Season Shaping Fragments Of Frustration

IT WAS a stuttering season of frustrations and false dawns. It finished on a fairytale high to send us smiling into summer but before that went through a series of facial expressions from tortured angst to boredom, via deep felt pain, relief, indifference, gobsmacked disbelief and sullen resignation.
And now the dust has settled a bit it might be time to sift through the debris and look back at some of the key moments and events.

Boro ended what was supposed to be a season of progress with a two good wins that brought a sigh of relief and some rare chances to see goal celebrations but they were hollow victories: the season had long ago soured leaving an undignified scramble for safety and an abiding sense of regret that was underlined by Saturday’s FA Cup final.
There were occasional hints of attacking potential peppered throughout the campaign that had the pundits purring and the ra-ras searching the loft for the foam fingers although the flashes were rarely sustained over the full 90 minutes. Boro enjoyed the highs of becoming the first team to beat Arsenal and went within four minutes of pulling off a famous double. And they also monstered Manchester United at the Riverside in a spirited show in the snow. And though, any celebrations from those results were cut short by the failures that followed hot on their heels.
Far more frequent than the false dawns though were the long powerless spells of becalmed rudderless drift toward the relegation rapids. Boro endured a morale sapping shot-shy ten game without a win from September to November then another squeaky-bum time sequence of just one victory in ten in March and April that left the FA Cup dream in tatters and the trapdoor creaking ominously beneath our studs.
There is no escaping what the season will most be remembered for: the failure to show up as history beckoned against Cardiff and the failure – despite repeated golden opportunities – to claw away from drop zone danger with any conviction have framed the season. That unavoidable reality even had a string of players queuing up in recent weeks to join the chorus of consensus that a campaign that promised much has been “bitterly disappointing.â€?
So where did it all go wrong? What games and events pushed us towards trouble? And which ones helped us dig our way out again? What were the season-shaping moments that defined the campaign? Here’s a few to consider…
Yak Your Bags And Go…
Gareth Southgate’s fragile forward line, already missing a key player following the acrimonious exit of Mark Viduka, was torpedoed again as the transfer deadline loomed when the sulky striker – who had not scored since February – spat his dummy out. Having spent most of the summer flirting with Man City and Portsmouth he finally set his cap at European giants Everton and made it clear he wanted to leave. Or else.
Amid talk of a strike – which appeared to have started on the pitch at Wigan with an insipid show of workshy wandering – and dressing room fisticuffs with team-mates, the season looked to have fallen into squabbling chaos before it had even really started.
The choice was to stick and risk the disruptive presence of a wantaway main man – neither Tuncay nor Aliadiere had been brought in with the intention of leading the line – or to twist and take a chance in finding a late replacement and run the risk of being two key men down.
Boro cashed in and while the £11m was good business (few quibbled and many offered to personally drive him there) it forced them to enter the striker market in a hurry and with No 1 target Afonso Alves unavailable the hastily sign a clearly unfit Mido under the noses of Sunderland (who were forced to go for Kenwyne Jones instead, a decision that may well have kept them up where winning the battle for the Egyptian may have put the Mackems down).
The late reshuffle up front was far from ideal and even without Mido’s disastrous injury record it still left Southgate needing to bed in three new front men and reshape the team and the shape on the hoof. The misfiring front line was to hamper the entire season.
Striker light…
The wobbling season lurched towards crisis in a nightmare week in when the dearth of frontmen came home to roost and shot-shy Boro ransacked the reserves to field a forward line at Manchester City.
Teenager Tom Craddock started up front on his own in a 3-1 defeat at Eastlands while one time Billingham Synthonia loanee and soon to be Celtic reserve Ben Hutchinson came off the bench to get a late consolation. Despite the endeavour the obvious lack of quality was a searing indictment of the thin squad. Where were the strikers?
