Away Day Horror Hurdle Cleared

YES, it was only Swansea, a team missing last season’s 30 goal strike force, reeling after the departure of an inspirational manager and with most of the first choice midfield on the treatment table.
But they were a seasoned Championship side that were well organised, worked hard in midfield and created their fair share of chances so Boro’s win at the Liberty Stadium is worthy of some celebration. It may not be time to cut the top of the Ellerman Beeline for a parade down Linthorpe Road but let us not be churlish: it was an away day win and we barely remember them.

Boro ticked all the boxes: they were strong at the back to collect a second clean sheet; they were industrious and energetic in midfield and with Gary O’Neil an exercise in perpetual motion the red two were more than a match for Swansea’s three; the flankers were inventive and incisive and carved open the opposition defence; the front two worked hard and chased back; and Marvin Emnes cracked in a sizzling strike to show he does have firepower.
More importantly, it is a massive psychological hurdle leaped. Boro CAN win away.
Last season Boro were a disaster on the road. A six month slow motion car crash left our Premiership pedigree dented and twisted beyond recognition, rusted and dumped in a scrapyard of broken dreams.
Champions Manchester United remain the only team to beat Boro at the Riverside this year – but the travel sickness was terminal. Before the trip to Swansea Boro had lost a shameful club record 12 away league losses on the bounce.
That disastrous dozen defeats left the team and fans demoralised and fearful and handed host teams a huge advantage: if they could keep it tight Boro would eventually wilt and wobble and leave themselves vulnerable at the back.
Boro had last won away in November when a battling display and two Tuncay goals earned a 2-1 win at Champions League chasing Aston Villa. That nudged Boro up to the dizzy heights of eighth and prompted some short lived bubbles of optimism but that was as good as it got.
There followed insipid, uninspired and costly defeats at Hull, Fulham, Manchester United, West Brom, Chelsea, Manchester City, Spurs, Stoke, Bolton, Arsenal, Newcastle and West ham… all nails in the Premier League coffin.
The vulnerability to set-plays, the brittle mentality, the fear as the clock ticked down, the predictability of the sickening late goal were the hallmarks of a Boro away day.
So it was hugely important to put down a marker in The Principality, to slay the dragon of away day despair.
If we are to be chasing for a swift return then we must be ruthless in plundering the points on the road to teams who will see Boro as big boys – Swansea had the match down as a ‘Category A’ game – and who will try to shut up shop.
Equally important was the manner of the victory. After 12 defeats, I would have taken a scrappy 1-0 win thanks to a late oggy after being battered for 89 minutes. In fact Boro turned in a thoroughly professional performance and answered a lot of pressing questions.
It was far from an easy game. Swansea’s midfield five had some bright moments and with Leon Britton pulling the strings at times their movement down the flanks caused a headache for Tony McMahon and Jonathan Grounds. Several times Stephen Dobbie broke through and Robert Huth or David Wheater were needed to make perfect sliding tackles to block shots.
But Gary O’Neil grabbed the game firmly by the throat. The engine room battler closed down quickly, crashed into tackles, intercepted passes and showed some excellent distribution to stifle Swansea and seize the initiative.
With his energy and some willing work from Rhys Williams the threat of Britton was neutralised, Swansea were forced deeper and Boro were allowed to play the game in and around the home team’s box.
O’Neil looks a cut above at this level and if he can perform at that level consistently he can be a trump card this term. His imperious display bought time and space and allowed Boro’s undoubtedly quality to shine through.
He was not alone in his work rate. The pair on the flanks put in a shift too, chasing back when needed but also pressing the full-backs to force mistakes when Swansea had possession while making incisive runs down the wings or cutting inside if Boro had the ball offering balance, options, pace and work-rate that will be crucial in this division.
Emnes’ goal was a real peach and deserves its bandwidth on YouTube for its sheer quality. The other moments of quality were bittersweet though: Turk talisman Tuncay came on for an electrifying 25 minute cameo full of audacious twists and turns, sublime close control and neat back-heels that bamboozled the opposition and galvanised Boro fans and to top it off scored a goal.
He was head and shoulders above the rest of the players on the pitch, in the way that Magic Man Paul Merson was at this level last time. Unfortunately, unlike Merson, he is unlikely to be at the heart of the promotion surge. That may well be his Swans-song.
VULNERABLE Boro face a nail-biting countdown to the transfer deadline. Having seen their income slashed by more than half the club are under massive financial pressure to offload the big-earners and claw back the massive wages deficit before they can spend.
But if they can’t flog the ones they want to shift then they may have to bite the bullet and sell some of the ones they want to keep. It is going to be a nervous few weeks. Who knows what holes will be blown in what could and should be a promotion team between now and 1st September. That’s the subject of this week’s Gazette Big Picture column


