Hull: Job Done But No Small Screen Classic

I DON’T care what armchair neutrals thought.  And yes it would be nice to batter Hull and after so much possession we made harder work of a one sided 1-0 win than we should have done against a woeful team but, hey, Job done. Points banked.

But it was far from a classic. And there was a very nervous finish that brought with it some familiar dark fears for emotionally scarred supporters.  It was a game that took us back – tactically and emotionally – to the labours of the stomach churning promotion push…

Here’s my colour bit on the whistle.

Meanwhile, Gaston was in switched on mode, mercurial movement and creative touches… but there were a couple of cracking displays elsewhere in the team too. Here’s my always universally agreed with “what game were you watching you blind get” player ratings….


Negredo Brace Brushes Foxes And Critics Aside

IT’S all about Alvaro….

My colour bit on how Negredo made an emphatic contribution to the big Boro ‘striker lite’ debate that has raged all week and answered his critics in style.

And here’s my “did your guide dog do these marks” player ratings from Leicester. Guess who got top marks.

Plus here’s our digest of an entertaining and enthralling 2-2 draw,  an adamant  Aitor on how Wes Morgan ‘fessed up to the push on Chambers for the first penalty and all round nice bloke Claudio Ranieri in rare opposition manager in good grace shocker and admitting Boro were the better side.  That should be enough for you to get on with.


Chelsea Dagger: Sharp Costa Kills Off Blunt Boro


SO, THAT’S the third clash with red hot title contenders in four games and while Boro never managed to bank a point from this one there were still positives. Boro rode their luck at times but battled bravely to contain Chelsea and stay in the game only to be punished from a set-play just before the break as otherwise quiet ‘argument in an empty room’ merchant Diego Costa showed deadly predatory skills after Boro switched off.

In the second half Boro pressed up more, applied a lot of admittedly scrappy pressure and created a couple of half chances to no avail – but it is telling that both players and supporters came away disappointed not to have got something.


But the team continues to develop, grow into the pace and intensity of the league and they are learning fast. To lose 1-0 to Chelsea is disappointing but not a disgrace and if they can maintain the steady rise performance levels in the bread-and-butter games then Boro will stay ahead of the hot spots.

Here’s my colour bit saying all that in more length and detail. 

Here’s my player ratings from the match. Having watched the game back again, maybe they are a bit harsh on Fabio who was generally comfortable on the ball in his first league start this season and wasn’t always helped out by Ramirez in front of him – although Moses did still have a postcode of space to operate freely in the left-back slot.

And here’s Aitor’s assessment… “almost perfect.” 

Chelsea have been awesome since switching to a 343 – five wins on the spin with an aggregate score of 16-0 – and it is a very effective system…  but there are chinks in the armour that can be exploited. I did a bit earlier in the week you should read looking at Chelsea’s tactical tweak and how Boro can counter it. And I think Aitor did well to contain the most potent elements of Chelsea’s attack and still offer something going forward.



City Slickers Boro Snatch Last Gasp Leveller

YEEESS! A last gasp leveller. Away. At the European elite! Fantastic. Battling Boro have put down a real marker in the Premier League now and shown Arsenal was no fluke.  It was another superb show of disciplined defending and hard-work with Victor Valdes in fine form. And a final flourish produced a deserved equaliser after a great second half.


Here’s my colour bit on the whistle – it was a game of two halves and Boro were great in both of them  –  and here’s the ever controversial weekly too harsh/too generous* “what game were you at” player ratings. 

More later… over to you.




Supporters Star At Big Boro Birthday Party


HAPPY birthday Boro…  Red Faction set the mood for the club’s 140th anniversary with a super set piece spectacular display and the team responded with a great display. The first win of the season put a cherry on the top of a good week that yielded four points and lifted Boro back up to a healthy spot on the point a game survival trajectory. Excellent.

Here’s my colour bit in which I hail the Red Faction and award them the man of the match bubbly. Well deserved. They have been brilliant in the past few years.

And here’s my player ratings for the game. I expected flak for giving my top mark to Victor Valdes but it seems to have met with general approval.  There have been a a few quibbles on one of two of the other marks though. What do you think?

Continue reading Supporters Star At Big Boro Birthday Party

Coupon-busting Boro Open Fire On Arsenal

RIGHT. I got home late buzzing and had a beer to calm the nerves. My heart almost exploded when they put the ball in the net in stoppage time. I’ve never cheered an offside flag from the press box before. Great game: a galvanising watershed moment and possible penny drop tactical revelation.

Anyway… I see you have started the debriefing without me. Carry on.

Here’s my on the whistle colour bit about how Petr Cech was the man that ensured that mighty Arsenal were lucky to get nil on a day that could kick-start the season.

Here’s the Gazette digest of the game, tactics, big moments and star players. 

