CAN Boro treble their strike rate? Looking at the powder-puff efforts of the toothless team’s flaccid frontline last term – a unit that for all its obvious costly failings is still in place – you would have to say: “No, don’t be daft.”
Yet that is the testing target being set by the boss.
Gareth Southgate told the Gazette that next season he expected his team to play “exciting, attacking football”, get into a winning habit and rattle in the goals if they are to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt.
“We will have to score two goals a game to get out of this division,” he said. What? Is he for real? Last season Boro scored 28 goals in 36 league games – the lowest tally in all of English and Scottish football. They had been neck-in-neck with Elgin City but the Scottish third division Mcbasement boys had a late spurt to finish on 31.
Now he expects the same team – and with less than a month to go to the big kick off the fatally flawed outfit remains fundamentally unchanged – to suddenly bang in 92 goals. That is a staggering 228% increase in productivity, suspiciously Stakhanovite output figures not seen since the demise of the Soviet five year plans.
It requires a major leap of the imagination and/or spectacular self-delusion to see such a dramatic transformation taking place without a complete overhaul of the strike-force.
Boro’s cow/banjo interface ineptitude became a national embarrassment. No match was complete without a string of missed sitters from a bewildering array of angles and distances. Even from the spot. And everyone was equally guilty.
Alves was a lightweight and increasingly lost missing machine more likely to hit his own banner than the net, Mido descended into a familiar spiral of injury and ego-driven petulance, Jeremie Aliadiere buzzed around ineffectively without ever threatening to turn into a deadly goal-getter and ‘project’ Marvin Emnes warmed up promisingly and had three starts late on but has yet to score in the league and remains a mystery.
Top scorer Tuncay aside, the midfield also failed to deliver. Gary O’Neil chipped in with a few but Stewart Downing – ten in the previous season – had a distracted and barren campaign while Julio Arca, Didier Digard, Adam Johnson and the rest could not live up to the ‘goals from everywhere’ hype of Southgate’s mooted model of expansive football.
Now Southgate expects the same fragile team playing the same soft-centred Arsenal-lite football to flourish in the harsh and unforgiving environment of the Championship? No chance. Alves and Aliadiere struggled against the more robust sides last term and at the lower level the game is tougher, more physical, more combative, more direct, more compressed and more populated by bruisers like Chris Morgan. It is no place for the faint hearted – and that is exactly what Boro’s strike force is.
The two goals a game figure is an arbitrary one plucked out of thin air. You don’t need to score two goals a game to get promoted. Wolves were champions last year and they scored 80. Birmingham went up in second place with just a meagre 54 which suggests a rock solid defence could be just as important. In fact in the last five years only one of the 15 promoted teams has hit a two goal a game average – Reading in 2005-06 scored 99 – and only one other has even come close, West Brom two years ago with 88.
That two goals a game figure is inflated with unrealistic expectation and has the political potential to explode in his face. It will certainly be used against the gaffer if Boro fall short. Which they will. By raising the bar and setting such a high goal standard he has handed a stick for the simmering anti-Southgate section of the crowd to beat him with.
It is a figure that this blunt Boro do not have a hope in hell of getting close to without major surgery on the team. MIdo and Alves – and possibly Aliadiere too – will need to be shipped out to raise funds for a radical rebuild. But who to bring in? Danny Webber is a seasoned campaigner in the Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday grind of the Championship and possibly a better bet than Alves at this level but unless he can be refashioned as a combination of Torres and Ronaldo he won’t fill the yawning 64 goal deficit.
That means Boro need two new strikers who can do the business in the Championship, who have the power and stamina to cope with physical well organised defences over a gruelling 46 game campaign and preferably who know exactly what it takes to succeed outside the rarified atmosphere of the Premier League. We need nouse, needle and desire. We need strength, steel and spirit. And we need players who are hungry and available and would jump at the chance to come to Boro.
We probably can’t afford ÃÂ£6m rated Jermain Beckford and there are Premier League teams sniffing around now anyway. And we missed out on Ross McCormack (Boro quibbled over the small print on an all but complete ÃÂ£250,000 deal last January) who scored 21 for Cardiff last year but let me throw a few names in.
Tommy Smith, a tough Teessider who knows all the tricks and got 17 goals in a patchy Watford side last term. He is available and wanted by Sheffield United who have reportedly made a ÃÂ£1.8m approach.
Kevin Doyle, another 18 last year for Reading and maybe looking for a fresh challenge and a better route back to the big time after a couple of frustrating years there.
David Nugent, a sensation at Preston two years ago now well down the pecking order at Portsmouth and looking to reignite his career and who may be available on a loan.
Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, the biggest name in football is available after being released by Celtic, is only 30 and doesn’t want to go home to Holland just yet. He has had talks with Bristol City but if we can’t make a more attractive offer and don’t seem a better prospect then we really are up the creek.
Rob Hulse, 15 goals for Derby last year and can put himself about in the box. Both clubs denied stories of a move last week but hey, that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.
I’m sure you have your own candidates. Whoever, we need to move quickly. We can’t afford to be still bedding people in come September. We’ve got 92 goals to find and we need to be giving it both barrels right from the off.