Boro Season At A Standstill

JUST when you thought it couldn’t get any worse…
After a dismal day at Bristol – another drab defeat – the Gazettemobile got caught in a massive traffic jam on the M1 just south of Sheffield. Stuck for two hours. In snow!
Just like the season, everything had ground to a standstill.

It was heavy with symbolism. After a flying start to the journey, zipping past newer and more expensive cars with surprising ease, we had hit a long turgid frustrating spirit-sapping spell of pointless idling with the engine running in neutral and no significant forward movement at all.
The naive early optimistic talk of reaching our destination ahead of schedule soon fizzled out into an acceptance we would now struggle to hit targets artificially raised by early progress.
That turned to resignation that we were going to be quite a bit late, then, as the standstill turned from temporary blip to a long-term paralysis, there crept in a fear we wouldn’t get there at all, that we would be stuck in this dark purgatory for the foreseeable.
Perhaps it was our own fault: We had tinkered. We had changed a winning formula and pulled in to Trowell to switch positions. We lost precious momentum and we paid the price.
Obviously, on the plus side, we weren’t left in the lay-by because the wheels had come off. The car wasn’t up on bricks. It wasn’t a write off. It wasn’t towed away for scrap. And we did miss the “highlights” on the Football League Show.
Eventually we got moving – slowly at first through a congested filter lane – although we had lost a lot of ground and had spent a lot more time and emotional energy than is probably healthy on intense examination of the road map and bitter point scoring over ‘what ifs’.
But enough about the season so far….
On the first leg of the journey home we shot past a car with a registration plate ending 8ORO that had been pulled over by the police on the M5. Well at least someone from Teesside went home with three points after Bristol.
We also passed the glum team coach. A chastened looking squad appeared to be watching a rerun of the X certificate match. The poor gets. But at least now they will know what we had to go through.
It was another of those costly millstone games where a brittle Boro contrive to make another one of the basement battlers look like world beaters: Brazil City; Barnselona; Inter Millwall.
It was one of those games in stark contrast to the spirited shows of the kind that beat Leeds and Cardiff and gave Chelsea a scare and show that whatever “it” is, it is in this team somewhere.
With the stakes high and a win desperately needed to reignite the stuttering promotion push and the hearts of the fast fading faithful, Boro spluttered and failed.
They failed to grab what should have been a routine winnable game by the scruff of the neck. They failed to contain the Championship’s rock bottom side. They failed to compete, to battle, to threaten, to penetrate, to impose a pace or pattern. They failed. Individually and collectively. They failed to show the spirit and desire and ruthless will of a side battling for promotion.
It was a flat and flaccid display by a leaderless and demoralised team. It was very, very disappointing.
The local radio commentator, a Bristolian Brownlee with a touch of the pirate about his exited exclamations, gushed vocally at his own side’s rousing spirit in the battle for survival but also felt moved to comment, with an audible note of surprise as the fightback failed to materialise, at Boro’s demeanour and “the body language of a beaten team.”
After the game Tony Mowbray tried to persuade the listeners back home – and possibly himself and a team he is protecting – that the game was a closer contest than the scoreline suggested. That they were on top for most of the game. It wasn’t. They weren’t
Bubbling Bristol could easily have a couple more goals – and a penalty to boot – while toothless Boro barely threatened.
There were very few, if any, points that could be used in mitigation after a humiliating game that lacked any sense of urgency or importance.
Even some of the senior players were moved to criticism. In post-match interviews Jonathan Woodgate and Scott McDonald were both scathing about the shrinking team’s lack of fight.
It was a drab and depressing show that had ‘end of season’ stamped all over it.
And yet somehow – despite taking just seven points from 36 – this ailing and demoralised side remain three points off the play-off places. What does that say about the rest?
If there is hope for a final flourish it lays there. The rest are no great shakes. And amazingly, after a woeful start to the year, the prize is still all there for Boro.
But there can be no more displays like that. Or the season really will be on the hard shoulder waiting for the AA.
“THAT was rubbish. That was horrible… maybe some players think they are better than they are.” Frank stuff and fighting talk from Jonathan Woodgate in today’s Gazette. It’s not often I link to my own stuff on the main website but this is no-nonsense stuff worthy of your thoughts.


