Championship 2018-19: Week 8
Wed 19 Sep – 19:45: Boro v Bolton
Sat 22 Sep – 15:00: Boro v Swansea
As many grandparents on Teesside waited somewhat impatiently for an end to the international break, they stared into a distant spot on the horizon with a twinkle in their eye, as they envisaged telling stories of a time when they remembered the long gone days of ‘Typical Boro’. The young and innocent question of “What was it like?” was in the end never asked as instead they were told to wake up and smell the coffee. Well unfortunately it’s still the greatest story never told after many a daydreaming Boro fan, young or old, felt a rude awakening as Carrow Road became the latest manifestation of the curse of missed opportunity. The same eleven men who had two weeks earlier looked purposeful and assured as they bossed an irresistible Leeds team on their own patch, contrived to give a disjointed ponderous display against a Canaries side looking for breathing space above the relegation zone.
There had been little to indicate that this new stable-looking team who had sent us into the break with a powerful solid showing against promotion pace-setters Leeds would in the end wobble at Norwich. Perhaps they thought they’d done the hard work and could expect an easier ride this time – the intensity that had been a feature of the 500-minute shut-out was more in the summer breeze category than anything approaching the storming performances before the pause in proceedings. Boro were supposed to be the hungry Sylvestor in comparison to Norwich’s Tweety – although those who thought they saw a pussy cat were not mistaken, it simply rolled over and had it’s tummy tickled before taking flight from Carrow Road empty handed with Tony Pulis left spitting feathers instead. It was complacency that killed the cat this time, not curiosity, as Boro looked disinterested in taking three points for most of the game.
At least this week offers the chance for Boro to put behind them “one of those days”, as Tony Pulis chose to euphemistically label the disappointment in Norfolk before quickly replacing his cap to hide his bad hair. Most will be hoping it won’t escalate beyond the one as it will be less easily dismissed if a bad day at the office turns out to be a week off sick. There are perhaps legitimate questions on whether Boro were set up in a way that would hurt Norwich, after all that’s now just one controversially controlled Daniel Ayala stoppage time goal in our last three Championship outings. Preventing the opposition scoring is still only half of the exercise and Boro should perhaps be showing more gusto and adventure against teams who have previously made heavy weather of keeping out the opposition.
Perhaps it’s just as well ‘Tony’ didn’t make the Met Office’s list of storm names this year as his team failed to blow away the opposition or cause them any serious damage – instead they just huffed and puffed as they left many wondering if their promotion credentials were made of straw. Incidentally, ‘Gareth’ was one of the most popular chosen by the UK public in the ‘Name our Storm’ scheme this year, which I imagine will probably be a much underrated storm that will apologise to the nation for the damage after conducting itself impeccably before turning out to be overblown and not too historic. Also soon to be battering Britain is Storm Deirdre, whilst it doesn’t sound too ferocious it may cause some problems but will possible solve others – whereas Storm Idris will no doubt be much hyped in the media before probably in the end being contentiously overlooked as the next big thing.
In midfield, Mo Besic also seemed to have one of those days where he was constantly demanding the ball but failed to do anything meaningful with it – it was reminiscent of a declining Grant Leadbitter last season who often orchestrated neat triangles to nowhere with his equally ponderous partners in crime. Jonny Howson was also having flashbacks to his last season self as he seemed confused and demotivated by seeing the yellow shirts of his former club around him. The lack of dynamism on show made many wonder why, after previously impressing with his overall game, Lewis Wing has surprisingly seen himself out of contention and is now become a regular unused sub on the bench. Wing may begin to feel he doesn’t have a prayer of recapturing his starting berth with the arrival of Besic and Saville adding to a congested midfield of options available to his manager. Matters may even be made worse if Pulis opts for Braithwaite and Downing playing alongside a main striker – particularly at home where Boro must surely take the initiative.
Though one new arrival, Danny Batth, has had Tony Pulis praising him as “a man’s man” and that “You can’t have too many of them”. Does that mean Dael ‘the young lad’ Fry may be about to start keeping Lewis Wing company on the bench? The worry for Fry is that he was singled out for criticism over the Norwich goal and may fear a return to what happened under Monk after making a rare error. Though what exactly is a man’s man? The definitions on offer are varied and ranging from: ‘They are trusted by other men because they seem to represent the man’s perspective’, to the more macho ‘Can fell a tree and drop it right where he wants’ and ‘He knows how to kill, hang, and dress a kill’ or the slightly more Trumpish sounding ‘He believes what he believes and he doubts what he doubts’. Though looking at some players, it looks like they struggle to even dress themselves, let alone a kill – plus chopping down trees is probably not necessarily something you get to prove your masculinity with too often in football and has yet to be included in the Opta stats.
