Is Woodgate approaching the final act of his Boro tragedy

Championship 2019-20: Weeks 30-31

Mon  2 Mar – 19:45: Boro v Forest
Sat  7 Mar – 15:00: Charlton v Boro
Sat 14 Mar – 15:00: Boro v Swansea

Werdermouth prepares to watch the relegation drama unfold…

As the amateur dramatics of another Boro season take on some of the similarities of an ancient Greek tragedy (and possibly even a comedy) many on Teesside are seriously beginning to wonder if those in charge are showing signs of having already lost the plot. Perhaps now is a good time for an intervention of Deus ex machina (god from the machine), a technique introduced in Greek theatre whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and unlikely occurrence to bring the tale to a happy ending – which in Boro’s case would involve the unexpected case of winning a game. Incidentally, Deus ex machina was something like the VAR of its day, where the action is halted by the appearance of an unforeseen character or through the intervention of a god – with the god literally arriving on stage by means of a machine such as a crane.

Whether or not Boro’s season will be saved by some form of unexpected divine intervention remains to be seen but it’s unlikely that we’ll see an exasperated Steve Gibson being lowered from the director’s box by an overhead crane at half-time to unveil a new manager. Though many of the lapsed faithful on Teesside now believe that only the emergence of white smoke over Hurworth and the appointment of a new man to pontificate on team matters will save the club from the cardinal sin of relegation. Others are still awaiting the sight of more acrid black smoke in a pre-match ritual that signals Jonthan Woodgate has finally seen sense by setting fire to his jinxed manager-of-the-month award in a desperate bid to demonstrate to his players the curse of being unable to win has been lifted.

No doubt as the sacrificial molten lump of offending perspex burns impressively at the centre of the Riverside pitch, the message of renewal could be further reinforced by staging an impromptu performance that takes its inspiration from another Greek legacy and the worthy sentiments of the Olympic movement’s pursuit of excellence that it embodies. In an act of homage to the traditional ceremony that heralds the lighting of the Olympic flame, eleven vested virgins from the Boro squad slowly move forward from the centre-circle. They then solemnly light their makeshift torches of rolled-up matchday programmes from that all-consuming infernal flame, before one by one quickly heading off down the tunnel holding their symbolic torches aloft to hopefully ignite the embers their less than glowing season and extinguish any prospects of relegation.

However, the prospects that Boro will set the Championship alight in the remaining eleven games is looking bleak and it seems even Adam Clayton may have now given up hope of reaching the play-offs. Perhaps the well-inked Boro midfielder has already taken precautions and left a suitable space on his torso for his League One Runners-up 2020-21 tattoo to celebrate ending his Boro career on a less ambitious high. Although, Jonathan Woodgate will be hoping his Boro career doesn’t end on a low as he plots ending the campaign at the dizzy heights of 21st place in the table.

Talking of those who are in danger of getting their fingers burnt, Steve Gibson has increasingly come under fire for appointing an inexperienced head coach and he must be hoping Jonathan Woodgate can find a way out of the current predicament. He’s reportedly reluctant to abandon the apparent three-year strategy of developing a sustainable team through the promotion of young players and finding a like-minded alternative for Woodgate who could rescue the season would not be an easy matter. Another option would seem to involve bringing in a more senior coach to assist Woodgate – though again that would publicly totally undermine his head coach and make his position as one of being in charge in name only. It subsequently must mean the temptation to procrastinate and do nothing is an attractive one, which possibly increases the risk that League One is where the club are heading.

Although, given Boro’s status as the Championship’s lowest scorers, it’s surprising that Robbie Keane’s position hasn’t come under more scrutiny. Perhaps we could still see him as the first sacrifice with a more experienced ‘attacking coach’ brought in to replace him. Boro have only managed two attempts on target in five hours of football and you have to wonder what it is exactly he has got the forwards to visualise? Maybe they’ve just ended up in a complete meditative state of bliss and can now only envisage nothingness – much like the those who turn up at the Riverside.

OK, Keane may point to what he’s had to work with and the problems of our strikers profligacy started well before he joined Boro. Indeed, there appears to have been an issue at Boro in scoring goals for many a season, which does make it a brave decision for any manager on Teesside to contemplate developing a team that will blow away the opposition – especially on a budget as the best strikers seldom come cheap or even the not so good ones come to mention it.

The footballing gods have seemingly not been kind to Woodgate in his first season in charge with a series of ill-timed injuries to key players that may have possibly made the difference in avoiding getting dragged back into the relegation mire. Those same gods have also contrived to revive the fortunes of the bottom three clubs as they continue to build momentum for escaping the drop, who incidentally all now sit in the top eight of the six-game form table as Boro languish at the foot with free-falling Hull. Ahead of the Monday evening Riverside clash against Forest, Wigan have continued their winning ways by gaining three points at leaders West Brom to send Woodgate’s team into the bottom three, three points off the bottom and two from safety.

After nine games without a win and three successive defeats without a goal, the situation is getting critical for Boro and the reality of football management means it can’t continue for much longer. If Woodgate fails to win any of these next three crucial games, his tenure must surely become untenable. Anything but victory on Monday will see Boro remain in the relegation zone and another defeat will further erode confidence that the only place the club are heading is League One.

Forest currently sit in fourth place with a chance of finishing in automatic spot looking increasingly unlikely now that Leeds have returned to winning ways. However, Sabri Lamouchi’s side will be keen to consolidate their play-off slot after just one victory in their last four since beating Marco Biesla team, which at the time had taken them to within a point of second but that gap is currently now up to nine. With Boro only winning one of their last six encounters against the Tricky Trees, few will be hopeful that Monday is going to be the start of the revival. However, Woodgate desperately needs to add to that last Riverside victory on Boxing Day against Huddersfield if he is to avoid Steve Gibson’s reluctant intervention.

While Woodgate may escape the consequences of a defeat at Forest, the next game is away at Charlton, who are currently just two points and one place above Boro. At this stage of the season it becomes the proverbial six-pointer and not a game that will likely end well for the head coach if it leaves Boro five points behind his old friend Lee Bowyer’s team – especially as the other club level on points with the Lactics are Stoke and they are at home to Championship whipping boys Hull who seem to gift everyone three points of late. The only cause for hope is that Charlton were thrashed 4-0 by Huddersfield on Saturday but of course they did beat Luton 3-1 in their last home game.

It’s quite easy to imagine Boro not being able to find a way to win a game at the moment as it’s getting harder to see where the goals are coming from – something that has been exacerbated by conceding the first goal in the last ten games. Scraping a lucky 1-0 win is one thing but then needing to score two and then hanging on is another prospect altogether. Woodgate says he wants to see more from his strikers – something which I think he’s not alone in. However, the real problem appears to be the team are not creating decent chances to even give the forwards an opportunity to fluff their lines.

By the time Swansea arrive on Teesside, it could be looking rather grim for both Woodgate and Boro but it’s still a game that provides a good opportunity to gain three points. Steve Cooper’s side have proved to be a bit unpredictable this season and now look to be heading for mid-table obscurity unless they gain some late consistency. The Swans also knocked four past Hull recently but unfortunately they also conceded four against the Tigers too and also lost 3-2 at home to Derby when leading. In truth, Boro would probably have gone on to win in the reverse fixture at the Liberty Stadium but for those red cards received by Browne and McNair. If Boro manage to keep all eleven on the pitch at the Riverside it would help but then again knowing which eleven to select seems to be just as difficult a problem for Woodgate.

Anyway, it’s not impossible that Boro could defeat Forest and also get a result at Charlton but should the bad results continue, in what is essentially a results-based business, then time would surely be over if the chairman didn’t want to entertain fixtures at the likes of Fleetwood, Gillingham, Accrington, Lincoln or Rochdale – all of whom will no doubt be more keen to give everything to beat a relative big name like Middlesbrough than our players would feel motivated for life in the third tier. Dropping to League One would be more than a tragedy (Greek or otherwise), it would put at risk any notion of persuading our better youngsters that their careers remain on Teesside when offers this summer come in from Championship promotion hopefuls or even Premier League strugglers.

There is a mood that even the most patient of Boro followers are not prepared to extend that patience to the prospect of a meek exit out of the wrong end of Championship. There are murmurs on the message boards on possibly getting Tony Pulis back to reprise his relegation-avoidance trick one more time but what then? Some even would like to see the return or Aitor Karanka with his more methodical approach and a promise not to meltdown and fume silently at perceived injustice at the business in transfer window. It would be one of life’s great ironies if defeat at Charlton would herald the return of the Spaniard but perhaps its the kind of contrived plot twist that even Aristotle would approve with his penchant for Deus ex machina – the question is would it provide a happy ending?

Optimism outbreak contained as super-spreader is identified

Championship 2019-20: Weeks 28-29

Sat 15 Feb – 15:00: Boro v Luton
Sat 22 Feb – 15:00: Barnsley v Boro
Wed 26 Feb – 19:45: Boro v Leeds

Werdermouth hopes Boro isolate themselves from the relegation pack…

As the Boro faithful disappointedly await their first victory since New Year’s Day, the good news is that there were no further cases of promotion fever being recorded on Teesside this week. Admittedly, it wasn’t a particular virulent strain and contagion was mainly restricted to the young and those who had failed to wash their hands of the idea that they would end the campaign with a trip to Wembley. Just how the play-off pandemic arrived on Teesside is not clear but it’s well documented that optimism is quite infectious – even despite the local population having built up genetic resistance over several generations.

With rumours that some at the club were openly expressing ambitions of closing the gap on the top six, there was much speculation on the identity of the so-called super-spreader who started them. It’s now believed the source of these contagious Chinese whispers is thought to have frequently visited Rockliffe in early December and may have inadvertently passed on the cohones virus to several players in the Boro squad – many of whom quickly grew a pair and transmitted that infectious confidence to their team-mates. Still, at its peak it not even the EFL men in white coats could restore calm as they further fuelled hysteria by awarding Woodgate their coveted monthly prize.

While ‘Patient Zero’ may sound like the game plan of former manager Tony Pulis or even the marks out of ten some unimpressed supporters gave their new head coach after his first ten games, it does in fact refer to the person who was the origin of an outbreak. Perhaps self-confessed optimist Jonathan Woodgate himself was that Patient Zero when back in November he proclaimed “You never know what is going to happen in football. We could win five on the spin.” It was almost prophetic but since he had also added that “Britt could hit five” and “Ayala might score three” it was not necessarily evidence based – especially as Boro were at the time continuing their descent down the table. Such statements appear to indicate that the new gaffer has clearly been an asymptomatic carrier of the positivity pathogen since he took charge – while that is not necessarily unhealthy in a manager, it won’t make him immune from criticism if he fails to deliver on such lofty aspirations.

Nevertheless, just like the innate enthusiasm of many Boro supporters, the promotion fever has now been contained, which was mainly thanks to those among the faithful who opted for self-quarantine in the comfort of their own homes rather than risk the infectious atmosphere at the Riverside. OK, there may still be one or two sporadic cases for those with low resistance – with perhaps Adam Clayton seemingly most at risk after he was still showing strong symptoms back in mid-January when he declared: “There’s always a team that comes from behind and gets a bit of momentum and makes a late push. Why not us? We’re not going to get carried away and say we’re getting in the play-offs for definite but if we keep the form up and keep playing the way we have been it is there for us. We just have to keep playing well and working hard the way we are and if we can keep this run going for another four or five games, who knows?” Sadly, we all now know that those last five games have yielded just three points and now the talk is once again about avoiding being dragged into the relegation battle.

Talking of self-quarantine, it seems Ben Gibson has placed himself in isolation on Teesside after a training ground bust-up with Sean Dyche following his failure to secure a Burnley exit in January. The 27-year old defender openly questioning whether his future still lies in Lancashire after being given just one league start in 18 months and only a single Carabao Cup outing this season, which was way back in August. The Clarets clarified matters with a brief statement claiming that Gibson made it clear that he wanted to leave the club in January but no offers had met their valuation of the player – which for the player wondering why he hadn’t seen much of the turf at Turf Moor since he arrived would appear to be approaching zero.

This arrangement is apparently temporary and shouldn’t last more than a week – though it could be extended should the collision between a Teesside grudge and a manager famous for insisting every player totally buys into his methods fails to see either backing down. These methods apparently include Dyche demanding crunching tackles in training but doesn’t allow the use of shin pads and everyone must adhere to a regimented dress code, which includes wearing shorts at all times and even rules on the socks a player is allowed to wear. According to former keeper Paul Robinson that is policed by the other players who forward videos of any transgressions they spot to Dyche via the video analysis team, who then makes any offenders spin the wheel of punishment on a Friday to discover their penalty – which appear to be based around humiliation or self-ridicule. Robinson says it was all very English-culture based and designed to create a team ethic – though it may explain why Dyche was overlooked for the Arsenal job recently with their multitude of pampered multinational players as he also has a ban on wearing hats and gloves in training!

