Everything’s Spine And Dandy

THE REAL Strachanovite Revolution starts here. The single-minded gaffer has stamped his authority and philosophy on those that survived his Year Zero approach to the squad and has entered phase two of his radical rebuild of a tattered and demoralised club.
In January he brought in his own men, schooled in his methods and exacting standards of industry and application and ready to act as dressing room evangelists. He also used a revolving door rejig to bring in enough stop-gaps to get through the season. Now he is looking to complete the engineering of a team strong enough – physically and mentally – to secure promotion.
And already – with the transfer window open barely a week – the spine of his new side is visible. Look:


newboro.jpg
From what we have in place so far – assuming that the McManus deal, largely agreed by all parties barring some tinkering with the structure and timetable of the payments, goes through – this is how the team may well shape up. Feel free to tell me I’m a doyle, that team will get slaughtered and that I’ve forgotten Josh Walker.
The positions in brackets are the areas I believe remain unresolved – both full backs and both flanks aren’t nailed down by a long way – but the spine is firmly in place. And that is a good position to be at this stage of the season. We are usually still agonising about flaws in the spine on deadline day.
A recruitment drive that started months ago has quickly paid dividends as Strachan has got some key men in early. With the arrival of Kris Boyd to play up front alongside ex-Old Firm rival goal machine Scott McDonald he has a hand-picked front pairing of players he knows, trusts and firmly believes that given the right service will score the goals Boro have been so sorely lacking in recent years.
Strachan has reshaped the heart of the engine room with his main Barry Robson played in the position where he can most influence games and a driven, creative, energetic midfielder already proven in this league and with an eye for goals.
And at the back McManus and Wheater showed enough last trem to suggest they can be among the best central defensive pairings in the division, combining physical strength, height, a bit of nous and a willingness to put in a tackle.
Of the unresolved positions, the least worry is at right back. Tony McMahon was his prefered choice last year before injury but Justin Hoyte hinted towards the end of term that the grip of terror on his heart had eased a bit as he put in some good displays while Rhys Williams could yet make that slot his own. Any of those would do.
Left back remains a problem position. Jonathan Grounds can play there as can Andrew Taylor but you get the impression that neither is a fully paid up Strachanista and while Hoyte has filled in he was far from convincing. It could be that Hoyte and/or Taylor are eased out to fund a hand-picked man that ticks a lot more of the boss’s boxes.
Right wing is also a problem, but a different one. Gary O’Neil could easily make that position his own and if fully fit and motivated he may be an outstanding performer on the flank and a key factor in a successful promotion push. But O’Neil is a saleable asset, he is on Premier League money and has a string of admirers at clubs in the lower half of the top flight. Bolton, Blackburn, Birmingham… anyone that begins with ‘B’ basically … plus Fulham may all be tempted to make him a big time benchwarmer and it would be hard to see the club resisting the chance to cut the wage bill and fund some surgery elsewhere if the right offer came in.
If he were to go then ideally he would be replaced with a specialist more fitting the new austerity wage profile – Driver was mentioned earlier in the close season but that interest seems to have cooled somewhat – although Willo Flood or Jonathan Franks could fill in and do a more than respectable job.
I’ve put brackets on the left flank too, if only because Halliday is an unknown quantity. It is a big step up from Livingstone to the Championship (although Graham Dorrans managed it) and Strachan’s position seems to be that he is one with potential rather than a shoo-in starter. That could mean him competing for the position with Flood although again, ideally you want to see a seasoned specialist there if possible.
With a couple of tweaks that seems a strong enough starting line up and there is plenty of strength in depth. Assuming that the current interest in striker Gary Hooper and defender Craig Dawson is pursued – and we understand the club remain determined and confident on both, although the former could depend on unloading one of the current strikers first – and Rhys Williams bounces back quickly and Jason Steele steps up as second choice shot-stopper there could be a strong and versatile bench.
As well as the ones on the team sheet there are also Arca, Franks and Luke Williams and Lee Miller who featured last season who may be battling for a place.
The next looming pressing problem will be shipping out those who do not chime with the Strachan philosophy. Failed project Marvin Emnes has had trials in Germany and must be considered surplus to requirements while semi-detached Didier Digard has his agents working overtime in France looking for an exit strategy. Given the restorative properties of the Gallic air he remained fit and did well on loan back home last term so we have reason to be assume he will be offered sanctuary somewhere.
Mido’s people have also been busy with the fax – Lech Posnan and Brescia are among clubs who say they’ve been approached to stage a gig on the heavyweight Egyptian’s European roadshow – but short of using a low level loader it may be harder to move him on given his wages, his ‘challenging’ persona and a CV that boasts an enviable goal-a-club-a-year record since his star waned at Boro. We may need to take a big hit on wages and/or find a club not connected to the internet if we are to get rid of him.
Some people, mainly the deranged and the drunk, insist that if he could only get his head straight he would tear this division apart. Hmmmmm. I trust these eternal optimists are all engaged again after six messy divorces and a string of messy custody battles. Let’s be honest, he’s not going to change. We need to get rid… although if he does stay I would pay good money to watch when it all goes off with Strachan. And it will.
There are a few others who the club would no doubt sell given half a chance. Leroy Lita is on big money but is not a guaranteed starter – and I think it is fair to say he isn’t totally in tune with the Strachanovite ideals or mentality – and so must be regarded as effectively up for grabs if the club get an offer. He has a good goals record at this level (in fact, the best Championship strike rate of anyone at the club) so may attract some interest although any deal may take a bit of massaging to make the numbers add up.
Julio Arca must be in the same category too. He has two years left on Premier League money and while he got a lot of pitch time last season you can’t have a crazy situation where one of your biggest wage earners isn’t a first team fixture.
And Hoyte may be another on any secret list headed “will sell if get decent offer.” He will be on relatively big money having signed his deal when Boro were in the Premier League club having been lured from Arsenal, is not a sure-fire starter and is in a position where the club have plenty of adequate cover. Ditto Andrew Taylor. Apart from the Arsenal bit obviously. Whether the offers will come in is another matter.

