BORO salvaged a draw against West Ham which by my reckoning makes it five dropped because it was officially the first six pointer of the season. The first but definitely not the last. Oh no, this is going to be the longest, most gruelling, emotionally draining, tense, fraught and fractious white-knuckle ride of a season that is more likely to bring Boro fans to the point of fisticuffs than any since Robbo’s final chaotic campaign.
With ten games gone the cut-throat relegation war of attrition has been declared earlier than ever before with the Premiership table tighter than ever and positions thrown into flux with every form-book ripping result. Stoke beat Arsenal and leap from the drop spots to within a point of the top half, Newcastle edge nose past Villa and leap from rock bottom to 14th and one win away from sawing the top off the double decker bus of expectation.
Boro are in eighth but only three points clear of the drop. Everton are one point and one place better off but have won just one home game and look very poor and Hull are above them after a fairytale start but if reality bites they could dragged in too. And with no team looking likely to “do a Sunderland” as Derby did last year we are in a division with 14 teams involved in the dog-fight and it will fluctuate wildly by the week. This campaign will not be one for the faint hearts, although the polemicists from the two traditionally diametrically opposed ideological camps will be in their element.
Pretty much every game every week for as far as the eye can see to the horizon of eternity looks to be a six-pointer. No team can afford a slip. Certainly not two in a row. And while the boring squabble for position in the pre-determined top four will consume the Murdoch machine and its sycophantic spinners the real action, the tension and drama, will be down in the lower reaches as every fixture between the mass of mid-table makeweights will be played for high stakes and in a state of heightened emotion. The super-sized basement battle is where it is at.
Look at the fixtures this weekend…
Arsenal v Man Utd
Hull v Bolton
Liverpool v West Brom
Sunderland v Portsmouth
West Ham United v Everton
Wigan v Stoke
Aston Villa v Boro
Blackburn v Chelsea
Fulham v Newcastle
Man City v Spurs
Arsenal v Man United looks the least important game of the weekend. Any ground lost there – and chances are it will be a tetchy dull draw dominated by whingeing myopic managers, petulance, posing and sickening uncritical fawning – will be made up by routinely crushing the next unfortunate sacrificial lambs to the slaughter. The real urgency and absorbing action will unfold in the rest of the fixtures where the true sporting essence of uncertainty of outcome oozes.
And next week it is Six Pointer City too :
Arsenal v Villa
Blackburn v Sunderland
Bolton v Liverpool
Fulham v Spurs
Man Utd v Stoke
Newcastle v Wigan
West Brom v Chelsea
West Ham v Portsmouth
Everton v Boro
Hull v Man City
It is important we do not panic when results seem to swing against us, which at times they no doubt will in what is sure to be a sweat soaked season in which it will be beta blockers all round. As the campaign unfolds the weak will be worn down and we must ensure we are not among them. Boro must show steel and determination and the crowd must share that resolve. Getting tetchy and looking for scapegoats on or off the pitch may release some tension in what will be an excruciating trial of endurance but it won’t do much for the team at a time when every little helps.
It is easy to see problems in the fragility of Boro’s position – three points from a drop spot is an incontrovertible fact no matter what your natural disposition when it comes to judging the contents of a glass – but there are a dozen teams worse off and they face a tough uphill slog of unforgiving fixtures too.
Boro now have two tough away trips coming up to a pair of the teams immediately above us – Villa then Everton – from which a pathetic sounding two points will actually be a good return and three a fantastic one (although arguably two draws and the building of a long unbeaten run will be of greater psychological benefit .)
After that though comes the run of four six pointers in five games in the run-up to Christmas that will decide whether we are scrapping to stay just ahead of the merciless mid-table pack or battling anxiously to get back into it. Coming up are Bolton and Newcastle at home, Hull away (hopefully after the adrenaline has faded to be replaced by fear and vertigo) then after Arsenal visit the Riverside we go to Fulham.
All the teams currently below us have similar demanding runs. Some will climb above Boro with mini-revivals but some will fall by the wayside. The tight table will spread out and a couple will be tailed off. If we are still then just three points above the drop spots it may be time to locate the panic button. Until then, enjoy the tension.