Promotion Hopes Running On Half Empty

(***Boro honour fallen heroes today***)
MEANWHILE, with a damaging defeat at Crystal Palace, Boro’s stuttering promotion campaign is now running on half empty.
The shot-shy side squandered chances and were caught cold at the back on the break (again) , a serial self-inflicted twin design defect that has gradually blunted the bright start and ground down optimistic early hopes.
But more than that, it has crucially stacked the vital numbers against Boro as new boss Gordon Strachan starts his rebuilding on the hoof and under the cosh. Boro have now suffered six defeats – and that is too many at this stage for a team with promotion ambitions.

The second half Palace coup means that Boro have now taken their defeats tally to the half-way mark of the outside limit of what is possible for a team with genuine promotion pretentions and the two on the bounce under the new gaffer mean any feelgood factor from a dug-out change has dissolved quickly without a discernible immediate dividend.
Six defeats. That is half of the figure that any club can realistically afford if they are to make it into the play-offs, let alone grab one of the precious automatic promotion spots.
The 2-1 defeat at Bristol City – the first this term – was a sickening late lapse blip in the middle of a promising early run of five wins.
West Brom was a painful but instructive systematic dismantling by ruthless rivals as Boro chased the game after two unfortunate early set-backs.
But with Leicester, Watford, Plymouth and Palace the worries have mounted (and the old boss was axed). All those archetypal limited but organised Championship sides delivered single sucker punches in Groundhog Day games in which Boro had the edge for long spells and the chances to win but ultimately could not break down a determined defence and stick the ball in the net.
It is easy to sit and dissect those games in isolation and come to the conclusion that it is about fine margins, and to conclude that Boro are structurally sound barring a prolific poacher; what would we give for a Slaven, a Branca, a Yakubu, a Viduka; even a sporadic striker like Fuchs or Ricard would do.
And it is easy too to counsel calm and argue that Boro are creating chances and that all it takes is a slight tweaking for Leroy Lita and Marcus Bent to click up front, or the midfield to start chipping in, or a new hero to be grafted on to turn this chassis of a team into a viable vehicle capable of driving us back into the promotion race.
Boro are not far from being an outfit that could and should be among the contenders in what is in truth a poor Championship populated by limited but effective teams.
But those four frustrating 1-0 defeats in the last seven games have now tipped the numerical balance decisively against that. At least for this term.
The margin for error is now being eroded at an alarming rate.
Generally in recent years the teams that secured promotion did so having lost 12 or fewer games over the season.
Last season Wolves were champions having lost ten games while Birmingham went up in second having suffered just nine defeats. Burnley squeezed up through the play-offs having lost 12 while of their rivals in the end of season shoot-out, Sheffield United had lost 10, Reading 11 and Preston the relative rarities having limped into the lottery despite a hefty 14 reverses.
In 2007/08 West Brom went up having lost 11 games with simplistic Stoke in second with nine defeats. Hull won the play-offs despite having lost 13 while Bristol City had gone down 12 times, Palace 11 and Watford 12.
And in 2006/07 champions Sunderland and Birmingham had both lost a dozen games as did play-off winners Derby.
In the past three seasons then only one team in has gone up having lost more than 12 games – and Boro are at six defeats already with just a third of the season gone.
That means they can realistically only afford six more defeats in the 30 games that remain and given that they are so brittle at the back and so often lack the teeth to turn spells of pressure into an unassailable lead, to achieve such a record demands an immediate and fundamental change in performances and results.
Given those mathematical imperatives the breakdown of remaining fixtures suddenly looks ominous. So far Boro have won seven games. Six of those – Ipswich, Reading, Doncaster, Scunthorpe, Derby and Sheffield Wednesday – were against teams below them in the table while the other was against Swansea who were down there at the time but who have just leapfrogged above them.
Of the teams above them they have played, Boro they have been thrashed by West Brom and been caught napping late on by both Leicester and Bristol City as well as losing at Forest after extra time in the Carling Cup. And all three of those have arguably improved markedly in form and confidence since Boro met them.
That is worrying, not least because Boro still have most of the teams above them still to play. In fact, those tough games now dominate the fixtures.
Of the 30 games remaining – of which remember they can only really afford to lose six – Boro must play leaders Newcastle twice, third placed Cardiff twice, fourth placed QPR twice, fifth placed Blackpool twice, in-form Forest in eighth twice plus travel to second placed West Brom and Leicester in sixth.
Strachan will have to work very hard indeed to make his team far harder to beat if they are to negotiate that particular programme without adding irretrievable mass to the ‘lost’ column. They will need to become tougher, more focussed and better organised at the back and sharper and more ruthless up front. Consistently.
The next half-a-dozen games will be decisive. Between now and Christmas Boro face a Forest side who are unbeaten away at the Riverside and go to struggling Peterborough then a resurgent QPR before crunch home games against Jason Euell’s Blackpool and Cardiff and a derby sunday showdown away at Newcastle.
How we fare in that six game run will determine whether we go into the January transfer window with Gordon Strachan looking to fine-tune his improving side ready for the second leg of a quickfire promotion push… or start rebuilding completely for next year.
NATIONAL treasure and precious posh polymath Stephen Fry has now decided that trendy ‘Twitter’ is a bit silly after getting some 140 character long bites of banter – and indeed, if you use it to relate vacuous ephemera while stuck in a lift or ask for help in deciding which preserve to have on your breakfast toast it, that may well be the case.
But I am sticking with the trendy Blackberry generation social networking tool. After all, without it would I have been able to lean across the aisle and tell Kenwyn Jones, an incognito fellow passenger on the 1900 KX-Darlo on Saturday after the game on Saturday, that Craig Gordon had broken an arm?
Here’s some of the stuff I have linked to on my Twitter in recent days:
A good Remembrance article in the Mirror about when international call ups meant something far more significant than football and when players really were heroes
And a counter-balance or two to an hysterical and slightly sinister bullying tabloid campaign to name and shame football clubs that refused to jump onto their populist poppy/shirt high horse.
The Lingo of Calcio… Italian tactical nuances explained.
Where’s Whaddon Road again… there’s a totally engrossing interactive lower league football geography quiz.
And a happy 140th birthday to the Gazette – a link to a brief history of Teesside’s best loved institution (apart from the Bongo, the Boro and maybe the parmo) on our sister blog Remember When.
To have your browser pointed at similar stuff plus the odd quip and occasional exclusive snippet of breaking news you can get down with the kids and “follow” me on Twitter here.