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34 thoughts on “Everything’s Spine And Dandy

  1. Mick is the next piece of the jigsaw.
    AV do you think our signings have increased ticket sales and have you heard any news on the numbers sold? Would love to see a full house for the opener if that can happen then we just need the team to turn up and we are on our way.
    AV writes: Full house? No chance. Last I heard was 10,500 a week or so ago and I can’t see Kris Boyd sparking a Juninho style rush of delirious zealots wearing kilts and half/half Boro/tartan beanies.

  2. Is Jones really in your spine? Every second game he seems kind of…. spineless….
    Any chance of Richard Kingson instead??
    **AV writes: I have never been a great fan, to be honest he terrifies me. But in the second half of the season after getting his head and his act together he performed well above average. Arguably he was Boro’s best in the last six or eight weeks with barely a blob dropped. That makes him more than capable at this level. For now.
    Ideally you would bring someone in but the club won’t buy a keeper because they really rate Steele highly and have him pencilled in a the future regular No1 and you can’t play Danny Coyne just because he has a catchy terrace song and a personal fan club. Unless Jones chooses to move he is in for the foreseeable.

  3. AV said “while switching attention to getting out a few big earners who are not in their plans”
    Mido, Emnes, Digard… no secrets there. Taylor possibly out of favour? Any more guys that are more than likely to go? Was anyone highlighted from the La Manga trip as “not up for it”? Is O’Neil likely to stay or he finances other deals? What is the ore-inspirational (sorry!) news from the smithy on these fronts?
    **AV writes: Theer are a few who they would sell if they get offers. You can’t keep big wage earners at this level if they are not regular starters. It is not good for team spirit and if they are not playing they are depreciating in value by the week. So yes, I’d say Taylor would go if they go an offer. Ditto Lita, Arca.
    Strachan would prefer to keep O’Neil – he rates him, he accepts the ethos and he would be a first choice starter – but again, if the right offer came in the club can’t really afford to miss a chance to cut the wage bill and reinvest in weaker positions.