67 thoughts on “Boro Season At A Standstill

  1. Before Linthorpe Loyal provokes an avalanche, I thought I’d just mention the phone-ins.
    I thought they might have been referred to earlier in this thread so I had a very quick look. But on balance I decided it made more sense typing than hunting (unsuccessfully?) for the references. Maybe it was an earlier blog piece?
    When leaving the Riverside I normally get half way up the road to the Transporter before the first of the callers come on to BBC Tees. It is often a life-affirming experience – always good to know that whatever the evidence played out on the pitch in front of our eyes and ears, someone else can come to the opposite conclusions. I know that football is a game of opinions, but, really….
    Some, of course, haven’t been to the match. So we hear “I don’t to the games but I just want to say….”. Actually it might be fun to make a game of it: points awarded for coming out with certain phrases – our version of Boycott Bingo from TMS.
    Let’s identify a few:
    Mogga’s lost the dressing room
    Gibbo must go
    Arca was rubbish (he wasn’t in the team!)
    The manager is tactically naive
    OR If the crowd don’t like it, don’t come
    OR Don’t worry, we’ll still go up
    Having said the above, and if I remember correctly after the Bristol away game, I think the first two callers this week seemed sensible. The normal wave of Twitter condemnation was withheld as expectations were confounded. Almost disappointing because they sometimes pierce the post-match gloom with hilariously deluded comments.
    However the purpose of this post is to inform that I listened to part of 5Live’s 606 this week. I have news – Boro fans do not have a monopoly on delusion. Some of the comments are unbelievable.
    I can’t remember the game, and didn’t subsequently watch MoTD. The caller was insisting that although the player was in an offside position when the ball was played, he was not “active”. Robbie (never shy with an opionon) Savage spluttered something along the lines of “not interfering with play? He was the one who put the ball in the net. You can’t get more active than that!”. The caller wouldn’t have it.
    Others phone in to say the most outrageous things: Moyes must go, “I don’t care if we win the league from here, Rafa should be sacked” etc. Honestly you’d get someone on there to support any argument you could invent, however ridiculous.
    Just think of it: “Celtic couldn’t even get into English Divison 2” (is that the Celtic that beat Barca at home after coming so near in the away CL game?), or “Villa is too big a club to go down” (what, bigger than Man Utd, Chelsea, or Leeds when they went down?).
    Does anyone out there think there might just be a vague possibility, when it is quiet on the switchboard, that a few calls are made up by the station, if they are not hoax calls? We’ve all heard the mate sniggering in the background as his friend makes an incredible argument.
    But how about, when there are no callers waiting, if someone in the production room is told to pretend to be a Man Utd fan who thinks it is time Sir Alex went because the team is in terminal decline….that should ensure a massive wave of calls.
    **AV writes: There used to be a time when the show was the domain of the witty and informed and often from little clubs but now it has become a big club ‘crisis’ cretin magnet. There did used to be occasional subtle hoaxes (Richard Littlejohn fell for quite a few obvious ones that he spluttered at while listeners laughed) but, sadly, now I think ‘deluded and extreme to the point of parody’ is the default.

  2. Linthorpe Loyal endorses the good points made by Mr Average on the last thread, that loyalty requires patience and a dose of reality at times. Any Boro fan of 20 plus years standing knows this.
    While I fully agree with the thrust of the argument, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t question the on and off field happenings at the club.
    That Steve Gibson is still putting in a million or so each month is mind blowing and largely insulates him from much criticism.
    The off field revamping of the past two years is commendable in the extreme but I struggle to understand while Tony Mowbray should be continually applauded for this on this blog.
    Isn’t he the first team manager/coach? Shouldn’t Neil Bauser and be others be doing the off field re-aligning? I suspect they are and that Mogga’s part played there is just a part but really we shouldn’t applaud him overly for that. Surely that has been a collective team effort where Bauser and Gibson will pull the strings?
    The only places Mogga will be judged is through the first team and the success of the Academy too. And he’s failing with both.
    I’m sick of hearing we don’t have the money to buy new players. We have a lot of players who have cost seven figures and many Rockcliffe youngsters.
    But these players are showing little spirit or awareness of what to do. In short they’re not being motivated properly. It may well be that some players don’t want to know but that is Mogga’s job to overcome.
    Any promotion push is accompanied by, or based on, a team spirit and positive ethos, ‘all for one’ etc as under Rioch.
    A month or so ago one poster said Mogga ‘had lost the dressing room’ and I smirked (along with many I suspect). While I don’t think ‘lost’ is the right term, the reality is that he can’t motivate at present or get players to regularly perform the fundamentals (defensive in particular).
    I laughed less when someone mentioned Di Canio last week but the point in general is valid and I imagine only our safety this season is preventing Gibson from parachuting a Venables type figure in ‘to assist’.
    Ironically this ‘safety’ gives Mogga time to turn things around but he’s almost lost me. That said I also can’t see anyone out there who’s better equipped to come in.
    A final tip Tony, play the kids for the final run in. It’s what we all want and buys you back credibility with the fans. They’re easier to motivate and one or two may just prove to be the real deal. FMTTM used to refer to Rioch as ‘God’ on the back of this. You know as you were key to it all.
    And please forget the loans elsewhere for Reach and Williams? Come on Mogga, you can do it and most people still want you at the helm but things have to get better and now.

