Boro v Wycombe
Boro finish off the strangest of seasons at home to relegation-bound Wycombe Wanderers on Saturday with a 12.30pm kick-off.
The Chairboys – so named because of the tradition of chair-making in the town of High Wycombe – may not yet be mathematically relegated but with 21st placed Derby County sitting three points ahead of them with a superior goal difference and a final fixture at home to 23rd placed Sheffield Wednesday, Wycombe will need Wednesday to beat Derby and win themselves by at least thirteen goals or so, whilst they would also need Rotherham to fail to win. Indeed, Rotherham’s game in hand against Luton on Tuesday evening could make Wycombe’s impossible task somehow harder still.
Boro, of course, have nothing to play for but pride, as has been the case for several weeks now. The casual observer may well see Boro’s season as a qualified success. With one game to go, we’re already eleven points better off than we finished last season and at no point have we been in a fight for survival, as we were for much of the 2019/20 campaign. Add in that the club lost several experienced pros such as George Friend, Adam Clayton, Ryan Shotton and Dani Ayala, and replaced them for the price of Britt Assombalonga’s big toe, and the picture looks brighter than perhaps the mood suggests. Indeed, to have had such a cost-efficient squad rebuild over the shortest pre-season in memory and maintain Warnock’s average of around 1.5pts per game is not a bad return, all things considered.
Yet the season still feels like a missed opportunity. To have been in or around the play-off places for so much of the season but find ourselves in no man’s land when it counts is undeniably disappointing. Bruising no-shows against Rotherham, Derby, Bristol City, Millwall and more have hurt Boro and meant that hard luck stories against Swansea, Blackburn et al have counted for little.
With another low-budget squad overhaul on the horizon this summer overseen by a manager who seems likely to be entering his final season, Boro fans can be forgiven for looking ahead with a sense of “meh”.
However, that rebuild has already started with some tentative reasons to be cheerful. Since Britt and Fletch were jettisoned, Boro have switched back to a back three, dropped the calamitous Marcus Bettinelli and gone three games unbeaten, scoring six goals. We’ve also seen the promising – if fleeting - introductions of Connor Malley and Josh Coburn, the latest models from Boro’s ever-productive Academy programme. Performances may not have been utterly convincing but after the previous five games of lethargic plodding, it’s been pleasing to see any kind of upturn and we’ve even witnessed some passing through midfield at times.
Wycombe find themselves in reasonable form too, having lost only once in the four previous outings that has included a respectable draw away at Swansea and a surprising win at home to Bournemouth last time out. They are bottom of the table for a reason though, as the league’s second-lowest scorers and joint-worst defence.
Both teams will be looking for a positive end to a season that has delivered a little less than was hoped for but ultimately went to form. So can Boro cement a top-ten finish and go into the summer on a high, or will Wycombe wander back down to League One with a spring in their step?
A great leader post to finish off the season and albeit in mid table it’s certainly better than last year!
A lot of people (including players!) have lost interest in the Boro and hopefully we can get crowds back into the ground and generate some enthusiasm.
We won’t have multi million pound strikers to play for us next season, not even Britt’s big toe to poke one in for us. I expect NW to be going for a big target man up front to suit his style of play and it’s doubtful if Bolassie will sign for us again.
Its reported that Spence is being courted by Wolves and Rangers among others for a fee of @£5m and if that’s true then let him go. He always flatters to deceive and whilst he has undoubtedly got something about him his general laidback attitude grates with a lot of the fans including me.
If Rotherham go down as expected then Wing will return to the fold and hopefully after playing regularly will have become a more involved player as he does have certain skills that other Boro players do not.
A new goalkeeper is a must and probably we will be looking to sign a young Premiership keeper who needs experience will have been scouted who can command the box and not stay on his line and flap at the ball.
So interesting times and NW has said that he needs to sign 7 or 8 players during the close season so that is a lot of players to assimilate into the squad to quickly get results on the board amd get off to a good start.
Thanks again Andy appreciate a good post to get things away and running.
Thanks Bob, and for all your openers and informed posts throughout the season.
A solid, consistent goalkeeper is an absolute must for me. He doesn't need to be a world-beater, just dependable. If you think we'll need about 15 more points next season to get into the playoffs, we can get 5 or 6 of those back just by not giving daft goals away through dodgy keeping.
A striker is next, though I don't agree with NW that we need three of them. Typically we'll only play one and I'd rather we brought a target man in and allowed Coburn to come off the bench and learn by being involved with us. We already have Watmore and Akpom who can fill in when needed.
