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Redcar Rock's Stellar Cert

By Anthony Vickers on Apr 13, 10 12:33 PM

DAVID WHEATER looks set to collect the coveted Evening Gazette star man trophy. Three games left and he just needs one error free show in a share of a clean sheet to secure a solitary precious Paylor point to nudge clear of Gary O'Neil at the top of the table. Unless Boro stump up the cash and Boro's Mr 99 returns with a bang.

Or.... or... whisper it... unless the season goes into the play-offs giving an extra couple of games for Barry Robson to put in a sizzling sequence of stellar solo displays and close an 11 point gap. Well, if we can ponder the permutations and mathematical models needed to extend the season, why not speculate on Robbo just sneaking it?

A nice thought and it would put down a serious marker for next season. In truth though the Redcar Rock now looks a cert to lift "the Eric". Two points for a storming second half against Sheff Wed took him level on 31 with O'Neil. The engine room battler had ground out the stars consistently, especially in the first half of the season (and especially when I had an imput) and looked to have the glittering prize within his grasp. He'd have got away with it too if it hadn't been for those pesky Boro belt-tightening bean-counters.

Now Wheater needs one star from the three final games and given the team's current form and the calming influence of Big Mick alongside him, he should do it. Robson is the next best on 20 - which isn't a bad return from 16 games since his arrival in January - but it will take some going to close the gap even if we do scrape into the play-offs ... and even if we do pull it off it will take some massive results and impressive defnsive displays in which no doubt Wheats would share in the points dividend.

This year's star man ratings - and by extension all the other gong shows now being mulled over - has been a strange beast. Admittedly not as strange as last year when the whole thing should have been scrapped and all the plaudits directed at the fans who had endured a season of relentless pain and suffering even the most hardened sado-masochist would have shrunk away from in fear, but a strange beast nevertheless.

It has been a truncated season of two distinct halves in which there have been two clear and very different candidates for the big award, players who have crystalised two markedly contrasting on the pitch philosophies and who at times have carried the team and won matches almost single handedly as they scooped the stars with abandon.

In the first half of the season, a period dedicated to Arsenal-lite cavalier counter-attacking with pace, Adam Johnson was head and shoulders the main man. He raced to 12 goals and 16 stars in the first half of the season and won generous glowing reviews from opposition fans, press and broken gaffers almost every week. That the team was in decline or pointed criticism that he did not track back, tackle or was easily neutralised did not alter the debilitating truth that he was the sole creative outlet.

It doesn't seem five minutes ago he was ripping apart Wednesday and Donacaster. Now he is barging into camerashot to join the goal celebrations at Manchester City, he may just squeeze onto the plane as a World Cup stowaway and looks poised to play Champions League football next year. And he's still our top scorer.

The second half of the season has been about pragmatism, work-rate, battling and ball retention and the new Strachnovite Revolution has been personified by Barry Robosn who has galvanised and inspired on his way to 20 stars and five goals. His drive, will to win and leadership have not only helped transform the mentality of the unit but also given some pointers as to how the future will look.

Incidentally, the impact of the January changes is also seen in McManus, just behind Robson on 16 stars, not a bad haul in a couple of months. Projected over the whole season the pair would be well ahead in a private battle for the big one.

Neither of them - or Johnno - will get the gong though. And with O'Neil imprisoned in a
contractual stand-off it is now compromise candidate Wheater's prize to win, a kind of hung Parliament coalition fudge of everyone's second choice, the sports desk's symbolic illustration of how the single transferable vote could work.

Well, not everyone's second choice. Some would say he does not deserve either it and that only his dogged longevity as a fixture in a season of turmoil has pushed him to the fore. After a solid start Wheater wobbled badly after the prop of Huth was kicked from under him and there was a costly and chaotic run when the captain's armband weighed him down through a dodgy error-strewn goal-a-game spell and he suddenly found himself in the terrace snipers' crosshairs as scapegoat elect. And if that wasn't bad enough he also had to play alongside Sean St Ledger for 15 chaotic games.

But he has battled through that, gradually acclimatised to the thud and blunder of the Championship and rebuilt his game alongside McManus. He has cut out the errors and started to grind out solid and steely displays again and while he is not yet back to the form that took him to the fringes of the England team he has certainly salvaged his cult status and regained an automatic place in the starting line-up.

If Wheats does nip in to steal the prize it will be the second year running nearly man O'Neil has been pipped at the post. He lost out to Stewie Downing in 2008-9 after leading going into the last two games.

That particular year was an embarrassment. Very few people came through the season untarnished. Downing and O'Neil were just ahead of Wheats despite January transfer wrangles and noticeable dips in form while Huth and Tuncay - who clearly wanted out and disappeared for long spells when the heat was on - were just behind and Ross Turnbull who racked up 20 stars in 23 games before being dumped on the naughty step for not signing a take-it-or-leave-it new deal.