  4. I’ve just offered similar sentiments on another board. Once Mick is in, wide players should be the focus.
    I think if the club gets the right offer, O’Neil will go – which is the right choice for me. Considering his wages, he doesn’t offer enough – compare his season last year with Kevin Nolan’s.
    That leaves Halliday, Franks, and Arca (sort of). I think we need at least one proven wide man bringing in, if not two.
    Ideally, I’d also like to see two new full-backs, as I’m not convinced by any of ’em currently here. They may ‘do a job’, but we sort of thought that last year, didn’t we?
    All that said, if we can’t offload Mido and Digard I think we’ll stuggle for the funds, so we’ll have to see.
    **AV writes: I think failure to offfload Mido especially may increase the pressure should an offer come in for O’Neil who ideally they want to keep.

  5. AV –
    I must admit that I commented in a post that a fit and motivated Mido would destroy Championship defences, applies to most premiership ones as well. I did also say that it wouldnt happen, he has more previous than Doug and Dinsdale Piranha. There is no chance he could stay focussed for more than a Big Mac at a time. It is more a case of wont do it rather than cant do it
    He is a lost cause as are our Gallic midfielder and Dutch project albeit for different reasons.
    Our Argentinean Land Crab is a different matter altogether. Whilst a good pro, he doesnt have the pace or physique to survive in the Championship. His scuttling, tweaks and twirls are disasters waiting to happen. And he is on serious money.
    I hope you are right about Jones but you do fear a return to Corporalism sooner rather than later. Of more concern at the moment is the well being of his son – is Brad back the club yet?
    Of the others no hard and fixed views on any of them. I would like McMahon to come back and do well. I would also like one of our home grown to nail down left back.
    Lets get some players off the wage bill to free up room for Hooper and Dawson. It is then up to Gordon and his coaches to get them playing, results will provide the judgement on his reign.

  6. Makings of a good squad indeed – but your Subs bench doesn’t have an ‘alternative’ striker warming it – is this where Miller and [possibly] Hooper will displace one [or two] of the names you’ve pencilled in?
    And should I be suspicious [or relieved] that you haven’t mentioned Miller at all?? Still unclear to me why he was bought – if we wanted a ‘third way’ striker I’d have preferred Killen to Windy!
    **AV writes: Whoops. I thought I’d put Hooper on the bench. If they get him (which there are still very positive noises over) I see him as a definite first teamer, rotated with McDonald alongside Boyd who will be a fixture. Stick him in for Hines.
    Miller I just forgot. I always forget him. In fact he has completely failed to lodge himself in my consciousness at all since arriving. I think he is available. There was talk of Rangers which seems to have had some stubstance and that allied with Boyd coming thsi way says plenty about their imploding horizons and the quality gap between the two leagues.

  7. The spine of the team looks strong. Long time since we’ve been able to say that with conviction.
    There will be the moaners and groaners but you can’t knock buying the two strongest goal scorers in Scotland. Both Boyd and Macdonald have the physical attributes I like. Over here in the Delta the Celtic and Rangers supporters can’t believe we snagged both.
    Robson has needed another of his mentality in midfield and Bailey comes well recommended and equally as granite like.
    Mighty Mick Macmanus next, well i’m excited.

  8. AV you are a doyle!
    Only kidding, but I am a bit worried about Boyd and McDonald up front as a pairing. Neither can do the donkey work of a Killen or (Lee) Miller. So are we looking at a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 with Boyd and a big man and £3.3m of Aussie hit man on the bench?
    Boyd played up front with Kenny Miller and neither of them are your traditional type CF but Rangers were able to Steamroller teams. Are Boyd and McDonald too similar? If we play with a three of Bailey, Robson, and O’Neil then there’s no width, so the onus is on the full backs.
    Has Wee Gordon studied the world cup and seen 4-4-2 is dead and that he might go 4-2-1-3:
    Back 4- Full backs provide width
    Robbo and O’Neil in the centre
    Bailey just in front of them
    Boyd and McDonald playing off a big man Miller/Hooper
    Where’s chief tactician Powls when you need him?
    **AV writes: There is no indication that 442 is dead for Strachan. I think you are right that he would probably go for a big lad up front. at Celtic he had Hartson or Jan van der longnaaame of Hesselink. I think Hooper is more likely to take on that role than Miller. Did someone suggest Mido? If it was me, then I’m a doyle.