Whether as The Clarets most expensive signing, Ben Gibson has got himself caught in the middle of Sean Dyche’s mind games that are possibly designed to demonstrate both his absolute authority and that no player is valued more than another. Dyche’s answer to the question of whether Gibson would play again for Burnley was telling: “We will wait and see what the next step is for us as a club and for him as a player” – in terms of making a name for yourself, it sounds like Burnley was probably the wrong place and the wrong time. Although, not quite the same risk of attempting to live up to your name, which may have pushed the new Chief Executive of BP to crazily declare this week that the world’s fourth largest oil company plans to become carbon neutral – especially when your surname is Looney. While BP’s shareholders may question Bernard Looney’s lucidity, he can at least take comfort that nobody worried about the sobriety of a man called Young Boozer when he served two terms as the State Treasurer of Alabama – though it may have helped that he was 62 when entering office.

However, the question remains is would Ben Gibson be training at Rockliffe if his uncle wasn’t the club owner or indeed would most managers have wanted the distraction ahead of two crucial games against potential relegation rivals. It’s hard to see under what circumstances or indeed at what price the chairman’s nephew can return to Teesside in the summer – a loan move was a possibility if Burnley were prepared to pick up a large chunk of his wages but surely only a permanent exit is on the cards now. How many millions would such a deal cost hard up Boro and would it be the best use of limited resources at this point in time – I suspect the numbers don’t really add up on a permanent return.

Anyway, it’s these next two games against the bottom two clubs that Boro need to concentrate on now and first up are Luton, who are currently ten points behind Boro in 23rd place. The Hatters have the worst defence in the Championship and have conceded 66 goals with 41 of those coming on the road – in fact Graeme Jones’ side have lost their last 11 games on their travels and anything other than a Boro win will be seen as failure by any measure. It was that 3-3 draw in the season opener with the Friday evening televised fixture at Kenilworth Road that heralded the Woodgate era and his desire to play exciting attacking football. Ironically, it was a false impression as Boro only managed another 8 goals in the next three months as they struggled to score and looked suspect defensively as the Liverpool-lite approach didn’t fit the players at the head coach’s disposal. Boro started November sitting in the bottom three and it was only after switching to a more pragmatic back three that results for Woodgate began to improve.

At the end of November, Boro were alarmingly sat in joint-23rd in the table, when they finally ended a run of ten games without a win after beating bottom-club Barnsley by a single Ashley Fletcher goal. It was essentially a must-win game and they now follow-up this weekend’s game against Luton with the return fixture at Oakwell, where the Tykes are still in bottom place. Interestingly, after that defeat at the Riverside in only Gerhard Struber’s second game in charge, the Austrian’s team only lost once more before the year ended, with three wins and three draws. Sadly, like Boro they’ve not repeated their December form and have only picked up four points in 2020. Woodgate will be hoping his team can get back to winning ways in these next two fixtures as failure to do so will leave Boro once more looking over their shoulder at the clubs in the bottom three.

One team who has been looking over their shoulder for several weeks now is Leeds United, who after seemingly looking on course for automatic promotion have seen their once 11 point cushion to third spot completely evaporate and are now just in the automatic places on goal difference. Imploding after a good start has become a regular pattern for the West Yorkshire club and their supporters are increasingly becoming resigned to another season of choking. Perhaps the owners will be contemplating pulling the plug on Marcelo Biesla as they consider the merits of gambling on a new manager bounce to see them over the line. They now look a shadow of the team that cruised to a 4-0 victory over Boro at Elland Road at the end of November and if they continue their downward trajectory it will almost be like facing a team in relegation form. Although, typical Boro decrees that the midweek non-derby will probably see the start of the Leeds revival.

Despite the feeling of being in an almost experimental pre-season mode,Woodgate’s team still need three or four victories to secure their Championship status. The return to a back four has produced similar results to when it was the modus operandi in early season as Boro have likewise looked more easily opened up by the opposition. Tuesdays game at Wigan saw Boro have plenty of possession without much penetration as they passed the ball backwards, sideways and occasionally forwards in neat methodical triangles. Interestingly, Lewis Wing spoke this week of how they’ve been “working on little triangles” in training – perhaps many of the players took this exercise too literally as they appeared to suffer from pythagorean paralysis as the ball travelled opposite over adjacent as the concept of threatening the opposition once more went off on a tangent. Indeed, it seems some of Boro’s players seem to disappear in the Bermuda triangle that exists between midfield and the opposition net. Wing also spoke about playing with Ravel Morrison and hailed his quality by saying “It is nice to know you can wrap a ball into someone’s feet and they will deal with it.” I presume by “deal with it” he actually means control it, which seems to indicate he thinks some of his other team-mates are lacking in that department – no names mentioned but I think they know who they are!

While it’s important that Jonathan Woodgate tries to introduce new methods and ways of playing, he himself has warned about complacency and wants to finish as high as possible in the table. The danger is that the head coach has himself taken his eye off the ball a little as he starts to experiment once more with a back four and rotates his squad and introduces new tactics. The wing-backs of Spence and Coulson had been working well and added pace down the flanks, plus Howson had looked like he’d played in a back three all his career. With the Ben Gibson circus also hanging round the club it’s yet another distraction from preparing for what are probably games it is important that Boro not only don’t lose but should be focused on getting back to winning ways and playing to their strengths – especially as Wigan still have to play the other five teams in the bottom six too. So better no mistakes as we enter the last third of the season, otherwise the recovery may be too late to save the patient!


Brentford 3 – 2 Boro

Brentford 3-2 Boro
Jeanvier (24)
Mbeumo (60)
Watkins (87)
SHOTS (on target)
Wing (57)
Fletcher (63)

Bee sting in the Tail

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s defeat at Brentford…

Brentford were looking to make it a hat trick of wins against Boro who previously were undefeated against their West London rivals for twelve games winning ten of those. A pre-game stat revealed that Boro had scored the fewest goals via set-pieces (eight) of any side in the Championship this season. That unwanted statistic won’t have surprised Boro fans who have watched some of the poorest free kick and corner routines known to man these last few months.

Thomas Frank’s injury news meant that Pontus Jansson would be missing along with key man Sergi Canos, Marcus Forss, and Nikos Karelis. Boro however would have new boys Moukoudi and Morrison both available for debuts depending upon how they performed in training during the week. The semi returned pair of Ryan Shotton and George Friend would still be deemed unavailable until their match fitness levels had improved. Long term absentees Ayala, Dijksteel and Roberts would all remain sidelined.

With Brentford in fifth and Boro languishing in eighteenth the Travelling Army would probably be expecting a fruitless trip or hopeful that the away day Boro who turned up at the Hawthorns and Deepdale do it again this afternoon at their last visit to Griffin Park. Harold Moukoudi was making his debut allowing Spence to be rested with Howson at RB and McNair in front pushed into midfield and Morrison on the bench.

Boro entered the pitch in their Inky black away shirt and white shorts and socks combo, a case of mix and match for the kit man with the winter sun shining on packed Griffin Park Brentford got the game underway with Dael Fry getting a boot to their inaugural probe. Boro had reverted to a back four pushing up the pitch and closing down quickly. The early tactics from Boro getting in amongst them quickly seemed to be having a positive effect in preventing Brentford getting their flowing football going.

A cross into the Boro box on seven minutes was partly cleared as Coulson slipped and a deflected shot went out for the first corner of the game. A couple of minutes later Moukoudi stood his ground in an unconvincing but effective manner from Benrahma. Dasilva then tried to find Benrahma again but Howson was alert to quickly see off the danger as Brentford now started to exert with a little bit of possession. Watkins was too quick off the mark approaching fifteen minutes and adjudged to be offside. As play restarted Coulson came close for Boro almost adding to his goal last week in our best opportunity in the opening quarter hour.

Dasilva tried his luck against Moukoudi again but the big loanee from St. Etienne was once again up to his task in clearing his lines in a somewhat agricultural but very effective and no-nonsense manner. Watkins was next to come up against Moukoudi from a free kick but like his team mates previously found that Harold was big, strong and impenetrable. On twenty minutes Boro had a heart stopping moment as the ball came off a beaten Pears’ upright from Dasilva but Fry was the first to react, stretching to head it off the goal line.

Twenty-five minutes in and the Bees were applying serious pressure as Benrahma fired in a shot blocked by Saville going out for another Brentford corner. As the ball was delivered to the back post there was a scrambled melee which Boro seemingly cleared off the line but Ref Peter Banks blew, awarding a goal to the appealing home fans delight with Jenvier the Bees opening scorer. A very messy goal to concede by Boro but one that was seen coming. As the game got underway again Jensen very nearly doubled his tally as Boro were now looking punch drunk. The Brentford onslaught was now relentless with Boro struggling to cut out the supply and deal with the speed and finesse of the Brentford attack.

Jensen found Watkins and the omnipresent Moukoudi dealt with it but they came straight back at us earning a corner in the process. The corner was poorly delivered Boro style straight to Tav who cleared but we struggled to hang onto any possession and Brentford reasserted themselves courtesy of a goal kick. Thirty minutes elapsed and Boro were already looking to the half time whistle to get their act together. The four at the back may have been what Woodgate wanted but there seemed little to no threat on the wings allowing Brentford to punish us at will and we offered nothing in response or at least nothing that was coherent.

Johnson cut into the eighteen-yard box and played in Tav to test Raya in a limited response to what had been fifteen minutes of total oppression from the Bees who had been well and truly buzzing. The Brentford pressure had eased at this point as Boro tried to get back into the game, a McNair free kick was hit too high and hard, going out for a goal kick as that damning stat about Boro and set pieces was once again illustrated. Our middle of the park looked wayward and struggling to find fellow Boro shirts with no creativity.

The first Boro corner came with five minutes of the half remaining predictably wasted and allowing Brentford to break out with speed requiring Coulson to rescue our blushes but in doing so allowing a dangerous set piece to Brentford. Jensen sent it in which fortunately was poorly delivered but equally poorly cleared by Boro with the Bees coming straight back at us again with the shot fortuitously going high and wide of Pears’ goal. A short Brentford corner saw Benrahma send it out across the far side in a wasteful effort as the home side seemingly wanted to outdo the visitors in who could make a complete mess of their set pieces.

Dalsgaard caught Wing in possession setting up an attack as the pressure continued ending in another corner to the home side. One minute of the half remained as the ball was whipped in and Fletcher who up until that point had been anonymous in his isolated lone striker role cleared away the danger. A Boro free kick in the dying seconds saw McNair float the ball in which was frustratingly easily cleared as the whistle sounded for half time.

The opening ten minutes was to Boro’s credit but after that it was all one-way traffic. Our flat back four stifled the creative outlet usually offered by Spence and Coulson. The midfield of Wing, McNair and Saville had looked disconnected and offered nothing offensively. Tav was involved but nothing of serious note and Fletcher must have tested positive for the Coronavirus this week as none of his team mates wanted anything to do with him.

Once again, the set up of four at the back coincided with a poor Boro showing, allowing Brentford the freedom of the flanks. Going in only one goal behind on forty-five minutes was probably the biggest positive Woodgate could take from the half along with the performance of Harold Moukoudi. Surprisingly after an ineffective first half there were no changes in personnel from Boro as they strolled back onto the pitch. Those in the away end were hopeful that there would at least be tactical changes if not physical ones as Boro got the second half underway.

McNair tried to pierce the Brentford defence early on but ran out of ideas and into the Brentford defence of three red and white striped shirts. The early exchanges saw a bit of Boro possession but we were slow, predictable, laboured and then suddenly a curling cross from Johnson clipped off Raya’s crossbar and Wing’s follow up was cleared from which Brentford broke and won a corner at the opposite end. Then a second corner in quick succession was lofted to the back post but fortunately an unmarked Watkins couldn’t control it. Boro had been guilty of leaving an attacker unmarked at the far post in the first half and clearly not learnt from it

Another McNair free kick was wasted, ending up with Johnson who struggled to get something on it conceding a goal kick in the process. It was very poor fayre from Boro so far, marginally more assertive perhaps in the second half but looked like we lacked continuity. As the game approached the hour mark a Coulson break saw his cross put out for a corner. McNair sent it in but it was headed out by Dalsgaard to Lewis Wing whose shot was routinely collected by Raya. A quick throw in then caught Brentford sleeping as Lewis Wing delivered one of his long range strikes which bounced and flew into the net past a despairing Raya on fifty-eight minutes.

The Travelling Army jubilation didn’t last long. Brentford’s Mbeumo replicated Lewis Wing and fired in a fierce shot of his own from distance after a poor Fry clearance straight to him which deflected off Moukoudi wrong footing Pears to restore the home sides lead. Boro came straight back at Brentford winning a corner, Johnson came off for Britt Assombalonga before it was taken. Tav sent it into the box and Fletcher rose majestically as if spurred by the arrival of Britt glancing it past Raya from five yards out, 2-2 on sixty-three minutes!

On sixty-four minutes another Wing strike had hopes high in the away end as the game now resembled attack v defence, swinging manically from end to end. It looked like a conventional 442 set up for Boro since the substitution with Wing on the left, Tav right and Britt partnering Fletcher. In a Benrahma attempt to break free Tav blatantly pulled him back for the games first yellow. The free kick was delivered in, met by Howson and it was Howson who then broke trying to set Britt free but the play broke down with Coulson. After a bit of theatrics from Mbeuno was ignored unrequited retribution was sought on Paddy McNair for a free kick to Boro.