20 thoughts on “Away Day Horror Hurdle Cleared

  1. Agree AV with most of what you said. I went to the match (via a weekend of drinking in Cardiff) and was very impressed. Especially after the Sheff Utd game concerns.
    Pace/movement/width and energy all words used by Gareth and at last it worked!!
    Although all the lads played well i thought special praise for Huth and Wheater who looked ‘rock solid’ again and also the wide pair of AJ and Yeates who’s movement skill and work rate were superb and both will be big players for us this season…and in Yeates at last a RW and he shoots from distance…whoosh!!!
    Agree also its a must that we keep hold of O’Neil. He is streets ahead of any other CM at the Boro and we are still short as it is in that area. If we sold him even at £4mil who would we bring in? Hughes from Hull? Maybe as back up for GON but not as a replacement.
    I think the big thing now is who stays? I really hope we can keep hold of most of are ‘stars’ until Sep 1st. If we lost say Tuncay/Ali/Huth/O’Neil we would find it hard to recover…Tuncay/Alves will go and maybe Huth but no more please.
    In comings i feel we still need a CF(or even two) and a creative/goal scoring CM would not go a miss.
    We have been linked a few times with Nicky Bailey from Charlton he could be worth a punt? He got 13 goals from CM last season in the Champo and scored the other week and just made Charlton Captain so leadership potential?

  2. Makes me actually look forward to Scunthorpe tomorrow! Hopefully they won’t let us down. Another professional job is required.
    But, as I said on my last post, this is crunch time now, with some of the quality on our squad about to be ripped away. I too would love to keep (a focused) Tuncay, and GON, but we may be about to lose them both. It’s sqeaky bum time, and I can’t wait to see the transfer window closed, simply because I don’t see us bringing any real quality in, only a drain on what we have already got.

  3. That was a brilliant victory on Saturday. Displays like that give me a buzz all week.
    I’m sure the smile on your face, in your profile, is broader as well today!
    I hope we don’t lose too many of that team before August 31st. What is the actual point of the transfer window? Is there any logic behind it?
    I think it favours the big clubs, as they can afford huge squads to compensate any long term injuries that might occur. Most clubs can’t afford cover in every position and have to hope they remain injury free, or end up playing players out of position, like us last year.

  4. We got a decent price for Downing, but the money being talked about for the others isn’t enough.
    I accept Tuncay wants to go, and if we get around £5m, then he can move on. I’d be loathe to lose Huth but as we have Pogatetz to come back the big German could go for the right price (£2.5m being discussed is less than half what he’s worth though). And as for O’Neill, we should only sell if he wants to leave, and even then only if we get close to what we paid (£5m right?) I have no idea what Alves is worth, and the £1.5m we might bag for Mido sounds about right for someone of his (fl)ability.
    The key point is that the club doesn’t HAVE to sell cheap, especially not to clubs that may well be in competition with us next year (in this league or the next).
    Saturday’s game wasn’t necessarily a sign of what will happen, but a measure of what could happen this season, if the players, club and fans keep up that level of input. In that sense, it was a real lift for everyone. And it was just nice to see us score three goals in any game.
    Finally, is there any more talk about Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink? I know he’d be big wages, but I’d guess no more than Lita and surely we could afford them for one season. Or do we REALLY have to wait for Tuncay or Alves to find someone that wants them enough to pay for them?
    **AV writes: I think we really have to wait. The closer we get to the transfer window closing without them going the higher the chance that someone else will go instead if the bids come in … and that could mean Wheater, Johnson, O’Neil or Williams leaving. They will be almost impossible to replace at short notice.