The season before Downing edged to the award with 33 stars ahead of David ' there or thereabouts' Wheater and Tuncay, both on 29 and Luke Young just behind.

And the star-studded top six from the 2006-7 will make you weep at how far we have slipped back. Woodgate strolled to the gong with an imperious 41 stars with Downing and Viduka on 30 and Pogatetz, Schwarzer and Boateng all in the upper 20s. Those were the days,

So what do you think? One award fo Wheats or split it in two with a hacksaw and give one to Robbo and mail the other to Adam Johnson?


******


MEANWHILE here's a few things that I have pointed my browser at on trendy Twitter in the last few days....


Guardian tactics guru Jonathan Wilson considers the history and development of the much maligned offside law and the modern FIFA inspired tweaks that have ushered in a new age of attacking football.

The low tech future of live football coverage? Mini Man United lose to bite sized Bayern Munchen - in Legovision!

The Little Fella bows out by saving his beloved Brazilian club from the drop and in a blatant nod to the sentimentalist and nostalgists in the gallery, reality TV style, "let's look back at your best bits."

And here's another chance to see the gaffer Strachan chat to Clem on the Beeb's Late Kick Off in which he admits the wage bill will have to fall further this summer and that without Adam Johnson's contribution a bad season would have been "shocking."

53 Comments

John Powls said:

Another option for this variety of season that would reflect its tracjectory in the same way as 'nobody should get it' did last season.


3 Erics - one full season, one up to January and one from January on to reflect the radically changed circumstances.


The full season one would, for me, be between GON and Wheats (though the man himself has DW in the frame), the up to January goes to Johnno and the January on to Robbo.


If I had to make a choice for only one and for the full season, I'd go for Barry Robson.


Of those still here, he's had the way most positive influence on Boro's season and, though the award is necessarily backward looking, he's more likely to be the 'Rock on which Boro are built' for next term than eithe the Redcar variety or GON.

Ian Gill said:

What about scapegoat of the season? I have raised the idea before.


Lita has put in some sterling work. Multiple offsides, stupid free kicks, hissy fits and not playing on, daft bookings and sendings off, missing sitters.


Caleb Folan never really got a chance but look at the sheer lack of quality added to an injury in such a short space of time. They say it is the first five minutes that makes the lasting impression, 30 secs on Wikipedia before he signed did for him. Maybe he should get a special award.


Lee Miller is in with a shout as is the wrong Bent. Excellant exponents of non striking.


Arca has the pedigree to compete in any company though I will never question his endeavour or workrate, those little claws just dont scuttle very fast.


St Ledger, the donkey version, created chaos all over the pitch.


Gareth put himself in with a real chance by getting us relegated but that was last season. But he cant be a winner without the other culpable elements of the Trinity.


Corporal Jones has his moments but also pulls off some good saves. Shot stopping has never been his problem, it is when he has to think that he creates problems and uncertainty. Big McManus has helped by creating a more solid feel which allows Brad to come out with a bit more confidence.


Aliadioveragain and his fellow Frenchman, Digsoft, have spent more time in rehab than on the front line. Hoyte has his advocates who wont forgive him for not being Luke Young (or a full back come to think of it).


Wee Gordon has polarised opinions but he needs a full pre season before he can aspire to scapegoat status.


Over to you.

redcartim said:

In my fairly pessimistic view, nobody should be given it in another season of failure.


If I'm not allowed to be cynical then I would give it to Barry Robson for getting stuck in to our players, opposition players, referees and the ball.

Forever Dormo said:

Forgive the less-than-frequent posts from here in the frozen north west of Scotland, but it has been difficult to navigate a way through the drunken bodies to find a way to an internet wi-fi hotspot.


The celebrations from the Ross County victory over Celtic are still in full sway, but some have failed in the quest to drink a nip of every single malt in the hotel (there are over 100). There are going to be some hangovers up here!


And I would vote for Wheats, but I acknowledge over a full season there could only have been one winner - our next captain, Barry Robson.

Ian Gill said:

They seek them here, they seek them there, the posters seek them everywhere.


Are they on the web, or in the paper, the damned, elusive interviews with Paylor?


**AV writes: They are an added value premium paper only product for now with a condensed version probably available on-line on Friday I think.

ChilliRed said:

For me we are trying to reflect performances across the whole season, so the two main candidates are Wheater & O'Neil. Neither would have won it if others had been with us for the full campaign, but I will go for Wheats. Us redcar lads have to stick together.

Post January Joint Players of the Period ~ Robson & McManus and Pre-January Player of the Period ~ Johnson.


Robson and McManus for leading by example and rubbing their winning ways onto the rest of the team and to Johnson for single-handedly keeping us within a shout despite being surrounded by weak-willed, headless chickens.


Wheats needed Huth and Mcmanus; without them he would be simply average. He's very lucky to have someone of McManus's stature alongside him. It would be a travesty of statistical absurdities to give him anything but that's just my opinion and I don't mean any offence by that.