  9. Blimey – Boyd, McDonald AND (potentially) Hooper? That’s the first “squad” or strikers we’ve had since, well, since the last time we got promoted from this division when Alun Armstrong used to come off the bench.
    The spine does indeed look strong, mentally and physically, though I agree with others that we might lack a bit of pace.
    Franks has some speed and did enough at the back end of last season to suggest that he might be able to break through. Otherwise I don’t see quite enough pace in the squad as a whole.
    There’s plenty of time to address that though and so far all the news is positive. It’s refreshing to have the new signings so early.
    Keith Lamb deserves credit.

  10. I agree with most of the above, however I take objection with playing a player just because he is on big wages, everyone must be picked on form and quality not the size of their pay packet!
    **AV writes: I didn’t say anyone should be played because they are on big wages. Or anything like that. I said that if they are on big wages and are not first team regulars then they should be sold because we can’t afford to pour wages into bit parts.

  11. What no Mido, he’s an automatic “shoe” in surely. He’s a crass act after all!
    **AV writes: I think he’s more likely to get the boot.

  12. Apologies AV I miss understood, I totally agree that we need to get rid of players on big wages such as Arca and Lita, mainly because I believe they simply aren’t good enough and don’t display the mental strength and the right attributes to be apart of Strachans ethos.

  13. Just back from holiday in Mauritius and discoverd that at last we have moved quickly in the transfer market, when historically we dither and wait and …fail.
    We must though get Mido out of this club, an accident waiting to happen, and completely at odds with the mentality of the squad Strachan is building. As I said in an earlier post, I am genuinely excited about this season.
    After a disgraceful World Cup tournament by England (and I suffered watching the humiliating 4-1 defeat to the excellent Germans sat with 4 German lads in the hotel bar) I am really sick to the back teeth with the pampered overpaid and over hyped Premiership.
    I know we are aiming for a Premiership return obviously, but I want to see honest graft and endeavour by anyone who pulls on a Boro shirt next season. I believe Strachan will indeed build a team we can be proud of once more.

  14. AV, I thought Bailey plays more on the left. So I am still more concerned about the middle. What happened to the rumor that we are after Thompson of Rangers?
    Anyway I agree that the spine is there for all to see. Exciting times ahead.
    Well done GS2 – and KL delivers if the manager knows what he wants and the manager is appreciated by potential new players.
    Up the Boro!

  15. AV, how do you see the new coaching set up affecting our changes of promoition this season? UTB!
    **AV writes: As with players it has got to help when the backroom staff are hand-picked and are totally in tune with the gaffer’s thinking and methodology.

  16. Disappointed you’ve not authorised my earlier post Mr Vickers … ?
    What was wrong with it … ?
    PP … x
    **AV writes: No, I can’t see anything earlier from you, if it is really you. Sometimes things go missing. Why don’t you write a letter of complaint ……. [ 😉 ]