  3. In reply to Linthorpe Loyal –
    As the icy cold waters of the North Atlantic reached up to surprise and tickle the nose of the Captain of the Titanic, the wireless op in the corner turned to his mate and said, “What a great guy our Captain is! Even though we’re in a challenging position, he’s got my full confidence and support. Anyone complaining is just a lilly-livered waster!”
    After he had said his piece, he turned back and all he could see was the captain’s hat floating on the water’s surface and then the lights went out. The ops last thoughts were ‘What a guy! He may have failed but he’s still got my unconditional support.’

  4. Linthorpe Loyal –
    Little to be gained by changing the manager at this stage of the season. Invariably they want to bring in new players and backroom staff, you cant spend anything. Besides which we are economically challenged.
    We wont get better than Mogga in any case and that is not damning with faint praise. Whatever his foibles the work going on in the background will bear fruit, the squad rebuilding will take time.
    Got to feel sorry for McDermott at Reading.

  5. Linthorpe Loyal – well said.
    Just maintaining the analogy with road traffic, maybe boro should adopt Chris Rea’s ‘Road to Hell’ as the theme tune….
    Reading sacking McDermott because they’ve lost five in a row and are bottom seems a perverse decision to me, what do they expect the new manager to do between now and May? Unless they bring in the man who can walk on water (I dont think he’s available) its unlikely any manager can save them. An incredibly short sighted and perverse decision.
    Anyway, I can feel the hope starting to build, who have we got Saturday?

  6. Spartakboro –
    Was it the Captain’s fault the Titanic hit an iceberg?
    To those posters who say the current poor run is because Mogga cant motivate his team, think on this. When you go to work do you sit there and do nothing until your boss motivates you? I know I dont, I get on with it and I motivate myself.
    Top professional sportsmen are self motivated, a rousing speech from the manager is the icing on the cake, the bread and butter comes from within. I also doubt the Baggies fans would say Mogga cant motivate. The Boro players aren’t lacking motivation, they are lacking form and confidence both of which are elusive to find when they are not there.
    To those who say ‘we want you to play the kids’, I dont, I want a winning team. The ‘kids’ are no more likely to give us that than the current first choice players. Less likely in fact. Imagine the fall out if Main, Reach, Williams, Smallwood et al are all played and we get slaughtered.
    There is no easy answer to this current slump, it may last until May.
    For those worried that we’re doomed forever because we have no money and so we cant buy good players, I would say there are plenty of players good enough to play Premiership football or get a team promoted around the world who don’t cost much, ask Swansea. The trick is finding them, that takes time especially when you have to start by re-building a scouting network that your predecessors dumped.
    I also believe Mogga deserves credit for restructuring and cost cutting, he will be playing a big part in that, Gibson/Bausor may be setting the budget, Mogga will be deciding how and where the budget is spent.
    Continuity and stability are the key to success, we need to hold our nerve and stay the course.
    One final question the new insult is ‘Sky fan’, I like it but I’m not sure when to use it! Does it fit in somewhere between a chicken runner and a foam-hander!!?

  7. DEFIANT Jonathan Woodgate has demanded an immediate improvement in passion and workrate to salvage Boro’s fading play-off hopes
    Correct me if I am wrong AV, but I didn’t see Woodgate on the team bus at Huddersfield.

