THERE’S not much that the fractious Riverside crowd is united on in these turbulant times so it is nice to see a huge groundswell of daft quid fixed odds coupon consensus on Sean St Ledger tonight.
The “typical Boro” fatalistic streak enmeshed in our DNA has surfaced with a Teesside wide conviction that Boro’s former ÃÂ£100,000 a game aborted loan cul-de-sac will score.
St Ledger has carried the can for a lot of what went wrong this season and there is no question that his fledgling partnership with David Wheater was deeply flawed with neither taking the senior leadership role and the Preston man’s maverick wannabe Beckenbauer surges forward leaving gaps to be exploited and attempts to deftly control in the box when a hoof was perhaps the better option.
But taking him out of the equation hasn’t radically transformed results or form. It hasn’t lead to a laundry load of clean sheet or cut out the late lapses under pressure and the instutional failure to defend from set plays.
And whatever you think about the clever, clever deadline busting nature of the costly loan-with-a-view deal to bring him here and the subsequent bizarre but timely engineered collapse that suited all parties, none of that was his doing. While he was here he was enthusiastic, said some nice things and tried his best and his exit allowed Gordon Strachan to start his reshuffle and bring in Mcmanus.
Some people may boo him although most of those inclined towards spleen venting will probably keep their powder dry for when Brad Jones makes a mistake. We’ve had worse loanees. More likely St Ledger will be greeted with a shrug of apathy …. unless he scores in which case we will all be quids in and waving our betting slips at him.
Those who like a flutter can get a generous 33-1 on-line for first goal scorer with BetFred and Paddy Power, who clearly don’t know our history on these kind of things, whil emost of the other big bookies have him at 25-1. Ladbrokes rate him at 20-1 so if you want until you get to the kiosks in the ground you may lose out. You can get each way odds to score at any time. Unfortunately own goals don’t count.
It is do-or-die for Boro’s ghostly shimmer of play-off possibilities. Anything less than victory will surely spark a grand foam fingered bonfire of broken dreams as even the optimists accept the season has gone up in smoke.
That doesn’t mean we don’t want to finish the season showing a bit of fight, although preferably not of the variety that leaves players in hospital getting their jaws wired up. There is still plenty to play for, although most of it now involves shifting season tickets, shoring up collapsing supporter morale and preparing for next term.
Even the boss, who is now clearly focussed on building for next season, says “looking at the league table it will require a lot of hard work now” although he does points to it still being mathematically possible, as if our promotion hopes were as illusory and abstract sci-fi concepts as cold fusion or intergalactic travel rather than something we had in our own hands a fortnight ago.
We have Mick Mcmanus back from plague. Pogi will be all the better for having been run into the ground before he was ready. And the form is in our favour. Boro may have only one win in seven but they are unbeaten at the Riverside in eight league games while Preston haven’t won in five away and their only point came at Plymouth. They haven’t won on Teesside since 1971…. it all sounds quiet ominous doesn’t it?
And it doesn’t just come down to our results anymore. There are some big matches in a busy midweek programme even if we do come back from the first half St Ledger hat-trick… Blackpool v Swansea, Bristol v Barnsley and Doncaster v Fight Club (remember, Jaw jaw is better than war war lads) tonight and then Leicester v Reading, West Brom v Coventry and the double-edged sword of Cardiff v Sheffield United tomorrow.
You can check your levels of punditry/wishful thinking/mental instability here on the BBC Championship predictor. Best do it now though while there is a teasing glimmer of hope to wrestle with. Tomorrow it may be a case of ‘let’s see what you could have won.” I have Boro finishing eighth on 67 points. And I may have been generous.
Here’s the the live match blog button for the benefit of those who have opted to sit this one out for reasons of logistics, logic, cost or quality control and sit at home with a couple of cans and swap memories, recipes, cross-stitch patterns and cynical quips about Brad Jones on-line instead. It’s alright for you lot, I’ve got to go.