Crestfallen Tuncay was on the bench after squandering a hat-trick of chances at West Ham while Aliadiere had been injured in that game and Mido broke down at Everton. And switching schoolboy goal machine and constant aerial threat David Wheater up front would leave us brittle and the back. That left Lee Dong Gook as Boro’s first choice goal-getter. D’oh.
The City game was the lowest point in a bleak and dispiriting run of four games that yielded one goal, no points and a meek exit from the Carling Cup at Spurs, itself framed by a run of ten without a win in which Boro scored just six goals and slipped into the relegation zone.
Turkish Delight…
Six minutes from the end of what was heading for a damaging defeat at Reading, Tuncay finally arrived. Flashes, frustrations and missed sitters had marked his early outings but when he came off the bench at Reading to get to a Luke Young cross and head in a late leveller it was the launch-pad for a Boro revival and for his own personal status as cult hero.
The joy and relief on the Turk’s first goal face lifted the cloud over Boro and sent him on a sizzling run of sparkling form in December in which he scored four times and Boro won three games that hauled them out of the relegation zone to buy breathing space.
Tuncay slammed home a rebound after a corner in the next game against Arsenal to seal victory then picked up the Goal of the Month gong for a sublime volley in the 1-0 victory at Derby and notched the winner at Portsmouth too.
Window of Opportunity…
A “Rio styleâ€? carnival greeted Afonso Alves when he arrived to shatter the club transfer record and to slam shut a testing January window that had featured a cats cradle of red tape, the now mandatory late night vigil and on the squad front one in, one out and one shaking it all about.
A tense month had the code-breaking Kremlinologist faction of the Boro support in turmoil over the political signals in the oblique statements coming out of Hurworth. Stewart Downing’s agent said his boy was leaving with a departure to Spurs looming large while Gibbo said he wasn’t and the pair went toe-to-toe in the tabloids. Meanwhile George Boateng had been deposed of the armband after a bust-up with the boss and looked set to go while out of the blue Jonathan Woodgate – a £6m summer signing that had underlined Boro’s ambitions – was shuffled off to Spurs under a cloud for not buying into Southgate’s vision while the buzz was that James Beattie – or worse, Paul Dickov – was coming in.
The rumour machine insisted it was a divided dressing room and the club was skint… then on deadline day Gibbo signed the monster cheque for Europe’s most prolific top flight striker, Stewie was still in situ and suddenly it was all hunky dory again. Boro were flying, we had the new Juninho and FA Cup glory beckoned.
Sporting Gory…
As far as kicks in the teeth go it would be hard to beat the enamel shattering horror of FA Cup surrender to Cardiff.
We all know the story. The evil quadropoly were already out, Arsenal and Liverpool early victims while Manchester United and Chelsea had followed the day before. The road to Wembley and historic open topped bus parade glory had been swept clear for mighty Boro, at home to a mid-table championship side.
Glory was there for the taking but the weight of expectation was too much. Boro bottled it, leaking an early goal and never getting out of the blocks. It was another deep “typical Boroâ€? psychological scar to be jealously guarded and periodically picked at and revisited with fresh venom at every opportunity in the future, a fresh trauma to take its place in our cynical cultural heritage. And it was not just damaging for the future. It left the season a nervous, numb slog through the debris of broken dreams
Mad Dog Bites Back…
Soft touch Boro were being rolled over week in week out and were deep in a corrosive ten game run without a win in which they had been repeatedly muscled out by sides who fought harder and wanted it more. Enter Emanuel Pogatetz, back from double knee surgery… Poggi came off the bench after half-an-hour away at Bolton and put in two bone juddering tackles and was twice spoken to by the ref before he had even touched the ball. From then on Boro had a meaner, taller, shaven headed look about them at the back and became far harder to beat.
**This article is a remix of this week’s Big Picture Column and part of a week long Gazette series of analysis, number-crunching and reviews featuring end of term reports on the boss and the manager, verdicts on every game and the views of our big name columnists Bernie Slaven on the strikeforce and Jeff Winter on the card count. I’ll add the links here as they appear during the week.
**We are experiencing some cyber-lag and articles are not appearing on the gazettelive blog front page immediately. To read the latest bit – on Mark Schwarzer’s exit – try clicking on the Untypical Boro logo to refresh the contents.


