WHAT are the odds on Yakubu scoring against Boro at Goodison? About 7-4 if you believe the bookies but most battle-scared cynical survivors of reunions past will have him down as a stone cold certainty to rattle one in.
There were volunteers queuing up with offers to personally give the enigmatic August-January hitman a croggie all the way to Merseyside after one of those Nigerian internet scams actually hit pay dirt and Boro pulled off the transfer coup of the Summer. He is already widely regarded as a lazy waste of space by Everton fans and he was dropped for the match with Aston Villa last week because boss David Moyes thought he wasn’t pulling his considerable weight in training.
So it’s nailed on then?
It happens with a depressing regularity. Look back to the ding-dong derby with Newcastle and consider the air of inevitability as the ball rolled to Viduka in the box. Putting aside the contrived righteous anger on Teesside about his departure under a cloud of cash and the transparent playground attempts to spin a line like a teenager who has been chucked that we didn’t fancy him now anyway, how obvious was it that he would score? Bitter experience underpinned the knowledge that he would stab us in the heart. They always do.
The one time hero scoring against his former faithful is a given. They’ve all done it: Ravanelli, Souness, Peter Davenport… we had better hope we don’t get Cardiff in the cup because Hasselbaink is a shoe-in to score if we do. There must be something about balancing the equilibrium of the intangible motive forces of football going on, some weird cosmic karma that insists on order being restored.
Meanwhile Yak has had an undiplomatic pre-match pop at Boro, Gibbo and the club’s lack of ambition (and made his move into the gallery of ingrates to be forever castigated as a legitimate boo-boy target on Teesside in doing so) and insists that if he does stick one in he won’t be doing one of those consciously muted non-celebrations a la Julio Arca or Viduka as a show of respect to his former faithful. Oh no. I think he is planning cartwheels and back-flips and will expand more kinetic energy than the whole of last season.
Should Yak score – and hey! Pessimists! You can get 18-1 for a hat-trick – the net-bulging slap across our collective chops will no doubt reinforce the notion currently abroad that suggests that Boro are the most “unlucky” side in the Premiership. Research by top scientific soccerologist boffins this week suggested that a higher proportion than is healthy of Riverside regulars consider themselves and the club “cursed.”
Cursed? Get real. Where have they been over the past decade? Boro have never had it so good with Wembley, silverware and Europe – and luck has played more than its fair share in shaping that glorious Age of Chance. Throughout the dark days of gypsy curses, mirrors broken in trade quantities and the team bus running over black cats by the dozen, for all the iconic figures who played for the club our forefathers never had a sniff of silverware even back when money did not rule the game entirely.
But in the past decade spawny Boro have had 128 years worth of good fortune, luck, kismat and fate heaped outside the Riverside Stadium in ridiculous quantities. Not only did Steve Gibson strike it rich and decide to gamble his fortune on a wild vision to raise this shabby provincial makeweight of a club to the top table but also the tides of fate have changed so markedly that some fans now expect Europe, the top six and staple diet of glory.
Ask Chesterfield fans if they think Boro are cursed. They must still feel sick at the thought of being robbed at Old Trafford. And talk about jammy? That season Boro got to the semi-finals of two major knockouts and were pitted against who? Man U? Chelsea? Arsenal? No. Mighty Chesterfield and the fabled Stockport. Were they the easiest semi-final draws ever? And that after seeing off Hednesford, Chester and Hereford.
As Napoleon said, it is better to have a lucky general than a good one. Boro’s real Great Leap Forward came under the sometimes chaotic guidance of Steve McClaren, a contender for the luckiest manger of all time. Under McClaren tactical blunders were immediately mitigated by injuries that forced changes that would later be hailed as genius: the moving of ineffective Zenden inside and the promotion of unwanted Stewie Downing to the flank was a watershed moment in the club’s history but it only came about because Mendieta got crocked. (See also England’s momentous recent revival.)
It is easy to pick out decisions that go against you and moan but look at the ones that go for you: a Ugo handball that should have been a penalty in the closing minutes at Cardiff, a delightful dive by Jimmy that won a crucial penalty at home to Roma, a harsh sending off for Mastrojovich that changed the game against Basel… we get our fair share.
But don’t be blaming luck or any ancient curse on Ayresome if Yak scores. There are far bigger forces at work there. Besides, every knows you make your own luck in this game. I will be attempting to do just that by putting my daft quid on him as last goalscorer at 5-1.