Here’s my ever populat too generous/too harsh* player ratings 

And here’s the best picture of the day – much maligned Spanish shot-stopper Victor Valdes in Arsenal halting action:



Ref Justice? Boro Pay For Losing Direction

THE  referee was Roger East. Boro’s high hopes against woeful Watford went west. Let’s just hope the season isn’t going South.

Certainly there was a lack of direction at times. Boro got lost in a diversionary flurry of time-wasting, niggly fouls that broke up play and some top flight polished professionalism in the disappointing 1-0 defeat to a poor Watford side.  Or ‘game management’ as we call it nowadays.

The referee took the brunt of the fans’ frustrations on a deeply disappointing day at the Riverside.  “You are the worst. You are the worst. We’ve had some **** here but you are the worst!”  It  was a harsh assessment but it was a popular one. The inventive and damning chant started in the North Stand, was taken up passionately in the South and, once the language barrier was crossed, the Watford supporters joined in with gusto.


Continue reading Ref Justice? Boro Pay For Losing Direction

Southgate v Strachan: Bad Boro Boss Battle

BLIMEY!  Gareth Southgate is poised to make his dug-out debut as England manager!  Well no-one saw that coming when he made his ignominious exit from the scene of the Riverside relegation car-crash and the aftermath.

Next month he will go head-to-head with fellow Riverside sackee Gordon Strachan in World Cup qualification action. Boro fans can be forgiven for thinking they’ve just walked out of Bobby Ewings’s shower (one for the teenagers there.) In what crazed parallel universe do the two statistically worse bosses in modern Middlesbrough history  end up as international managers? GS 1 v GS 2. International managers? It really is a funny old game.


The pair were broken and booed out of the Riverside with their managerial reputations in tatters after leaving Boro in a far, far  worse state than they found it. And after starting from great positions. We can all agree they skulked away as failures. But how do their Riverside reigns stack up against each other? Who did the most long term damage? And does either have any mitigation? Who was the worst?

Here their results, style, signings, PR image and legacy are assessed in a long read I did to stop you going stir crazy and get you thinking (and arguing) during the tedious long international break break.  Over to you. Sharpen those knives….


Hammer Horror For Boro Fans At Sterile Stadium

BORO clocked up a string of firsts in their 1-1 draw at West Ham’s box-fresh ground but it wasn’t a game that will go down in history.

It was the first time in the Hammers’ new home, the first time  Boro had faced the use of goal-line technology and the first time Jordan Rhodes had started in the Premier League – ahead of Alvaro Negredo too.

A lot of Tees travellers, collectors with plenty of miles on the clock, will be delighted to have ticked off a new ground that has an echo of Olympic glory about it – but few will be dishing out many medals for the trip or want to return in a hurry as the day was marred by a cowardly post-match attack on innocent supporters by knucklehead West Ham ‘fans.’


The ground is a strange and dislocated construction and has a deeply unsatisfying atmosphere that may well be contributing to the repeated trouble in and around the ground so far this season. It wasn’t a great experience from the moment you walked out of Stratford tube station into Westfields,  a Metro Centre sized mall.

It is an impressive sight as it looms on the skyline and well appointed in a lot of ways inside but it doesn’t feel like a football ground and it is far from a fan-friendly experience.

The walk up is sign-posted by makeshift hoardings and stewards that funnel fans quickly through the mall, discouraging any browsing and creating an unwelcoming vibe. Poor segregation and crowd traffic flow, along with question marks over the almost invisible policing and ill-prepared stewards new to the ground, have created problems.

Approaches to and exit from the ground have created bottlenecks and flashpoints along the main route back from the game to Westfield and the tube station, and it was in that exposed area that there were some unpleasant moments after the game, a low key match that had very few moments of friction on the pitch.

Afterwards some Boro supporters were penned in and others were ushered out straight into the flow of  home fans creating unnecessary confrontation that left supporters caught up in chaos. There were reports of sporadic violent attacks on pockets of fans heading to the tube and heading back to the coaches. There were some very disturbing images on social media of what appears to be a blade brandished by one lowlife idiot and reports .

Even inside the ground there had been trouble with several Boro fans in the lower tiers hit by missiles lobbed from higher West Ham areas after the opening goal.


And that is not for the first time this season. There has been fighting among Hammers fans inside the ground and outbreaks of trouble at the Bournemouth, Watford and Southampton games, fixtures you wouldn’t naturally think of as high risk.

That needs addressing urgently by the club, the police and the outside company that supplies the stewards. The security and safety of visiting fans has to be ensured. The FA must take full responsibility for the situation and demand an immediate review of the entire match-day operation before someone is killed.

West Ham have a notorious fan-base but have somehow escaped punishment for a string of incidents. These are the fans remember that marked the exit from Upton Park by attacking the Manchester United team coach. And whose owners initially defended the thugs and yobs and suggested it was United’s fault for arriving late.