£5m for Spence is an awful lot based on what he's achieved so far. I don't doubt that he has the potential to be a very good player and worth considerably more than that figure but at that price in current circumstances I would also take the fee and not gamble on him fulfilling his promise down the line. With Djiksteel and Fisher in the squad we are covered in that position. £4m and a 20% sell-on fee would be pretty good business for me.
I'm more hopeful than most on Bolasie it seems. I still think there's a chance he'll turn down bigger offers just as Watmore did. Bolasie knows more than most that a hefty salary in itself isn't what makes you happy. He'll want regular football and a manager who trusts him and he won't find a more suitable man than Warnock in my opinion. Warnock's long term situation may be a problem for Bolasie but surely a short-term deal could suit all parties. I certainly hope so - I think he's the best attacking player at the club and having only just got up to speed, he could have a big season for us next year.
I've no real concerns about the defence and think we have enough ability, numbers and versatility there for a top-six Championship side but central midfield looks short on quality to me.
Morsy I can live with in a reduced destroyer role. If he's told to keep it simple - win it and give it to someone else - then his aggression and drive steadies us. Saville has probably had his best season for us, particularly early on, but I just don't think he's good enough on the ball. I could never doubt his energy and will but all the good things he does are without the ball (taking up responsible defensive positions, pressing, running), he doesn't offer any quality or composure on the ball and we're unable to control the midfield with players like that. Howson is better but I think he's finding it harder and harder as he gets older. A brilliant pro and consistent performer overall but doesn't offer enough and I think he needs to move back into a three-man defence (I couldn't play him in a back four).
Tav has more ability on the ball and can carry it forward whilst he has enough scrappiness in him to handle a central midfield role but I still think we're missing a genuine passer and orchestrator. Wing is the only one who has the skills for that role but he has a job on his hands to convince Warnock. If I could choose one player to have a stellar season next year, it could well be Wing given what he has to offer and the fact that he's different to what we have in that area. If not, I think we need to bring someone in, someone like Alex Mowatt.
If Bolasie and Kebano aren't retained then we have an issue in the wide attacking areas. Mendez-Laing is likely to stay I would have thought but will need a strong pre-season. Watmore fills one slot and Tav can play in the other but I'd prefer him in the middle for balance.
Hi everybody. This is completely off-subject, but I thought you would like to see this Guardian article about La Liga. Principally it’s about Kike and his hat-trick for Eibar yesterday. He’s still banging them in! I loved him at Boro, loved how hard he worked for the team, loved his interaction with the fans. Another one we really shouldn’t have let go so soon.
An excellent starter and follow-up with OFB in the middle of the sandwich. Good work from both of you and thank you.
Clive an interesting article and another good read. Like you I don't think we got the best out of him at Boro but it's always easy to say that. We could have done with a few like him in the last couple of years.
All the best,
Thanks Andy and OFB for your pre match starter/follow up, both good reads.
If the rumour/figure quoted about JS is true, I would say grab it with both hands. In fact I would go as far as to say I would be happy to contribute a Euro toward his taxi fare to Wolverhampton or Glasgow!
Like LW, I was a big fan of JS when he first came into the team when all he seemed to want to do was run as fast as he could at the opposition, get past his man and cross the ball. He hasn't improved his game and to my mind has gone backwards, as he seems more intent on doing step overs than using his pace to best advantage. £5M could be very useful on the recruitment front in this climate so please take it if offered, a bird in the hand and all that.
As for next season, much will depend upon who and what can be recruited and given our track record it does not fill me with much hope. Additionally, I agree that integrating 7/8 players into the squad is a big ask given previous experiences. 😎
@john-richardson didnt get the best out of their strikers could be Boros epitaph
Thanks to Andy for closing out the season with his preview and I'd agree with his point that this season in my opinion has been a missed opportunity - especially if you consider that there were few standout teams in the Championship this term. Although, if I'm honest it would take something very remarkable to happen against Wycombe to experience the feeling of ending the season on a high - it would probably need a victory well into double figures followed by Neil Warnock declaring he was opting to go into early retirement in the post-match interview!
OK, Boro were never in danger of being involved in a relegation battle under the percentage low-risk football of Warnock but to be fair last season's flirtation was more down to the inexperience of the Woodgate-Keane managerial duo, who failed to convince the players that they could become the silky passing team that Tony Pulis never wanted them to be.
The main disappointment was that Neil Warnock has failed to demonstrate he could kick on from his previous salvage job. He may talk a good game in the press conferences and that domain is probably the most entertaining aspect of the Boro boss as what he delivers on the pitch is more akin to a stilted caught-in-the-headlights Jonathan Woodgate presser. Though the irony is that Woody could still have the last laugh by winning promotion as interim manager with Bournemouth - who'd have thought that was even a remote possibility after his sad performance at the Riverside?