A brilliant opportunity arose as Britt beat his man but with Fletcher screaming in the middle the execution of Britt’s pass was shall we say “rusty”. Britt was involved again moments later, fouling Dalsgaard as he looked to be keen to make his mark in the game. Brentford then made a substitution with Marcondes coming on for Jensen as the game had now turned a bit loose and messy which suited Boro rather than the coiffured Brentford playing style.

Tav made way for Nmecha with Lewis Wing now swapping flanks and fifteen minutes remained. Wing then brought down Watkins allowing a dangerous set piece as Brentford piled bodies into the Boro box which when despatched evaded everyone with its pace. Nmecha then tried to set up a Boro attack as the game continued with its frenetic nature in total contrast to the controlled and measured first half from the Bees. Just ten minutes now remained, McNair got a cross in but Britt fluffed his lines when he should have scored with Fletcher desperately trying to connect behind him. Saville who had a steady and solid second half then rescued Coulson as he was exposed as the game continued toing and froing. A free kick awarded just outside the Boro box to the Bees was in the desired perfect free kick specialist position. Benrahma faced a double wall of striped shirts and the navy shirts of Boro but managed to clear both the Bees decoy wall and the Boro defensive one to go safely over.

A Bees attack down the flank with a clever series of interpassing found Benrahma who skied his shot once again. The game was now in a lively phase to say the least as Brentford went for it but leaving gaps behind for Boro to exploit. Boro’s last Substitution was troubling for its logic with Fletcher coming off the field of play for Gestede. A striker for a striker when you have a valuable point away from home against one of the division’s better sides? Not only that but a very limited striker with little to no pace and a very poor first touch with a record for not scoring? A defender maybe considering you already had two strikers on the pitch, a creative and tricky midfielder who might do something special or create some magic, but no, we brought on Gestede! I can only assume it was in hope that he may win a header at a set piece perhaps in the way that Fletcher had done earlier to actually score!

As the game restarted the Bees tore down their right wing (yet again) and after some nifty passing set up Ollie Watkins, arriving in timely anticipation into the box despatching his shot to score Brentford’s third of the afternoon, 3-2, game over and out.

Lewis Wing found Gestede whose tame effort was saved by Raya with less than two minutes remaining and Brentford now utilising delaying tactics. A late free kick was launched up to Gestede which was cleared, delivered back in by Coulson as the fourth official held up four minutes. Thomas Frank made a tactical sub with Mbeumo going off for Roerslev in a very muddled and delayed switch. When the game finally got back underway a cross to Britt was too close to Raya allowing the Bees to waste even more time. Late into added time a Boro free kick was overhit as was seemingly de rigueur all afternoon allowing Brentford another opportune moment to delay.

George Saville then took Watkins down conceding a free kick to order at the corner flag as once again Brentford took it short, recycling the ball, killing the game in the process. Seconds later another free kick to the Bees near the corner flag ended the game as Peter Banks blew for what will be Boro’s final game at Griffin Park.

A very poor first half tactically but much better in the second from Boro but without ever looking totally joined up and far from convincing. Stark contrast to the fluid organised Brentford attacking display. The Gestede substitution when we were holding on for a draw with two strikers already on the pitch was eccentric to say the least and not a tactic that I have witnessed very often in many years of watching football. Granted had we nicked it at the death instead of Brentford then a masterstroke would have been claimed but if we go down by one point at the end of the season then this will be the day.

In the second half we hustled our way back into it and may feel unlucky not to come away with the point but in fairness Brentford deserved their win and the positive for Boro was that Moukoudi looks a good acquisition with a MOM performance.

If you wish to leave a comment about Redcar Red’s match report please return to the Week 26-27 discussion page

Will Gibson show intent before January circus leaves town

Championship 2019-20: Weeks 26-27

Sat  1 Feb – 15:00: Boro v Blackburn
Sat  8 Feb – 15:00: Brentford v Boro
Tue 11 Feb – 19:45: Wigan v Boro

Werdermouth prepares for surprise arrivals and shock departures or neither…

As the January transfer window circus gets ready to head out of town, all that is left are the usual bunch of sad clowns kicking their heels in oversized shoes after failing to persuade desperate clubs that their client’s wage demands were reasonable and the elephant in the room is now wondering why he’s been going round in circles again. Reports that Boro are attempting some death-defying signings without the aid of the safety net that was parachute payments have probably made even the most daring of accountants unable to look.

Still, cries for the jugglers in the recruitment department to be sacked remain unheeded as the Riverside ringmaster tries to get in on the act by introducing his amazing escapologist nephew, who is attempting to free himself from the claret and blue chains that bind him to Sean Dyche. While very few onlookers are left holding their breath, the latest rumours suggest rather than signing our own Harry Houdini, Boro may be welcoming the French-born defender Harold Moukoudi instead – though from Saint-Etienne rather than from from the Cirque du Soleil. OK, it could still be the result of a Googling autocorrect error that got out of hand.

Talking of chains, apparently first-time buyers Boro are being held in one as they hope to gain the signature of Leicester’s Croatian £13m stopper Filip Benkovic, who can seemingly go out loan to get some game-time and test his dodgy knee that has restricted him to just a handful of appearances in the last 12 months – though the cunning Foxes first want to sign a replacement as cover. From a typical Boro perspective it looks like an accident waiting to happen or indeed repeated as news that one January signing has already been sidelined by injury for two months. The exciting and energetic Patrick Roberts looks unlikely to pull on a Boro shirt until April after doing his hamstring (to give it the full medical diagnosis) against Birmingham and will now have little impact on Boro’s fortunes this season.

It seems as the deadline approaches the ambulance chasers at the Boro recruitment ward are being linked with another injury prone player to replace Roberts. Jordan Jones of Rangers is being suggested he will imminently move to Teesside, where he would return to the club he supports and was released by the academy in 2006. A knee injury has restricted Jones to just five appearances this season and it seems the three-games-a-week Championship will more than test his recovery.

Another player now being heavily linked to join Boro is bad boy Ravel Morrison, who at 26 has already been at ten clubs but hasn’t really played that much football in the last five years with just 34 games at five different clubs – 18 of which were down Mexico way for a club in Guadalajara. As a youngster there was no doubting his talent but his attitude has seemingly not made him many friends. From Manchester to London, Birmingham to Wales, Italy to Mexico and Sweden to Sheffield, it seems next stop is Teesside if the players less than cryptic Tweet yesterday of the Boro badge is any indication.

It’s fair to say with all that travelling he comes with plenty of baggage, including some serious off-field problems in his late teens and early twenties, which show being convicted of witness intimidation, several charges of assault (which were later dropped) and being fined by the FA for posting homophobic threats on Twitter. Lazio’s footballing director said of Morrison: “He has undoubted quality and is world class, as well as being a little mad” – while Big Sam described him as “The biggest waste of talent he has worked with.” A career blighted by problems, attitude and injuries, which you could say will add insult to injury to the mix if he does indeed join Boro. Perhaps not the role model our young squad need but possibly a cautionary tale for those who think they have already made it.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Woodgate may be hoping he won’t need to contemplate looking for his old boots under the stairs as defensive options for February could involve variations of a back one and a rush goalie. Though there’s still no news on progress of the Billy Ashcroft style conversion of Rudy Gestede into that towering presence at the back. At least it sounds like Dael Fry has recovered and hopefully he will be sufficiently fit to withstand the busy schedule of 11 games in the next seven weeks.

The Championship it appears has been designed to literally test a squad to destruction and is one that seemingly ignores the pace and rigours of modern football. This is no longer a world dominated by goal poachers and agricultural defenders but now requires players to press, sprint, overlap and cover with high intensity until they have left everything on the pitch – including surely their prospects of a long career. With the season now punctuated by four two-week international breaks, where a significant number of second-tier players at all levels don’t even get a break, it’s meant the need to further squeeze the calendar to fit in 46 league fixtures and two cup competitions – that’s normally a minimum of 50 games for each club with only 35 weekends available. It’s a war of attrition and tiredness has become the great leveller as once again the better teams at the top with more internationals lose their edge as others randomly play catch up.

Whether Boro can still catch up is another matter, that fleeting moment of possibility appears to have passed after those Manager-of-the-Month performances of December have not quite been repeated in January. After not tasting victory since that New Year’s Day win at Preston, Woodgate will probably need to explain to his son Carter that he probably doesn’t need to find any more space on the top of his wardrobe for another one just yet. He could possibly take time to introduce him to the folklore and the curse that often accompanies the award – though that could lead to some nightmares when the young lad sees it emitting an eerie kryptonic green glow in his bedroom at night.

Sadly, a twelve-point gap to sixth place is now looking insurmountable in the remaining 17 games and all but the pathological optimists on Teesside have probably given up hope of reaching the play-offs. To put the task in context, it probably requires 40 points from the remaining 17 games and few teams have ever achieved that in the recent history of the Championship. In case any doubt the veracity of that claim, I’m contractually obliged to throw in a table to prove the point that shows the most points that clubs have achieved since Boro were relegated ten years ago – note: other arbitrary statistically interpretations are available.

Most points gained in the last 17 games since 2009/10
After 29 games After 46 games Points gained
Season Team Position Points Position Points last 17 games
2011/12 Reading 7 46 1 89 43
2015/16 Burnley 3 56 1 93 41
2009/10 Newcastle 1 62 1 102 40
2018/19 Norwich 2 54 1 94 40
2017/18 Fulham 6 48 3 88 40
2019/20 Boro ? 17 35 6 75 40
2014/15 Watford 6 50 2 89 39
2014/15 Norwich 7 47 3 86 39
2018/19 Sheff Utd 4 51 2 89 38
2015/16 Brighton 4 51 3 89 38
2013/14 Burnley 2 56 2 93 37

Boro have been added to the table not out of anticipation but for the simple purpose of demonstrating the contrast in points and position that the other teams had both at this stage and after 46 games. Woodgate’s team currently have 12 points fewer than any team that has managed such a total. Nevertheless, if we were to see Boro ever join that table for real and make around 40 points to reach the play-offs then they’re going to have to come from a very long way back to emulate just a handful of clubs. Teams who can achieve such a sustained run of form appear to be already in contention with a third of the season remaining and probably weren’t relying on makeshift defences or bedding in too many young players and loanees. It’s perhaps even more of a challenge for an injury hit squad that has to now play 11 games in seven weeks. OK, it’s not impossible to make that amount of points but highly improbable a team currently in 17th is going to shoot up the table.

There’s probably an obvious reason why Boro are not closer to the play-offs and that is down to inconsistency and not having the ability to win games when not playing well – or indeed even when playing well. It should be noted that Aston Villa overcame an 11 point deficit with just 12 games to go last season to make the play-offs. They won 10 on the spin of their last 12 games and only lost their final game against Champions Norwich after resting some key players like Jack Grealish once a top-six place was already secured. Boro have already used up all their space for bad runs and would need to win four of their next five games, repeat that twice more and then end with a win and a draw! I don’t think even Ray Winstone would have the nerve to offer any odds on that.

This is the puzzling backdrop to why Boro are keen on adding more high-profile loan signings to what should be geared towards preparing for a better start next season. Try before you buy deals would be a more sensible approach rather than giving pitch time to any players who are not likely to be available or affordable for Boro next term. OK, Woodgate will want to finish as high as possible this season but it shouldn’t be at the expense of limiting his resources to acquire better players in the summer.

At the moment the club are pondering whether they can afford to offer deals to players like Howson and Ayala – though Woodgate sounded confident the former would sign a new contract. Following Marcus Tavernier committing himself to Boro until June 2023, the head coach also seemed to indicate both Djed Spence and Aynsley Pears were also very close to following suit. With Hayden Coulson already on board, together with Dael Fry, Lewis Wing and Ashley Fletcher, it will give Woodgate a good young core of players to build his team around and it will be important that they all get as many games under their belt this season as possible.

Of course, attracting players to Teesside has never been easy and most targets that reach the media before they sign usually never end up happening. Boro have to almost operate in stealth mode to avoid getting gazumped or players hijacked on route to Hurworth. Perhaps the bid for Ben Gibson was the equivalent of the proverbial ‘dead cat on the table’ that is essentially a distraction so Boro can work on their real targets without too much media attention.

OK, avoiding the media pack’s gaze can be difficult and often requires those involved to operate covertly. Boro could possibly learn from the latest takeover at Newcastle, where Mike Ashley is said to be furious that news of the deal has leaked into the media before it has been agreed. It’s not yet clear how the media twigged that the consortium involved were planning on buying the famous black-and-white shirted club as the whole deal had operated under an impenetrable codename. OK, perhaps ‘Project Zebra’ was barely enough to fool some of the working-lunch tabloid journos but at least they opted against adding the word ‘Crossing’ at the end.

