Championship 2018-19: Week 10
Tue 2 Oct – 19:45: Ipswich v Boro
Sat 6 Oct – 15:00: Boro v Forest
They say in space no-one can hear you scream, but for those football followers inhabiting the rarefied atmosphere on Teesside, there was still a distinct audible sound of pain emanating from Planet Boro on Saturday following another opportunity missed. Indeed, before the misguided sentence ‘Boro have a chance to go top’ is even completed, the follicles of many are preparing to part company with their keratin proteins in anticipation of hair being once more torn out in frustration. Though it was always tempting fate when launching a superfluous third kit in Real Madrid white that Boro’s Galacticos would put in a performance that never got off the ground – let alone one deemed even remotely out of this world. Still, the sound of the Teesside travelling army singing “we’re the finest team in football, the world has ever seen” may have been evidence that some were perhaps living in a parallel universe.
By far the happiest people on Teesside will possibly have been those who had paid to watch the beam-back from the KCOM stadium at the Riverside and were subsequently refunded after the event was predictably cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Although I suspect many of the Boro faithful who had made the trip to Hull may have wished that they could have also been beamed back to Teesside during the half-time interval after the players from both sides had shown little in the way of enterprise. Unexpectedly caught in a Strachanesque time-warp, many spaced-out supporters probably struggled to cling on to consciousness after sympathetically giving each other a Vulcan death grip in an attempt to dull the experience – before gasping “It was football Jim but not as we know it” as they were admitted to sickbay at James T Cook hospital.
It doesn’t take a dilithium crystal ball to see a warped future where a team without creative players fails to create chances. All the vital signs of a team struggling with the alien concept of passing the ball accurately forward were there to see and many have called for the next generation of academy graduates to be given their chance instead. As the conditioning team try to pick the bones out of latest matchday biometric data from the Boro camp, some are anticipating that it’s unlikely to show any signs of life. Whilst the recent performances may have left quite a few stunned, the Boro manager appears unfazed by calls to seek out new life in his squad and boldly go where no Tony Pulis team has gone before. Nevertheless, seeking out the strange new world of attacking football still seems light years away as he’s seemingly a man on a mission of discovering what to try next.
While still averaging 1.9 points per game, Boro remain statistically close to achieving that stellar goal of automatic promotion and if most nervous Boro followers had been offered third spot after ten games, they probably would have bitten your hand off once they’d finished with their fingernails. Though that statistic may be hiding the continued downward trend of points being returned, which once peaked at an average 2.6 per game after the first five matches in comparison to just 1.2 from the last five. Indeed, if Boro lose at Ipswich they will drop below our opponents on Tuesday in the six-game form table – the Tractor Boys are chugging along in 21st and Boro are currently 9th but would likely fall to around 18th following defeat with just 6 points from 6 games.
Of course victory at Portman Road could see Boro climb to top spot and we can once again contemplate an international break staring at the table while we recalibrate our glasses from half-empty to half-full, if not overflowing. Despite losing only one of their last five games, Ipswich remain in the bottom three after failing to register a single victory this season under new manager Paul Hurst. The 44-year old joined the Suffolk club from League Two side Shrewsbury after taking them to both the play-off and EFL Trophy finals last season – though unfortunately they lost both.
Hurst was apparently happy to become Ipswich manager under financial constraints and was said to be comfortable with the £3m transfer budget he was given, which should indicate the potential gulf between the two sides. Although Ipswich have lost four games this season, they have drawn all five of their home games and were unlucky not to win at Birmingham at the weekend after leading 2-0 at half-time. It could be another tight game as Hurst’s side have only conceded three goals in their last four home outings and Boro may find their chances on goal are limited – even by recent standards.
Tony Pulis has not yet settled on a way to play effectively having failed to sign the genuine wide players he coveted in the summer and Boro are struggling to find solutions on how to add creativity to their game. Although Pulis is regarded as old school, he has embraced modern methods and the use of technology for monitoring his players fitness and performance. Perhaps the Boro manager could seek to emulate those in Silicon Valley who design and conceive the ideas and products on which much of our modern sport and lifestyles now depend on. Thinking outside the box, or indeed inside it, is not a trait normally associated with a Tony Pulis team and now may be the time to experiment with the latest trends in the high-tech industry that many use to improve creativity.
It’s now commonplace among the high-performing geeks of Silicon Valley to self-medicate by micro-dosing psychedelic drugs such as LSD and Magic Mushrooms. Many believe it improves their productivity and creativity, with some saying it makes them feel more excited about their work, while others claim it also lifts the fog of depression – though not to be confused with the smog of depression that rarely lifts for Boro followers, which is not so much a condition but a way of life. Whether the club will also contemplate micro-dosing the complimentary pre-match drink in order to get the crowd excited about watching another limited Tony Pulis display is another matter – though it’s probably highly unethical and risks those who may down two or three pints before kick-off hallucinating to the point where they may start seeing imaginary goals.