I expect George Friend and Ryan Shotton would define it slightly differently after their ‘Bake-Off’ challenge earlier this year, in which you may recall they went head-to-head in the Coral-sponsored event to make the best Victoria sponge cake. Shotton proved to be the man on this occasion as his carefully positioned raspberries (no not another euphemism) won over the judges – he also probably gains extra points on the man’s man measure by also co-owning a pub with his father-in-law, though it’s possible he may perhaps get points deducted for having a ponytail. Still, it looks like Danny Batth may be the one with the recipe for success under old-school Tony.
Sadly, the Championship is anything but a cakewalk and the Boro manager made it clear this week how difficult it was compared to the Premier League to maintain momentum. There are 14 occasions in the season where Boro will play two games a week and how the club deal with that will ultimately decide their fate. This week is one of those weeks (as opposed to days) and first up is Bolton on Wednesday. The Trotters had got off to a surprisingly good start this campaign and were unbeaten after four games before it was ended with a 3-0 defeat at home to Sheffield United. Bolton then recovered from 2-0 down at Deepdale to get a draw against Preston before losing again at home against QPR to give Steve McClaren another much-needed win.
The real problem for Bolton though is not on the pitch as problems off it have seen them facing the threat of going into administration and being deducted 12 points. The whole crisis appears to stem from a £5m loan that was taken out from a finance company called BluMarble when Sports Shield took over Bolton in 2015. The current chairmen of Bolton, Ken Anderson, has been in dispute over the terms of the repayment and subsequently failed to reach an agreement by a deadline set by the finance company. BluMarble appear to have lost theirs as they are now reportedly seeking to put the club into administration and are prepared to finance the process in an attempt to force new ownership of the club – with an American billionaire reportedly interested. Bolton’s debts at £13m are nothing too major by Championship standards so it may as yet be possible to avoid the severe penalty that going into administration entails. You would think it wouldn’t be too difficult for the current owners to sell the club to an interested billionaire – probably a far easier task than Boro had in persuading certain players to move to the North-East.
Those Boro supporters of a nervous disposition who are worried about former players coming back to haunt the club better look away now – They have of course the Redcar Rock, David Wheater and former Boro captain Gary O’Neil, along with academy old boys Andrew Taylor and Jonathan Grounds, plus strikers Yanic Wildschut and former loanee Sammy Ameobi all waiting to prove a point. It appears way too many ex-players to stop them invoking the inevitable curse of the footballing gods – the only hope is that they all get in each other’s way as they queue up impatiently in an attempt to put one over on their former club.
A victory in midweek will perhaps help settle the nerves before Tony Pulis faces one of the newly relegated sides on Saturday. Swansea were once viewed as the model for Boro and the club to emulate as they played attractive football on a budget. They were promoted to the Premier League in 2012 and renowned for making astute signings who performed well, such as Gylfi Sigurðsson, Michu and Wilfried Bony – though we may overlook their reported £5m purchase of Marvin Emnes on the grounds of diminished responsibility. They held their own in the top flight and managed to beat several of the top-four clubs before qualifying for Europe and winning the League Cup. Their decline seemed coincided with rapidly changing managers with Michael Laudrup replaced by then defender Garry Monk, who initially succeeded and took them to their highest finish of 8th before being ejected in favour of Italian Francesco Guidolin. The club were taken over by an American consortium, who installed the hapless former US national coach Bob Bradley as manager but he didn’t last three months. Then came Paul Clement who saved them from relegation in 2016-17 but a bad start the following season saw him replaced by ex-Owl Carlos Carvalhal instead of old boy Garry Monk as many had expected – you may remember both managers were sacked following Boro’s 2-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday just before Christmas.
These days Boro are more emulating their Welsh neighbours Cardiff in terms of style and management as they attempt a more pragmatic route back to the promised land. Swansea have had a relatively stable beginning to their Championship season, losing just the once at home to Bristol City and winning three and drawing three. They installed as manager Graham Potter, who had taken Swedish outfit Östersund from the fourth to the first tier – he got the job in Sweden on the recommendation of former Swansea coach Roberto Martinez. He’s regarded as a modern coach with alternative ideas, which included encouraging his players to perform in theatre and musicals to get them out their comfort zone. Whether we’ll see a better class of diving and injury feigning at the Riverside is unclear but let’s hope they are not on song and dance around our defenders. Potter is also fond of switching formations around during games and the game may turn into some kind of tactical jousting contest between him and Pulis as they look to demonstrate their abilities as coaches.