Nevertheless, now that the people behind takeover have been outed, there is unease that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is one of them. You may recall it was reported he was recently behind the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi, whose body was then gruesomely chopped up and disposed of. Indeed, the charge sheet doesn’t stop there and you could easily add a whole list of crimes and human rights abuses from extra-judicial killings, financing a proxy war in Yemen, persecution of LGBT people in his own country and much more.

The prospect of such a person owning their club seems not to be an issue for most Newcastle supporters, with a poll showing 80 percent in favour – especially after the group indicated that they planned to make £200m available for transfers and possibly re-instate Rafa as manager. The Northern Echo reported that Michael Martin, from the Newcastle fanzine True Faith, said “The lure of a strengthened squad and the chance of a place in Europe means many fans would look beyond the issues surrounding human rights. If the Saudis took over at Newcastle, I seriously doubt there would be any local outcry… They would be welcomed not so much with open arms but with an unparalleled euphoria.” It’s also possible that the threat of the ‘bone saw’ may encourage the likes of Andy Carrol to stay fit.

All of which tells us that in the world of football today it’s only money that talks and nothing else seems to matter. Newcastle fans merely see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as their lottery ticket to becoming the next Manchester City. As to how he will pass the Premier League’s ‘Fit and Proper Person’ test will be interesting. I can imagine the meeting where the suits weigh up the evidence… “OK, on the downside he’s responsible for the murder of quite a few people, oppressed the population and is financing a brutal war – though on the plus side he’s got a personal fortune of $17bn and his extended family is worth over $2 trillion. Sounds like just the kind of man we’re looking to attract.” You may as well abolish the test if this deal goes through as what would somebody have to do to fail?

Owning a football club has become a way for very rich dubious people to add a veneer of respectability to their image. 15 of the 20 clubs in the Premier League are already owned by billionaires, even half-a-dozen of the Championship clubs are owned by billionaires. Steve Gibson with his personal fortune estimated at $263m is now one of the ‘poorest’ owners in the top two divisions – with only Millwall’s owners listed as worth less. I suspect the pressure to water down FFP rules will grow as the power of the wealthy usually exceeds the will of those who regulate.

Anyway, back to the actual football and Boro resume their business on the pitch this Saturday as they welcome a couple of local heroes back to Teesside with former manager Tony Mowbray and the head coach’s brother-in-law Stewart Downing. Downing claimed this week that him moving was the best for everyone and especially his friend Jonathan Woodgate. Though while he says he loving life at Blackburn under Mogga, he announced that he won’t celebrate if he scores – well I’m not sure given his less than prolific strike-rate (average of two goals per season at Boro and just one so far at Blackburn) he should spurn the opportunity to do a knee slide towards the Red Faction and turn his back and point to his name. Still, I hope he doesn’t include OGs in that statement as he will surely get to hear “there’s only one Stewy Downing” if he does. After winning their last two games, including 5-0 against Garry Monk’s Owls, Rovers are now just 4 points off the play-offs in tenth place. Woodgate will be hoping that only one of the Teesside-born former-central-defender-turned-gaffer is left smiling come five-o-clock – and preferably the current one.

The following weekend sees Boro make the trip to Brentford to take on a Thomas Frank’s side that are currently occupying a play-off place in fifth spot. Their 1-0 defeat at the hands of Forest ended a run of six-successive victories at Griffin Park, including wins over Fulham and Swansea – plus that 7-0 thrashing of Luton. It will not be an easy task for Boro to come away with three points as not only have the Bees conceded the fewest number of goals in the Championship, they are also the fourth highest scorers and subsequently have the best goal-difference.

Next up is the first midweek game of the month as Boro are once again on their travels as they head to Wigan. Paul Cook’s side are currently in the relegation zone. Their win over Birmingham on New Year’s Day ended a run of 13 games without victory and they picked up another three points last time out against Sheffield Wednesday. The Lactics are currently nine points behind Boro and four from safety and it’s a game Woodgate will want to win to put an even healthier distance between the clubs. The reverse fixture back in August saw Woodgate achieve his first win as Boro head coach with a narrow 1-0 victory thanks to a first-half headed goal from Britt Assombalonga – perhaps the DR Congo striker will hope to repeat the task if he’s back from injury.

So as rumours come and go and targets become no longer of interest, it’s difficult to predict how the squad will look come 23:00 on Friday evening. If past experiences are anything to go by then probably not much different as last-minute hitches and changes of mind mean business wasn’t able to be completed. As I type this sentence, there’s still no sign of Ben Gibson, Harold Moukoudi is still heading to Teesside to be toughen up, Ravel Morrison hasn’t as yet unravelled, Leicester have signed a replacement to unblock Filip Benkovic, Jordan Jones is possibly still on his Jack, the lad from Shrewsbury who looked good on TV against Liverpool is still being linked with everyone and apparently Boro are in for 20-year old wonder-kid from Argentina. Still no offers for Gestede and Villa have yet to panic and offer £10m for Britt…

Climate on Teesside warming after the Boro gong show

Championship 2019-20: Weeks 24-25

Fri 17 Jan – 19:45: Fulham v Boro
Tue 21 Jan – 19:45: Boro v Birmingham

Werdermouth looks towards Boro basking in the winter sunshine…

As the climate on Teesside continues to show signs of unseasonal warming there are worries that the ancient north-east ice shelf of pessimism may be at risk of total collapse with a danger of severe floods of optimism engulfing the local landscape. While it’s not quite yet an emergency that requires an intervention from Greta Thunberg, it’s still a concern that the future of Teesside’s children could be blighted by overheated aspirations. OK, it’s still only mid January so there’s still time to experience the traditional pleasure of cold reality but thankfully Boro supporters only have five more days to negotiate the risk of disappointment this month. Indeed, it’s time to prepare for two football-free weekends of tending to prematurely awakened globally-warmed gardens while contemplating a suitable morally outraged position on Megxit to fill the void that exists in a post-Brexit world.

Despite no win in the last three games (surely just an anomaly caused by the distorting ripples created by the gravity of the manager of the month award), it’s seems Boro have finally found that winning mentality they lacked earlier in the seson. The club’s change in fortunes saw Jonathan Woodgate collect the prestigious footballing equivalent of the salesman of the month for his team topping the form table for December. After a Ricky Gevais equivalent handed him the expensively cast iconic sculpture, the almost emotional Boro head coach declared in his acceptance speech that “I’m proud, but I’m nothing without my staff…” before quickly adding “…and then of course, the players. It’s always about the players.” Indeed, the players have deserved that acknowledgement but surprisingly there was no mention of the ‘Me Too’ movement that many had expected at such occasions, though that particular movement on Teesside represented those supporters who had agreed among themselves that they wouldn’t return to the Riverside while Woodgate was still in charge.

Though while we were informed that the award is set to take pride of place on top of his son’s wardrobe (no higher praise other than glueing it to the ceiling perhaps), the award has also helped to vindicate Steve Gibson in appointing another young head coach. OK, it won’t necessarily prove to be decisive moment in his managerial career but it does at least mark a change in attitude on Teesside for many who had feared the club were going nowhere fast under the inexperienced gaffer. However, Woodgate is unlikely to dwell on the award and is conscious that he needs to continue winning if he is to keep ahead of the game: “Alright, I’m Manager of the Month now. But that can quickly change” – indeed it often does and no doubt will. If that wasn’t enough, Ashley Fletcher also bagged the ‘Goal of the Month’ award for December for his superb 30-yard volley at the Baggies and Djed Spence made it a hat-trick with the Young Player of the Month award.

More vindication for Steve Gibson arrived on Thursday as Derby County (aka Rooney’s Rams) were charged by the EFL of being in breach of their Financial Fair Play rules. Although, it should be noted that was for the period ending 30th June 2018 – so while the decision will be welcomed by the Boro chairman, it does appear that an 18 month delay in being held to account means it probably won’t deter clubs from gambling on promotion. Gibson’s argument has been that Boro missed out on making the play-offs to Derby in the following season by just one point and they had gained an unfair advantage by overspending beyond what was permitted. Mel Morris had sought to give the appearance of staying within the spending rules by selling the club’s stadium to what was listed as “companies under common ownership” or in layman’s terms simply himself. The stadium sale was rather luckily made just two days before that end of June accounting period and registered a profit of £39.9m to turn a potential three-year loss of £48m into just an £8m one with EFL rules permitting just a loss of £39m – still at least the accountants added 900 grand to the stadium profit to avoid it looking like they were taking the proverbial by picking that controversial figure.

Whether Derby will ultimately face a points deduction this season may depend on when the matter is resolved – The East Midlands club are contesting that they haven’t actually done something against the letter of the rules and it’s likely to be a semantic legal argument over the legitimacy of what constitutes an allowable entity to which something can be sold or whether indeed the price was fair or inflated. Whatever the outcome, it would either seem unfair if it was imposed with less than ten games remaining or of no consequence if it simply placed them lower in mid-table. Philip Cocu’s side are currently like Boro ten points clear of the drop zone with just an outside chance of bridging the 8-point gap to the play-offs. The precedent of Birmingham receiving a nine point deduction may make it uncomfortably close for Rams supporters to contemplate the possibility of relegation. However, sympathy on Teesside will unlikely to be in evidence with that memory of Boro’s relegation caused by our own three-point deduction for faxing a dodgy sick note.

Strangely, there was no sign of Steve Gibson and Mel Morris sharing pleasantries in the directors box at the recent Riverside encounter and perhaps it was just as well given that injury-time strike by Duane Octavious Holmes, which stole a fifth-successive victory from Woodgate’s men. I suspect the Boro chairman would have struggled to avoid the Rebecca Long-Bailey-esque stock countenance of appearing to be forcing a smile while simultaneously sucking a lemon as he shook hands with the Derby owner. Note: other Labour leadership contender facial expressions are available in the event of needing to portray indifference, surprise or even vague understanding in the event of losing – though unlike most of those it seems Boro still have momentum on their side. Incidentally, it appears the main criteria for a new Labour leader is to possess a suitable name that fits in with the famous White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” tune that is used to chant “Oh Jeremy Corbyn!” and on that basis it’s looking good for “Oh Rebecca Long-Bailey!” as the other are either a few syllables short or in Emily Thornberry’s case will probably need to marry Kier Starmer to reduce it to the right number.

Though the pressing issue at the moment is the cost of restoring Big Ben’s clapper before the end of the month in order to ring in the changes. Yes there are further rumours that Ben Gibson may be restored to Boro’s defence before the January transfer window ends – though many on Teesside are concerned that he may be all clapped out after disappearing in Lancashire under Sean Dyche and would prove to be nothing more than an expensive sentimental signing – indeed some on social media are even not bothering with the ‘senti’ bit. Still, Boro surely need to sign at least one central defender in the next few weeks to avoid seeing a back three of central midfielders. Apparently, Shotton is close to fitness but Ayala’s is set to be missing for the next four weeks, which is a minimum of another five games.

At least Boro have signed another keeper after Darren Randolph finally limped out of Hurworth and signed for West Ham. The delay to the least surprising Boro exit for sometime was it seems down to David Moyes having a thing about injured goalkeepers – apparently to lose one is unfortunate, two is careless but three would demonstrate something pathological that lies hiden behind that stare. Still, at least he would probably have got the gig for the next ‘Injury Lawyers for You’ advert… “Have you ever accidentally signed an injured keeper that wasn’t your fault?” Nevertheless, Boro have been quick to replace Randolph with the arrival of a massive six-foot-five Macedonian in the form of Dejan Stojanovic, who the the faithful on the terraces are probably going to need more than just a complimentary free pint to be able to chant his name to that White Stripes classic – though too many and inevitable slurring could cause some to be whisked away by St John’s ambulance staff as possible stroke victims. We can only hope for the sake of the hard-pressed A&E at James Cook that Aynsley Pears continues to show good form between the sticks. Sadly Tomás Mejías will probably be kicking himself for blowing his chances of getting his hands on the number one shirt after his second-minute howler in the Tottenham replay – though it’s possible kicking is not his strongest attribute and he should leave it to others.

Last Tuesday, Boro supporters had what’s often known slightly patronisingly as “a good day out” in the country’s swankiest most expensive stadium that the Spurs board are hoping won’t become ‘White Elephant Lane’ rather than the previous ‘Hart’. It perhaps sums up the hyped nature of football that the team managed by the world’s most successful coach in a billion pound stadium struggled to see off Woodgate’s cobbled together team of those who couldn’t be rested. On another day perhaps Boro could have sneaked into the fourth round but in the end nobody seemed overly keen on risking the chance of three points at Craven Cottage over the increasingly tarnished distraction of the FA Cup. It won’t go down as a particularly memorable encounter but Boro basically did enough over both games to leave their new-found confidence intact and allow themselves to both euphemistically and literally concentrate on the league.