120 thoughts on “Promotion Hopes Running On Half Empty

  1. After seeing the players Southgate spent the money on in his first two seasons, it’s hardly surprising that he wasn’t allowed to was too much more money in his third season.
    He bought third rate players and paid over the odds for them. That’s not good management, and proved he did not have an eye for talent. Those players were ‘his team’ and that team got us relegated through lack of talent and lack of effort.

  2. The merc is just like the lottery, no matter how many times I enter I dont win.
    My hopes appear to be lost at sea, holed below the waterline by an iceberg. In Grove Hill of all places!

  3. I know it’s free weekend and there is little to talk about – but I’m surprised some boro fans still have the energy to try and rescue Gareths reputation.
    The financials are a distraction. Irrespective of the financial situation you have decisions to make. There are many examples of Gareths frighteningly bad judgement – here are a few.
    1. Defensive midfield: sell Boatang and Cattermole and replace with Digard who he was too frightened toplay for 6 months.
    2. Move Cattermole on because of his ‘suspect character’ and sign Mido and King both paragons of virtue.
    3. Bates in midfield ! after selling Cattermole & Morrison
    4. Hoyte in front of McMahon !
    5. Goalkeepers
    No matter what the financial situation these are fatal footballing errors. Gareth rather than complaining about his treatment should thanking Steve Gibson and the fans of Middlesbrough FC for the experiences, opportunities and wages that the club has presented him with.
    It’s baffling to ‘hear’ the resentment of his supporters. He’ll be lucky to get another management job.
    I prefer losing under Gordon Strachan to drawing under Gareth Southgate – there is more life, energy and hope with Strachan in place.
    Mind you how long is it going to take him to understand that McMahon is the best full-back in the club. He has skill, physical and mental courage and leads by example.
    Come on Gordon for christ sake he’s exactly your sort of player !!!

  4. G’day Poms!
    I see you eventually managed your century with Seikh assistance after only 4 days 4 hours and 29 minutes! That’s about your usual strike rate, ain’t it?
    Typical Poms though – waiting until the hours of Oz darkness to gain advantage!
    Ah, what the heck!- back to the sheep. C’mere you gorgeous Sheila!

