based on the demonstration of the capacity of the players and the manager to engineer anything resembling a team that can compete in the PL.

Southgate should have walked a few weeks ago after the long running insipid uncommitted and disorganised displays of this season. THE SEASON IN WHICH HE HAS ALREADY BEEN JUDGED. Why do we need to be relegated before we chase him out Teesside?

If we beat Blackburn then its merely a stay of the execution. Over time, Southgate's Boro are very poor and getting worse. One victory would only be a blip.

John Powls said:

Risking the wrath of BLT (again), I think Neil (Korea) and others are right on the mark on the Harper/Nolan comparison.

But it seems that Harper's on his way to Rockliffe for a medical and to talk terms and Nolan's already doing the same at The Barcodes.

As we know from recent events, though, it's not too late for interventions or changes in either arrangement - so long as people move quickly.

Very pleased that Rhys Williams signed a new deal. I'm sure he'll be a fixture in Boro's back four in the future. I wonder if his loan move to Burnley has oiled the wheels of any conversations about Eagles?

Word also has it that Boro are tracking Nickey Shorey from Villa to fill the left back slot. Aside from being a really good Stan Laurel looky-likey the lad was very good when Reading were in the Prem and before. Aside from his defending and pace he gets forward and crosses very well and strikes a dead ball powerfully and cleverly. Hence the England caps and the move to Villa.

Difficult to know what's gone wrong for him with that move - but gone wrong it surely has if O'Neill would rather square peg Luke Young than play him.

If he can be got reasonably, not a bad idea.

Davidt said:

More than half the season gone and in the bottom three. It's reasonable to assume that at least one of the bottom three will be relegated and more likely, going on past history, two will go.

We can continue to discuss team selection, formation and tactics, but I for one would like to know the clubs view about what has gone so dramatically wrong over the last five months.

Does GS think he's made mistakes and if so, what are they and how does he propose to put things right over the remaining fifteen games? Who does he turn to for advice? Does he think he's up to it? If so how and why? What's Keith Lamb's 'honest' view and Steve Gibson's?

Rather than have silly and obvious back page space fillers by players about pulling together and how committed to the cause such and such is, let the club offer some serious,honest discourse about it's view

Naturally the club can't present a totally pessimistic outlook and need to talk the situation up, but it can be more open and honest in it's view. Everything positive that has been said about Steve Gibson over the years has been deserved, locally or nationally and I for one would not want to criticise him. But does he have a plan B? Does he genuinely believe that GS and 'his' team can save the day?

I can no longer get to Boro games, unless they are playing in London. I watch extended Sky highlights every saturday night and I watch most of the premiership live on TV. I'm a southerner who lived on Teesside for many years supporting the Boro who remain my team. But I have to say, that this season, I've not seen a team regularly play as ineptly as Boro,making exactly the same mistakes, by the same players, week in and week out (Stoke apart, who just thump the ball up the pitch and will be relegated).

Like thousands of others, I really like GS as a bloke and as a former great player and captain of the Boro, but hand on heart we can all see it aint working and the season is slipping by.

That's why I ask the club to be honest in it's appraisal, whether about survival chances,transfer policy and all things Boro. Finally, if Boro do go down this season, will the executive fall on their swords?

Werdermouth said:

So Reports suggest we are closing in on deals for Harper and his ex-teammate Nick Shorey at a potential cost of £5m and £3m respectively.

The Gazette reported yesterday that Coppell was prepared to let Harper go at a reduced price. Shouldn't this have set the alarm bells ringing? why would a club lying in 2nd place in the championship be prepared to let a player go if he was any good? It doesn't make sense.

Regarding Shorey, OK left back has been a problem for us with neither Taylor or Grounds looking solid and therefore forcing Pogi away from the centre but Shorey has been a flop at Villa and has rarely been played - well at least we didn't go for Gareth Bale.

I agree with other posters that Kevin Nolan is the man for us - if Gibbo has suddenly found £8m down the back of his sofa then better to invest it on quality rather than a couple of Jason Euell's that depreciate faster than a brand new Fiat Afonso.