It's also a worry, perhaps even a surprise, that this term's performance came on the back of Warnock making 11 signings this season: Grant Hall, Sam Morsy, Patrick Roberts, Chuba Akpom, Marcus Bettenelli, Duncan Watmore, Darnell Fisher, Neeskens Kebano, Yannick Bolasie, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Jordan Archer. Their arrival in the end made little difference to Boro's fortunes - with arguably the team's form dipping after some of those January arrivals made the team less coherent and often less watchable.
OK, there were injuries to key players to contend with but that's par for the course in the Championship. Many of the arrivals at the sharp end didn't sharpen the team's cutting edge and it looks like many of those may well depart at the end of the season, along with the other exiled strikers who weren't keen on extending their stay on Teesside.
We may only be left with Watmore and Tav come the summer as Warnock is charged with building a brand new attacking midfield and strike-force. Plus, there's a worry that Tav's rise and influence may have caught the eye of several better placed suitors. I could see a team like Leeds being interested in a sharp, high-energy player with pace and an eye for goal. He's been the main plus this season for me and he would be a big loss should clubs with deep pockets make a serious offer - same goes for Fry, who is probably reaching his limit of remaining as just a Championship prospect.
So after the second half of a season that has seen just 8 wins against predominantly struggling teams - all of whom are in the bottom half apart from Reading, who at the time we beat them were dropping down the table - it's hard to see signs of a Boro team on the up under Warnock after just 28 points from a possible 69.
On that evidence, I remain unconvinced that Warnock's farewell season will see him bow out by taking Boro back into the Premier League - especially if he's now about to undertake a major rebuild of the team where it will mainly involve signing attacking players. His teams are usually low-scoring outfits that stop the opposition and nick results - his Cardiff team finished second by scoring just 69 goals - the lowest in the top six. It meant they weren't prepared to trouble Premier League defences and subsequently struggled and came straight down.
So I'm afraid that doesn't sound like much of a vision for taking the club forward and perhaps we'd be wise to prepare ourselves to endure another fruitless drab season where the most movement on the pitch arrives as Warnock confronts the officials for costing us the points as they leave it...
Its a pleasure to have you back but I must say that I can't agree with your somewhat downbeat summing up of what has been a difficult year for the club. Whilst it is certainly true that the team on the field could have done quite a lot better and they possibly did throw away the fifteen points needed for the play-offs, I'm not convinced that this squad could have survived in a higher division next year and so have few regrets about where we have finished. For me, it's a longer term project and this year has been about survival at the next level up from the year before. NW has overseen the start of the job of putting the club on a more solid long term financial basis - not easy in the middle of a pandemic which meant that Steve Gibson has to kick in millions of pounds to keep it floating - and begin the process of bringing through what is potentially one of the best crops of young players that we have seen in a long time.
I look at the squad as it now is and imagine the impact of four or five good value signings in the summer put together with the best of the youngsters and I can see the makings of a solid future. That is the job that NW has done and I respect him as a high level professional who has done the job that was needed and I would then be quite happy to see him retire to the directors box to sit alongside Steve and give advice as a new manager comes in to take the team forward. Who that manager should be may be the biggest question for the next twelve months.
Whether next year is the 'promotion year' will probably first depend on whether we can keep Fry, Tavernier and Bolasie. Keeping those three would set a platform that will attract other players. Kebano will be needed by Fulham so we need to find another tricky wide player. Then we will need two big forwards as alternatives to lead the line with Coburn learning from them for a year before either making the team or going out on loan. A creative midfield player is a must and, above all, a top class keeper. On this, I keep on asking myself how we can produce so many excellent goalkeepers in the Academy but none of them cemented their place in the first team. We now have four of five either at the club or out on loan. Isn't there one of them who is as good as some Premier League second string? Who is the best of them and how far away from the team is he? I do also wonder what this squad needs to be ready for the Premiership. Can that happen in twelve months?
I'm not trying to be rose-tinted in my view but I do see a club that is well-respected in the industry, a force for good in the community and a solid squad that could be even better in two or three years. I can live with that for the moment.
Yes, I'd agree that it's certainly been a season undertaken in difficult circumstances and all clubs will have taken a substantial financial hit - so the measure of success has to be judged with that in mind. It will also have not been easy for players to keep motivated as games were essentially akin to the eerie silence of behind closed doors training exercises.