  5. Someone say Werthers?
    Gotta go mate! Just got a call to say that Sydney Sydney’s got ‘is digeridoo stuck in a sheep again!
    Or was it, Up the Burra?

  6. Anlov wrote:
    “Theres a reason for why the rest of the world have made us favourites for promotion.”
    Not true, unfortunately. Odds vary between bookies, but mainly range from 5-2 to 3-1. The vast majority make Boro fourth favourites behind Newcastle, West Brom and Cardiff. Some also place us behind QPR.
    There are only three promotion places available. Odds of 3-1 suggest that we would reach the playoffs with an equal chance.
    Personally, I think fair odds right now are a bit worse than 3-1, but not too much. Promotion is possible, but unlikely.
    No amount of “keeping the faith” from the fans will change the odds. But improving and organising the squad may. That’s Strachan’s task, and it isn’t an easy one.

  7. Richard said:
    “There is a public statement from Al Sadd in Qatar which states that EUR12M was transferred to MFC immediately when Alves signed for them.”
    Where can this statement be found? The fee was reported as £7M, including by Keith Lamb.
    Even if the EUR12M is true, there was a lot of money still owing on Alves, and all of it in Euros. The true cost of the transfer from Heerenveen, at current exchange rates, is probably more like £17M. So even £10.4M still represents a big loss.
    I’d also like to know how much of whatever was received was handed straight to Alves and his agent.
    If the club really did clear even £7M on the deal, I think anyone who has ever criticised Keith Lamb should hang their head in shame.
    Incidentally, I see that Al Sadd are also playing Afonso as a non-scoring forward.

  8. 102 – nearer than our strikers have been getting for some time. Still a sickener, all the same.
    And by the way, Mido is still eating…..

  9. It seems to me that Boro fans have spent the last few weeks playing “Runaround”.
    The old loyalist/ra-ra/pro-Gateists who had backed the boss ex-officio and spent so much time defending his (frankly average) performance based on the collective responsibility and financial limitations have reinvented themselves as the “from day one” cynics about the new manager.
    While the former chicken runner/ realists/ anti-Gate group now seem so glad to have got rid of their old Nemisis they are ready to support the new boss no matter what average displays his team have turned in – and even though he seems to have some similar tactical errors (‘square-pegging’, bringing in non-scoring strikers, inability to get the defence organised and focussed).
    Soon the former critics turned new pro-boss ra-ras will be saying GS2 has done well given the lack of finances and the former ra-ras turned chicken runners will be slating him saying he has gone backwards from when he took over.
    If only we could all just accept that Boro are a middling club with an average team and who have just enjoyed a golden age that they are now harshly judged against. Then we may be a more united and reasonable crowd and that may just relieve some of the pressure on the team and the new boss.
    Rather than arguing over who did what with what pile of cash let’s all accept that the money has run out and that we are now back where we probably should expect to be in terms of resources and expectations.
    Once we accept where we are maybe then we can start to move forward.

  10. I like mythbuster. I like anyone who is passionate enough about Boro to put in the time and effort to dig out three years of facts and figures to prove a point. I am always impressed with that commitment.
    I think he is wrong mind. Southgate did OK in his first two seasons, not great but OK, keeping us up despite losing his best players (in his first season people forget that he lost not only Yakubu but HIMSELF) and I think we went down last season not because Gate was incompetant but because Alves/Tuncay/Downing were as they did not score all those sitters.
    Sometimes I think people who use statistics are trying to hard to prove their point and because of that their mind is closed to anything anyonme else says or the most obviouus unscientific answers.

  11. Interesting that BBC are reporting an article saying Johnno has been told he cant leave until the summer (sourced from NOTW) despite the interest from Sunderland, Chelsea et al.
    Lets wait and see what happens in our run up to Xmas. That may well define what our approach will be in January.
    And can we please focus on the rest of the season

  12. Well, as there is little else to talk about, I’ll just round off the Titanic analogy.
    I would assume the Captain didn’t intentionally sail into the iceberg and as a result of the collision he died so no lack of commitment on his part. The truth is, it like all accidents it was a result of the cumulative effect of random events, mistaken assumptions and errors. Much the same as Boro’s relegation.