He's a good lad and he's still learning the ropes and has a long way to go before we start slinging accolades his way. My worry is that he gets an award and he thinks he's better than he actually is.


A reality check for him that he has a long way to go to become an accomplished central defender would be a good thing and part of his development. Plus we shouldn't big him up and encourage other teams to steal him from us.

Brandon said:

It has to be Barry Robson - our heart, our saviour, our steel, our man-crush. The nightmarish post-Huth/pre-Mick period really dented the full body of work for Wheats...damn the star system!


And you get the feeling GON is in there just because he was our most reliable warm body to grace a pock-marked midfield, though his bravery to play through substantial injury is very commendable and will not be forgotten...however forgettable this season - hell, year - has been.


Cheers Vic for the increasingly expansive Twitter links - we'll spread the word to the rest of the Virtual Terrace so they can stop banging on about any perceived dearth of new posts...


**AV writes: Paper, Blog, Twitter, live blogs, webcasts... in the summer I think I will play with audioboo and do hit-and-run audio podcasts Untypical Boro is a multi-platform brand. What do you fancy next? I'm always open to suggestions.

Neil M said:

That footage of the Little Fella in action is fantastic. Great days. I can still barely believe how fantastic he was at times. That day at leicester was just about the best solo display I've ever seen but when M O Neiel saw it and decided to stick Kaamark on him at Wembley it probably cost us the League Cup.


If Boro want a feelgood factor and bums of seats they should get his Brazilian team over here for a pre-season friendly and he could play one half for each team. Its the only way we will see the Riverside full again.

BoroPhil said:

Gary O'Neil for me. Barry Robson a close second, might even sneak it if he single-handedly propels us into the playoffs.

Welcome to a new Boro fan as well - Harry was born on Sunday afternoon (he waited until the match had finished), which will no doubt cause me to post on here at increasingly unsociable times...


**AV writes: Congratulations. And we always need people on the traditionally slow 2-6am shift.

Ian Gill said:

AV -


By all means develop the brand but the core product must stay the same. I suspect it is a medium we are all happy (and comfortable) with and enables broad debate of topics.


There is a danger that fragmentation will result in dilution of the undoubted quality of the debate. I would hate to see everything turn to one liner shout fests, to lose GHW's stories, Forever Dormo's expeditions, the Powls scouting reports, jarko's unfailing optimism and Anlov's Gate love in.

tim from sa said:

Not had much to see over here this year but Wheats needed some help to get back to where he is and was a shambles for some time when the St was here.
GON has to be the best over the season and Robson would have definatly taken it if he had been here longer.


Wish Toon still had to play the Swans,Cardiff and Leicester. Goodbye Reading after last night.

redcartim said:

Congrats BoroPhil will he be playing for the Boro in 16/17yrs time?

Smogonthetyne now in Nunthorpe said:

I’ve moved my self into the 21st century and have one of those ITod touch thinghamy whatsits. So in bed last night with Mrs Smog on night shift I decided to surf the internet.


You can only imagine the delights a lonely man can find on there. The highlight of which was a Lego football recreation of Munich’s goals at Old Trafford. For those who would like to watch such delights get your self onto Twitter/untypical Boro.


I see this blog as the Barry Robson of the Untypical Boro media Machine. It’s the ever present, reliable core that the rest can be built around.


Twitter is Scott McDonald the new addition that can bring a new dimension to the Blogs sound work.


And an audio version as well, well that would be equal to our marquee new signing. Untypical Boro, coming in your ears.


As for the summer hiatus, before during and after England’s pathetic exit, can we have a blog on what the Boro players are doing in the summer? I’ll happily help with the Barry Robson edition with such insights as what he has for his breakfast, what time he puts the bins out, what side of the bed he sleeps on and how many times he calls the police to report a clapped out Ford Orion parked outside his house.


John Powls said:

BoroPhil


Waste no time in getting the new offspring his handle on here.


We look forward to BoroHarry!


Congratulations!!

Ian Gill said:

BoroPhil -

Congrats on the new addition and best wishes to mum and new Boro supporter. It is a good sign that he didnt 'leave' before the end of the match and all praise must go to 'Mrs' BoroPhil for sticking in out.


Even if the hours will be unsocial the welcome wont be.


I have given some thought to man of the season and I must admit I would go for Barry Robson even though he hasnt been here a full season. He impresses me with his attitude and commitment as much as his undoubted talent. He is the player we were missing for several years, sadly many of the players we needed him to play with are no longer here.

ChilliRed said:

Robson & McManus have made a massive difference to the club since they arrived from Scotland, but they have played about a third of the minutes stacked up by others.


Wheater & O'Neil might not have had their best seasons ever, but their attitiude can never be questioned and some Prem clubs would (will) take them off us given the chance.


It's also worth remembering that during this season they have played with as many central and defensive partners than some players have played games. They have both had a lot to contend with. Robson (& hopefully McManus) could go on to be great players for us, but their recent impact shouldn't make them players of the SEASON.