  8. Nigel Reeve –
    I genuinely don’t know what and how big a part Mogga has played in the restructuring of the club but my point is really that club strategy and finance should be best left to those experienced and qualified in those areas.
    I wouldn’t want Bausor nor Gibson dictating in the dressing room and equally can’t imagine they would leave much off field implementation to Mogga. I’m really not being sarcastic but he has many other things to do re the first team and Academy than be bothered with the books. It seems an awful lot of work for one man otherwise.
    It might be timely PR for the club to push just what Mogga has achieved off the pitch in the past two years and the role he has played. I have no doubt he tries implicitly in everything but he is a football man first and last and not an accountant or change management guru.
    **AV writes: Mogga has very little to do with the Academy as it has its own structure (and is financially semi-detached too) but areas like the scouting network and how far he uses sports science are very much part of the senior squad set-up.

  9. It amazes me how people say we have done a good job reeling in the debt, when the truth of the matter is we could still be in the Premier League if Gibbo had signed a established and experienced manager instead of Southgate.
    From the games I have seen in Aussie we never go in for loose balls and the defence always backs off. No one ever pressures the other teams – and as for corners…Good grief !!

  10. I haven’t given up on this season yet. It is still possible, but will take an almighty turnaround in form to do it now…. and that would be just Untypical Boro wouldn’t it.
    Going forward, whether we go up this year or not, there is going to be some clear-out, not least of the big-contracts. Do you have any idea AV about how the players deals are being formulated now? Is there any real (financial) incentive for the players. Individuals can have appearance and win bonuses, but is there any overall team or squad incentive based on league position? So, if the team is doing rubbish, so is their pay-cheque, but if the team is doing well, then the pay cheque reflects that.
    **AV writes: Most contracts have complex bonus structures with not just appearance fees but also extra payments per point, per goal, if the team is in the top six, if they win something. Some also have specific targets, ie a striker may get a payment for 10 or 15 or 20 goals, a keeper a clean sheet bonus.
    Then you get clauses that may give a young player a pay rise if they play, say 20 first team games, or a player on a short term deal may trigger an option for another year if they play a specified number of games.
    There is no standard contract but you can be sure that it is in every player’s financial interest that the team is doing well and that they are playing.

  11. Why are we so worried about these payments made to relegated teams. If QPR comes down which is still highly likely they will need every penny of it and more of the parachute payments to cover the wages. They will still be short.
    Look at the two automatic promotion teams from last season: both managers now out of a job. Its not all roses.
    Stick with the plan it is frustrating though as teams around us continue to drop points but we still have a chance .
    Come on Boro.
    **AV writes: If QPR get relegated I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if they are in administration before the new season kicks off. The £16m parachute payment won’t cover a quarter of the annual wage bill, they have very few really big assets to sell (not on their wage levels) and they will have crowds of 16,000.

  12. nikeboro –
    As in the clue in my title i started supporting Boro in 1953 February i think and we were 2nd bottom of the old 1st division and I must have brought us some luck that season as I saw one draw and seven wins including 5-0 Man Utd and 5-1 Blackpool when Wilf Mannion was brilliant.
    We also were winning on our travels and finished halfway, unfortunately we went down next season and as you rightly say had 20 years in the second(and briefly the third division). We of course got promotion under Jack Charlton who did not spend a lot of money but who was a good organiser and disciplinarian and maybe there is a clue there on what needs to be done now.

  13. I’ve just been watching Barcelona. It’s football, Jim, but not as we know it on Teesside. In fact, not as we know it in England.
    It’s like comparing ballet with a clod-hopping barndance. Mind you, some of those strapping Boro lads that are used to collecting in the sheep from the Moors….

