Star Trek: The Next Generation

There’s little point dissecting what happened at Crystal Palace: Boro dominated possession, failed to take their chances, struggled to break down a side who shut up shop and then were punished for one fatal lapse at the back.
We’ve heard it all before. It has been the damaging default for the best part of three years. It was the key factor in relegation from the Premier League and remains unaddressed two managers and £20m later.
So let’s throw the spotlight instead on an ever more obvious phenomena under Tony Mowbray – the turn to youth.

At Palace Boro started with seven academy graduates on the pitch.
There were four more off the conveyor belt on the bench and two of those came on to make it nine involved in the match. That’s incredible.
It is something to be proud of that the Academy, superbly managed by the club’s unsung hero Dave Parnaby, can churn out talent of sufficient quality to step into first team action. Few teams can boast such a productive youth system – or such a profitable one.
The Boro Academy has raised over £35m in sales since it was launched in 1998 and £25m of that been brought in over the past two turbulent years with Stewart Downing (£12m), Adam Johnson (£8m), Brad Jones (£2.3m) and David Wheater (£2.5m plus add-ons) all being sold in timely moves that helped the club deal with a mounting financial crisis.
Now the next generation are coming through and as belts are tightened they are being thrown straight into action and largely have flourished.
Among the better performers this term are rehabilitated Joe Bennett, a left back discarded by Gordon Strachan and probably destined to be flogged for £200k who has grown in confidence since being restored to the team by Tony Mowbray and who now looks a very promising attacking option.
Another key figure has been Matthew Bates who has battled back from four cruciate injuries to become a fixture at the back – and the new skipper – with some mature and cultured displays.
And Jason Steele has come from being just a rumour to establish himself as the first choice keeper and earn an England Under-21 call-up.
The others have done a solid job. Whole-hearted battler Tony McMahon has stepped in for injured Justin Hoyte at right back, Seb Hines has put an injury nightmare behind him to step in for departed Wheater, the relative veteran Andrew Taylor – who has played over 100 games for Boro – and Jonathan Grounds are back from spells in exile to beef up the squad while prodigies like Jonathan Franks, Richie Smallwood, Cameron Park and Luke Williams have made cameos.
It is a glimpse of the future. As the club’s financial downsizing continues, Boro won’t be breaking the bank for mouthwatering stars on mega-buck wages for the foreseeable and the local lads will be the building blocks of a new prudent era of stability. It is a good job they can play a bit.
Now, no one is pretending that starting with so many rookies is an decision taken through choice. A massive injury crisis and a string of big name exits over the past 18 months has left Boro with big holes in the team and the elevation of the youngsters is about necessity as much as a long term commitment to a strategic vision.
If Mowbray had cash he would no doubt bring in proven quality in key positions and the kids would be largely left on the fringess to be blooded slowly and steadily; brief run-outs in a winning team or League Cup games or sent out on loan to make their mistakes at a lower level. Downing went to Sunderland, Adam Johnson to Watford, Bates and Wheater to Darlington.
Now we have to bite the bullet and accept they will make their mistakes as they learn on the job at Boro. Beggers can’t be choosers.
At Selhurst Park Boro started with an all Academy back five that was raw and inexperienced.
Defenders mature in their mid to late 20s when they have 100 plus games behind them, when dealing with speed merchants, Fancy Dans, battering rams, divers, one up front, two, three and sometimes four up front, little and large combinations and midfielders bombing on from deep becomes second nature. That experience can only be gaining in the heat of battle.
But injury plagued Bates has made just 67 starts for Boro in six years and equally unlucky McMahon just 71 in the same time. Seb Hines has made only 10 starts and Joe Bennett 27. That’s just 175 between them.
In contrast Palace’s key defender Patrick McCarthy has made 193 career appearances alone. David Wright has 395. Claude Davis 186. New left back Dean Moxey 229. Even Nathanial Clyne – the Eagles young player of the year last term – has made 90.
It will take time – and patience – before the current crop reach their full potential. And they will make mistakes along the way. Seb Hines brief lapse in concentration as he let the ball squeeze under his studs to let James Vaughan streak clear for the goal at Palace is just one. But they will improve.
Seven starters may not impress everyone, after all, Boro fielded a team against Fulham in the Premier League in 2006 that had 10 of the line-up at kick-off who were Acadamy products and brought another off the bench late on, and with an average age of a shade over 20 years. That’s true.
But that team was an anomaly. It was a “weakened” second string cobbled together by a club who were focussed on the UEFA Cup final a weak later. It was a one-off team treading water. Boro had Schwarzer, Southgate, Zenden, Viduka, Yakubu, Mendieta and Downing to come back in. We don’t have that luxury now.
A more telling parallel may be the team of 1986 when Boro were forced to turn to youth out of necessity.
Pears, Laws, Cooper, Mowbray, Pallister, Gill, Parkinson, Hamilton, Slaven, Ripley, Stephens. Sub: Turnbull. That was pretty much it. A collection of talented teenagers, a couple of journeymen and a bargain bucket goal-getter thrown together by circumstance. What a side!
The retro-myth about the post liquidation line-up portrays them as a world beaters. They weren’t. They were raw talent with flaws and limitations but fired up by an inspirational manager with an clear vision of how to play an instinct feel for psychology that got more than the sum of the parts out of his squad. They were the Blackpool of their day. Only built on local youngsters.
What they did more than anything was forge a strong bond in adversity between the club and the crowd. They were local lads, they cared, they shared the passion of the supporters and realised that the club were clawing back from the brink, that we were all in it together.
The kids coming through now are an echo of that. Local lads thrown into battle through necessity after relegation and a traumatic financial downshift. The situation is not quite as bleak but there is still an air of the abyss about it.
We need to hope they are as successful, on and off the pitch as the Class of 86.
Not all of them will make it. Some will be exposed by the heat of battle and will be replaced as soon as is possible – but some others will seize the moment and have the opportunity to make themselves first team fixtures, the cement their futures at the Riverside and with a bit of luck become cult heroes and part of our mythology. It’s all up for grabs.


