“IF WE get off to a good start we can be up there and challenging”. Yeah, right.
Have we had a good start? That was the debate over a few beers tonight. From an Ali Brownlee ra-ra perspective we have. We’ve deserved beaten the champions for a second year running at the Riverside – and been the first team to beat them after they took the lead in the league since the increasingly tetchy Mourinho arrived – and come away with a point from Arsenal, a fixture that usually heaps misery upon humiliation. So that bodes well right?
But from the Chickenrunning fence-climbing Slaven position things don’t look so great. Boro collapsed into disarray and threw away an early two goal lead to lose at promoted Reading then capitulated in quite spectacular fashion to lose 4-0 at home to Portsmouth and. Four points from four games is relegation form right?
How does that start measure against other early season returns in recent years? Let’s go number crunching…
The first thing to say is that the tally of four points was only bettered twice in Steve McClaren’s five season and compares very well to the former boss’s nightmare debut.
IN 2001-02 Boro got battered. They were hammered 4-0 and home to Arsenal and 4-1 at home by Newcastle and inbetween lost 1-0 at Bolton and 2-0 at Everton. No points from the opening four games and the Mac Out! bandwagon was rolling within the month.
There was another disastrous start in 2003-04 when the first four yielded one point from a goalless draw at Leicester with defeats at Fulham and at home to Arsenal and Leeds.
The best start under McClaren came in 2004-05 as a Carling Cup powered outfit with one eye on Europe grabbed a last gasp leveller in a 2-2 home draw with Newcastle, went down 5-3 in a cavalier diplsy at Arsenal and then beat Fulham and palace to rack up seven points.
And in 2002-03 there was a five point haul as Boro drew 0-0 at Southampton then 2-2 with Fulham before beating Blackburn and losing at Old Trafford to a dodgy penalty.
And last year McClaren also took four poinst from the first four with a 0-0 draw at home to Liverpool and an emphatic Viduka inspired 3-0 win at Birmingham plus defeats at Spurs and a 3-0 Riverside nightmare against Charlton.
In a bid to show you can do anything with statistics a friend from the wild eyed lunatic fringe argues that seasonal adjusted the Gate’s four points are seasonally adjusted worst than they seem. The equivalent fixtures last term brought five points: a win over Chelsea gave the same
return and Arsenal this term was a point better than the 7-0 drubbing at Highbury but last year Boro got draws at home to Portsmouth and at promoted Championship top dogs Wigan.
So in the grand scheme Southgate’s start has been mid-table acceptability, offering signs of potential while not prompting Arriva to saw the top off a double decker bus just yet.
Bolton will be a big game that can swing the stats indisputably in the Gate’s favour.
***Pessimistic footnote: the last “good” start was back in 1999-00 when Boro lost at home to Bradford but then reeled of three wins in a row against Wimbledon, Derby and Liverpool to go joint top… then promptly collapsed to four defeats in five. D’oh! Typical Boro!