Boro opted to remain in London this week to minimise travelling and have been training at Palace. So it’s a short trip to Fulham for another televised encounter and the opportunity to close the gap on the top six. All Boro can do is try to win every game and see where it takes them but while that notion would have been ridiculed only a few weeks ago, Woodgate’s team now look like they have a chance at beating nearly any team in the Championship. The arrival of Roberts on loan from Man City has added yet another lively direct player to the team, which with the rise of Coulson, Spence, Tavernier and Fletcher has transformed blunt Boro into a dangerous-looking outfit – especially if the promising Nmecha improves his match fitness. Scott Parker’s side are currently sitting in fourth spot and looking at making a swift return to the Premier League. While they recently beat Leeds at Craven Cottage, they have also lost two of their last four at home, including last time out against in-form Reading and also against the Robins. The other plus for Woodgate is that Fulham will be without their main man Mitrović up front as he damaged his ankle last time out – the Serb is the Championship’s leading scorer with 18 goals in 26 appearances. The Boro head coach now has difficult selection issues as up until recently the team has basically selected itself by availability.

Finally, Tuesday sees the rearranged home fixture against Birmingham, which was originally due to take place during the FA Cup fourth round fixtures. Pep Clotet still remains in charge of the Blues but his team have dropped down the table and are now below Boro in 18th place. Last week they recorded only their second victory since the beginning of November after beating bottom club Luton 2-1 – with the other one being surprisingly at in-form team Reading. Boro will be looking for revenge for the 2-1 defeat in the reverse fixture where Woodgate’s team faced 26 attempts on goal from the Blues and only mustered five chances themselves. In fact, Boro almost came away with a point after an 87th minute equaliser from Ayala but sadly conceded a Birmingham winner two minutes later. That was back in early October when the head coach was still persisting with 4-3-3 but Coulson and Friend were injured and Shotton was playing left-back. Clotet will face a much more dynamic Boro team this time and hopefully it will be the team in red peppering the opposition goal.

So that brings the action on the pitch to an end for January but it’s possible it will continue off the pitch as Woodgate looks to reshape his Boro squad before the transfer window closes. The head coach has indicated that he also expects the young first team graduates of Tavernier, Coulson, Spence and Pears all to sign new deals in the coming weeks, which he claims will be like new signings. Clearly there are still some gaps to be filled and there’s still the issue of whether the club will look to cash in Assombalonga to raise more cash for the summer. There’s also the matter of whether Howson and Ayala will sign new deals and it’s also possible clubs will test Boro’s resolve with someone like McNair. While reaching the play-offs may require maintaining the December run all the way to the end of the season, the nucleus of a team capable of promotion is now within Woodgate’s sight and the future is now looking bright rather than the gloomy one anticipated.

Joy and relief after Boro return to winning ways

Championship 2019-20: Weeks 22-23

Sun  5 Jan – 14:01: Boro v Spurs (FA Cup)
Sat 11 Jan – 15:00: Boro v Derby
Tue 14 Jan – 20:05: Spurs v Boro (FA Cup Replay)

Werdermouth looks ahead to Boro continuing their good form…

Nothing probably epitomised the change in fortune of Boro’s season than the sight of Rudy Gestede’s face after scoring his first goal in a Boro shirt for nearly two years – plus the joy of his team-mates who must have known what it meant to him. Indeed, Dael Fry almost looked quite emotional as they celebrated, with Ashley Fletcher also having something of a proud look on his face and the effervescent Marcus Tavernier simply ecstatic with joy for the big Benin striker, whose time at the club has been blighted by injuries and failure. Clearly the team spirit amongst the players is evident and that is an important ingredient for any team hoping to achieve something.

Another factor in Boro’s revival is that Jonathan Woodgate and his coaching team appear to be starting to get the best out of what players they have at their disposal in a limited strength squad. Whether it be young players suddenly finding themselves in the first team picture in Djed Spence, Hayden Coulson or Aynsley Pears, those who have lacked form and confidence like Ashley Fletcher or George Saville and even the older players who had lost their places such as Adam Clayton and now Rudy Gestede. Perhaps Woodgate has been underestimated as a man-manager and it’s clear that the players are prepared to give him their all on the pitch.

Of course, the major factor for any successful team is self-belief and confidence, which began to return with every successive victory that was chalked up – indeed, the upturn may have come sooner if it hadn’t been for some crucial sending-offs that scuppered promising displays. Ten games ago, Boro were two-nil up and cruising against Hull until Marvin Johnson saw red eight minutes before half time – the ten men were eventually pegged back and were lucky to escape with a point. It was the same at Swansea, after Marcus Tavernier had equalised just before the hour mark and it looked like only one team was going to go onto win – and it wasn’t the Welsh one in white. However, a few minutes after that goal Browne’s stupid lunging tackle on the halfway line saw him sent to the stands and he was followed not long after by McNair for another less than clever challenge in front of the dugouts – the Swans then struck twice to send Boro home with nothing. Unbelievably, if Boro had have won those two and picked up those five extra points, Jonathan Woodgate’s team would now be only three points outside the play-offs with 20 games remaining!

Nevertheless, that festive bonanza of twelve points to end the bleak mid winter have totally reshaped the landscape of what was looking like it would be a long toil in the even bleaker valleys of the drop zone. Instead, Boro have now almost scrambled onto the higher planes of mid-table and the foothills of the play-offs are now almost in reach. It’s certainly been some journey this season and I’m not sure whether anyone associated with the club were overly keen on taking such a scenic route to a possible play-off place. OK, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves as there’s still a long way to go before that becomes a serious proposition. Still, the renewed optimism is palpable and it may be that we’ll start to see evidence of FOMO on Teesside. FOMO, in case you’ve missed out on that particular acronym, is the latest social media induced anxiety, which rather appropriately is pronounced ‘foamo’ and stands for ‘Fear of missing out.’

Although, for the football world, FOMO has been the driving force behind the inflationary transfer window for many a year and we are once again preparing to peer though another one in a serious Playschool manner. Boro have wasted little time (and thankfully little money) in getting their first January signings with the capture of Manchester City’s young winger Patrick Roberts – OK, the 22-year old has only ever had one appearance off the bench for the Sky Blues following a £12m transfer from Fulham and had spent most of his last three years out on loan. He had a successful spell at Celtic, scoring 15 goals in 55 appearances but hasn’t done anything of note in the last 18 months with unsuccessful loan spells at Girona in Spain and just three appearances for Norwich this season.

If Woodgate and Keane can get him back on track then he may be a good signing but he’s probably another player who is looking to reboot his career to rediscover some form and match fitness. Also just hot off the press arriving from City on loan is the six-foot-one German-born young forward Lukas Nmecha – he spent last season on loan at Preston, scoring 4 goals in 38 appearances and has spent this season at Wolfsburg but got few opportunities to play. The 21-year old is described as a pacy two-footed forward with a good first touch, who can either play as a centre-forward or out wide and likes to run at defenders – though it’s possible that paragraph on Wikipedia was written by his agent . Interestingly, he scored for England U20s against Germany in 2018 but switched sides in 2019 when he came on as sub for Germany’s U21s when they beat England 2-1. He sounds like a favourite for the Anglo-Germanic dual-nationals out there – albeit a confusing one!

January could be an important transfer window for Boro and it’s possible we’ll see a few strategic exits that could raise funds to help the bolstering of a rather thin squad that looks like it can’t take many more injuries or suspensions. I’d expect the club to make some defensive signings now Ayala has joined the injured, and with no sign of either Shotton or Friend returning, Woodgate is only one more injury or suspension short of a centre-back crisis. Whether we’ll see any experienced players arriving is another matter but that may depend on sales. The latest news on Randolph is that Boro have rejected West Ham’s opening bid as too low, but with Aston Villa also now in the market for a keeper after losing Tom Heaton for the season with a knee injury, it at least could start a bidding war for his services. A thoughtful Woodgate sounded somewhat vague on the future of both Randolph and Britt after simply saying “I’d like to think that they’ll both stay.”

With head of recruitment, Adrian Bevington, leaving the club last month it could mean a change in direction or possibly there was simply no real role for him given Boro’s lack of funds. Whether Boro are looking to target a different profile of player after the summer arrivals have so far failed to make the grade is uncertain – perhaps they could take inspiration for their recruitment policy from the latest planned advertisement from those who now run the country. Dominic Cummins has published in his blog that he aims to encourage “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to apply for jobs in government – though many on Teesside could be forgiven for thinking that was Boro’s policy of the last few years for recruiting their players. The Downing Street strategist also added that he didn’t want to employ “confident public school bluffers” – not sure who he had in mind but presumably they were already over-represented in that department in the senior positions.

Moving quickly along from the world of politics that has often been unkindly (though possibly accurately) described as “show business for ugly people.” Anyway, it’s Boro who are now sitting much prettier in the Championship after that hectic but handsomely productive festive programme. However, January suddenly becomes a lot more languid with just a Cup tie and three league fixtures to fill out the month with not a midweek game in sight to punctuate the winter weekends.

Sunday sees Boro join the third round of the FA Cup with a high-profile televised home tie against a top Premier League team. Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham (as they’ve obligatorily been renamed) arrive on Teesside to waft a bit a glamour around the Riverside that neither Barnsley, Stoke or Huddersfield simply had the smell of. Most will be expecting that many of the big names will be rested for this game and no doubt Spurs will also make changes too. Although, with so few games in January for Boro, they may as well give it good go and maybe impress a few armchair neutrals. The real danger will be attracting unwanted attention from the January shoppers looking to boost their squads – maybe we could get a few extra millions by selecting Randolph or Britt but equally we could lose a few millions if they fluff their lines. A Gestede hat-trick will no doubt be followed with club statements saying he’s not for sale at any price before reluctantly relenting after a £5m bid from Villa to resign their former player.

When the third round draw was made, there were probably very few compos mentis Boro supporters that would contemplate their club would be in the fourth round hat. Now I suspect after the last four wins and news that Harry Kane is injured and the distinct possibility of others being rested for Spurs next game against Liverpool, Boro may fancy an upset. Indeed, you may be surprised to hear that Boro have won as many league games as Tottenham this season, with both clubs registering eight a piece. Spurs have been looking shaky in defence of late and have conceded first in their last four games, of which only one was won.

Mourinho’s latest squeeze are not at their best and in truth the Special One hasn’t looked that special in recent years with his odd bullying behaviour no longer seen as charming or effective after getting sacked by Chelsea for losing 9 of his opening 16 games. It was also marked by that infamous incident with the club’s female doctor, who he demoted for running onto the pitch to treat a prostrate Eden Hazard. The BBC reported that Eva Carneiro had claimed at a tribunal that Mourinho had shouted at her in Portugese “filha da puta” which translates as “daughter of a whore” – Dr Carneiro eventually settled with the club for constructive dismissal after turning down their original offer of £1.2m compensation. Mourinho then became Man Utd manager after seemingly being Sir Alex’s chosen one but he failed to revive their fortunes with the fans upset by the dour football he served up. He was sacked shortly before Christmas in 2018 after winning just 7 of his opening 17 games with him and his staff received just under £20m for their inconvenience.

Boro will hopefully try to continue in the Championship where they left off as they welcome Derby to the Riverside six days after their Cup exploits – although their opponents will presumably now be known as Wayne Rooney’s Rams after he somehow agreed to join Frank Lampard’s former club to inspire them to avoid relegation to League One – though I suspect the original deal was sold to him as firing the club to promotion to the Premier League when it was agreed back in August. Rooney has joined as player-coach on an 18 month contract – though I’m not sure if Mel Morris now plans to sell the training ground back to himself to fund his wages.

Derby, you may recall, lost out to Villa in the play-off final last season and after Frank Lampard departed for Chelsea appointed the former Dutch international Phillip Cocu as manager. Cocu played 101 times for The Netherlands and went on to become assistant manager for his country before leaving to take charge as caretaker manager at PSV. He subsequently stepped back to an under-19 role at the club before returning as first-team manager, which saw him lift the Eredivisie title in 2015 and defend it the following year.

However, Cocu has so far failed to inspire his new club to Championship success and a 2-1 Rooney-inspired win over Barnsley saw them join Boro on 33 points. It was the Ram’s second win in a week after also beating Charlton by the same score – though they’d failed to win any of their previous seven games in a run that had seen them slide down the table towards the relegation zone. Boro will hope it was a temporary return to form and that the presence of Wazza won’t prove to be the driving force for those around him at the Riverside.

So as the Boro faithful enter January in an uncharacteristic positive mood and start projecting a collective spirit of all pulling in the same direction, the question for many supporters now out of their cynical comfort zone, is how long it will last? For the moment most are feeling pleasantly surprised after the festive cheer and are still humming the Wizzard chorus of “I wish it could be Christmas every day” – while simultaneously getting twitchy as they prepare to pack away the decorations and inwardly anticipate the inevitable slump!