16 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation

  1. Are any of them good enough though?
    I am far from convinced with McMahon, Hines and Grounds, with Grounds being the best of a poor bunch.
    Bennett is still very raw, Franks looks out of his depth, and the rest are far too young to be considered really.
    Just shows what a mess we are in.
    Come the return of injuries I can only see three youth players in the side.
    Hoyte Bates McManus Bennett
    Flood Thomson Bailey Robson
    Boyd McDonald.
    **AV writes: I agree they are playing out of neccessity rather than design. I also think there will be a lot of neccessity around in the next year or two.

  2. Its not difficult to agree with much of what you say AV.
    Historically we have always had players who were local I can go back to Cloughie’s time,when Peacock, Million, Stonehouse, Day, McLean were all from Middlesbrough or outlying districts. These local lads were complimented by a good smattering of Scottish players like Willie Fernie, Ian Gibson, at a time when Scottish football was stronger than it is now.
    The challenge for Mogga is achieving the right combination of local talent with bought players and this is a medium to long term aim. In the immediate context, he has two problems. In central defence he has two players left,Grounds and Hines, both lacking in experience, (nothing wrong with that) but worryingly both appear to lack aggression- they can be bullied and dominated.
    Therefore the intriguing question is whether we see Haas this weekend, who might have the qualities; of self discipline, organisation and aggression that will be needed against Swansea.
    The second problem is the strike force and for me this is becoming one whereby I believe Mogga has little or no faith in Boyd,Lita and McDonald and I can see why.
    Lita is too erratic and inconsistent and Boyd and McDonald have failed to adapt to the rigours of the Championship.
    In many ways McDonald has proved to be more of a disappointment than Boyd.He came with a big reputation, he has been here long enough to know what is needed but has scored a paltry amount of goals and I am struggling to remember the last time he played well on a consistent basis.
    We are stuck with these three regardless of which combination Mogga plays, and simply have to struggle on until the summer.The three of them are a lost cause.

  3. As you say, the focus on youth is one of necessity at the moment and not one of choice. The choice the fans have is to give Mogga, and the youngsters, support and patience in these testing times or to wait until the good times return.
    We all know the club have made mistakes over the last few years, mistakes that can not be glossed over, but it is still Middlesbrough Football club, OUR Middlesbrough Football Club.
    We can see what Mogga has achieved in such a short space of time, and survival remains the priority. We must stick with the team, be positive in our support and the youngsters will flourish. After all, to enjoy the good times you have to endure the lows.
    Give the team your support as always.

  4. AV – could you honestly see yourself writing such a piece 4 years ago? I look at the piece with both pride and sadness.To be almostly totally reliable on academy graduates will put an end to the myth that the club still have ambitions.
    It is almost coming across that we should be thankful for having the Academy.To a degree true. But we are all too aware that the good ‘uns will be plucked from us, the average ones will form the nucleus of future teams and pooruns who would normally be faced with being released have the opportunity of being kept on to keep the numbers up!
    Finally my question would be when will we produce a graduate striker who has the ability to stick the ball in the net regularly??!!
    **AV writes: I did write a piece about four years ago when the debt crisis was first looming about the club needing to move to a new sustainable model as a “super charged Crewe” based on the Academy and recruiting the best available talent from the lower leagues (then meaning the Championship). I was shot down by the club for questioning their ambitions and ability to compete for the top talent.