  5. It doesn’t take much to get you ra-ras going does it. It was only Swansea! We win one away game in 15 and suddenly we are world beaters and Southgate is Mourinho again. If we beat Scunthorpe you will all be talking about Europe again. Do you never learn?

  6. Credit to Southgate and the team for a professional and ruthless display.
    If Tuncay stays, we’ll win the league, if not, we’ll have to settle for second place – but we really do have to keep Wheater and Huth if we want to become the team to beat. O’Neil should stay too as we’re just not going to get anyone of his quality to gel that quickly if he leaves. Williams looks like he’ll be keeping Digard on the bench this year too.
    The reality is, we’re skint, and any offer will be looked at. The worry is that we’re down to the bare bones already.

  7. I will be going to as many away matches as possible!
    Huth is still only 25 years old and our most solid defender and a last minute late August sale sends out the wrong message to not just us the fans but to good players like Johnson who we need to sign a new contract.

  8. A convincing away win is a good start to the seasons ‘away campaign’ irrespective of the deficiencies or otherwise of the opposition, apart from anything else it gives confidence to the team.
    We all expect/expected Downing, Alves, Tuncay and Mido to leave this Summer, but for me the key men are the likes of Huth, Johnson, Wheater, O’Neil, Digard, if we lose any of these particularly Huth then it will make success this season significantly harder to achieve.
    I disagree with Mike Finn that Pogatez can replace Huth if he leaves. For me Huth is a class above any other defender in Boro’s squad and indeed the Championship as a whole.
    When Boro were last promoted the player(s) who made the difference between us and the rest were Merson and Townsend, this time around we will again need two or three players who are a class above the rest and I believe Huth needs to be one of them.
    Clearly Boro’s finances are tight and there is an imperative to sell, but all the indications are that Tuncay and Alves will go and with two high earners already gone my hope would be that those ‘disposals’ balance the financial equation. After that its a case of players either wanting to go or being prepared to stay.
    Huth is a premiership quality player and presumably in a perfect world he would like to play in the top division if for no other reason than preparation for the World Cup. That said GS needs to do everything in his power to keep him, until the January transfer window at least.

  9. Off to Scunthorpe tonight for, probably, a more robust challenge than Saturdays game at Swansea.
    As Southgate rightly states we need another 25 or so similar results to be where we want to be at the end of the season. The target has to be 90 points for automatic promotion though less will probably suffice.
    The pre season thoughts that we may be more effective away from the Riverside could well prove accurate. Tonight and Saturday will tell us more about the character of the team. Consistency is needed over a long season and we need to put together long winning and unbeaten runs.
    My Derby mate who went Saturday thinks we should win, Derby lost it through poor defensive play all over the pitch. They were harried out of it.
    We need to press and impose ourselves so here’s hoping.

  10. The uncertainty of the squad come the 1st September is a real headache. The slow movement of players out of the Boro Bargain Bucket is only to be expected. The re structuring of the clubs debt could well have been to meet this problem, and not have to offload every one of our assets.
    Looking ahead to the next few fixtures and the season as a whole I think a good position could be obtained solely on our defensive record. A misfiring attack might not be a promotion write off. Although lethal Leroy will bag 20 this season, starting tonight. A new cult hero is born
    Leroy Leroy Leroy!!!
    C’mon Boro

  11. Re: Clive Road.
    What’s the point of supporting a football team if you’re not allowed to celebrate a victory, especially after waiting so long?
    AV, having seen your article on the transfer deadline countdown, I see the problems. It’s been so long since we were a selling club I forgot what it’s like…
    If we got the right price for most of the players mentioned (Huth, Wheater, Pogatetz, O’Neill, Williams, Tuncay, Alves) I would be ok with that – though obviously not if we sold them all. I really think, however, that the club can’t afford to let Johnson go.
    Without any one of Huth, Tuncay, O’Neill or Wheater, we might not be the complete side we want to be, but we’d get by as there are replacements for all (even if not as good). But without Johnson we really won’t create enough chances to get out of this league.
    If Southgate does lose (say) Tuncay, Alves and Huth, would he be looking to replace those? Or is Lita the bull-dozer striker we were promised? And does Southgate still have any faith in Arca?
    **AV writes: I think the have budgeted to sell Alves and are resigned to Tuncay going but if they get the right prices they would resist selling Huth (unless they were given an offer they really couldn’t turn down).
    If they sell either of the first two they would go out and buy a striker from their list. If they sell the other as well they would go and buy a midfielder. If Huth goes on top of that I’m not sure if they would replace him or if they would suck it and see.

