MORE NUMBER-crunching: Boro have just 11 points from 11 games after a stuttering start and Teesside is getting twitchy. But how does that rank against other years?
Since BoroÃ¢ÂÂs return to the Premiership they have twice before had 11 points at this stage, last season and in Steve McClarenÃ¢ÂÂs debut campaign, and once had just ten, in the RobboÃ¢ÂÂs final Tel-assisted term – but have always recovered to claw away from the dropzone. HereÃ¢ÂÂs hoping the new boss can make it a Houdini hat-trick.
Here’s the list of points and position at the same point in previous seasons:
After 11 games in the Premiership:
1995-96 6th – 21pts
1996-97 15th – 13pts
1998-99 4th – 17pts
1999-00 11th – 15pts
2000-01 17th – 10pts
2001-02 15th – 11pts
2002-03 6th – 18pts
2003-04 11th – 11pts
2004-05 5th – 18pts
2005-06 11th – 15pts.
Surprisingly the highest ever points tally, if not position, came in that first year at the Riverside, before the superstars arrived. Or maybe not surprisingly, as that is the last time Boro had a team comprising robust honest proÃ¢ÂÂs working their nuts off, with the Midget Gems, Robbie Mustoe and a defence scared into performing by Big Nigel Pearson.
How does the present plight compare to the three other poor starts? Well the worst came in 2000-01, Robbo’s ill-fated final season. After 11 games Boro were fourth bottom with 10 points and ahead of Southampton on goal difference alone. They had won just once since opening day at Coventry (away at the Saints) and had lost the last three and gone out of the Worthington Cup to Wimbledon.
They were five points ahead of bottom dogs Derby and three ahead of Bradford. Derby were to claw up to fourth bottom by the end of the season and Southampton finished safely in mid-table but Bradford never escaped the bottom three all term while Manchester City and Coventry slipped into the drop spot over the Christmas period.
Boro hit rock bottom with a 1-0 defeat at Sunderland in December prompting the phone call to Terry Venables and a reorganised side ground out enough points to clim out of the relegatioon zone, although they were cemented in fourth bottom for two months before a run in that included wins over Arsenal, Leicester and West Ham lifted them to the giddy heights of 14th in the final table. It wasn’t pretty but it was mission accomplished.
Boro had 11 points from 11 games in Steve McClaren’s debut campaign too, although after a nightmare opening sequence of four successive defeats, 11 points from seven games represents a healthy return for a team being hastily rebuilt on the hoof.
It was a relatively healthier position in the table than Robbo/Tel’s team too. Boro were sixth bottom, six points above bottom club Leicester and four above Derby and Southampton in the other drop spots. Although Boro had just lost 2-1 to Spurs that followed a run of only one defeat in five. The next game was a 5-1 thumping of Derby and that sparked another run that lifted Boro nine points clear of the relegation zone. The panic was over and Boro inched slowly into the top half before a run-in of four successive defeats saw them slump to finish in 12th.
McClaren racked up just 11 points again in 2003-04, a frustrating season but one that would have the erratic league form airbrushed from history by the glory of Cardiff.
Boro took just one point from the first five games and until a tense 1-0 home win over Everton were locked in joint bottom spot with Wolves. A win at Southampton and a crucial win away at Wolves either side of defeats to Newcastle and Chelsea eased the pressure and nudged Boro up to that familiar 14th place but still only three points above the hot spots where Leicester, Blackburn and Leeds were locked on eight points.
But six games without defeat (including three tedious goalless draws) lifted Boro into mid-table where they bobbed around before finishing an pedestrian 11th.
So we are no strangers to this current position. In the three cases above there was no spectacular lift-off as a good team suddenly clicked, rather it was a case of going back to basics, shoring up the defence – often with five at the back or in the middle – and grinding out points with what was at times quite turgid football.
There is a lesson to be learned there. Right now Boro need to forget about pretty passing football and start scrapping to draws with an ugly utilitarian approach.