24 thoughts on “Season Shaping Fragments Of Frustration

  1. Isn’t it more likely Mido was bought to replace Viduka?
    The fact Gareth Southgate played the Yak at Wigan suggests he still saw him as part of the team – certainly thats what the manager was saying publicly.
    Consequently we start the season a striker down, key defenders injured, and went downhill from there.
    As for Cardiff, the signs were already there in the Reading game the previous week. Our midfield with limited steel and less pace was closed down and out fought, leaving the defence exposed and outnumbered on more than one occasion.
    Even so with the Yak in the side and key defenders uninjured from the start of the season I reckon we’d have finished in the top 8.
    **AV writes: Yes, Mido was being lined up to replace Viduka but then when Yak threw his toys out of the pram and demanded a move suddenly Boro were not one but TWO main strikers down. The one they had pencilled in to replace Viduka wasn’t anywhere near fit and there was no time to replace Yakubu – hence three or four months of chopping and changing with a makeshift department.

  2. AV you mention Yak leaving but the season had gone wrong even before that when Viduka left.
    We made such a big deal of courting him publicly trying to keep him that when he went (and he was always going to chase the money) it seemed like a big failure before pre-season training even began.
    For me, losing Viduka (and for my money we shouldn’t have even been chasing him) looked like we couldn’t compete and lacked ambition I think it made up Yak’s mind to go and I think it sewed the seeds with Woody who had signed because he thought Viduka was staying.
    Then there was the foot in mouth moment with Gibbo promising spectacular signings and then wheeling out a defender from a relegated side, an Arsenal reserve and a free transfer no one had ever heard of (all good buys as it happened but not what it said in the season ticket sales brochure).
    Then Lamby had a pop at the season ticket holders saying they weren’t worth as much as casual sales. Then they got shot of Century and blamed Bernie for the crowd figures and negativity.
    I think last season was a disaster before it kicked off and salvaging something from the wreckage was actually quite a success.

  3. You have missed out the most important thing this season – getting Stewie Downing to ignore the bad advice from various people to sign his new deal!
    Boro’s most important player by a mile. Keeping him could be the most important building block of the next few years.

  4. I totally agree with Clive Road’s comments but would like to add the badge and band debacle although extremely petty it was a straw and Camel’s back scenario at the time. Things thankfully have moved on leaps and bounds in PR terms since then.
    Overall I feel more optimistic this summer than last. I believe the squad is stronger now than then (definitely talented but Duke and Yak this time last year were a disruptive and negative influence) although needs two more additions in midfield and perhaps in goal if Schwarz departs.
    Downing, Tuncay, Aliadiere, Alves, Pogatetz, Wheater, Young all look to be capable of taking us further up the league next season. The likes of Huth and Mido have untapped potential as yet and if they can get themselves fit they can add quality of an International level.
    Chris Riggott looks to be back to his assured best of two seasons ago, Gary O’Neill if he stays offers us bite and skill in midfield and if he goes we will at least recoup our initial outlay.
    The Boat would be a welcome stay in my view but I’m less convinced by Arca who looks to have ran out of steam and simply gets out muscled. Cattermole and likewise Taylor need to up their game this season to avoid becoming another Phil Stamp and the Lefty version of Parnaby/Stockdale.
    Optimism reigns, lets hope we don’t lose the momentum by another farcical series of “own goals” from the boardroom over the next 10 weeks.
    Interesting to note that AC Milan have objected to the thought of Kaka going to the Olympics. Lets hope Boro see sense and persuade Afonso that a Premiership hat-trick against Manchelsearsepool will do his international ambitions far more good than beating Thailand or Papua New Guinea 15-0 in the semi’s of a Mickey Mouse Footie tournament.
    Dormo……..why did you have to mention that Rubbery smell of the dentist’s gas mask. I can’t get rid of that pungent aroma up my nostrils now, just hope your power of thought transcends to Steve Sidwell as strongly
    **AV writes: The Alves situation is interesting. He wasn’t on the provisional list for the Olympics but as big clubs refuse permission for their overage players and Dunga works his way down our boy may find himself called up. Then what do we do?
    He has said on his own web site that it is his dream to play (Brazil make a big deal of the Olympics and as they have not won gold it is kind of a national quest) so can the club afford to block him and make him unhappy? Also it may be in his contract that he gets released, even for ‘friendlies’ so that could give him the right to go.
    But can we afford to have the main striker missing for the warm-ups and the start of the season (again)?

