ONLY TWO sleeps until the fixtures are published and football speculation is officially back. From Friday nmorning we can whoop and holler like a demented quiz show contestant in over-optimstic delight as we pick out a sure path to promotion glory thanks to an easy set of showdowns in the final straight and/or see the unmistakeable bleak shape of a relegation battle loom out of that tricky run just after Christmas.
By now everyone will have heard the contradictory ‘my mate is a copper and he says…’ rumours and will be checking the AA routeplanner ready for that long trek to Southampton. Or Brighton. Or be all set for Steve McClaren’s return to the Riverside. Or Leeds. Paul Fletcher on the Beeb blog did a fantastic feature last year looking at the intricacies of the fixture computer and the complexities of the pressures of the man with the laptop.
The conclusion is that you can never call these things. Or can you? Southampton might just be a good shout. I’ve been number crunching opening day fixtures over the past 25 years. Here’s some facts and figures…
First the results. Here’s the bones of all the curtain-raisers over the past 25 seasons and (in brackets) where the opposition had finished in the previous season.
1986-87 – D3 (h) – Port Vale – (newly promoted, third in D4) D 2-2
1987-88 – D2 (h) – Millwall – (16th) D 1-1
1988-89 – D1 (a) – Derby (15th) L 0-1
1989-90 – D2 (h) – Wolves (newly promoted, D3 champs) W 4-2
1990-91 – D2 (h) – West Ham Utd (7th) D 0-0
1991-92 – D2 (h) – Millwall (5th) W 1-0
1992-93 – PL (a) – Coventry (19th) L 1-2
1993-94 – D1 (a) – Notts County (17th) W 3-2
1994-95 – D1 (h) – Burnley (newly promoted, D2 play-off winners) W 2-0
1995-96 – PL (a) – Arsenal (12th) D 1-1
1996-97 – PL (h) – Liverpool (3rd) D 3-3
1997-98 – D1 (h) – Charlton (15th) W 2-1
1998-99 – PL (h) – Leeds (5th) D 0-0
1999-00 – PL (h) – Bradford (newly promoted, 2nd in D1) L 0-1
2000-01 – PL (a) – Coventry (14th) W 3-1
2001-02 – PL (h) – Arsenal L (2nd) L 0-4
2002-03 – PL (a) – Southampton (11th) D 0-0
2003-04 – PL (a) – Fulham (14th) L 2-3
2004-05 – PL (h) – Newcastle (5th) D 2-2
2005-06 – PL (h) – Liverpool (5th) D 0-0
2006-07 – PL (a) – Reading (newly promoted, D1 champs) L 2-3
2007-08 – PL (h) – Blackburn (10th) L 1-2
2008-09 – PL (h) – Spurs (11th) W 2-1
2009-10 – CH (h) – Sheffield Utd (3rd) D 0-0
2010-11 – CH (h) – Ipswich (15th) L 1-3
The first thing to note is that the fixture computer has been very kind to Boro. A hefty 17 of the 25 fixtures have been at home, although obviously, the first one, against Port Vale was played at Hartlepool as we climbed out of the coffin at the eleventh hour. The last four in a row have been at the Riverside. Of course, at some point, if they are randomly generated, probability theory suggests there will be a long run of away trips to claw back the deficit. So, St Mary’s here we come.
Another thing to note is that five of the 25 – that is 20% – have been against promoted sides: Port Vale (1986), Wolves (1989), Burnley (1994), Bradford (1999) and Reading (2006). Now, I’m no mathematician but surely the odds should be somewhere around the 3/23 mark or about 7%. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. And it is worth noting that of those five, four have been at home. Only Reading – Gareth Southgate’s ill-fated first game (two up after 19 minutes, lost 3-2) – was on the road.
Boro have had a decent if not spectacular return over those games. Here’s a table:
P25 W7 D10 L8 F33 A35 Pts 31
And to save you the headache of working through the results chewing the end of your pencil and trying to work these things out, here’s the number-crunched nitty gritty.
- The most common score is 0-0. There have been five goalless draws.
- The biggest win was 4-2 at home to Wolves in 1989
- The biggest defeat was 4-0 at home to Arsenal in 2001, Steve McClaren’s first game
- The most goals came in that Wolves game and the 3-3 draw with Liverpool in 1996 when Ravanelli scored a debut hat-trick
- Boro have played Millwall, Liverpool, Arsenal and Coventry twice on the opening day
- Boro have never played a relegated team on opening day in the last 25 years
- Boro have four times played the team who finished fifth in the previous season. The next most frequent ranking is 15th (three times) while they twice played the teams who finished 14th and third.
Before then, at 10 am on Thursday, the first round draw of the League Cup will be published on the Football League website. Boro are seeded in the Northern section and will play one of the following sides from the unseeded pot: Accrington Stanley, Bradford, Burton, Bury, Chesterfield, Crewe, Hartlepool, Macclesfield, Oldham, Port Vale, Rotherham, Sheffield Wednesday, Shrewsbury, Tranmere and Walsall.
Personally I’d like Morecambe or Accrington away as they would be new grounds for me but as I pointed out in today’s old school, steam-driven paper Gazette, it would be a neat bit of anniversary historical coincidence if we were drawn away at Hartlepool as the game would be played almost 25 years to the day we faced them in the same competition – a 1-1 draw – just days after they lent us their ground. The return leg, a routine 2-0 win, was the first match played back at Ayresome Park after the padlocks came off.