  5. Right on the mark AV, time is crucial and will determine the future of this proud ‘very poorly – in intensive care’ football club.
    I am like many others hoping, (yes hope, mediocre and inexperienced players is about all we have at the moment) that Mogga can keep this club in this division and along the way, these ‘kids’ gain experience which will stand them and us in good stead next season.
    Then, and if we are able to save a few bob to put in the kitty, we may start to forget about looking over our shoulders at relegation, and start to look upwards.

  6. Gordon bennet AV, got a posting orft first time wiv no probs, hope springs eternal.
    AV writes: Sssshhhussh. *Says nothing, walks away casually whistling*

  7. I read that twice AV, very inspirational especially the 2nd time with Land of Hope and Glory playing in the background.
    Bring it on is what I say, and I agree these Academy lads will give there all I am sure plus we have another inspirational manager who cares and wants to bring out the best in raw talent

  8. Before everyone gets all doom and gloom about the typical performance and result on Saturday, I’d like to say that, all things considered, I thought the team played pretty well.
    Palace were very lucky to win that game. They created one, maybe two, clear chances in the whole game and those only came at the death by which time we were practically playing one at the back and throwing everything forward. You can’t even call the goal a chance they created because they didn’t – we did it for them – and even then they were fortunate as I don’t think Vaughan’s shot was going to find the net without Ground’s loopy deflection.
    Of course, you can say that we didn’t create any real chances either, but then we were up against a side with nine or 10 men behind the ball for 90 minutes, content to defend on their 18 yard line. Palace were up against a side trying to play attacking football.
    We will berate the side with clichés like “toothless” or “lacking cutting edge”, but I haven’t seen many sides going to Selhurst and scoring goals since Freedman took over there. Sometimes you just have to give credit to the opposition who defended very well with Gardner in particular doing well, especially in his two vital sliding tackles to deny opportunities for Lita.
    We bossed the game for long spells with Arca and Bailey dominant, although they faded as the game wore on. Joe Bennett was excellent also.
    It’s also important to remember just how many players we had on the field that were learning in some respect. Some are learning about English football. Some are learning about Championship football. Some are just learning about football, and some all of the above.
    I counted only Arca and Lita to be players who should know what they’re about in this league. It’s a great credit to the academy and Dave Parnaby that we’ve turned out so many first teamers who can go away and dictate a game as they largely did.
    Another “learner” is Andrew Taylor is his new left midfield role, and this is where the flattery ends. Though it is admittedly early days, I don’t think that Taylor is the answer to the left-midfield problem. His role on Saturday seemed limited to supporting Bennett. He has no real pace, no trick, no instinctive attacking movement and really offers nothing going forward. Mowbray is right to say that he rarely gives the ball away, but then he doesn’t attempt any difficult passes either.
    If we’re going to have someone learning the left-mid position then, despite his sheepish substitute performance on Saturday, I’d rather it was Cameron Park. He has the raw, natural ingredients and instincts that I think Taylor lacks and is surely a better long-term prospect.
    Finally, I was nice to see Crystal Palace joining in with our 80s theme on their scoreboard with an advert for Joe Longthorne, Live at the Palace.

  9. What a great account of the present state of things at MFC.
    I agree with everything that AV says, I love the Boro, and believe that the kids will deliver. The past 20 years has been like throwing money down the drain as far as the expensive failures were concerned. We can continue to produce the likes of Downing, Johnson and Wheater and we have a great manager to guide them. Give them a chance, well done AV.

  10. As a professional gambler I am well used to weighing up the odds quickly, and currently our team looks odd.
    Surely there can only be pride in a team of local lads, if they are ‘anygood (all one word)’
    Also whilst we are all getting excited about local talent we have to be careful how far we push this line. What of the supporters who are not natives of Teesside. Surely the recent runs in Europe have widened our fan base, as there is Jarkko and er

that loon Smogonthetyne.
    Will we soon be introducing our own ‘home grown rule?’ Applauding birth certificates? If you are not born with 25 miles of the Riverside you are not welcome as a player or a fan? How many of these local lads actually come from Middlesbrough?
    Hines = Weatherby
    Bennett = Rochdale
    etc etc
    Were the efforts of Slaven, Mustoe, Hignett et al the less laudable because they were not Middlesbroughians?
    In fact many of the ’86 team were not from Middlesbrough. Pally was from Kent, Gary Gill was from Mars. A lot were from the North East but not Middlesbrough. In fact the most high profile Boro lad in 1986, Peter Beagrie jumped ship.
    May be it is a Middlesbrough trait, jumping ship. Look at all the empty seats. Let’s try and be more inclusive. Tees Valley United anyone?