Werdermouth said:

Too Late to worry about Nolan - he's already signed for Newcastle!

How come other clubs can make an offer for a player, have it accepted, bring the player for a medical and then agree personal terms - all in less than 24 hours?

Sometimes I think The Count spends far too much time trying to haggle and save a few quid before alerting all our rivals to make a counter-bid that ensures we miss out.

Nick said:

We must win tomorrow to inject some life into a season which promised much, but has been dead in its boots for months.

When David Wheater headed the ball out at Chelsea which led to their first goal our players all stood watching its flight, instead of being right behind the ball’s landing. That gave the Chelsea player a free shot and all the time in the world to execute it.

I’ll excuse Turnbull his error, because that corner could have been headed away by the same defenders had they positioned themselves with the mind to clear it.

The teams at the top are always shooting and if any rebounds come off the keeper they are met by alert players who have followed it up, but we play numb headed.

That’s how I see our season AV.

Our all round awareness levels have not told a lie and we sit exactly where we belong and things had better pick up as from tomorrow.

Steve Gibson, Gareth Southgate and all the fans expect.

uxter said:

Firstly Bullard to Hull now Nolan to that team up there... why dont we ever buy the players that torture us? We will probably wait till their both over the hill like we did with Ray Parlour!

oh well!

Andy (Hants) said:

James Emmerson; fair response but when was the last time one of the lesser lights went to the Bridge, had a go and got a result?

Chelsea have struggled at home this season precisely against these defensive, negative tactics. Away, where the game is more open they have tortured teams. We went with a point and we would have come away with one save for two errors from set pieces. Kids football is very different but fair play and good luck to you and them.

On Nolan, are we saying he would have left a smallish, struggling club to come to a smallish struggling club? Sadly, playing in front of 50k plus with their 'potential' is always going to be a pull.

Personally, I dont see what Harper will give us that Digger, Gario, Josh Walker don't but I am in the 'owt's better than nowt' mindset. Shorey would be better although it hasn't worked out at the Villa. Another in the Luke Young mould IMO and I would think he would strengthen us.

John Powls said:

Now Gate is saying 'nothing permanent' in this window on the MFC site.

Shorey on loan? Who knows.

The other facer - good news - is the 'out for weeks' Josh Walker is back in the squad for tomorrow.

Is that why Harper's no longer needed, I wonder.

Reading are driving a hard bargain, not because Harper is worth £5M but because Arsenal have a 50% interest in him, therefore Reading, in their eyes, are selling him for £2.5M. If any club want to sign Harper then they have to be desperate enough to pay Arsenal's cut....and we are desperate.

As for Kevin Nolan, I have championed this player many times on this blog and attracted criticism for it. It is not easy these days to buy a player with a lot of PL experience, UEFA Cup experience, an inspirational club captain, English and at 26 years of age for a reasonable price. Even if people suspect he wouldn't have come to Boro (why not, if he would go to Newcastle?) then at least we could have tried to sign him.

The only consolation of him moving to Newcastle is that Bolton will sadly miss him and may very well find themselves in the relagation places as a result.

Ian Gill said:

Just checked this seasons stats on Mr Harper. 21 matches plus two substitute appearances, one goal. Skysports rating 5 as awarded by the journalist not the marks fans give. In the Championship.

Makes the drive up to Teesside all the more worthwhile.

For those wondering about the length of time we take to seal a deal dont forget the Count only works during the hours of darkness.

deka said:

Oh well, here we go again, another "MUST WIN" game - just like the must win games against, West Brom... Fulham... Sunderland... Hull... Bolton...Newcastle.

It seems to me we are running out of "MUST WIN"games. Pretty soon we will only have can't win games left... Arsenal... Man Utd... Villa... Liverpool.

I just hope that we are not coming onto this blog on sunday bemoaning another must win game thats passed us by because if we are that's it, the championship beckons.