  17. Looking better, cautiously optimistic.
    I have to admit I’m surprised by the Boyd deal. I’ve obviosuly been following the news and heard all about Boro’s confidence that a deal could be done, but I never expected it. Reason why…I tried looking at the deal from Boyd’s perspective and couldn’t understand what he might get out of it. So I’m puzzled about his motivation.
    Still, on paper the two forwards look like they should score goals, but I’ll reserve judgement…as others have said, on paper (and on YouTube) Alves looked like he should score goals. I certainly think we need to add a third striker in case one (or possibly both) don’t fire. Hooper would be good.
    In defence, McManus would be an excellent acquisition if we get him. Left back needs filling, but I’m reasonably comfortable with the options we have at right back.
    In goal, I’d love Jones to prove everyone wrong and have a belter of a season. I hope the fans give him a chance…but I remain nervous. It’s a big risk, but I accept the argument about Steele. Maybe we could move Coyne on and get a 1 year loan in, or maybe Steele might have to step up more quickly.
    In midfield, Width and creativity is the missing element…which will heavily impact our two forwards ability to score. They are going to need someone to provide a service. Halliday might have to be “Dorrans-like”.
    On the outgoings, I think O’Neil should probably go, and probably will. I fear an injury prone year for him this year…he struggled a bit last year (although some of his injuries were clearly “approaching99itis”).
    I notice you haven’t mentioned Wheater as a potential leaver. I still think the club would find it difficult to resist the temptation of good money. The others mentioned as available all make sense although I would like to see Digard given another chance, I think he has been unlucky. I am with everyone here, Mido has to go.
    I’d say with this squad we should be able to get in the top 8, maybe even the top 6, but cautiously optimistic as I am, it’s not a squad that the rest of the league will view with terror.
    What would an opposing coach say…pressure the keeper with high balls into the box, attack the left back, Wheater prone to switching off, run the occasional full press on him, in defence squeeze the play inside and smother them, in midfield move the ball out wide away from Robson and Bailey, and move through midfield with pace as they are a bit slow.
    I think there are plenty of coaches in our league who will see us as beatable. There are probably going to be around 10 sides this year capable of winning promotion. I think it will be very tight. I don’t see a Newcastle-like runaway this year.
    But I have to admit I’m starting to look forward to it a bit. I don’t think the squad is quite promotional material yet, but it’s getting there.

  18. AV said: “Left back remains a problem position. Jonathan Grounds can play there as can Andrew Taylor but you get the impression that neither is a fully paid up Strachanista and while Hoyte has filled in he was far from convincing. It could be that Hoyte and/or Taylor are eased out to fund a hand-picked man that ticks a lot more of the boss’s boxes.”
    Tayls played well in the PL with Downing and was a regular at England U 21 level. Is he that bad at C’hip level? Wasn’t he injured a few times last year? I still think he has potential. And there is also Joe Bennett. Perhaps we need to concentrate in sorting out the midfield first.
    But the spine is there. Up the Boro!

  19. The situation in getting better by the day!
    WGS will be knackered before the season starts. Good to see GMc and Roger Spry join the coaching team, in GMc we have a ready made manager if everything goes Magners shaped.
    I will be on a motorcycle tour of E Germany in late July. I can’t make the Leipzig match because of timings, but will be going to the Berlin game, and looking forward to a first glimpse of what is to come.
    Roll on next season, after re-charging the batteries, I’m looking forward with an optimistic outlook.

  20. “**AV writes [in response to smoggypaul at 3.40 pm yesterday]: Whoops. I thought I’d put Hooper on the bench. If they get him (which there are still very positive noises over) I see him as a definite first teamer, rotated with McDonald alongside Boyd who will be a fixture. Stick him in for Hines. ]”
    AV: I sincerely hope you’re right about Hooper. I was dismayed to come across this snippet in the Wednesday footie gossip column on the Beeb’s site:
    “Celtic have opened talks with Scunthorpe over a £2m deal for striker Gary Hooper. (Scottish Daily Mail)”
    No wonder they’re playing hard ball over the transfer of “Big Mick”!!! Can Boro possibly match that kind of dosh if £1.8m is already going to be shelled out for McManus?
    **AV writes: I think Boro could out pay Celtic but we couldn’t out glamour them.

  21. Boro Launch Unique ‘Front Of Shirt’ Sponsorship – your thoughts on this one, AV? Is this the blank shirt we were afraid of?
    I hope I am wrong and this comes good, too. Up the Boro!
    **AV writes: New blog post revealing my bid for the February shirt sponsorship should be up and visible now.