However, it was while watching an unofficial live feed with no commentary or atmospheric soundtrack that I experienced the full Neil Warnock from the dugout, which was essentially 90 minutes of expletives that berated the officials for every decision that went against him, as well as ranting at the opposition players and anyone else who could be blamed. Plus the obligatory confrontation of the referee as he left the pitch. OK, some will view this as displaying passion and a desire to win but I increasing see it more as a borderline personality disorder of someone who can't exercise self control.
He's also prone to publicly criticising players that surely doesn't help matters and one wonders what players like Saville think about hearing that they weren't worth their fee or how Akpom feels about his manager saying he was essentially the recruitment teams pick and "looked the best of the bunch from what we were looking at so that's why we signed him" but then quipped "I can make anybody look good on a video. We really have to go into everything a bit more when we're looking to sign players." Surely these are conversations to have behind closed doors and not public statements to excuse yourself from blame.
Granted he's a marmite figure but he's not to my taste and I just doubt whether another season under his managerial style is going to lead the club in the right direction. While I'm also encouraged by the arrival of a new crop of youngsters from the academy, I'm worried that they won't thrive under Warnock methods and tactics - though the big decision is who will follow in charge and will they be in his image or someone more in touch with the modern game.
We've seen many opposition teams with much lower budgets play good passing and moving football this season - one wonders what Boro could achieve with the right man in charge if they are fully backed by Steve Gibson? His gamble next season is that Warnock will deliver with the right signings and make a serious challenge for promotion. As to whether the 'right signings' will be attracted to joining Warnock and his limited style is another matter - the club is in no position to blow away rivals financially to seal that reliable striker who will have options to choose from.
Hanging on to Tav and Fry will be an achievement but I have doubts on whether Bolasie is either affordable or could last the course of a Championship season after his creaking body turns 32 this month. Still everything is possible until it doesn't happen so we can observe how the summer pans out in terms of the rebuild. At least the consequences of giving Garry Monk a book of blank cheques is now just about erased from the system - Britt and Fletcher probably easily accounted for around £35m in transfers and wages of those squandered parachute payments and should have probably been moved on a long time ago - but they had deals nobody was prepared to match so were unsellable assets that rarely performed to their perceived value. A mistake best not repeated.
Anyway, next season should barring a disaster see a return of supporters to the stadiums and hopefully make football seems real again instead of watching flat pre-season friendlies. I'd be happy to be proved wrong on Warnock but I'll need some convincing that he's the way forward.
@werdermouth. Just wanted to say how good it is to see you back posting and I trust that you and yours are all managing to stay safe and well. As always, your two posts are well reasoned and thoughtful pieces which add much to our little community and we have missed them.
I agree with you that this has been a season of missed opportunity and I have long said that the retaining of NW after his initial "come and save us" appointment was ill judged by SG.
Whilst there has been little cash to spend, in common with most clubs, NW has been supported and has overseen, as you point out, a sizeable influx of players of whom only three, Hall, Morsy and Watmore can be said in my view to have made a major impact and will definitely be with us next season.
I am not convinced that we will make top six next year and all the talk from NW of how excited he is about the new season and that we will be a much better side with a few additions and with those returning from injury, is all just a smoke screen to hide what has been a dire second half to the season.
As a team and a club we are not making progress toward the goal of returning to the PL and we lack a clear strategy both on and off the field; until that is addressed we are more likely to be spending time trying to avoid being relegated than being promoted.
So after one more season of NW we will see the start of the merry go round again of new manager, new players and new ideas or should that be no idea! 😎
A warm welcome back, Werder.
Your analysis is, as ever, thoughtful and comprehensive, and provides us with a wonderfully stimulating basis for our close season discussions on the future direction of the club.
Thanks too for all of your unseen work in keeping the blog up and running. i had no idea that there was so much maintenance and other work involved.
@Werdermouth - a massive thanks from me for all the background work you do to keep this Forum online. It really is much appreciated.
As to next season, I’ve no idea how we’ll perform, but I do think SG should be planning now for the time that NW is no longer with us. It’s unlikely that a modern, progressive, young manager would want to work in tandem with NW, particularly if he/she was expected to maintain his “style” of play and tactics after he’d left.
I guess we’ll all be glad when supporters are back, although, as part of the Diasboro, I’ve been really happy to have watched every game this season, albeit on my iPad. I’ll miss that opportunity when normality returns.
Great posts Werder and good to have your thoughts.
I do share many of your concerns particularly around the playing style and longevity of the current approach. I can only hope that some lessons have been learned from previous handovers but I'll need to see it happening to be convinced.
In all honesty, I'm not quite sure whether it's best to change tack now or stick with it and hope for a strong season next year which could give us some much needed finances, and can see the argument both ways. I don't see a situation where we change managers/coaches/playing styles and staff AND have a strong season.