It is a powder keg situation. Boro must be a relatively low key game but old rivals Chelsea visit soon in a night game in the League Cup, will take a far bigger allocation and will be approaching not just from one direction but from all routes. And you dread to think what would happen in the shopping centre should they draw long time sparring partners Millwall in the cup.

And it is not just outside the ground that things fall short. Some strange internal architecture, dislocated crowd dynamics and a sterile sense of theme park illusion leave the distinct feeling that this is not really a football stadium.  Athletics yes. Gigs. Yes. But it doesn’t feel like the vibrant home of a football team with heart and passion and a loud proud history of intimidating visitors with noise and colour. Even the bubbles felt like an ‘on the hour, every hour’ tourist trap historical recreation.

It was strange. The innards of the ground are on show. There are wide open empty drawers of space in the prime location where the temporary front seats are supposed to tuck away in the ground’s other life as an athletics stadium.  That central band, a prime location which in most grounds is the perfect height and position, is fenced off and hidden away like a disused trampoline park.

Inside there is a temporary feel to much of the bowels of the beast. Bare concrete. Hastily knocked together signage in Olympic livery and fonts.   Everything is fine. Adequate. But it doesn’t feel engineered as a football ground. It doesn’t feel lived in or loved. It had a the feel of a one-off, like a semi-final at a neutral ground with both sets of fans strangers.

There is a sense that everyone, not just the away fans, are here for the first time, were blundering through. And that leaves an air of bewilderment. Few of them were familiar wit the lay-out. It took several attempts and a string of stewards to find the press entrance. They were over-manned in some areas and getting in each others’ way looking lost and under-staffed in places where they  were needed.

Some of that spatial confusion may have spilled onto the pitch. Boro were certainly left looking lost as tour guide Dimitri Payet – who definitely knows his way into the box – slalomed through for the goal.

Jordan Rhodes started a Premier League game for the first time. That was a first. And ahead of Negredo too. It was a shock selection but the Spaniard couldn’t argue after some ineffective and inhibited recent displays.

And Rhodes did well. He didn’t score but he brought some intelligent moves and combined well with a lively front four that was fluid and had a bit of balance about it. And he had a few chances too. He glanced a header wide and hooked an overhead effort that sailed over but was always looking for it. So that bodes well.

Boro came up trumps in another first though. When Cristhian Stuani’s header squeezed through the crowd and was hooked away from the vicinity of the line there were palpitations in the away end.

It looked over but it was chaos in there and it would be just our luck to have it ruled out but the wonders of 360 degree computer modelling gave us the goal and the edge.

It swung the mood dramatically. “You’re going down with the Mackems” taunted previously nervous Boro fans as the maths at the foot of the table sharpened.


But within minutes the away end was muted and West Ham fans were bubbling again as Payet was allowed to weave into the box past five static stoppers – Antonio Barragan, Marten de Roon, Calum Chambers, Ben Gibson and then George Friend – before cutting back to level. The speed with which Boro are leaking levellers after scoring is a worry.

And the manner. That wasn’t a first. In fact is become the norm. In the last three games now opponents have waltzed in from the flank before hammering in costly strikes. That will need to be consigned to history if we are to flourish.

So overall, it was a new ground ticked off and we won the video vote but apart from that there won’t be much to stick in the memory banks bar the post-match trouble.

An away point is always a “good point” – Aitor was happy enough – and Boro will be happy to have stopped the rot after three defeats. With away points at West Ham and West Brom and the win at Sunderland the record away at teams in the lower level mini-league is not bad. Solid but not spectacular.

But you can’t help but think that the game was there to be won with just a little bit more assertive intent, a little bit more pressure applied to a side who looked fragile at times. Mind, both bosses will be thinking that.


And here’s my ever popular “what game were you watching Vickers you blind get?” player rating from the West Ham game….



Pace Sparks Spirit As Battered Boro Find Fight

SPIRIT is hard to quantify. It is transient. Ephemeral. It is a special ingredient in any collective endeavour – battle, labour or sport.  And we saw in the 2-1 defeat to Spurs how a sudden change of state in that psychic fuel can transform a game in a flash.

Adama Traore electrified Middlesbrough, the game and the Riverside crowd and suddenly a sluggish season burst into life. Suddenly Boro had zest, zip and some spirit.

Sprint king Traore added quicksilver footwork and attacking intent and his pace petrified the Spurs defence. It pegged them back, pushed play 15 yards further up the pitch and relieved pressure on a midfield that had been minced.

Suddenly Boro were allowed to play, to keep the ball, look up, probe and to pick a progressive pass. They could attack. Game on. Suddenly they looked like a team again.  . They had spirit and purpose. They had a spark. Suddenly they had a chance.

Continue reading Pace Sparks Spirit As Battered Boro Find Fight