This weekend we enter the parallel universe of the FA Cup once again, Boro have nudged to one side the trivial matter of a home game to bottom club Sunderland for a chance of glory against the pale blue side of Manchester and the prospect of a trip to Wembley. After seeing off at the Riverside Championship, League Two and League One opposition, those in charge of the numbered balls have decide if Boro are going to win the cup then we’re probably now going to have to beat three of the best sides from the Premier League.
OK for a team who hasn’t beaten a Premier League team for nearly three months this may sound like a big ask, but the cup is not the league and Boro have actually fared pretty well against those top teams still left in the competition – two draws and three single goal defeats. The other good news is that it’s actually possible to lift the trophy without scoring a single goal in open play – so better get practising those spot kicks gents. Though to be fair the FA Cup has been something of goal-fest for Boro this season, having twice knocked in a treble to give us a magnificent seven in total – that’s equivalent to over three-months worth of league net action.
All eyes were on the press conference yesterday as Karanka made his first public appearance since many of us, along with most of the media, have been discussing whether or not he has reached the end at Boro. Though when the eagerly anticipated question of whether he had spoke to Steve Gibson arose, the Boro boss revealed that the only topic of conversation between him and chairman was this weekend’s FA Cup game – well they’ve no doubt exhausted the topic of talking about the weather over dinner during recent weeks, so it must be a welcome distraction to be able to talk about football again.
Though the buzz word for the press conference was ‘Confidence’ – it was everywhere. When the Boro boss was asked whether the fact that Steve Gibson has always been patient and helpful to his managers had given him confidence, he replied “The most difficult moment for me was when I arrived here, but he was the first one who transmitted his confidence. I don’t need to feel that every day.” Indeed the confidence theme continued with Karanka declaring that he and his staff were trying to show their confidence to the players – who he revealed still had a good spirit but were low in confidence following the recent games.
Perhaps the only nod in the direction of the growing pressure on him was when he expressed the view that every situation is new for him as a manager so he must learn, modify his training, know the mistakes he is making and try to give the players all his confidence. Karanka went on to explain that you can train to play more attacking, which he said they have been for several weeks, but all this work is for nothing if the players don’t have the confidence to execute what they have been working on.
So Karanka has been primarily concerned with raising that confidence and he decided to show them a few videos. On hearing the news, some of the players had no doubt started making themselves comfy in anticipation of a box-set of a Game of Thrones – though perhaps ahead of his return to the team Barragan would have gained more from a private viewing of a game of throw-ins. Anyway, the Boro boss plumped for showing the lads some of their best bits, including the decent showing of their trip to Arsenal. Whether this was the perfect antidote for a team who has struggled to score is debatable, though Karanka’s attention to detail appears to have overlooked that the game ended 0-0. Maybe he didn’t want them getting too excited just in case they go all gung-ho at the weekend and besides from his post-match reflections I believe the Swansea game is not in his best bits collection.
I suspect copies of the Daily Telegraph will have been removed from the training ground as part of the positive mood ambience being created. They claimed yesterday that Karanka’s Boro are the second most boring team ever in Premier League history, narrowly being edged out of top spot by George Graham’s Leeds team – apparently we’re like watching paint dry. I couldn’t disagree more – clearly they’ve never attempted to paint a 60 square meter freshly plaster-boarded living room ceiling in the middle of summer – I practically ran with the roller as I tried to avoid lapping marks as the emulsion rapidly dried, it was so exciting I ended up putting on a further 6 coats. Anyway, I better save my paint drying anecdotes for the international break.
So returning back to the quarter-finals, and rather sadly (and perhaps pedantically) this has now become the last chance for football fans to sing Que sera sera, whatever will be will be, we going to Wembley, Que sera sera. Yes, the move to Wembley for the semi-finals has somewhat robbed many fans of this vocal ritual. I mean, what exactly are delirious supporters now supposed to sing as their team goes two-up with ten minutes to play in the semi’s – it just wouldn’t make sense to sing you’re going somewhere when you’re already standing there – clearly the FA haven’t thought through the impact that their ill-conceived premature pilgrimage to the home of football will have on this crooning crescendo rite of passage – You may as well have the teams arrive on the pitch in an open-top double-decker bus holding replica trophies. It has both devalued the competition and cheapened the experience.
Though I’m still unsure how a 1956 Doris Day number became the song of choice for glory-seeking football fans everywhere – besides I find the lyrics are perhaps a tad too philosophical about the possible outcome of your team’s chances in the cup final once they get there – If one of my mates asked me “Won’t it be great if we win the cup?” and I just replied “whatever will be will be” he’d probably assume I wasn’t that bothered and would make plans go with someone else.
Still there’s a long tradition of pop songs making their way onto the terraces so maybe we’ll now see a more fitting anthem emerge one day – though given the latest video technology and the recent trend of pop duets from beyond the grave, perhaps the time has come for Mogga and Doris Day to release ‘It is what it is’- though not rhyming with Wembley could prove to be a problem.
The team news for Saturday will be interesting – though Boro are back in another defensive injury crisis and there is little room to manoeuvre – Ayala and Chambers are definitely out and George is extremely doubtful with a re-occurence of his calf strain. That means Barragan will return at right-back as Fabio moves back to the left, which leaves Gibson and Bernado in the centre with only Dael Fry as back-up. Karanka was being coy about whether Negredo will return but it probably wouldn’t be a smart move to leave him out against his old club if he’s trying to lift spirits. There was no mention of Gaston yesterday but the enigmatic Uruguayan needs to decide if he’s in the boat or sulking in a dingy being towed along by his team-mates. I suspect we’ll see a midfield three as Boro are playing a top-six side and although Adama was poor last time out, without his pace there may be little to worry City.
So will Boro be on their way to Wembley singing Que Sera Sera or will it be Hasta la Vista Baby to the Cup as City terminate our run. As usual give your predictions of Score, Scorers (yes it happens in the cup) and will Barragan have learnt to throw the ball during his absence.