  12. It’s very interesting to see that you AV make reference to how a fire sale helped Boro to capture Luke Young from Charlton, so I just wanted to remind everyone associated with Boro just where Charlton are now. Didn’t they play Hartlepool last Saturday, need I say anymore?
    Most people who know me know that I have no time at all for GS as a manager, the responsibility is totally his for where we now are and where we are likely to go with him at the helm and that will not be back to the Premiership, no way.
    Having said that Steve Gibson has kept faith in him, enough said. Look at the players he has brought to the club for goodness sake, how many of them have strengthened the position that they have been bought to fill. Yes we need a centre forward, but how many of us will have faith that he will buy a good one? Surely we haven’t forgot that he brought L D Gook to the club, should we?
    What about Lamb, he couldn’t agree a deal for Brown, McCormack or Matic, all of which look like going on to become extremely talented players and he didn’t even negotiate a sell on clause for Cat. He thinks that he is clever but the record shows he is far from it, every single TF window the fans are kept waiting for a signing until the very last minute, then you wonder why we have ended up with some dross.
    Lets get used to it people, Boro are a selling club now and the fault of this is at the door of the boardroom, like it or lump it, the truth is there for all of us to see.

  13. If Martin O’Neil was at the Blades match he clearly wasn’t there to watch Tuncay or Johnson so who else is he likely to be after? It must be Wheater or Huth. If he makes a bid I hope Boro are brave enough to hold out for big (or even better ‘too much’) money. The key to a succesful season is a tight defence and the Wheater/Huth combo is head and shoulders above anything else at the club.
    Gary O’Neil’s hernia may be a blessing in disguise, presumably he is a less attractive proposition if he is going to be out for 4/6 weeks recovering from an op.

  14. Has Boro not, in effect, been a “selling” club for the past three years?
    If you define a “selling club” as one which is reducing it’s operating costs by off-loading high earners by either allowing contracts to run down without renewal or allowing them to be transferred before the end of their present contract without replacing them numerically or in quality terms with equivalent or greater valued talent, then Boro has, most certainly been a “selling club” for the past three years.
    It is a bit coincidental to say that it is a post-Eindhoven phenomenon, because it almost certainly was NOT directly linked causally, to that specific event, although we should of course acknowledge the debts accrued by Steve Gibson on the long road up that sporting hill.
    The trigger for Boro becoming a “selling club” I feel sure was a reassessment of Gibson’s overall finances, including the additional stretch of financing the development stages of Rockliffe Park, followed latterly by the onset of the global economic crisis.
    The particularly disappointing thing about it is that despite all this trimming going on in the background, the club was still talking about European ambition, “fast attacking football” and the like, when in fact, declining capability was what was delivered.
    Although nothing is guaranteed, many Boro supporters had paid good season-ticket money in continuing “expectation” of Premier League standard football being played at the Riverside. It was therefore disingenuous of the club to continue to lead the public to “expect” more of the same as in the preceding 10 years or so, while adopting and implementing a strategy that could do nothing other than put at risk and undermine those expectations.
    Boro has been a “selling club” for longer than any people realise – or have been prepared to admit. And THAT failure of admission, includes the club executive!
    The likelihood is that until Steve Gibson’s financial liquidity is restored to “more comfortable” levels, either by maturation of the Rockliffe Park Development, an upturn in the global economy, by some miraculous good fortune that re-establishes Boro in the Premier League and restores the big TV income stream or an injection of substantial “new money” (which would probably have to be) in exchange for loss of Steve Gibson’s personal autonomy over club affairs, then Boro supporters will have to get used to the new equilibrium.
    With the continued inflationary march of the Premier League, many of us recognised this almost as inevitability – unless of course the rate of growth of Gibson’s net worth was to even outstrip that rampant monster and he remained as committed to the Boro ambitious cause, as he has historically demonstrated.
    That commitment is what is now under some scrutiny in some quarters!
    And it’ll take more than a home draw with Sheffield United and couple of victories at Swansea or Scunthorpe to convince some that the prospects are favourable.