  22. I cannot for the life of me see us starting the season with Jones in goal.
    If we are serious regarding promotion, we have to obtain a good keeper, either buy or loan. You don’t have to pay a lot for a half decent keeper these days.
    I am however pleased re; the Steele comments, I was a little worried when we loaned him out last year.
    Changing the subject, the club are offering sponsorship on a monthly basis, can you tell me AV if ‘Irnbru’ sponser the first month, are all the fans going to be wearing that shirt all season, or will the shirts bought by the fans be sponser free.
    Something doesn’t add up to me.
    **AV Writes: See the new blog bit…

  23. I’ve never felt so excited and optimistic before the season kicks off for …….well a long bloody time Ican tell yer.
    The hard work that Wee Jimmy and Lamby have obviously been putting in behind the scenes is finally paying off.
    Lita, Hoyte, Mido, & Digard off the wage bill and at least 3 in (GK, Winger/attacking midfielder and poss a left back) and we’ll be sorted.
    …..cant wait UTB

  24. Very happy with the way things are moving on the transfer front so far but have to agree that LB remains a bit of a problem. Shorey at Villa doesn’t seem to have a future there and is also reluctant to commit to Forest for some reason. Is he hoding out for a prem club? Could be worth a punt.
    Bailey transfer is dragging on a bit.

  25. I think you are all in cloud cuckoo land.
    With the departure of Riggott and Pogatetz there is no reserve central defender whatsoever. And McManus and Wheater were hardly error-free last season – how many times did we keep a clean sheet with those 2 in front of Jones? Didnt we say the same things about Jones two seasons back?
    Still nothing on either flank either at the back or further forward. We are asking for very rapid progress from the lad from Livingstone ( another Emnes project?) or is it all going to be left to Flood and Franks? Can see another season where Arca gets 20-30 appearances and that cannot be considered with any optimism.
    We may need a hat-trick from Boyd just to get a point.

  26. Booooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
    PP … x
    **AV writes: Good man, getting some pre-season practice in.
    Your posts seem to be getting through the doyle filter OK now. What was the one that went missing about?

  27. Agree with Smogonthetyne. GS will as you say AV open with Boyd and McDonald and hope they become like some of the famous pairings of the past that assist each other and score goals for fun.
    But they a very similar and it would be fatal to try to change them. Boyd has scored a lot of goals from the bench and Macdonald does not look a 90 man either so one or the other eventually with a big man will probably be how it will end.
    Thats no disrespect to either player but what a pleasure having the option of either one coming off the bench.
    Finaly Naughton seems to have gone off the radar to come back on loan any news on him.
    **AV writes: I don’t think there is any interest in Naughton on loan. They want a permament signing in. *cough* Renewed interest in Mark Wilson at Celtic?

  28. LoL … You’re taking the mick now aren’t you Vickers …
    Has anyone got a first class stamp for this letter … ?
    PP … x

  29. My information on Boyd from die hard Rangers supporters is that he is not a worker in that he stays around the penalty area, and never gets into a position to help out a struggling defence.
    This is acceptable if he is scoring a bagful of goals, but I have my reservations in this respect, scoring goals in the Scottish Premier League does not compare with scoring goals in the Championship.
    Can we afford two similar types playing up front for the Boro. When the International games are played McDonald has failed to Score for Australia on all nineteen occassions he has played in, if my memory is in order. This team may well get us promotion this season, but then what?
    **AV writes: Let’s cross that bridge when we get there.

  30. Chief scout, i’ve missed you. This sort of accurate and applicable scouting can’t be found anywhere else. I almost feel informed and that is one he’ll of an achievement
    Come on boro

  31. Bit “out there” but what about David James from Portsmouth to help bring Steele and Jones through, and play a few games himself?

  32. I’ve been out of the country working away for the last 10 months and I can’t believe that calamity Jones is still in between the sticks as their first choice?!?!?! He’s a disaster! Whatever happened to Danny Coyne??

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