The practice is reportedly widespread among the Californian elites and it’s prompted Imperial College to undertake a blind trial this month with those workers currently self-medicating. Though just to be clear, a blind trial is not how the Boro recruitment team identify players but involves giving some participants a placebo instead so they don’t know if it’s the real thing or not – which I should repeat is not comparable to the recruitment team’s assessment of players. Incidentally, the Swiss scientist Albert Hofmann, who first synthesised LSD in 1936 was reported to have micro-dosed the drug into his old age – he actually only died in 2008 at the age of 102 and had claimed a few years earlier that his hallucinogenic days were well behind him, along with that purple dog that kept following him. He referred to LSD as his problem child and was said to have been disturbed by the cavalier use of the drug in the sixties counter-culture.
Nevertheless, putting credence in anecdotal claims of the rich and powerful elites of Silicon Valley, who some claim are exhibiting signs of being borderline psychopaths, is perhaps something that should be taken with a large micro-dose of salt. Not only are some experimenting with self-medication with psycho-active compounds but others, such as the multi-millionaire CEO of several internet start-up companies, Serge Faguet, has embarked on a regime that he labels bio-hacking. It involves technologically assisted monitoring of bodily functions that then automatically sends signals to his smartphone on when he needs to self-administered injections of hormones and a daily regime of popping over 60 capsules with a strict diet and exercise regimes. The aim of the 32-year old is to live for ever and even plans to ultimately merge into a robot to become an ultra human. He also has declared he won’t have children as they are bad ROI (return on investment) and shuns the complication of relationships in favour of keeping several women on special retainers for his physical needs, who he rewards for their time with expensive gifts and paid-for flats – while being quite adamant that they are “definitely not prostitutes”.
Of course, experiencing the sensation of living for ever is available to many on Teesside, as time can sometimes appear to pass so slowly when watching a Boro attack build that it’s often confused with eternity as onlookers wait for something of note to judge the passing of time – though it’s sometimes a fine balance between feeling immortal and also losing the will to live. The early doors of perception were that Tony Pulis was going to open our minds to a brave new world of Championship success. However, current performances may suggest that no-one gets out here alive and the Boro manager may have to get prepared to ride out the storm if his team fail to break on through into the Premier League.
It may just sound like the fantasy world of a disturbed individual seeking immortality but there are indeed very rich powerful people actively pursuing this dream. Self-styled Bond villain and reckless Tweeter, billionaire Elon Musk of Tesla fame and planned human colonisation of Mars, has argued that humans need to become cyborgs to survive the inevitable robot uprising. Those who don’t like the way their bolshie Flymo sometimes approaches them, may be interested to know that Musk is starting work on developing an era of transhumanism with his new brain-computer interface company, Neuralink. Plus former CEO of Google Ventures, Bill Maris, has formed Calico (short for California Life Company), with the single aim to “solve death” and I’m sure he’ll give everything to succeed or at the very least die trying. Also former Facebook president, Sean Parker, declared that because he’s a billionaire he would have the resources to live to 160 and imagined “I’m going to be part of this class of immortal overlords.” Though the most important question is which one of these potential billionaire megalomaniac cyborgs will take over from Steve Gibson as Boro owner if he decides to shun immortality himself.
The acid test for Tony Pulis is whether his team can gain promotion and it has looked in recent games that some of the players appear on a different wavelength as they failed to either turn up or tune in before dropping out of the automatic promotion places. Although it may be too soon to advocate swapping the team coach for a magic bus and resorting to psychedelic micro-dosing in an attempt to find that missing creativity.
Perhaps those Boro followers who decide on making the trip to Ipswich will contemplate the starting line-up as they picture themselves on a train in a station, with plasticine supporters with working class ties, suddenly someone is there at the turnstyle, a girl with kaleidoscope eyes – who then scans their ticket as they are ushered into the away end. A chorus of “Lewis in the side with diamonds”, such as the still rough cut Tavernier, is no doubt what they will be hoping to hear – although Sgt. Pulis may not be quite ready to give his lonely band of strikers some much needed company from midfield and they may have to get by with just a little help from George Friend and Ryan Shotton’s long throws.
Talking of an altered state of mind, the smouldering Aitor Karanka returns to the Riverside on Saturday with his team of still possibly merry men at Forest. The Tricky Trees have made steady if unspectacular progress this season as they sit comfortable in mid table after drawing six and losing just the one game at sixth-place Brentford. Karanka’s side have surprisingly only failed to score in one game this season and that unsurprisingly was against Swansea in a goalless draw. Former Bournemouth striker and last season Villa loanee, Lewis Grabban, has also started finding the net for his new club with four goals in his last three games.
Still, the former Boro manager must be looking rather enviously towards Tony Pulis with just four goals conceded this term – Bilbao Baggins, down in the Nottingham shire, will still surely covet his precious clean sheets. Few will be expecting a goal-fest when these sides meet but hopefully some Boro players will still be highly motivated to put one over on their old gaffer. Anyway, after the spectre of typical Boro revealed itself in all its lack of glory at Hull last Saturday, let’s hope this week sees a return to intensity on the pitch and some signs that creativity can be delivered in more than just microscopic doses.