  5. Flaming Olympic Torch!
    Alves is integral to our season for his finishing quality alone, here we go again.
    AV , on your round up you didnt mention the physical and costly match when Sunderland visited the beloved Riverside and crocked what little attacking element our team has and then knicked a draw.
    Then at the end ‘Return of the prodigal Riggot’. Not only did he score and get the ball rolling for us in the first game of his return, it was his pass that set Tuncay free on the City defence- sending off and penalty the result.

  6. Not so much a moment as a theme but for me what ruined last season was the string of dodgy decisions that went against us and other small clubs.
    I’ve never been one to blame the ref or get paranoid about big clubs getting all the decisions but the last two seasons have been beyond a joke and can’t be explained by any idiot idea of luck “evening itself out.”
    Lee Dong Gook no penalty at Old Trafford. All Ronaldo’s creativity in our box. Luke Young handball at Villa. Boateng fouled at Arsenal – they get a corner. How obvious are they to call for refs? Alaidiere sent off but not Mascherano… the list goes on.
    I always used to think it was possible that refs abroad were bent but never thought that they could be here. Sporadically useless yes but not bent.
    Now I am not so sure.I don’t think anyone is taking brown envelopes or anything but I do think some make decisions they know are wrong because they are intimidated by the big clubs and big managers, they are terrified of being crucified on the telly if a crucial decision costs a big club or big player and they are worried about the job now they’re professionals and that is just as bad.
    For me that has ruined the game as much as the imbalance in money, cheating players and sky high prices.
    Cmon Boro

  7. A big turning point was when Gareth showed he had balls of steel and faced down some barrack room lawyers to assert his authority. He put Woodgate on the bench and then dropped him and took the armband off Boateng and dropped him as well.
    We know this season dealt us a bum hand (defenders all injured, Yak going, strikers all injured) but I have been impressed big time with how Southgate has handled it all. No recriminations, no hissy fits, very frank interviews and big decisions made quietly.
    Selling Woodgate was a massive move that screamed out that things were not great behind the scenes.
    He was the best player the season before, local lad made good, prodigal son etc and had only signed six months before so selling him so quickly showed a real ruthless streak and a willingness to tackle any dressing room problems head on. Same with Boateng.

  8. If it is themes you want what about our injuries, especially the ones to expensive players.
    I can’t believe any other club in the country has signed so many crocks. Mido? £6m – how many games has he started? How many has he been fit in? I don’t think he has ever been fit. With that fee plus wages he is costing us a fortune and he won’t even be a first choice player next year (Alves/Tuncay).
    And we will never get our money back. We’d have been better off letting the Mackems have and us buying David Healey or Kevin Phillips or someone like that.
    And Huth as well. Another £6m plus massive wages for what? He has been class in the games he has played but how many is that? A dozen? In two years? We are paying about £50k a week for a bloke who breaks his foot every time he kicks a ball. So long as sticks to heading it when he comes back we’ll be alright.

  9. Chelsea would never have sold Huth if they didnt think they couldn’t fix his foot problem. His career will be more than stunted because of it.
    I just cant beleive we bought him. Like Mido. We can only chose from the players that WANT to come to the Riverside and if they turn up and show some consistent class we are fighting Spurs and Liverpool to keep them.
    Gareth – please buy us a speedy attacking midfielder tomorrow , maybe I am being too greedy . I am sure things are in motion behind the scenes, cant help think that so many of the posts on here are right regarding players prices inflating if they play well in this Summers Englandless competition. Sidwell and Robinson are English any road so it dont matter.