Boro in search of 2020 vision to end decade of decline

Championship 2019-20: Weeks 20-21

Fri 20 Dec – 19:45: Boro v Stoke
Tue 26 Dec – 15:00: Boro v Huddersfield
Sun 29 Dec – 15:00: West Brom v Boro
Wed  1 Jan – 15:00: Preston v Boro

Werdermouth looks at Boro as they prepare to enter a new decade…

As we get ready to start a new decade, it’s normally a time to both look back and wonder how it defined our lives, while also looking to the future with a vision of how to move forward. However, the problem of visions is that they come in many guises and we just can’t tell whether the latest one to emerge from Boro is going to be true, blurred, short-sighted or was even induced by some kind of delerium caused possibly by the shock of wasting large amounts of cash. It’s also been observed that some people’s visions were even triggered by taking mind-altering drugs, which can sometimes risk a condition known as hallucinogenic persisting perception disorder (HPPD) – though there’s no suggestion the chairman was on a trip when he had the idea to install Jonthan Woodgate to lead the club into the future. However, the acid test for Boro will be whether the new plan under the new regime can turn themselves into team that can compete at the other end of the table.

Boro have now spent almost a decade as primarily a Championship club having previously spent over a decade as an established Premier League club before exiting that grand stage left just over ten years ago in 2009. Since that bow from the big time it’s been a case of searching for an encore by changing the actors and trying to improvise our way through a mixture of low budget B-movies or throwing money at potential A-listers only to discover they had bad scripts without happy endings.

It was just over ten years ago that the club appointed Gordon Strachan to replace the dismissed Gareth Southgate – whatever happened to him? Looking back, it doesn’t seem like the temperamental Scot was the consequence of a carefully planned vision – especially if there’s any truth in the rumour that it was the result of a chance encounter with Keith Lamb at a service station toilet. OK, it doesn’t sound like it was a cunning plan to approach someone at a service station but Boro just got lucky it was Gordon – perhaps lucky is not the correct phrase. Anyway, it’s interesting to look at who was in that Boro team ten years ago for the last game of the previous decade under Strachan before he raided the Old Firm and blew the budget after Hogmanay. That game was away at Barnsley on 28 December 2009 and the starting XI was: Danny Coyne, Justin Hoyte, Chris Riggot, Rhys Williams, David Wheater, Tony McMahon, Gary O’Neil, Adam Johnson, Julio Arca, Marcus Bent, Jonathan Franks. Quite a lot of academy graduates in that team and almost similar to where we are now – though hopefully the club won’t be raiding the Scottish leagues in January!

Strachan, you no doubt recall turned out to be a disaster and Gibson turned to local legend Tony Mowbray, who was appointed to pick up the pieces but couldn’t find a way back to the big time once the money had run out. The question is how long do you need to be away before the notion of getting back is still makes sense? Of course, we shouldn’t overlook our brief return to rubbing shoulders with the stars, when the protégé of the Special One finally gained the prize of promotion despite his method acting and momentarily losing the plot with that meltdown mishap. It seemed Boro were back in the limelight but sadly there were too few best bits and too many dull performances and the show was cancelled after just one season.

At least Boro left with a big pay cheque in their pocket and the compensation of having Premier League royalties in the form of parachute payments. Luckily the club’s new vision had a need for plenty of cash but unfortunately they mistook the appearance of being wealthy with all the lavish spending to actually being wealthy. It was a gamble that never paid off – except for Garry Monk and his staff who were all handsomely paid off! Another cunning plan had failed and it now it’s once again time to start cutting back on the spending before the credit runs out. The latest plan is not so much a vision but a necessity that many on Teesside saw it coming before it became the new way forward.

Back in the busy Christmas present, Boro will hopefully encourage a bit of festive cheer from the terraces, where seasonal goodwill has so far been lacking. It’s felt like a long journey of discovery for the new management team and the consensus has been more than clear for some time that there will be no room at the Premier Inn for this weary-looking Boro. Perhaps the three far from wise men of Woodgate, Keane and Leo initially took a wrong turning along the way or were possibly gazing at the wrong stars when they followed the path to the less than stable birth of their infant coaching careers.

Nevertheless, with four games in twelve days there is no time to dwell on who was in charge of direction as Boro need points – the first two of which are both crucial six-pointer battles at the Riverside against relegation rivals. Stoke arrive for the Friday evening televised game and with the Potters just three points behind sitting third from bottom, a defeat would likely drag Woodgate’s team back into the drop zone before the partridge appears in a metaphorical pear-shaped Christmas trees on Teessside.

However, a win would put serious daylight between Boro and Michael O’Neil’s men and give us a head start before the traditional post-Christmas slump kicks in. Stoke’s new boss had got off to a good start when he was appointed in early November, winning his first two in charge against fellow strugglers Barnsley and Wigan. However, he lost his next three to cast doubts on the prospects of making a quick escape but have recently returned to winning ways after beating another relegation-troubled team in Luton and then drew 0-0 with the lowly Royals. Let’s hope they don’t continue the trend of taking points off the teams around them when they head to Teesside. Incidentally, the game against Stoke takes us to the halfway point of the season and only a win will take Boro above the one point per game average, which by anyone’s measure is still well below average.

Boro will be of course without Paddy McNair after his red-card appeal was, like the player himself, dismissed – though no signs of stamping or elbows from the adjudicating panel on that decision. Missing the Stoke game could be crucial as he’s looked a driving force in midfield, particularly at the Riverside. It’s made even worse by him also missing the equally crucial Boxing Day fixture against Huddersfield, who are currently just one point and one place above Boro. Woodgate will also be without Marcus Browne after he also received his marching orders at Swansea but given he’s hardly made much impact since his arrival (other than with some lunging tackles) it doesn’t seem like a major blow that he’s once again unavailable. At least Lewis Wing’s return from injury will help to fill the gap in the midfield and there’s hope Britt may be fit again to return up front – though Ashley Fletcher’s belief that “Gestede can still shine for Middlesbrough” may be not the brightest prediction he’s made given the gloomy evidence of the previous three years.

So the game against Huddersfield is the first reverse fixture of the season despite it only being late October when we played them at their place. While you could be forgiven if it didn’t stick in your memory, as it was a largely forgettable goal-less draw – however, it did see Aynsley Pears make his debut between the sticks. The Terriers had seemed on the up again after the arrival of the Cowley brothers but they’ve now only managed one win in their last seven games, which was against the poor Charlton side that even Boro achieved victory over. So both side could see Boxing Day as another chance to bank three points – though most wouldn’t be surprised to see a repeat of the John Smith’s score and perhaps some will even be glad for a chance to doze off after over-indulging the day before.

We can only hope that Boro capitalise on those two home festive fixtures against their relegation rivals as the next two games look decidedly tricky. The last game of 2019 is at leaders West Brom and they haven’t lost for three months and that was a narrow 1-0 defeat at Leeds – in fact it’s their only defeat of the season. Indeed, in their last two home games the goals have been flying in after grabbing nine goals against the Swans and the Robins – so let’s pray that Boro’s visit is not a turkey shoot as we could be in for another stuffing away from home with all the trimmings to our goal difference that would entail.

Boro’s first-footing of 2020 takes them over the Deepdale threshold and Preston is a place where few return with any luck. Alex Neil’s side have won 9 of their 12 games on home soil with just one defeat against those aforementioned Baggies. Unsurprisingly, Preston top the home league table with 29 points and a nicely symmetrical 29 goals – incidentally, in case anyone was wondering Boro are third bottom of the away table with just five points, ten goals and no wins. Statistically it doesn’t look too promising that Jonathan Woodgate will be associating new year with happy – though if he’s into shopping at least the January sales start and the transfer window opens!

And so begins another decade for the club where it seems the emphasis will be on youth as the cash appears to be too tight to bring in the experienced or the tried and tested. It seems the responsibility will be placed on our young players to take us forward in the next decade. I’m reminded of the song entitled ‘Decades’ from the post-punk band Joy Division (not named after the Championship) that opened with the lyrics “Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders. Here are the young men, well where have they been?” Those lines perhaps sum up where we are in 2020 as we wait to see if the young men graduating from the Boro academy will surprise and deal with the pressure that will be inevitably placed on them. I suspect it probably won’t improve your optimism if I mentioned the person who wrote those lyrics, Ian Curtis, suffered from depression and killed himself before the album with that song on it was released. However, I should add that haunting tune from 1980 still remains one of my favourite songs – albeit a sombre reflective one.

Anyway, I will try to end the decade on a more positive note and as we wonder whether Boro as a club can find a new vision to move forward. Obviously, to have a vision it probably helps to have visionary thinking and this is what Steve Gibson had when he first became chairman as he embarked on a plan to put Boro on the footballing map. Bringing in Bryan Robson gave the club the pulling power to sign players we would have never dreamed would arrive on Teesside. It also gave us our first taste of getting to a major cup final and eventually it led to winning one and even getting to a European cup final. Perhaps it’s unlikely to be a vision that could work now in the age of billionaire owners but it was still a vision that came to fruition.

Some have started to think that maybe the chairman is getting too old to be looking forward with new visions for Boro and he’s now content to just think of his legacy as he keeps the club ticking over without taking risks. Interestingly, I listened to an interview this week with a scientist called James Lovelock, who I first knew about probably 30 years ago when reading a book of his. He’s most famous for developing the Gaia hypothesis, which argues that the Earth is essentially a self-regulating organism and was also recruited by Nasa in the early 1960s to work on projects that were searching for life on Mars and other planets. He also developed the sensor that detected the hole in the ozone layer and another bizarre claim to fame was that he held Stephen Hawking as a baby when working with his father at the National Institute of Medical Research. For his 90th Birthday he was flown into space by Richard Branson and in July of this year he celebrated his 100th year on Earth. Amazingly, he still sounds as sharp and enthusiastic as he did 30 years ago and continues to write books and work on ideas. As James Lovelock looked back on his career at 100 he said: “My life has been one mass of visions.” So perhaps he can be an inspiration to Steve Gibson and indeed to us all. You’re never too old to have a vision to move things forward, you just need to keep young at heart, keep an active mind and be capable of thinking things through – that is the challenge for those who run Boro for the next decade…

Gibson elects to give Woodgate a proxy vote of confidence

Championship 2019-20: Weeks 18-19

Sat  7 Dec – 15:00: Boro v Charlton
Tue 10 Dec – 19:45: Nottm Forest v Boro
Sat 14 Dec – 15:00: Swansea v Boro

Werdermouth looks to see if Boro can bounce back from the heavy defeat at Leeds…

While universal suffrage may at first sound like the inevitable painful life chosen by Boro supporters, it is of course the foundation of democracy and the means by which a club like Middlesbrough will make important decisions through the principal of one man one vote – with that man being Steve Gibson. As various national newspapers this week claimed the ‘exclusive’ that Neil Warnock was poised to be installed as Boro manager, it was surely the invitation for any self-respecting chairman to feel compelled to cast his non-binding vote of confidence. Although since such a public backing is often conversely viewed from the outside as the beginning of the end for those who receive it, that vote of confidence in the head coach was instead seemingly delivered by proxy through the obliging on-message local press.

Whether Jonathan Woodgate actually retains the confidence of his chairman will probably not just be assessed on how he has so far handled the current campaign but it could also depend on how his long-term leadership potential is still viewed. After inheriting what used to be regarded as one of the safest seats in football, it’s perhaps a sign of the club’s recent volatility that they’ve joined the ranks of the short-term appointers as they swing from one philosophy to another in an attempt to find a winning formula. Unbelievably, the seemingly unlucky Woodgate is now 13th longest serving manager in the Championship, which may or may not keep the chairman’s reputation intact as a man who gives his managers space and time – though he doesn’t need to be an Einstein to realise that in the world of football all time is relative.

This almost Watfordesque approach to management has left each chosen candidate struggling to reshuffle and square-peg talent at the club into a coherent unit that fits their requirements. Since relegation under Southgate, the chieftains at the club’s think tank appear to have brainstormed from one idea to the next. Strachan wanted a team of old firm tough men and the boat was pushed out to acquire them – Mowbray wanted to play open attacking football but was left without a paddle on rather murky looking Tees with a very modest budget to find players skillful enough – Karanka then arrived with his micro-management meltdown methodology based on building from the back and bolting on an array of match winners at the sharp end – Monk was indulged in buying high-ticket price attacking players to blow away the opposition – Pulis replaced him with his trademark tight austerity football and attempted to trim the bloated squad but was still seemingly hooked on acquiring big units and defensive midfielders – then Woodgate was appointed to transition to an apparently youthful exciting brand of football with just loose change left to fill the gaps.

The seldom posed question should have been if the failure was down to the philosophy or the execution, or indeed both – either way it always seems to be a case of ditching the plan and the next man trying a new plan with the players who were brought in for the previous plan and then failing. It has proved to be an expensive random process of trial and error, where the error was not spotted but repeated under the false assumption that a change in direction would correct the previous failure.

Woodgate came to power in the summer on a populist manifesto that offered to give the people what they wanted with a promise of exciting attacking football, goals and the promotion of young hungry players into the team. However, the problem with populist gestures is trying to fulfil them or indeed believing your own rhetoric. In some ways it echoed the populist hopes of Steve Gibson when he appointed Garry Monk and whipped up misplaced enthusiasm with a declaration of an ambition to smash the league after throwing money at the task of quickly returning to the top table – sadly the lessons of the Strachan era were long forgotten as Gibson has now seemingly attempted to revisit a hybrid of the Mowbray-Southgate model with a local-novice controlled enforced downsizing.