  15. Well we did it again great 2-0 victory at Scunny.
    I think Mr Gibson a sign of intent to the fans would be to keep this squad together less Alves we can go all the way with this squad and credit where due to Gareth he seems to be getting it right hopefully not too many knocks and same team out for Saturday hopefully three clean sheets and six goals will turn Saturdays crowd from 12000 to 23000.
    Well done Boro keep it going this is very pleasent.

  16. Another away win; you stand at the bus stop for ever waiting for one to come then you get two together!
    Two wins and one draw – a great start to the season, nothing more, nothing less.

  17. Richard
    I have often talked about groups of clubs. The big boys, the sleeping giants and the lodgers. The first two groupings have been established for some. Occasionally a giant wakes from its slumber and replaces one of the big boys.
    We are in the lodgers group that includes the likes of Bolton, Blackburn, Derby, Charlton etc. We spend some at court simpering around the aristocracy but when we fall on hard times there is always another court follower desperate to take our place.
    There was an interesting debate on Radio Five as I drove back from Scunnie. It concerned the fact that this a good season to have been promoted to the premiership. The group of teams fighting relegation were remarkably similar in ability and quite numerous.
    It is possible we may find that the gulf is such that top of the Championship and bottom of the premiership are much more similar than in the mid 90’s.
    As for becoming a selling club, my views have long been that it became apparent during the Eindhoven season that the squad was bloated with ageing and highly paid players. The clear out was coming even as we had those great comebacks in Europe whilst the league form stagnated.
    Our current situation sees us trying to manage the retreat but the lasting impression is that we havent got the best out of what resources we had available.
    On a footie note, last night saw another three points in a stern test. Scunthorpe were a strong side (physically) and good up front.
    We played with plenty of pace and endeavour, a downside was the 25 minutes after the second goal. Jinky and Yeates swapped flanks and Scunnie took over the game.
    It is difficult to decide whether it was us dropping back or them upping the pace. Was it the fact our wide man surrendered the advantage for compactness and allowed more space for the home side to come forward?
    Doncaster next

  18. ‘many Boro supporters had paid good season-ticket money in continuing “expectation” of Premier League standard football being played at the Riverside.’
    As there are different standards and styles of football in the increasingly uncompetitive premier league, i don’t see how you can define this.

  19. By ‘selling club’ I meant simply that. Not wage-reducing, cost-effecting or profit-making, just ‘selling’. As in, we sell players for reasons other than ‘they’re not good enough’. That can be for many more reasons than reducing operating costs.
    I agree that pointless media ‘positivity’ from the club is annoying – for me, it’s probably the worst bit about football, all the ‘we’re gonna do this…’ rubbish that spouts from every player, at every club, every day. But we have to accept it, as no-one is going to come out with ‘well, I expect us to do poorly this year, our squad looks weak, so any wins will be a bonus’ type of thing. It would put them at a massive disadvantage in so many ways.
    So yes, the club probably has been looking to rein in its spending for a while, but I’m not sure it was disingenuity that meant they continued to talk about big aims. For one, any club would, and for another, they probably still believed it themselves. As for the backroom/boardroom staff – I wouldn’t have them, but if Gibson thinks they’re the right men for the job then I’ll trust his judgement.
    Finally, I doubt any of those who question Gibson’s commitment would ever put in what he’s put into the club and town if they were in his position. He’s above and beyond criticism, and more than anything else, having him as chairman makes me proud to support the boro.
    [Bloody hell, turned into a Braveheart speech there. Two wins and I’m kissing the badge again eh?]

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