  10. Great post from Clive Road and Dormo’s description of the dentists chair has brought nightmares of visits to the Roman Road dentist flooding back – cheers mate!
    It was a disaster of a season and we did well to survive in the end. We shipped goals too easily in the first half because Woodie didn’t fancy it.
    Pogatez as AV states was the saviour. He also makes a brilliant captain, although GS should have realised that sooner.
    We’ve suffered all season for a lack of goals, next season should be better, Alves looks good Tuncay is settled, but I can’t see Aliadiere as a striker, right midfield has to be his position.
    As for Huth, well I wonder if he’s ever going to play again, the silence from the club on his injury is deafening, so we need Riggot to stay.
    Mido, well who knows what he may do, I’d be inclined to ship him out and buy someone with the right temperament.
    As others have posted I’m more optimistic about next season than I was this time last year.
    The team and club seem more settled now and continuity is everything. How succesful we are next season will depend on how often we can get our best 11 on the pitch.

  11. Common themes?
    Injuries but that has been a pet topic of mine for years. It is nothing new, we sent Ugo away to rest his swollen knee and when he came back to pre season realised he had damaged cruciate ligaments. And this shortly after TLF so the club knew about such injuries. Months off
    Christies regularly broken leg, he even complained it was hurting and no one thought to check it out and lo and behold it was broken again. That spawned my two paracetamol and run it off comment. Years off.
    Boat had a broken toe that was going to take 6 weeks, eventually the penny dropped and they discovered the ligaments had not healed properly. Weeks turned into months.
    Downing had a swollen knee and was sent off on an England tour only to jar it and need surgery. Came back and it went again, totally unrelated according to MFC until his Dad spilt the beans. Months off.
    So Midough and Huth are no surprise. People may be able to pass a medical but surviving our witch doctors or staying fit is a totally different matter. At least Gate realises there is something amiss, if they had read the old message board and this blog it may have been noticed years ago.
    How about flexitime? We would all love a job where we could come halfway through the day, leave early and not even turn up at all if we didnt feel like it. Well that sums up our team.
    Zonal marking (or not). How can we get ten outfield players behind the penalty spot and still leave people unmarked in the six yard box? How come we think we can out jump somebody who has made a fifteen yard run whilst we are stood still? (wont see a standing high jump at Beijing). How come the penny hasnt dropped that if all your players are standing on the keepers toes he cant get to the ball and that any clearance comes straight back in again?
    But it isnt all bad, there has been progress, the biggest sign of which is a recognition of the problems in the first place both on and off the pitch. We have played some nice stuff when we could be bothered.
    Get in the players that we need and top ten is realistic.

  12. On what basis is this season a failure?
    MFC is a premier league club that in its history has finished in the top 10 twice and qualified for Europe through the league once.
    We are a club that regularly gets to the quarter finals of the FA Cup and our attendances average 25000. MFC is a midtable club, a club that is geared for Premier League survival. That has got to be the aim every single season.
    We are not going to break into the top 4 we are not going to win the league, the challenge is to consistantly break into the top 10 and then build on that but we have never done it consistantly so how can we say its been a bad season?
    Our average league position is 12 so when we finish there why is it a bad season? Would you lot rather be Spurs or Newcastle? Spending miliions yet finishing in mid table with the likes of Boro and Wigan?
    We have got to understand as fans where we are and what we can achieve, we have got a young squad and a manager that is going into his 3rd year in one of the toughest leagues in the world.
    The Cardiff dissapointment is what upsets people the most and that is understandable but so what? Its gone and the more we look at it the more it will frustrate and play on the emotion strings. it was a good season as we didnt get relegated, end of so bring on next year…
    COME ON BORO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. To Morrison
    I can agree with some of your points however what is frustrating is teams lke Everton, Pompey, W.Ham, A Villa have moved past us. WHY?
    I agree with Gareth in the sense do we need massive signings to build a consistant squad. I would rather see 2 quality players that are competitive and hungry for success