What is it about James Harper? I do not think for 1 minute he is going to make any difference at all to our current plight. Kevin Nolan would have been a much better prospect, nice to see we have our finger on the transfer window usual.

This season is so much like the season we went down with Robbo, we will probably lose to chelsea in the cup final, with them scoring in the first 20 seconds.

James Emmerson said:

Andy, I take your point. The immediate retort about lesser lights taking something would be to say that the Mags managed a point! (And as an aside, was not Joe Kinnear absolute top value with his 'Charles Insomnia' gaffe. Hilarious!)

However, Chelsea at home this season have not just been denied wins by negative and defensive tactics. Every side that have taken something away have done so because a) they had a plan to do something positive; and b) they stuck to their task and executed their plans well.

West Ham and Spurs played exceptionally well there, and had chances to win the game; Burnley and Southend both scored in their cup-ties. An under-strength Arsenal even won! Winning and achieving starts in the mind and transmits itself through strong self-belief, doing the simple things repeatedly and well.

I am sure GS had a plan but, as was revealed, it was almost entirely negative and became more so the longer the game went on. Boro fans have seen this over and over again.

A positive plan would have been to play Emnes from the start, which I certainly would have done if in charge. He's just scored, he'll be buzzing, and Chelsea know nothing about him. The fans will approve and will give him every support, let's show some belief in him and give him the ball in advanced areas.

GS made no attempt to build on the momentum created by an away win. It was back to dour downplaying, negative talking and negative thinking. It is impossible to conceive that he's doing anything other than telling the players what he's telling us - "go on lads, I'm not expecting a win, but a point would be nice." I am certain I would be giving them a very different message, but when that's the case, is it any wonder the players perform as they do and keep making the same errors?

Andy, unless I've totally misunderstood you, you seem to be implying that Boro were unlucky not to get a point on Weds, and two set-piece errors were all that undid us. Any manager and player will tell you that one third of all goals scored in football come from set plays. Count them on TV this weekend.

That is why so much time and training is (should be) devoted to practising them.
But, for the umpteenth time this season, Boro concede - twice! - from them, which begs all the questions about preparation, both tactical and mental.

You are of course right that there's a world of difference between U12's football and the Prem - in most senses. But in the sense of the mentality and thought processes necessary to get results, there's no difference at all.

GS is not doing the business in this regard - the table and the goals for and against columns do not lie. He is leading this team to relegation and needs to start justifying the faith in him by transforming himself and his approach to games. A point a game from here will not be enough!

Sorry for annoying anyone with repeated contributions, I will stop now but thanks again for the opportunity.

AV, could we start a separate blog with other suggestions for names Kinnear is likely to mispronounce by the end of the season. How about Michael Going? Mark Palarva? Joey Probation?

**AV writes: Ohcomegetme Martins?

James Emmerson said:

AV - very funny!

Forever Dormo said:

Rhys Williams on loan to Burnley! Is this likely to be a spratt to catch the mackerel (Eagles)?

Holgate Ender said:

I think it's shit or bust today.....

**AV writes: That's not quite how I would have phrased it but it is hard to disagree.

Mohammad Abdullah said:


In order not to affect your delicate sensibilities shall we say that the outcome of today's match will be either defecation or delirium?

On mispronounced Newcastle players... Shay Misgivings any body?

John Powls said:

History lends perspective.

On the MFC site today the 'Gaffer Gate' piece which is subtitled 'Focus On Goals' has a photo on top which has the title 'Gate in celebratory mood'.

If you look at the photo gate is wearing a Royal British Legion poppy in his suit lapel. Yes, it's been that long. Time to change that today Boro! C'mon!!

Simon In Stockton said:

Nice one AV. Love the bit about the glass! I actually laughed out loud, not a facebook lol! I don't know about buying six new glasses, i'm still worrying about paying the peppercorn rent on the stadium.

That cantona film is really good. I could see Mogga doing that line. "I'm not a man, I am Mowbray". And can you do a "where are they now" on the fella in the russia shirt off that ZDS clip? Even Roger Tames didnt know what to say!

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