The reality is that whatever we think, Warnock will be overseeing big changes in the summer and be here next year trying to make the most of them. We can only hope for the best.
I thought I'd take advantage of being in-between projects to post a few end-of-season thoughts with my next gardening restructuring task currently at the mercy of the rain. At least Neil Warnock is looking forward to next season - someone has to I suppose 😉
I think every manager is contractually obliged to claim he just needs a few good signings to improve his side so it's no surprise to hear the same at Boro. It's increasingly looking like a major rebuild this summer and that will likely involve a mixture of long-term signings and hopefully some useful loan deals rather than useless.
Given the curtailed break due to the Covid-resumed 2019-20 season, I don't think Steve Gibson had much choice but to continue with Warnock in charge this term as there wasn't much time to change things up or even the ability to get out and about to search for candidates. However, sticking with the 72-year old next season must be a conscious decision based on believing he will succeed in having a crack at promotion.
I was listening to a podcast of the Life Scientific earlier this morning, where professor Martin Sweeting proposed that "we create the future with our imagination" - my worry is that Boro are creating their future with a lack of imagination and now seem stuck in the Pulis-Warnock approach after the brief experiment of the exciting Woodgate thesis ran into trouble as soon as it started. In my imagination something must exists between these two models that is surely a better way forward.
Thanks Len, I've not really been into football that much so far this year and got worn down by enduring some quite awful displays by Boro in January and February that left me totally uninspired to feel motivated to comment on the games.
As for the general maintenance work - mostly it's fairly straight forward stuff but the constant spam attacks are the scourge of running a blog. OK, it could be worse as I read the other day that organised criminals, particularly Russian, are becoming multi-millionaires by hijacking online businesses and locking the owners out unless they pay a ransom in cryptocurrency. Apparently, the money extorted each year now runs into the billions of dollars with security experts basically advising people to pay the ransom as the only way to continue in business.
Cheers Martin and that's a good question of which younger manager would be prepared to work under Neil Warnock - is Tony Pulis still classed as young...
Thanks Andy, I suppose the worst case scenario is that Neil Warnock brings in another bunch of new signings and they don't gel and a realistic chance of promotion has all but gone before Christmas making him a lame duck manager. So if we don't hit the ground running next season there is little point to having Warnock in charge - unless he becomes inadvertently the best man to avoid relegation!
You're right, we can only hope for the best - though I think John had a view on hope that may not be entirely beneficial to your health...
@werdermouth we have tried the promotion from within and a tracksuit manager GS who now manages England JW who was hopeless and now has Bournemouth in the playoffs and we look on and wonder where did we go wrong?
Then we have also tried the successful up and coming manager like GM who spent a fortune on over priced under performing players and nearly bankrupted the club (allegedly!)
We have of course tried the OAP route 1 method like TP and NW which in the main is successful but boring to watch !
One route that clubs seem to be successfully adopting is that of young qualified overseas managers who have been with successful clubs as players and want to further their careers. Hang on a minute didn’t we try that with AK? Perhaps we should be looking at getting back to that concept?
I know who should go for....JOSE!
Nice to see Werder back. Fantastic. Up the Boro!
Oh too late !
JOSE has just been appointed manager of ROMA !
Eddie Howe would do nicely for me.
Or if you want someone a bit more left-field and in the mould of a former successful player, Giovanni van Bronkhorst knows the English game and had four years in charge at Feyenoord with a 60.8% win rate.
He's currently out of work after taking a job in China then deciding it wasn't for him and he needed to be closer to family, not surprisingly after the year we've all had.
I guess people might look at that as another potential Phillip Cocu-type disaster in the making but GvB has lived and worked in England previously.
I know who should go for....JOSE!
Oh too late !
JOSE has just been appointed manager of ROMA !
Two very good calls AndyR.
I would have a lot more confidence in a Dutch manager being a good fit for Boro than another Mediterranean type.
German managers are in vogue at the moment (Klopp, Tuchel, Nagelsmann) but I couldn't think of one who wasn't already at a bigger club apart from David Wagner, who has just endured a torrid time at Schalke. Maybe he would work better at a club our size, he knows the league and has had success in it, and he's a kind of half-way house between Warnock and decent football.
Agent Werder may have more clues.
Ref to Lewis Wing, I hope he can help to keep Rotherham up, rather than Derby. As for his Boro career I'm not so sure. For the last two seasons he seemed to have lost his way, hence NW sending him out on loan. Would I have him back, well it is a difficult one but narrowly it is a no. Either sell him or another loan.