Vic - I like the idea of summer podcasts. A wider range of media formats shouldn't spoil the debate, but it might widen the audience.


'Ignorant' of boroland said:

GON should win it, he was our best player on the pitch many times and there should be some kind of dispensation to cover this Pompy debacle . Wheats looked good next to Huth and Mick but the middle period with St.Ledger was rubbish!

brian hewitson said:

I think you should give it to Kevin Nolan or Andy Carroll for scoring the goals which have kept you in with a shout of the play-offs.
What do you think?

BoroPhil said:

Cheers guys, unfortunately if BoroHarry has my footballing genes he won't be anywhere near the Boro team (unless we continue our downwards decline)

Smogonthetyne now in Nunthorpe said:

There are not many candidates for player of the season. If the criteria to winning it is that you have to have played in the bulk of the clubs fixtures then the only options are


1. GON
2. Wheater
3. Lita
4. Arca


Out of these I would go for GON, but have we really missed him since he has been on gardening leave? I think we would be a better team with him in it, but his absence isn’t as keenly felt as that of the Jinky.


If the award was for the best performances by a Boro player this season then Jinky and my Barry would be right up there. Also Brad Jones should be commended for his strength of character for coming back well and for all players especially Pogatetz for playing through the pain barrier.


I don’t think Wheater should win it due to his massively fluctuating performances dependent on his partner. I see a lot people giving negative comments about Sean St Ledger. I wonder if St Ledger had have played alongside Huth or McManus whether our opinion of him would be different?


Anyway, had things been different how about this for a starting XI,


1. A Confident Brad Jones
2. A Fit Tony McMahon
3. Kyle Naughton
4. Big Mick
5. Redcar Rock
6. My Barry
7. GON
8. Flood
9. Jinky
10 McDonald
11 Kitson

John said:

I'm in a sad situation right now.... I'm almost inclined to agree that GON could win the award because he's been relatively consistent all season and has been one of our better players.


But I find it sad that this is the case because it really does highlight how ultimately poor the rest of our team has been. GON has been consistently decent for us, and while I do have my frustrations with his style of play, I do consider that he has still given his all for the cause throughout the season and deserves some merit for that.


However, one name I would throw into the fold is a certain Rhys Williams. I'm not saying that he has been outstanding, but I do think he has been consistent this season and has done a very good job, in a position he hasn't played in since he was a teenager, and is another one who will keep working for the cause.


I'd put his name up there simply because he wasn't expected to do what he has done for us this season. The likes of GON and others had played in the Premier League and there is no doubt they should be looking good in this division. But for Williams to handle moving into the first team, adapting to a new position, and doing well there (Strachan recently said that Williams is one of our best players) deserves to be acclaimed in my opinion.


Of Wheater, I have seen him play plenty of times this season. Some games he has been a true rock in defence and shown what a player he can be, but other games he has let himself down with casual mistakes (especially with St Ledger next to him) and for that reason of inconsistency, I would not give him the award. I do still believe he can be one of the best defenders out there with a bit of coaching, and an experienced mentor like McManus to work with.

John Powls said:

Talking of the Redcar Rock - it's interesting that in today's Gazette he reckons that Boro "owe The Baggies one".


Well, maybe. But the people who are really 'owed one' are The Parmo Army who have had to put up with three defeats in a row by this opponent.


Especially owed are those of us who suffered one of the most abject, shocking and anger-making capitulations it has been my displeasure to witness in my 50+ years following Boro - the 3-0 defeat at The Hawthorns last year.


I haven’t yet forgotten, either, the twist of the knife in the wound when wandering back to the car after that game and being ushered by the police around the three –yes three – limos all waiting outside the players’ entrance for Mido to avoid him having to travel on the team bus.


One for him, one for his entourage and one for the Gregg’s pies, presumably.


That debacle must be closely followed by those who had to suffer the 0-5 earlier this season.


Time for the start of some payback for us, methinks. Let's hope that by the time of kick off on Saturday there's still some (however faint) interest left in the outcome.


uxter said:

I am sure whoever wins will take it with good grace and maybe a little embarrasment. They are professionals and this season will have stung most of them especially after relegation, they will most likely be already looking towards next season and the chance to put things right, so faint play off hopes aside I welcome the opening of the transfer window and a chance to see if GS can make the changes and additions he wants to.


For many reasons the next season has to be significantly different to the past few, then bums may well again appear on seats.


I really hope for everyones sake that some overdue surgery goes on at the club, a lean machine doesnt have to be badly run.

Ian Gill said:

John


Last season I saw the 1-0 when Alves kept passing to their keeper inside the six yard box, the 3-0 in company with yourself and our two terminally tainted lads.


I also watched the disintegration at the Riverside earlier this season as the penny dropped that not all the teams were as obliging as Scunnie and Donnie were at the time.


