THEY GROW up so fast these days don’t they? If fast maturing left-back Andrew Taylor plays against Chelsea – and let’s be honest if he doesn’t who will? – he will clock up a quickfire ton of first team appearances. That’s not bad going for a lad most still regard as a new boy.
And it has been an impressive first ton too. While the first 20 or so were ticked off on loan at Bradford, the Hartlepool-born defender has played the bulk of those games in the Premiership but can also boast outings in the FA Cup and UEFA Cup semi-finals, high-water marks that most seasoned professionals can only dream of. On top of that there have been appearances for England at every level from Under-16s upwards while at Boro. Great things beckon.
Taylor, one of Boro’s exciting and promising crop of home grown heroes faced a traumatic baptism of fire on his debut. With Franck Queudrue and Emanuel Pogatetz injured he was recalled from loan at Colin Todd’s Bantams and thrown in at the deep end. Boro were battered. It was a dark spell for the club with bad results stacking up, boss Steve McClaren facing withering criticism from all sides, rumours of dressing room unrest and the galvanising effect of the season ticket shotting and the real dramas of Europe yet to come.
Since then, while progress for the club as a whole has been stuttering at times, for Taylor the journey has been largely a smooth upward learning curve matched by a gentle inflation of his reputation and stock among Boro fans – and his management. Colin Cooper last season hailed the youngster as “better than me at that age.”
His emergence as a reliable defender, disciplined – he has yet to pick up the red cards that Franck and Pogo made their stock in trade in the same position – with an instinct to get forward made it possible for boss Gareth Southgate to move Pogi inside to a central defensive role last term in which the Alpine hardman was a revelation.
But Taylor seized his opportunity to become a fixture, so much so that the prospect of him being injured is one of the jumpier fans’ biggest nightmares, although to be fair, there are plenty of those to chose from. Despite his youth most supporters would now firmly put him ahead in the pecking order of both Pogatetz, who has played there for his country, and Julio Arca, bought for ÃÂ£2.5m specifically to play in the left back berth. His confidence there has even led to the early winding up of the once popular Frankie Q Appreciation Society.
Of course, he is not beyond criticism; he is after all a Boro player and some stick comes with the territory. Several times this season he has been stretched and exposed as balls have come flying over him and down the flank for opposition wide men to race forward but that is a structural problem in the shape of the team more than any weakness in his own game.
In playing a high-energy attacking game that requires both full-backs to get forward Boro are taking increased risks in leaving space down the wings and when they have lost the ball deep in the enemy half it is more often than not Taylor – and Young – who are left frantically scrambling back to try and plug the gaps. That is a tactical weakness that must be addressed holistically.
And what he hasn’t offered yet is a goal. His 100th appearance would be a good time to start.
I’VE BEEN off for a few days to recharge my batteries ready for the second phase of mighty Boro’s glorious push into mid-table and return with increased levels of naive optimism, if only in the sense that, well, it couldn’t get much worse.
We are well used to erratic peaks and troughs in our turbulent annual voyage of unpredictability and we know that it is time honoured Teesside custom to cast a string of poor results as the precursor to the Apocalypse. After hapless displays at Everton and Manchester City by a wafer-thin, striker-light Boro the ‘R’ word was being bandied about freely among supporters and the mood in the ‘Talking Boro’ summit was one of stoic resignation and crossed fingers.
But, folklore has it that is when we are most likely to upset the bookies and so the visit Chelsea presents an fantastic opportunity to surprise everyone, not least ourselves. And, call me daft if you want, a whole heap of totally unscientific evidence is starting to stack up in our favour.
Team’s sometimes become the personification of their manager. If that is true then Boro are intelligent, open and likeable but maybe lacking a ruthless edge and cynicism, although that will maybe come in time. In contrast Chelsea are dour, unconvincing, uninspired dead men walking, and certainly not as good as they were last season. When we beat them.
“I want to leave Chelsea. Something is broken with Chelsea,” said wantaway scuba enthusiast Didier Drogba. “The damage is big in the dressing room.” Good. That is music to our ears. That and their casualty list which now includes iconic skipper John Terry, the real heart of the team Michael Essien and pop star’s other half and occasional footballer Ashley Cole.
Boro have not impressed of late, we know that: not won in five games, one point in 12 in the league, just one clean sheet this season. But, Boro have scored in each of the last eight home games and have scored two in each of the last three Riverside league games so despite the wobble home form has been good – and some key players should be fit,
Chelsea in contrast appear in turmoil and are far from the force they were. Under Avram Grant (a name Bernie “cannae prooonoonse”) they have won one, drawn one and lost one in the league and scored just one goal. They are seven points worse off than at this stage last year (a more marked decline than Boro’s ) and have gone 14 since a win by more than one goal. Perhaps also significantly, they don’t like wandering so far into the frozen North and have taken just one point from their last four trips to the North-east, an that in an insipid 0-0 at Newcastle.
So if we are scoring at home and they are not scoring at all…. I know what you are thinking – we’re going to get battered aren’t we? Drogba hat-trick. Andrew Taylor late consolation.