It’s not clear if the extravagant ex-manger had time to leave a note saying there was no money left but the departure of Monk has heralded a period of austerity that appears will still have a long way to run yet. Despite Tony Pulis claiming to have produced a £30m profit during his time at the club, there was no money available for Woodgate to spend and with the wage bill still well north of £20m, he will more than likely need to sell before he’s allowed to buy more bargains. Perhaps the maximum wage bill the club could support in the Championship is not even £15m and that means the higher earners will be jettisoned – though in order to provide a transfer kitty, Boro will also need to raise funds by cashing in the saleable assets rather than just running contracts down. It means the process of downsizing still needs another 18 months before the club can perhaps start to loosen the purse strings once again.

So it’s Woodgate’s willingness to toe the party line and work within a rather conservative budget that has probably made him the ideal candidate for Steve Gibson. It’s once again another local lad and former Boro player, who has been entrusted to do what is required to help balance the books without kicking up too much fuss. It also helps that cause when that person knows this is the only gig in town for someone of limited experience to work at this level. Both men must know that there are better qualified people out there who would fancy the job but Gibson’s belief that Woodgate accepts the club comes first ahead of his personal ambition was most likely the deciding factor in his appointment.

Meanwhile, as the will of the good people on Teesside is keenly expressed, the disenfranchised die-hards on the terraces have appeared unconvinced as they look at the coalition of chaos that regularly stumps up on the pitch. Despite the change in system, it seems Boro’s off-target forwards are still advocates of first past the post – or at least require the bar to be raised. The gerrymandering of the attendance figures have failed to disguise that many season ticket holders have been voting with their feet as abstaining is quickly proving to be more than a minority decision. If this lacklustre campaign continues to instil apathy then few will be expecting a high turnout any time soon at the Riverside and falling attendances are seldom viewed with comfort by cash-struck clubs.

The heavy defeat at Leeds will not have canvassed much support from waverers that Boro are heading for a better future but ultimately it’s how the team performs against their relegation rivals that will prove decisive. Woodgate next faces the team of his old friend and team-mate from better times at Elland Road as Lee Bowyer’s Charlton arrive at the Riverside on Saturday. The newly promoted Addicks had a great unbeaten start to the season and their supporters must have had visions of a double promotion as they sat in second place after six games at the end of August. However, Charlton are now dropping like the proverbial stone down the table as they have embarked on a run of Boro proportions – managing just one victory in their last ten games with six defeats and three draws. This is surely a game where Woodgate will be hoping he’ll add to his three victories and indeed most supporters won’t easily accept another missed opportunity for three points.

Still the problem for Boro is finding enough fit bodies to fill the holes left by an ever-increasing injury list. With McNair also suspended for picking up his fifth yellow of the season in that Leeds defeat and Johnson still having one more game of his three-match ban to serve means there are not many options left for Woodgate. He may be forced to select Nathan Wood in his back three if he doesn’t fancy Bola at right wing-back, though it’s possible that he’s been resisting picking the young centre-back in case he does something rash and the incident becomes known as Woodgate – surely the club don’t need any more confusion!

With another three games in a week then some of the youngsters may be given an opportunity to stake their claim with perhaps the 21-year-old Ben Liddle getting more pitch time. There’s an argument for resting Lewis Wing as he’s looked well short of his best in recent weeks and is probably only starting because there are few alternatives – or at least play him in his preferred position rather than hoping he’ll adapt to being a deep-lying playmaker.

Boro head to Forest on Tuesday and it’s a ground that few on Teesside ever expect to come away with much. The East Midlands club appointed the Frenchman Sabri Lamouchi in the summer to replace the rather brief tenure of Martin O’Neill, who only lasted five months. Lamouchi had started his managerial career in charge of the Ivory Coast and his arrival at the Tricky Trees got off to a good start and his team briefly claimed top spot at the end of September after beating Stoke in the Friday evening fixture. However, just like Boro, they’ve been struggling to score at home and have managed just five goals in the six games at the City Ground since August. That may be some cause for optimism for Woodgate but Forest are still firmly in the promotion mix as they sit in fourth place with 32 points – though they did lose their last home game against Cardiff.

The final game of the week sees Boro make the trip to South Wales to take on Swansea, which again doesn’t appear to be a great opportunity to pick up points. The Teessiders have a less than decent record at the Liberty Stadium and have only won twice there in nine visits – losing four, including the 3-1 defeat last season, which was the sixth successive defeat under Pulis that essentially threw away our play-off chances. The Swans were another team who appointed a young head coach in the summer as the 39-year-old Steve Cooper took charge. As a player, Cooper was a Welsh League defender before joining Liverpool’s coaching team and became their academy manager in 2011. He then joined the England youth set up three years later and eventually went on to win the FIFA under-17 World Cup in 2017. So despite not being 40, he’s already built up quite impressive coaching credentials before taking on his first League position.

Unlike Woodgate, Cooper’s career as head coach got off to great start as his team were top after six games with five wins and a draw – it was in fact the club’s best start to a season for over 40 years. Things have calmed down a little since then but Swansea are still just a point outside the play-off places in eighth spot. If we’re looking for some signs of optimism then perhaps rather surprisingly Cooper’s team have just recorded one victory at home since August (against local rivals Cardiff) but have lost five of their last seven games on their own turf.

So as one prime minister famously said, a week is a long time in politics but as far as football and particularly Jonathan Woodgate is concerned, every week appears to be passing by far too quickly and he has little time to ponder on how to get back on track. The Boro head coach said optimistically a few weeks ago that it was possible that his team could win five on the spin (with perhaps the key word in that sentence being spin) – now would be good time for him to make that become reality. Hard to imagine it happening but if Boro can take advantage of Charlton being on their bad run, Forest’s struggle to score at home and if Swansea can’t escape losing at the Liberty – then it’s just those festive fixtures at the Riverside against fellow strugglers Stoke and Huddersfield to come.

Sadly it’s looking more likely that Steve Gibson will lose his deposit if his head coach doesn’t turn out better performances soon. Unless Woodgate starts picking up points then he’ll quickly be facing a thumping majority of supporters lobbying for change. With still only three victories this campaign it will be no use demanding a recount when we pass the 23-game half-season mark. One way or another it’s time to get it done!


Boro in need of inspiration to avoid relegation perspiration

Championship 2019-20: Weeks 16-17

Sun 24 Nov – 12:00: Boro v Hull City
Wed 27 Nov – 19:45: Boro v Barnsley
Sat 30 Nov – 15:00: Leeds v Boro

Werdermouth looks ahead to a return to action after the international break…

Jonathan Woodgate may well be tempted to put his head in his hands as we enter a crucial last week of November that desperately needs to see an end to an uninspiring sequence of nine games without victory. It’s been recurring nightmare run of results that would possibly even make one notorious anhidrosis suffering member of the royal family wake up in a cold sweat. Although, whilst the non-perspiring prince was ridiculed as the Duke of Porkies for claims his medical condition was induced by an adrenaline overdose when serving in the Falklands, few visitors to the Riverside have experienced anything remotely described as an adrenaline rush in recent months. Indeed, the last time Boro actually won a game was back in mid September when supporters on the terraces basked in 20-degree plus temperatures as they were made to sweat by those other more honest Royals of Reading as their team hung on to their 1-0 lead thanks to some late heroics by Randolph.

Despite a distinct lack of home comforts this season, there has been no shortage of home truths being vented by disgruntled Boro followers after they have witnessed just five goals in eight Riverside games. Woodgate’s initial attempts to switch to a more expansive game have left Boro as the lowest scorers in the Championship and have so far failed to inspire confidence that the club is building that much promised exciting future that was mentioned in the summer. As many choose to raise their doubts about their new head coach on social media, it seems he’s not minded to read their unsupportive offerings. Speaking after the relative goal-fest at QPR, which ended the run of four games without scoring, the Boro head coach declared that the ‘real fans’ (as he calls them) are behind him and his players: “We were getting beat and they were shouting my name. It’s fantastic. It’s brilliant.” – though still no credible evidence to suggest his name was followed by the word ‘out’.

Nevertheless, Woodgate is convinced that it’s just a small mainly anonymous minority who aren’t behind him and the team: “The players are not getting booed, I’m not getting booed. Okay, social media has the odd thing, but you get on with that.” Indeed, he even suspects that those “odd” comments that take aim on Twitter may not even be from Boro fans: “How do you know who they are on social media? They could be Newcastle fans, Sunderland fans, Hartlepool fans, we don’t know who they are, do we? Keyboard warriors?” He may be right as no doubt there must be plenty of Mackems out there getting quite irate at the growing prospect of having to face Boro in League One next season – especially after all the trouble the Wearsiders have taken in avoiding the fixture in recent years.

Labelling those who simply post aggressive ramblings directed personally at the Boro head coach as keyboard warriors possibly elevates them to something more noble. Though surprisingly the actually phrase ‘keyboard warrior’ was first coined in 2014 by the People’s Daily in China to describe the social media response aimed against bystanders who failed to intervene to help a woman who was beaten to death at a McDonald’s restaurant in the Shandong Province.

For those who only normally read the sport’s section of the People’s Daily it was a cautionary tale of blind faith that left Wu Shuoyan as the unfortunate victim of a brutal attack by members of a religious cult called the Church of Almighty God for declining to hand over her mobile phone number so she could be further contacted by the group. Followers were told that as long as they gave donations, the ‘Almighty God’ would keep their illness at bay but Wu’s public refusal saw her denounced as an “evil spirit” by the group, who they later insisted was trying to suck away their life energy and could only be stopped by being killed.

Incidentally, the cult, also known as Eastern Lightening, has according to the Beijing government several million followers who believe that Jesus has been resurrected as a Chinese woman. That woman was discovered to be Yang Xiangbin, who as luck would have it happened to be the wife of the sect’s founder Zhao Weishan – unfortunately the couple had to flee to the United States in 2000 after denouncing the Chinese state as the “evil red dragon” before sadly failing to see their millennialist prophecy of the destruction of the world come to pass – though it’s hard to imagine what people said to cheer them up when it didn’t happen.

They have subsequently claimed in exile that the McDonald’s incident was carried out by a splinter group that comprised mainly of an unemployed textile worker Zhang Lidong and his extended family, who argued that it was they that had the true ‘Two Witnesses’ among them after usurping the claims of another couple from Inner Mongolia. It then got a bit Pythonesque when they claimed that Zhao’s sect are fake ‘Almighty God’, while they were the real ‘Almighty God’, which could possibly be another one for factcheckUK to clear up. However, it’s possible that Zhang and his daughter Zhang Fan already know if they are the real ‘Almighty God’ as they were tried and executed for their crime.

Anyway, after that all too brief delve into the somewhat murky origins of keyboard warriors, I suspect it has possibly raised more questions than it answered. Indeed, what about the cult of North-East Lightening and why has it failed to strike more than once at the Riverside this season. Plus are Woody and Keano really the true two witnesses who can shed light on the matter? if so, what have they seen that we haven’t and should they even be considered reliable witnesses? OK, any form of divine intervention is probably a long shot for the Boro faithful at this moment but no doubt many men on Teesside will at least sympathise with the delicate problem of having a wife who many believe to be all powerful – even if she’s prone to expecting miracles instead of producing them.

Right now the issue of belief for supporters is one that has been stretched by Boro’s failure to win games and is surely not something that can continue indefinitely. With two home games in the space of four days, it would perhaps reach breaking point if the run without three points continued into December – especially given that one of the upcoming games is against the bottom club. Granted, Boro put in a much better display at Loftus Road but it still didn’t conclude in victory and QPR were their usual poor selves defensively. Nevertheless, at least Britt took his goals well and that is at least a welcome sign given many were struggling to think where Boro’s next goal was coming from. Woodgate’s team have only been averaging around two-thirds of a goal per game, so to score two was actually three game’s worth in one afternoon.

Whether the return to scoring ways will attract the supporters back to the Riverside for Sunday lunchtime’s TV games is difficult to say. Demand to watch the Boro on Teesside has started to wane in recent weeks and that may be a factor in how long Steve Gibson is prepared to allow Woodgate to find his feet – albeit without a gun in his hand. The Boro chairman must have looked on in envy at Kosovo during the international break as there were 300,000 applications for tickets for their game against England with seats for only 13,500 available. One Kosovo supporter was so desperate for a ticket he even offered a kidney in exchange on Facebook. Whether anyone on Teesside would be prepared to offer their kidney for a seat at the Riverside this weekend is unlikely – especially as both will probably be needed to work overtime as sorrows are regularly anticipated being drowned in post-match therapy.

Incidentally, a recent survey found that the average drinker will spend £38,000 on pints of beer in their lifetime, which doesn’t sound like much of a budget for anyone who followers a football team. A quick back-of-the-beer-mat calculation may expose that figure as a little lightweight as the survey also quoted the price of the average pint at £3.61 – which if you consider average life expectancy is just over 80, then it should give you a good 60 years of drinking. So by my reckoning that equates to just under three-and-a-half pints per week, which surely goes to prove why the glass of a Boro supporter on a daily basis is generally only half full – or is that half empty?