  14. gt;
    Everton – 40,000 fans every week and they are perceived as a ‘big’ club so players want to go there. Do you think Yak would have stood for the treatment he rceived at Everton from the Boro? They were one of the original ‘big 5’ and have a rich history and tradition.
    Pompey – owned by a billionaire who has the cash to splash, ‘Uncle Harry’ who everyone appears to love is their manager and they are an hour away from the bright lights of London on the sunny south coast, aan a mere stones throw from Europe.
    W. Ham – financed by Icelandic billions splashing the cash, a full stadium and located in the nations capital.
    Villa – owned by a billionaire, 40,000 fans evry other week, a rich history and tradition.
    Boro – the worst place in the country to live (apparently), on the cold windy North East coast, slagged off regularly by all and sundry, 1000’s of empty seats, never win anything, less fashionable than the Bay City Rollers, owned by a bloke who is small fry in comparison with the majority of others (Gawd bless you Sir Steve).
    Perhaps you may have had a point if you had mentioned Blackburn, but perhaps they are perhaps the only really negative benchmark.

  15. EVERTON: quality manager.
    POMPEY: have signed veteran players and very good manager in transfer mrket.
    WEST HAM: offer massive wages to over rated players they will struggle next season and tevez saved them last year plus should have had points docked.
    ASTON VILLA: have signed very good players and have a better youth set up than us, or better players coming through should I say, -Agbonlahor, Young, Davies, Barry.
    I dont think we are realy that far behind them the difference is we are in a transitional period and next season will determine if we can challenge these clubs that are mentioned.
    Apparantly he had other options and this was the best choice, ha ha good luck with that.
    COME ON BORO!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. Everton, Pompey etc haven’t moved past us, they’ve just had a better season than us. It could easily change next year, we are more than capable of finishing practically anywhere between 5th and 15th.

  17. Typical Boro season that was.
    Lots of expectation
    lots of dissapointment
    Lots of nail biting
    Minus points
    The FA Cup – The writing was on the wall as we struggled against Sheffield Utd , so cardiff was no surprise.
    Ref’ing decisions – We weren’t the only ones to suffer but we got some cracking cases of myopia , Villa & cardiff being 2 of the worse cases.
    Strikers – leavings , injurys and settling in
    Midfield – Arca’s loss of form , Boats strops
    PLUS Points
    Defence has been the only good thing – Wheaters emergence , Youngs running & poggys return
    Downings signing
    Gareths steel
    Personally I don’t think Tuncay is a good partner for Alves .
    Mido , inshape & fit , will fit in nicely with Alves with Ali or Tunc doing the terrier act behind them.
    ONiel – Why is evereyone suddenly getting on his back ? Until his injury his link up play with Young was the highlight of a drab mid season.
    So for the comming season we need
    1) A keeper – Brad Jones/Jason Steele number 3 Ross number 2 – Robinson anyone ?
    2) Defencer – Right back cover for Young
    3&4) 2 Midfielders – Creative & right sided

  18. I think you are getting a bit excited about Villa’s youth system there – Barry came through ages ago and they bought Young and Davies. I’ll stick with ours thanks.

  19. No I merely suggested the quality was perhaps a little bit better thats all. Villa have produced more premier league players through their youth system than Boro have and have won more youth cups.
    I think they sold Cahill to Bolton for £5million, who was the last Boro player from the youth set up we sold for that amount boro phil?

  20. Villa’s youth system is the team the Boro academy knocked out off the YOUTH Cup a few years ago.
    And as for BARRY I think you’ll find John Gregory bought him as a left back from BRIGHTON. So this youth system isn’t so brilliant is it now!

  21. Well, we could have sold Downing for a lot more than that on a number of occasions. I don’t doubt they have a decent set-up, I just wouldn’t say it was better than ours.

  22. Good luck to Schwarz, it probably is the right time for him to move on, he’s been a great player for us, and I hope he gets the reception he deserves when he returns next year.
    I’d like to see Turnbull given the chance to make the number one spot his own now.
    Also, even though I’m happy with Taylor/Poga at left back, a bid for Nicky Shorey at Reading might be a good idea?
    Similar position to Luke Young last year, and might not cost that much, less than £5m.

  23. Just a note on the keeper situation, even Lamby is saying Turnbull or Jones will be promoted to no.1
    another relegation battle awaits then….

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