Two home games will hopefully see Boro looking to get back to winning ways but the unexpected defeat at Norwich has certainly caught some on Teesside by surprise. The risk of meltdown is usually never far from the minds of Boro followers, but having gone over 500 minutes without even experiencing a conceded goal, it left many completely unprepared of how to deal with the massive bombshell of defeat. Some are still struggling to come to terms with this potential existential threat and one wonders if the club should possibly have warned us on what precautions to take by issuing a leaflet of what to do in such unforeseen circumstances. Perhaps they could even draw inspiration from those 1970s government public information films that gave practical steps on what people should do in the comparable devastating event of something like a nuclear attack.
It’s perhaps important to remember, unlike nuclear armageddon, defeat is not the end of the world – it may just seems like it for a fleeting moment. The Championship is once again proving that any team can beat any other and nobody as yet appears to be running away from the pack. The top ten bar Leeds, who are sitting just one point clear at the summit, are only separated by three points and this week may prove to be pivotal in terms of whether Boro can regroup and get back to winning ways. The early warning sounded at Norwich shouldn’t be ignored but it’s perhaps still too early to head for the bunker and prepare for a nuclear winter.
Protect and Survive: A guide to surviving defeat
The following information accurately reproduces that given to the UK population in the late 1970s – it’s just as valid and practical today as it was then. Please note, MFC do not take responsibility for any personal injury or loss caused by following this guide. Tin foil hats are now available in the club shop.
In the event of a Boro defeat, the initial blast of anger will create a shockwave that instantly destroys hope in the immediate vicinity. The fallout created as dreams turn to dust will be sucked up into the bad atmosphere before travelling hundreds of miles through the toxic airwaves. Stay calm, you can protect yourself and your family by following some simple steps.
Stay at Home: Because the fallout from a defeat can travel anywhere, no place is safer than any other to avoid the risk of being exposed to this toxic material. You are far better off not going out, in fact you are safer staying at home as this is the place you know.
Choose a Fallout Room: The safest place in your house to escape the fallout from a defeat is away from the windows in the room furthest from the outside walls, preferably in a basement. Your fallout room will protect you but you will make it even safer by strengthening a small part of it – this will be your inner refuge during the worst phase of the devastation.
Making a refuge: This is not too difficult, the main things you will need are a shovel, cardboard boxes, large plastic bags, earth or sand, a complete loss of perspective and the will to continue living – start gathering them now. The best idea is to make a lean-to against an inside wall by removing several doors from their hinges – it may be a good idea to first wait until your wife has gone to the shops for provisions. Cover the doors with bags filled with heavy material such as sand, self-help books, pointless government leaflets or even old football programmes. Lastly, place boxes filled with even heavier material at either end of your lean-to – though to avoid unnecessary injury when your wife returns, don’t forget to leave an easy way in and out of your refuge.
Food and Drink: You may need to stay for anything up to 14 days in your refuge before the next game is played, particularly during an international break. It is therefore imperative to store food and drink. Although you can survive prolonged periods with little food, it is not possible to survive without drink and it is recommended a minimum of two pints a day is stockpiled for an adult male, preferably double. It is important not to forget to bring a bottle-opener into your refuge if you wish to avoid classic symptoms of confusion and irritability.
Sanitation and hygiene: During your stay in your refuge, you may not be able to use your bathroom – especially if you’ve taken the door off it and your spouse has locked you in your fallout room as punishment. You will therefore need to make alternative arrangements and will require at least two buckets and dustbin with a lid. If you can, keep the dustbin away from your shelter it will improve the ambience and also place a few pans of water in the vicinity to use for personal hygiene – though preferably not the same ones you plan to use for cooking.
Receiving the all clear: If you survive the ordeal and have checked your calendar and fixture list carefully, you will eventually be able to safely emerge from your fallout room to continue life following the Boro as normal. Though it is important to remember another devastating defeat may strike without warning and you may need to return to your shelter at short notice. Nevertheless, returning to a normal life with your family may prove difficult, especially if you forget to empty the sanitation bins and clean the whitewash off the windows before heading off to the match.