Anyway, as far as football is concerned, it’s been a long time since anyone raised a glass in celebration on Teesside. This Sunday sees Hull City arrive at the Riverside as Woodgate seeks victory in front of the cameras. The Tigers took the textbook step of appointing a 39-year old as head coach this summer with the former Northern Ireland midfielder Grant McCann. Incidentally, he made his professional league debut in 2001 for West Ham in a 2-1 defeat at the Riverside. Although, unlike Woodgate, Hull is not McCann’s first managerial post as he started out as a number one at Peterborough in the summer of 2016, before being dismissed at the end of February 2018 after a run of seven games (not even nine) without a win. His next post was at Doncaster, where he took them into the play-offs last season but lost out against Charlton and was then appointed as the Tiger’s head coach.

Hull had a slow start to their campaign with just one win in the opening six fixtures but their last ten games have seen steady form with 17 points gained from a possible 30. Indeed, the recent form of McCann’s team saw them beat Forest, Derby and Fulham before losing narrowly 1-0 against leaders West Brom last time out. It suggests that Boro will need to play well to get anything from Sunday’s game and it’s perhaps not a fixture that Woodgate’s team will easily get three points from.

Much will depend on the team’s performance this weekend and defeat would undo any minor momentum gained in that comeback against the Hoops. At least the return of George Friend and Darren Randolph gave the Boro head coach a stronger looking defence but it still resulted in avoidable goals being conceded. Friend’s return allowed McNair to move back into midfield where he has been the main driving force and hopefully he’ll not be needed in a back three for some time. There seems to still be a problem of balance in the team as clean sheets come at the expense of not scoring and a more potent attack has usually resulted in goals being conceded – the three occasions this term when Boro have scored more than once in a game have been the 3-3 at Luton, the 2-2 at Bristol and the 2-2 at QPR. Somehow Boro need to find a way of scoring against opposition who don’t play so open or at least stopping those teams from scoring too.

Whatever the outcome on Sunday, the following game against Barnsley is surely a must win. If Boro can’t beat a team that have only picked up just two points on their travels this season then the game is surely up. OK, the cliche often quoted is that there are no easy games in the Championship but it would be hard to see how Woodgate can turn things around if he can’t pick up three points on Wednesday. The Tykes have just appointed the 42-year old Austrian Gerhard Struber as manager, who last season finished third in the Austrian top tier with Wolfsberger. He’s reportedly built his reputation on developing players and is known for his tactical approach to the game – perhaps Steve Gibson should make a mental note. At least playing Barnsley next week before he’s had much chance to work with his players may be for the best – though the worry is that it’s yet another team in the relegation pack that have made a managerial appointment with a view to escaping the drop zone.

Those two home games are then followed by a trip to Elland Road for the non-derby, where automatic promotion hopefuls Leeds have lost only once this season. Marcelo Bielsa team have built their challenge on a solid defence and have yet to enter double figured for goals conceded. It’s game between the Championship’s meanest defence and the team with worst attack in Boro – so it’s hard to see Woodgate getting much joy when he returns to his old club. Of course, there will be some talk of Patrick Bamford but the latest transfer rumours have seen the name of Dani Ayala possibly being the subject of bid by the West Yorkshire club in January. Boro’s Spanish stopper (as the local press would say) is out of contract in the summer but has been offered a new contract on reduced terms. As we know money talks louder than sentiment in football and at 28 he probably still has one decent contract left in his career, which may well be away from Teesside if his agent does some touting around.

In truth, the economics at Boro mean that key players will leave and that’s probably more likely if the club are struggling against relegation to League One. As ever it won’t be the players we want to get rid of that will attract offers in January and Paddy McNair will have already caught the eye of those club seeking to bolster their promotion squads. Indeed, the consequence of our current bad run is that the club may find it difficult to refuse any decent offers in January, while simultaneously becoming a less attractive option for targets who can add quality to the team.

Boro are literally in a no-win situation where it appears the only solution is to start winning games and begin climbing the table – Even Jonathan Woodgate is clear that now is the time to start winning and has said so: “We have to start winning games and there is no getting away from that.” He also thanked the fans for their patience but in truth what real choice is there but to sit and wait patiently given there’s little indication from anyone at the club that they are contemplating a change. It’s bit like one of those delayed train announcements by the driver that ends shortly before arriving at the destination with “sorry for any inconvenience caused” – in that sense supporters are simply like passengers trapped on a slow-moving train with no option to change and can only post their displeasure on social media. Only it seems Boro’s season was derailed before it left the station and now we’re quickly running out of track.

Woodgate refuses to look down as he walks Teesside tightrope

Championship 2019-20: Weeks 13-14

Sat 2 Nov – 15:00: Derby v Boro Sat 9 Nov – 15:00: QPR v Boro

Werdermouth is hoping Boro will score a goal before the next international break…

Since taking those first few tentative steps as head coach at Boro, Jonathan Woodgate has been walking the tightrope between the aspiration of wanting to play more expansive football and needing to get results. Indeed, many believed his head was in the clouds if he thought that he could achieve such a feat as it was always going to struggle to find the right balance with his limited experienced and limited resources. The initial excitement on Teesside in watching such daring act of pride has quickly turned to fear that both he and his boyhood club are at risk of heading for a fall. The sight of an increasing number of empty red seats at the Riverside indicates that many quite literally can no longer bear to watch.

This noble yet somewhat naive desire to please the crowd and put on a show has ultimately ended up pleasing nobody and with each wobble the expectation is the Boro chairman must somehow do something soon to rescue the situation. However, the young Boro boss refuses to look down and is determined to get to the other side as he believes it’s impossible to turn back from what is the long-term project of changing the club’s playing style. Woodgate remains convinced that he’s heading in the right direction as he declared: “I believe in myself, I believe in my players, I believe in the club.” If such inner belief wasn’t enough to deter the negative thoughts of the Boro faithful, he insists that Steve Gibson remains “positive” and “supportive”, before adding: “I’m positive that we can turn it around. I’m positive. We are all positive.”

Although, when he said “we are all positive” it may possibly exclude a large section of the supporters who have chosen to indicate on social media that they may have opted themselves out of the general enthusiasm that exists within the club – let alone are feeling optimistic about their team’s immediate prospects. Not that Woodgate is keeping an eye on the Twittersphere as he’s not that keen on reading such forthright views: “I don’t concern myself with the opinions of people on social media.” Who can blame him but he at least accepted some supporters may be less than content with Boro’s showing so far when admitting: “People are going to be negative at times, I know that but there are a lot of positive people out there too, although they don’t seem to go on social media.” Stating that he much prefers the in-house feedback instead: “The opinion of the chairman matters. The opinions of my coaches staff, the players, the people inside the club matter.”

Nevertheless, maybe Woodgate has stumbled upon the inherent nature of social media in that it’s essentially provides a platform for people to sound off and release their angst. As to whether all the silent but happy Boro supporters are just inwardly smiling with positivity or have simply had their smart phones confiscated by their carers is at this point unknown. While many would agree that there are a lot of positive people out there, there’s an increasing chance that vast majority of them are probably not at this juncture busy online buying tickets to the Riverside. Although, it may be an accurate perception as a recent study by the University of Minnesota found that negative posts on Facebook outnumbered positive ones by a ratio of 2:1 – plus they discovered negative posts normally received more likes too. In contrast, a study published by Forbes magazine discovered that consumers were much more likely to share positive experiences (49%) rather than negative ones (30%) – of course it’s possible those percentages would vary if the Teesside grudge filter was removed.

Still, talking of those who have long forgotten about performing at the dizzying heights of even the footballing pyramid, it’s possible that Steve Gibson would experience an episode of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo if he were to suddenly look up towards where he’d been hoping to see his club standing instead of languishing at 22nd place of the second tier. After two years of aiming for the top, the Boro chairman must be wondering what went wrong after spending a small fortune trying to turn around the club after relegation from the Premier League. Incidentally, vertigo is described as feeling like you are turning around when you are standing still and can often lead to a sudden fall – which would seem to fit in quite well with the symptoms the club are currently experiencing.

Conversely, I suspect few on Teesside probably feel giddy when they peer down at the Championship table to spot their team in the relegation zone and apparently suffering from Acrophobia – a condition that is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of heights, especially when one is not particularly high up. Although, it seems the truth of where Boro lie in the table is possibly an illusion according to Woodgate’s recent response to questions about his team sitting in the bottom three: “The players agree with me that the table doesn’t tell the true story of the league and our performances. We have deserved more from the games that we have got. They know that.” So it appears even the table has now jumped on the post-truth bandwagon.

Whilst no wins in the last seven games and back-to-back goalless draws isn’t much evidence that Boro should be sitting a lot prettier in the Championship than they are. Woodgate had declared before the Fulham game that the club are not really in a relegation scrap: “I wouldn’t say it’s a dogfight at the minute because, if we get a few wins, we’ll soon climb up the table.” By that logic no club would ever be technically fighting relegation if they were always just a few wins from moving up the league. Though if it did indeed come to such a battle then he believes: “We don’t want it to turn into a dogfight, but if it does, I’ve got the players to dog it out.” Although, I’m not too familiar with the phrase “dog it out”, a quick Google informed me that the expression derives from 1920s underworld slang and means ‘to back down in a cowardly fashion’, with online dictionaries offering the definitions for just “dog it” as: ‘fail to put in the necessary effort’, ‘Do less than is required’ or ‘move slowly’ – none of which inspires much confidence that this is what is needed. Perhaps others can provide any colloquial Teesside meaning to put my mind at rest.

That game against Fulham was Boro’s third consecutive game without scoring and our strikers looked more than a little semi-detached from the vantage point of the terraces against the Cottagers ten men. Confidence in front of goal has visibly drained away and so seemingly has belief both on the pitch and in the stands. Still, one man who still believes in his players is Woodgate, who hasn’t given up on them: “You have to keep believing in your players. You go through sticky situations and it’s an important you have a manager who sticks by you through thick and thin” – which is just as well given that it looks like we’re going to be stuck with our goal-shy strikers for at least another three months at least.

Just how long the Boro chairman will stick with Woodgate is possibly another matter, as despite all the positive noises of this being a long-term project and still having belief, there can obviously comes a point at which even Steve Gibson will need to make a decision. Then again the appointment of someone who was onboard with the whole downsizing project may mean the Boro head coach will be safe in his post until after the January window has closed and any ‘necessary’ sales have been approved.

Much could depend on what happens before the next international break as Boro face two tricky away games at two of former boss, Steve McClaren, former teams in first Derby and then QPR. The Rams are no longer the media darlings of Frank Lampard’s Derby County and appear to have lost some of their shine with the Dutchman Philip Cocu in charge. Having edged Tony Pulis out of the play-offs last season by a point, Derby have also failed to look the part this season and have won just four games. Although it should be noted that three of those four victories have been achieved in their last three home games – which were against the limited opposition of Wigan, Luton and Birmingham with their other win in the opener at fellow strugglers Huddersfield. In theory, it gives Woodgate his best chance of picking up three points but to do so it would mean someone in a red shirt (and no doubt blue shorts) will have to score – unless of course we can be gifted an own-goal. Few are expecting a classic and I suspect the best action may well be in the directors box if Steve Gibson enquires about the new owners of the Pride Park stadium with Mel Morris.

The last game before another two-weeks of chin rubbing and head scratching will be at Loftus Road, where Boro will face Mark Warburton’s Hoops, who are currently sitting just a point outside the play-offs. Amazingly, despite being the third highest scorers in the Championship with 24, QPR have a negative goal difference as they are conceding on average almost two goals per game – in fact only bottom club Barnsley have a worse defensive record with just one more against. Indeed, they have let in 11 goals in their last five home games, which surely must give Woodgate some hope of his strikers at least hitting the back of the net. OK, they also score goals too and even Teessider Jordan Hugill has stopped falling over to register seven times in his latest loan spell. Surely it’s time for Boro to start converting chances and give at least the travelling support something to cheer – if not, there’s a real danger of Boro being cast adrift from the teams in lower mid-table as they become unmistakably caught in a relegation struggle.

As Boro followers search for inspiration, I’ll end with the words of the French high-wire artist, Phillipe Petit, who famously illegally walked a wire between the World Trade Centre twin towers in New York back in 1974, which was portrayed in the 2008 documentary, Man on Wire and later made into the 2015 movie, The Wire. To most sane individuals, the thought of walking a quarter of a mile above the ground between two towers, where one mistake would mean certain death seems unbelievable. Incredibly, such was his self-confidence in his ability, Petit actually made eight passes between the towers, including dancing, kneeling and even laying down on the wire. He said the best advice he was given was by his mentor, who told him: “Most wire walkers, they die when they arrive. They think they have arrived. But they have not. They have three steps left. Most walkers die in the final three steps. They think they have arrived. They get arrogant and die.” Whether Jonathan Woodgate thinks he has finally arrived is not clear but most Boro supporters are hoping that his final three points rather than three steps were not back in mid September with that 1-0 win over Reading!