Here is one of those simple little mental arithmetic tests. What is next in this sequence: 1-0, 3-0, 5-0, ?


Luckily my daughter is home at the weekend so I have an excuse not to go to the Hawthorns whilst hope still exists.


I note that we have the ritualistic mutterings from the players about 'Swansea being under pressure' and 'We owe West Brom one'. I for one hope that they are right

Craig B said:

Most erratic player - David Wheater, rock solid next to the Berlin Wall, chaotic and gifting the opposition a goal every game alongside Riggs/Poggi/SSL, then looking like a solid defender again with McManus.


Flash in the Pan - hotly contested category for players who get fans buzzing with two or three games where they look like they are really trying before fizzling out to be a bit rubbish.... Mark Yeates or Willo Flood


Worst loanee - Marcus Bent


Manager of the year - Colin Cooper, the only one unbeaten.


Most over-rated - Danny Coyne... only an average keeper but a fans favourite because he is not Bad Jones and he has got his own song.


Most outrageous “image rights claim” - Alves. You wouldn’t dare would you? Got to admire the brassneck though.

Ian Gill said:

Craig B


Way off the mark(us) with your nomination of Wrong Bent as worst loanee. Surely it must be Caleb Folan.


I am going to believe that his brief flirtation with all things Boro slipped your memory. Sadly I saw all his debut and farewll performance. Not many can do that in half a match. He came, we saw, he disappeared!


**AV writes: Yes, he "did a Eustace."

Nigel 'Reevalinho' Reeve said:

BoroPhil -


congratulations, when Reevalinho junior was born I occupied my time watching Sky sports 'through the night', with bottle in hand, now you have the task of juggling bottle in one hand and latest techy gadget thingy in the other. Be careful that in your sleep deprived state the baby isn't sucking the iwhatsit and you find yourself trying to surf the net with a bottle of cow and gate!


I like Ian's suggestion of 'scapegoat of the season' much more appropriate and more fun than player of the season. Although the contenders are so numerous it would be difficult to call, I'd go for Aliadiere, he just sums it all up for me.


As for our chances of beating the Baggies, I know we're all fans and we suspend reality when it suits but where is the evidence that Boro can put in the sort of performance needed to wee on their strawberries?

Shaun said:

AV -


Will the Gazette series on GS2 be published online for those of us outside of God's back garden?


**AV writes: I think there is a highlights package going uo tomorrow.

Grove Hill wallah said:

**AV writes: I think there is a highlights package going uo tomorrow.


That shouldn't take long then.


**AV writes: Ouch.

Brandon said:

...And the Ian Gill Boro Scapegoat 2009-10 Award goes to: (cue anticipation) Leroy Lita! (cue nonplussed looks in the crowd)


And what does he do after he accepts the award from the presenter? Takes his shirt off to flex for the masses! No cards here though - just 'audio difficulties' and a hasty cut to commercial...


Love the idea of a summer podcast or two Vic - it's really the natural progression for the Untypical Boro brand - think dissemination Ian, not dilution! As long as there's no more groundswell for launching a Facebook appendage we'll be good. Some things are just better left unseen...


Congratulations from over here too BoroPhil!


**AV writes: No there won't be Facebooking. I registered one weekend and I was inundated with doyles offering to dig farms for me, telling what they had for tea in txt spk and recommending I join moronic groups backing idiotic Dancing on Ice competitors so I switched it off and walked away shaking my head sadly.

Ian Gill said:

GHW -


Maybe living outside the Gibbo 5 mile zone means we are not Boro fans and we ought to be grateful that we are allowed to spend hundreds of £'s being disappointed week in week out.


Maybe we should pay an extra levy for every mile we travel, a sort disgruntlement charge.


Maybe AV can arrange that we have to pay just as we have to Boroworld to listen to commentary by BBC Tees, Can someone remind me how the BBC are funded?


Maybe it is not worth worrying about and do as my son has, look for the score, get really upset for half an hour, shrug the shoulders and keep the money in his pocket. There is a plus point in his attitude in that it is my money that stays in my pocket.


Maybe we should be grateful that the Gazette allow us a lowlights package.


Maybe we can look forward to when AV extends the brand to allow more pop ups and opportunities for advertising bombardment and reduction in my wealth.


Hello Neo.


**AV writes: You don't get pop-ups on here do you?

Keenog from Indiana said:

Congrats Boro Phil.


Maybe he can be the next tlf or baby face Luke Williams. Speaking of which what has happened with Luke Williams, is he injured or something.


ps. Is Boro Phil, the same as Phil from Brisbane?


Jarkko said:

If we had kept Johnno he would have been the clear choise to lift 'Eric' trophy. He is clearly there about with Wheats.


Have you seen the article at Mirror Sport?


"And his versatility - he is equally happy on the right or the left - could now propel him into the squad as Capello's wild-card selection.