  11. Great piece AV.
    Things being as they are, there is no greater satisfaction or pride doing it with our own academy kids. We might not be world beaters, but we’ll manage to become a decent championship team, battling for the play offs in due time. And that with a core of own bred youngsters. Thats both rare, beautiful and a tribute to the game and what its all about: Heart and Soul.

  12. We all like the idea of seeing a team full of locals dont we? I know I do and I hope some of them make the grade and are still in the team when/if we get back into the Premiership, but despite our pride in the local lads they dont put bums on seats do they? To have 35000+ at the Riverside we need a team with one or two exotic stars in it history would suggest.
    Dave Parnaby certainly deserves a huge amount of credit for what he does at the Academy, as does Robbo for setting it up and Gibson/Lamb for delivering it. We slag off the club because of the perceived incompetence of the medical staff and others, but rarely do posters heap praise on arguably the country’s best football academy.
    I’m not too depressed about Saturday’s result, the teams form has improved out of all recognition recently and the results have started to come. Despite Saturday I would suggest we’re still on an upward curve. Although I still think anyone who thinks we can make sixth place is living in fantasy land!

  13. Who knows that these Academy kids wont make the grade given a bit more experience?
    i bet the team of 86 were pretty shaky in season 85/86 ( im too young to remember that season, didnt start my time until late 86) and look how they turned out.
    Maybe not world beaters as you say AV, but one hell of a team, all lads working their socks off for each other
    AV interesting you say you were “shot down” by the club for your comments. out of interest do you get much feedback on the whole regarding this column and your Gazette stuff? Or does it all go through EP like some sort of heirachy? Also have you ever been or going to go on BBC brownlee, journos night?
    As always keep up the excellent work
    **AV writes: Oh yes, I get feedback. So far this season there have been two diplomatic incidents/complaint over things on the blog (because I refused to condemn the Red Faction out of hand and said the club’s position was counter-productive and because it was suggested that Mido was poised to sign for Boro until he read my character assassination on him and flounced off in a huff… if that is true it is probably the only recorded case of him ever taking criticism on board.)
    Sometimes the complaints are channelled through Eric which is funny. It is like he is my Dad or something. He stops my pocket money and grounds me until I promise to only write positive things.
    I do sometimes go on Radio Brownlee but not often because I play football on Thursday and that is far more important.

  14. Just a note of caution. Young does not = good. Local and Young does not = World beater.
    The young lads in at the moment are there by necessity as you say and we will find out if they are good enough to stay there. Unfortunately we are working on fine margins, a young inexperienced team could find it too much. We could find out the hard way. Will Franks, Park, Smallwood join the nearly list?
    Chris Freestone,
    Antony Ormerod
    Jason Gavin
    Andy Campbell
    Alan Moore
    Phil Stamp
    Steve Baker
    Owen McGhe
    Mark Summerbell
    **AV writes: Maybe they will join the ‘really’ list of Rippers, Mogga, Pally, Kerny, Coops etc. Who knows? I think it is case of ‘beggers can’t be choosers’ right now.
    It is important to make sure they are well managed, used sparingly and surrounded by solid older players to get the best out of them.

  15. My brother in law is a Man Ure supporter, my brother likes the Gunners. But poor me I have always supported the Boro. No trophies – only LC quite recently – and no big wins.
    But I have always rated the home grown players we had. Especially that match against Fulham when Cattermole became the youngest ever and Coops the oldest ever captains of Boro. And all the rest were from the academy except one – and he was British, too. When was it before that that a fully Bristish team was fielded in the PL?
    I agree with you, AV. We need to be patient but also we can look forward to having a great manager in Mogga for a few years now.
    Up the Boro!

  16. “Although I still think anyone who thinks we can make sixth place is living in fantasy land!”
    I must admit it’s looking unlikely after Saturday. (sniffs foam hand). Ok, win on Saturday and it’s back on!

  17. The last few weeks have just confirmed what I though when Mowbray was first appointed.
    The current players are not good enough and our policy off selling off our “sell-able” players will ensure we will remain nothing more than a lower to mid table Championship side if we are lucky !!
    To even contemplate an assault on the Premiership next season will require a large amount of money well spent and there is nothing to suggest that a fraction of what is needed is available.
    We need to get realistic in our expectations and get used to what we have because unless someone comes in and gives TM the money he needs to rebuild the team this is it

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