  13. In danger of boring some people I’ll continue the debate about our relegation manager. I think Neil M said it quite correct, the first two seasons he did ok. No one is defending the relegation, no one enjoyed falling down. Lets all agree on that.
    But there is a reproducing ‘blind eye’ to this debate, which is obvious. The ‘one point from the top’ fact has been mentioned, but no Southgate-hater wants to touch it, or admit it.
    Lets reason: If the squad is terrible (Southgates fault) then it should be a great achievement to stay at the top of the table, shouldnt it?
    So, to those who keep on calling the team mediocre and bad, how is it that the manager you also call mediocre managed to stay on the top. That’s a puzzle.
    And Mythbuster: I know youre trying your best to bend the stats and numbers to your favour, but Boro were AMONG the favourites for promotion. Please let us not argue about something everybody knows. And once again, we were favourites because of the squad, not the manager or the money.
    Which proves that the football world in general views us as a promotion-squad.

  14. I’d like to be acknowledged as the exception to Mr.Average’s rule book as I supported GS1 and am backing GS2 to be a success.
    I see we are being linked with Kitson from Stoke, that really would be an excellent signing, but surely a bit unlikely if we’ve just signed Bent.

  15. God I hate international breaks…who cares? Having said that, great to see NZ qualify…white is the new black! It will be nice to get back to the real thing next week.
    I’m feeling pretty happy with the Boro at the moment. AV reminded me above that Steve McLaren started with 4 straight losses…I’d forgotten that.
    I was a Southgate supporter, but one who was getting frustrated. When people called for his head I was opposed to it, partly because I wasn’t convinced about the available options. It used to amuse when people called for Southgate to be replaced by Mowbray. Here we were, towards the bottom of the league and in danger of relegation, and a large number of people appeared to want to replace our manager with the only one in the league who was actually doing worse than Southgate!!
    But once Strachan’s name was mentioned I could actually see that as being a good move, and I’m glad that we pushed it through, even if it was a bit messy and probably not fair on Gareth in the context of this season.
    I can see Strachan being a really good manager for us, and getting us promoted again… although possibly not this year. I’m prepared to put up with a bumpy start.

  16. I think the argument over the ‘success’ of Southgate’s tenure should depend on what his remit was. We could probably all agree that part of that remit was to downsize the wage bill whilst retaining our PL status – which we now know wasn’t entirely successfully executed.
    I think another remit was to build a team with up-and-coming players that would have a higher resale value than they were acquired for. Though sadly most of Souhgate’s gambles did not pay off – whether they were ultimately his choices alone is debatable.
    Though what was most likely not in the remit was creating a team without characters who could drive the team when the going got tough – it was his dislike of strong-minded opinionated players that stripped the team of experience, which was probably a by-product of his own inexperience and the need to achieve his own authority over the team.
    In the end the players that GS had assembled together just weren’t up to the task. That’s why despite our initial hope to the contary there will be no quick fix under Strachan.
    GS2 will perhaps reorganise the players on the pitch to greater effect – but it would be unrealistic to expect him to be able to achieve the right mix of players and get them to gel within a short period of time. However, getting hold of a proven goal scorer would definitely speed up the process and thankfully mistakes will often go unpunished in the Championship.
    OK, Southgate may have had less resources than other recent Boro managers but he still had a fair amount to play with – he unfortunately just didn’t make the best use of them.

  17. AV, can you end this international break already. Every one seems longer the the previous…
    AV, have you met GS2 already outside a general press conference? I think we need to know a bit more about the lad.
    I think – and certainly hope – Boro will play only better in the future than currently. We are due a run like we had at the start of the season – also some home wins ordered.
    My guess – Boro are 3rd in the table by Boxing day. Up the Boro!

  18. Hate these international weekends off. The football is totally boring.
    If Kitson is on the radar good, hope he is coming good regular goal scorer in this division. Digard needs to come back for the Forest game. Still no news on the Forlorn AV?

  19. ● ● ● ▬ (think the start of Beethoven’s 5th, Der Der Der Dung!)
    V for Victory.
    So in the time honoured tradition I will begin the big weeks build up with a haiku poem
    Lost in the Wilderness
    Together we can
    Chop down the forest
    Victory on the 21st

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