Capello said: "Adam Johnson, he's come up from the Championship at Middlesbrough, where he played in a different position. He's done well with Manchester City. Now it's important he gets some international experience."


That will almost certainly come next month, unless Capello changes his mind, and means Johnson will get 13 days with the extended squad to show the England boss he deserves to gatecrash the World Cup party."


Great to see Adam doing well. But he deserves to be at the Premier League! Well done, Adam. We'll always miss you here. Up the Boro!

Ian Gill said:

AV


No pop us on here, I was merely musing that as the Vic brand becomes global maybe someone would find ways of exploiting it. Trinty Mirror springs to mind.


**AV writes: I've already got a lucrative shirt sponsorship deal with Boro Taxis. How much bigger could it get?

John Gibson said:

If you can wade through this, this what Southern journo's think of Downing


On a wing and a prayerApril 15, 2010
By Norman Hubbard


The sole England team to win the World Cup may have been dubbed 'the wingless wonders', but wide men have nonetheless been an essential part of most squads since 1966.


• Who should be England's right winger?


Four are likely to travel to South Africa this year but, besides David Beckham's absence, the changes in form and fitness have made Fabio Capello's task in choosing that quartet more difficult: Theo Walcott, Aaron Lennon, Stewart Downing and Joe Cole have spent considerable periods of the campaign on the sidelines, while several of the candidates have underperformed. Presuming that Steven Gerrard will fill one of the spots, that leaves three places between eight others.


Name: Joe Cole Club: Chelsea Age: 28 Caps: 53 Goals: 10


The case for: One of the few England players to enhance their reputations in the last World Cup, Cole has a big-game pedigree - as his recent goal against Manchester United shows - and has influenced games, principally the 2008 encounters with Czech Republic and Andorra, under Capello. He can play on the left or the right or behind a solitary striker and is arguably the most inventive of the contenders.


The case against: Capello doesn't seem convinced. "Not the player I remember," he said recently, and Cole has not been selected since 2008. Carlo Ancelotti is another who took a while to be persuaded and, until the last few games, he was often a substitute for Chelsea after his recovery from a cruciate ligament injury. It has been an undistinguished season, by Cole's standards.


Should he go? Yes. He seems to be peaking at the right time and is capable of giving England another dimension.


Name: Stewart Downing Club: Aston Villa Age: 25 Caps: 23 Goals: 0


The case for: Unlike the other wingers Capello has capped, Downing is left-footed. Whereas players such as Gerrard and Cole would tend to veer infield from the left flank, he could stretch defences by sticking to the touchline. He produced perhaps his best England display in one of the biggest games he has played, the 2008 win against Germany in Berlin, even if it was a friendly.


The case against: Downing has not really produced his finest form for Villa. Indeed, of Martin O'Neill's three England wingers, both Ashley Young and James Milner have had better seasons. And he is in danger of being upstaged by his former understudy at Middlesbrough, Adam Johnson.


Should he go? No. He is no longer the best left-footed option. And a total of zero assists in the Premier League shows he hasn't been creative enough.


Name: Adam Johnson Club: Manchester City Age: 22 Caps: 0 Goals: 0


Adam Johnson has made a vivid impact at City


The case for: With the exception of Florent Malouda, no winger in England is performing better. Johnson has excelled in his brief Manchester City career and shown his trickery is equally effective on the right flank as it has been on the left. He can beat defenders, plus he is a terrific corner taker, with his set-pieces bringing four goals in City's last two games alone.


The case against: He is utterly untried in international football. He began the season in the Championship and has only been a regular starter in the top flight in his short time at Eastlands. It would be a gamble.


Should he go? He deserves to. Form can be a priceless commodity in international tournaments, while he has leapfrogged Downing to become the premier left-footer. But a place may depend upon the availability of others.


Name: Aaron Lennon Club: Tottenham Age: 22 Caps: 15 Goals: 0


The case for: The outstanding English winger in the first half of the campaign, Lennon's sheer speed has been accompanied by increasingly accurate crossing over the past 18 months. He has combined particularly well with Jermain Defoe, an understanding that could profit country as well as club. Showed his potential in his cameos in the 2006 World Cup and has provided some encouraging displays under Capello.


The case against: Fitness. A groin injury kept him out for three months and, though Lennon has returned to training, he is yet to play a first-team game in 2010. For a player for whom sharpness is vital, that has to be a concern.


Should he go? If fit, yes.


Name: James Milner Club: Aston Villa Age: 24 Caps: 7 Goals: 0


The case for: A terrific season. Milner is surely one of the top ten best players of the campaign for any club and has improved each aspect of his game. He is responsible and reliable, two qualities that seem to have endeared him to Capello, and is so versatile that, as well as being able to operate anywhere in midfield, he has even had a cameo for his country at left back, doing well wherever he has been used.


The case against: Not as quick as some of the other contenders and is comparatively inexperienced at international level, but there isn't much of one. Lucky to be alive after encountering John Terry on Saturday, though.


