November 2006 Archives
HE MAY not realise it but Gareth Southgate scored a major political victory at Aston Villa. A point away at one of the top six is always good. To achieve it with a radical tactical shake-up better still.
But perhaps more importantly, as far as the Chickenrun chattering classes are concerned, he achieved it against the man he has been measured against since the day he was appointed.
I'VE JUST got back from Villa Park and unusally for this season it is with a light heart and positive outlook. The deserved point came from a battling performance by a team was had a better balance than of late, combined solidity at the back, zest and spirit in the middle and, with two up front, looked to have some punch.
The game offered several reasons for optimism and pointed to possible solutions for some of Gareth Southgate's long-standing problems. Here's a few observations:
MOHAN, Phillips, Whyte, Gittens. Now there's an accident prone back four to put an icy hand of fear around the heart. They put on a shambolic display of schoolboy defending as Boro were battered 5-1 away at Aston Villa in January 1993 that prompted Lennie Lawrence to say "that defensive unit will never play together again" - although that phrase was to become his over-used answer to Steve McClaren's "magnificent" as that season started to unravel.
That one-sided match has just featured on one of nostalgia driven satellite channel ESPN Classic's retro rummages through the archives and despite watching the team systematically being taken apart by Big Ron's title chasers it was compulsive viewing.
ANOTHER UEFA Cup night comes with a little sting and a lot of envy - and a rueful glance back at two massive games where we just didn't turn up, two games that could have made concrete our position as a rising power and prevented this season's slide into back-biting and despair: Sevilla in Eindhoven and West Ham at Villa Park.
Nothing more underlines Boro's current water-treading than reading through the TV listings for a night when we could so easily be pumping ourselves up for another glamour clash against an exotic Eastern outfit with a name synonomous with a Stalinist secret police, or ready to face a famous Euro-giant on an equal footing. Tonight Partizan, Grasshoppers, Sevilla and Basel - all teams we have played - are in UEFA Cup group action and it still hurts that we are not .
EAGLE-eyed readers may have noticed this blog has opened an exciting new revenue stream after concluding a mega-bucks deal with Middlesbrough College, Teesside's largest community educational asset with 13,000 students spread over four sites and catering for every aspect of learning across a broad range of academic and vocational studies.
But don't worry. The only difference to the product is that I am now tapping the keyboard wearing a stylish new strip with the neat logo plastered proudly across my chest.
And at least it is some socially worthwhile institution being promoted, rather than the binge drinker's lager of choice or on-line gambling that seems to be all the rage in football .
THE SEASON'S best crowd so far by over a thousand - 31,424 - against Liverpool shows that Teesside's football public WILL respond to creative pricing initiatives. In that respect the club's experiment in scrapping the punative pricing for casual customers for what would normally have been a £31-£38 Category A game was a complete success. We must hope they repeat it.
However, judging by the post-match grumbles, the club were widely perceived as not having delivered on the other side of the equation: the game was a gritty defensive display but it lacked the zest of attacking flair, the excitement and goals from the home side that would have made it an unqualified success and provided undoubted value for money.
But the big question is, will those who gave Boro another chance against Liverpool do so again?
THE BORO'S once rigid pricing structure has finally cracked under the relentless downward pressure of falling attendences. Season ticket subsidence at the Riverside plus a crumbling walk up crowd has prompted the club to rip up the system of charging more for premium games.
Pegging the Liverpool game, traditionally one of the few nailed on 30,000+ bumper gates and normally a minimum £31 category A game, at "just" £24 a ticket for adults right across the ground represents a massive - and welcome - U-turn on pricing policy as a new chill wind of economic reality blows through football. But is it too little, too late?
ONE Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing!
What has happened to Ray Parlour? The Romford Pele has been out injured for ever. He last played in the Premiership against Bolton at the back end of last season, one of only 10 starst. Since then he has disappeared off the first team radar. He has vanished without trace. Quick, someone call the bobbies.
BECKHAM for Boro? Don't be daft. Yes, the club is crying out for a right sided player. Yes, flagging morale and crowds would get a Juninho-style boost from signing a household name. But come on, the notion is ridiculous.
Not for a second has the move actually even been mooted. Don't start swearing down dead that the lad from the Gazette said it is gospel. Far from it, the highly-improbable move was mentioned by an acquaintence who always regurgitates without qualification snippets from the tabloids and whispers he has heard from sources close to the pub.
But even if Boro could afford to give Beckham £100,000 a week, the biggest house in Wynyard and Posh a Primark gold card, the idea is a non-starter. Boro are not geared up to play Beckham in his most effective position: shirt salesman.
GAMES played plus two (Gp+2 = S). That was shrewd survivalist Lennie Lawrence's time tested Maths of the Day formula proving the points needed for successful top flight trapdoor dancing.
Incidentally, I like the picture of Lennie as a survivalist, eeking out a combat-clad Spartan existance on the moors, eating the small furry victims of cunningly constructed traps and building a home-from-home bender from twigs and animal pelts, taking advantage of the solitude to work on new theoretical models of the points-per-game ratios needed for promotion.
But going by his earlier pre-hunter'gatherer work, the seminal "Lawrence Law", Boro are currently bang on target for yet another prediction of "top six this time, deffo" in next years Red Book renewal plea after a watershed weekend of number-crunching Premiership fun.