Should he go? Yes, but as one of the four central midfielders. Having spent the season in the middle for Aston Villa, he can understudy Frank Lampard as well as providing an option on the flanks.


Name: Theo Walcott Club: Arsenal Age: 21 Caps: 9 Goals: 3


The case for: A turn of pace to make an Olympic sprinter jealous and which means he has the potential to trouble any defence, as Barcelona can testify. That hat-trick in Croatia, which secured Capello's finest competitive result so far, and the ability to double up as the fifth striker in the squad.


The case against: "He has lost confidence," according to Capello, in a decidedly mixed season in which Arsene Wenger has often left him on the bench. When Walcott is poor, he can be very poor. And his decision-making, which has been criticised by the former England winger Chris Waddle.


Should he go? Yes, assuming he can provide a contribution in Arsenal's run-in to give Capello a reason to select him after a difficult year. Even if Lennon might be the first-choice right winger, Walcott's blistering speed could make him a dangerous impact substitute against tiring opponents.


Name: Shaun Wright-Phillips Club: Manchester City Age: 28 Caps: 30 Goals: 6


The case for: Players who excel in World Cup warm-up games are often chosen and Wright-Phillips came off the bench to impress against Egypt last month, scoring in the 3-1 win. His international goalscoring record is more than acceptable for a player who is often a substitute.


The case against: Short, quick and right-sided, he might be too similar to Walcott and Lennon and appears the worst of the three options. He has the wrong sort of unpredictability and can frustrate with his choice of the final ball. In addition, Wright-Phillips has had a mediocre season for City, with Johnson deservedly displacing him from the team. His stepfather may think he is underpaid but few others do.


Should he go? No, despite that goal against Egypt, unless both Lennon and Walcott are sidelined.


Name: Ashley Young Club: Aston Villa Age: 24 Caps: 7 Goals: 0


The case for: While it hasn't been his best season, a consistent level of performance for Aston Villa over the past three years. A combination of acceleration and fine crossing from either flank, whether in open play or from set-pieces. And fanciful as the stories that Barcelona are interested in him seem, plenty of fine judges do rate Young.


The case against: Capello doesn't appear to be one of them. His last international appearance was a decidedly brief outing against Brazil in November and, apart from a start against Holland in August, most of his opportunities have been limited.


Should he go? He has a case, but Capello won't take him.


Verdict: Eight into three won't go, but Milner's probable inclusion as a central midfielder opens up another spot. Neither Cole nor Lennon, for different reasons, could be called certainties but the ideal scenario would be to take both, along with Walcott and Johnson. If the Chelsea and Tottenham players are preferred, the City newcomer may be the unlucky man but, should Cole, Lennon or Walcott miss out, he could also prove the wild card in Capello's squad


Hard luck Stewie, the press have blown you out.


John Aus


**AV writes: To be fair, they never really took him in.

Benny Brown said:

So Starchan thinks the Boro lack quality players? I thought this team was Strachan's team, as there are not many left from the team Gareth built.


As to winning promotion. what I have seen so far this season of the Boro, they are a boring, long ball outfit that would get murdered in the Premier League by teams that play attractive attacking football. Even the struggling teams in danger of relegation look streets ahead of the Boro in the football they play.


It will take a mammoth rebuilding operation for the Boro to have a team that will be able to hold its own in the Premier League.


**AV writes: Isn't that exactly what Strachan is saying?

Jarkko said:

In the match day live blog you have these nasty pop ups, AV! So it's not only Boro taxis shirt sponsorship.

Strachan says that 7 points MIGHT be enough from the last three matches. I am afraid not but hope for the best. Up the Boro!


**AV writes: The matchblog is a remote host website. Nothing to do with us. I didn't know there were pop-ups on there though.

Ian Gill said:

Benny Brown -

We only had one creative player and that was Jinky. I can assure you that when teams set themselves up well to counter him we were worse than useless. West Brom, Leicester, Watford, Plymouth, Blackpool, Cardiff all came and took away three points like taking Candy from a baby.


We had absolutely no idea how to play to break teams down or keep them at bay.


Take Jinky out and tell me who was going to be the creative spark from the squad we had? We lost Jinky at the end of Jan and the club did try to bring in some creative players but no one would let them come to us.


I suspect Strachan wont get the three plus years that Southgate got in the job. The fact he is having to rebuild is down to denuding of talent that has taken place over several years and that isnt all Southgates fault.

uxter said:

I wonder if Stewie is suffering from being found out then mercilessly double marked, it must have changed his game?


As for Johnno, I think what has happened was handled very well by the club and I wish him well, we can be justly proud of both lads.


Anyhow, just was thinking about people who seem to have changed their seasons around, Jones in goal and Lamb in the chair


It would seem that both have started to earn their corn, a lot of detratctors of both giving praise to them for what they actually should have been doing all along.


Brad certainly is an excellent shot stopper but he isnt the complete goalie is he? but being part of the playing staff he is very much a team member and we have people who can replace him if he underperforms, the ultimate sanction being he moves on, I hope he continues to improve but a few good games dont make a career.


Keith Lamb is a different situation and I make no apologies for getting on his case, on balance to the outsiders (fans) he has caused more grief than anyone else at the club and has an over arching effect that is caustic.


**AV writes: Keith Lamb fulfills a vital role as Teesside's pantomime villain. Poor Lambie, everything that ever goes right for the club is hailed as Gibbo's success; everything that goes wrong lambasted as Lambie's failure.

Smogonthetyne now in Nunthorpe said:

Sorry I’ve not been on much today but I have been elsewhere.


http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8622438.stm


What is the world coming to when there is a live blog about some ash in the sky!!!
If this page gets more than 500 posts and beats the Boro deadline day blog then there is something wrong in the world.

John said:

I personally think Downing is suffering from being asked to play a completely different game. Every time I've watched him play for Villa this season, he's been far too deep and seems to have been told to keep the ball and play it to others rather than going himself.


He is at his best when he can pick up the ball on the left wing in the final third of the pitch, exactly where you want your winger to be. With Villa, they don't have him playing as an out and out winger and due to a lack of defensive players in their midfield he is having to drop back too often while Milner and Young get the freedom to attack.


When he's on form and playing high up on the left wing then I think he's the best option there. On current form though, he looks devoid of confidence to actually play the way he used to.


I think Johnson will be a surprise confirmation for the World cup, purely because of his style. He's never going to be starting games but could prove to be a useful attacking option should we be chasing a game in the second half.


One interesting thought on Johnson that I've seen from Man City fans: They've been impressed with his work rate! I've only ever seen Johnson play 45 minutes for Boro, and then go missing in the second half and be rather non-existant.

redcartim said:

Can you add goals and quality to the team and reduce the wage bill at the same time?


The players who are out of contract plus O'Neil will leave (about 7 players?) if we are short of numbers now does that mean we are going to bring in 12-14 players in the summer?


This season is already a failure at every level, come August we will have a clear indication on whether next season will be equally unsuccesful.


Still waiting for a statement of intent from our communication-free club.

Grove Hill wallah said:

NUFC faced the ire of thousands of stranded holidaymakers today. In preparation to receive the Coca Cola Championship Trophy industrial cleaners where today cleaning out the Trophy Cabinet. The resulting cloud of dust has led to the cancellation of all flights in and out of the UK.

Ian Gill said:

Smoginthesky


Some of us are interested in the Icelandic ash. My interest is the fact the daughter went to Rome with four friends on a Uni field trip and were due to fly back this afternoon.


Flights cancelled and the first ones they could get on to were on Monday. Having spent two hours rebooking for them via moblie telephone contact I am taking a serious interest in the state of this damn volcano.


Of particular concern is the impact on my bank account of four extra days of Miss Gill living la dolce vita - could make a song out of that.

AV wrote: "No there won't be Facebooking. I registered one weekend and I was inundated with doyles offering to dig farms for me, telling what they had for tea in txt spk and recommending I join moronic groups backing idiotic Dancing on Ice competitors so I switched it off and walked away shaking my head sadly."


It seems that someone has started an Evening Gazette Fan Club: http://www.tinyurl.com/borofans and that they appear to have thus far kept the Dancing on Ice competitors and farm diggers at bay. And it's pretty much a doyle-free zone.


**AV writes: AV recommends you become a fan of "doyle free zone."


Good name for an album.

Jarkko said:

I cannot see a draw and two wins will do it. Unfortunately we must win all the three matches - as hard as that sounds. But GS2 has won seven games in a row to clinch the title at Celtic on the very last day. Hope he can do the same here, too!


Up the Boro!

Ian Gill said:

For all of you worried about my daughter I am pleased to say say she and her colleagues are being put up in a nice hotel by the airline.

As a worried dad I am delighted. I am stuck here in Derby, one of us has got it wrong, guidance would be gratefully received.

Ian, it's the least the airline can do under the circumstances. It's always a worry when our children, no matter how old they are (mine are 22 and 25) go on trips of any sort. Watch out for the room service bill though. ;)

Brisbane Phil said:

Boro Phil - congrats are in order. Well done mate, and well done to Mrs Boro for waiting until full time.


By the time we play on Saturday we will have either no chance, or, if other results go our way, a familiar choking pressure on us to perform. How we cope will show exactly how far GS2's revolution has come.


AV - will you be doing Untypical England during the World Cup? surely worth a look..


**AV writes: No I don't "do" England. I will be backing Ayresome heroes North Korea until they get knocked out then switch to Germany. The Gazette have a thriving 'Teesside Krauts' contingent that usually gets the Ingerlund fans fuming.

Ian Gill said:

Neil

Precisely! And the phone bill.

Ian Gill said:

If the closure of British airspace continues will the Stoke Bolton match be at risk?

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