  14. “Boro fans in Bi-polar shocker!”
    I can see the headline in the Gazette. It started off with a prevailing view that the bolt had been shot, the race run unsuccessfully, and that all we had to look forward to was an increasingy empty stadium as the season drew to a hauntingly-sad end.
    Boro matches providing a regular supply of surrendered goals and points, with “fight” being more evident in the average game of draughts. Booing as the players slink off, being heard rather more frequently than raucus cheering.
    Beautiful Barca. A beauty some had thought was losing her bloom. But the fluidity of movement, the pace, ruthless striking allied to hard work and determination to succeed despite the mountain facing them – never before achieved at this level in the Champions League (so we were reminded by ITV’s pundits)- wonderful to watch.
    It was football but not as we, on Teesside, have become accustomed to knowing it. We liked the look of it and, deep inside, a little flame was rekindled*.
    Onto Twitter the masses poured. Vic throwing in the odd lighted squib to excite comment (it is here he might legitimately put *innocent face* without fear of an action in defamation). Tweets in reply suggesting that all hope had gone, but others suggesting we get behind the Boro players.
    We all know the best predictor of the future is the past, and we all know in the past two and a half months Boro has won a paltry two league games (relegation form, certainly). Galvanised by the comment that those who are showing lack of resolve are precisely the same who blame the players for having thrown in the towel, a few begin to look deep into their hearts.
    They want to support the team. They want success. They want to feel good about their team. They want promotion, even by the play-offs. They don’t like doom and gloom. They don’t like the atmosphere at the ground after another bad game. They don’t like defeat.
    Out of this very unusual mixture, conscience probably pricking them, one by one those who have expressed depressive tendencies in their predictive powers for the rest of this season begin to rethink their position. Tweets multiply.
    “Actually, we’re not that far behind the play-off positions, are we?”
    “If we win at the weekend, bearing in mind tonight’s results and if things go our way in the other games…”
    “If we all get behind the team this can still be done…”
    “I’m still on the Mogganaut…”
    You know, it’s like a drug, this football thing. A little sniff of Barcelona and suddenly all sense of reality flies out of the window. Certainties disappear and wild fantasies suddenly become, not only possible, but probable.
    Mogga is God and Vic is his Prophet. Or possibly the Pied Piper. OK, I’ll take a sniff, too. It IS possible. I’ll be behind the team against Birmingham City on Saturday. Let’s do it together…
    Maybe I shouldn’t have watched that football on ITV!
    *Sorry, Amazon, if this word is now YOURS.
    **AV writes: Sport is about the pursuit of possibilities. Nothing is certain or we wouldn’t play the games, just cheer while we waited for a Pools Panel style committee decided the result based on the league table, form and trophy cabinet.
    I understand the psychology of defeatism, the defence mechanisms of pre-emptive pessimism and projection bias – ascribing characteristics to others that you fear you yourself are exhibiting… like mental weakness and lack of belief for instance – and the soul-crushing effect of a string of defeats. I am a Teessider after all. It is imprinted deep in our DNA.
    But sometimes we get trapped in an hysterical hothouse of negativity where a natural reaction to a poor spell is nurtured, intensified and exaggerated then whipped into a frenzy by the unchallenged creatively miserable on the phone-ins and message boards, the pubs and clubs until a totally unbalanced “truth” takes hold. If you were to believe the consensus every player is rubbish, Mogga is clueless, every other team are supermen, the team are at each others’ throats, we are still not mathematical safe from relegation and Steve Gibson has lost interest. We are all going to die!
    I am far from being a ra-ra. I have said from the start that this is a flawed side packed with bargain basement players (and a fair few with poor injury records) and subject to all the weakness and inconsistency that implies. They are a Championship side but some people still measure them against a Premier League ideal. They are an average side in an average division and are currently in a marked slump. No one is pretending that recent form has been anything but woeful.
    But, whatever the recent form, this team remain three points (four with GD) off the play-offs. They are still in it. And it wouldn’t take much of upturn to claw it back. That may sound crazy but hey, this team beat the awesome table-toppers in their last home game so they are still capable of producing “it” on their day.
    You can choose to either collapse under the weight of your own defensive negativity and write the last nine games off (which to me is crazy given the objective reality of this crazy division) or you can suck it and see and try to enjoy the ride.
    As you say, the best indicator of the future is the past. In all the years I have been following Boro the only things that are certain are that the team will do everything the hard way and they will take it right to the wire. Why would anything change now? Nine games left, plenty of mileage in this season.

  15. Dormo – I think if Boro want to play tika-taka like Barcelona then they need to have better players and not the imposters that are lining up at the moment:
    01 Valiant (attempt)
    02 ‘Alve (fit)
    03 (fit of) Pique
    18 Albad (but used to be good)
    06 Xavi (no idea)
    08 In-siesta
    10 Messy (tackler)
    14 Mascherading (as a footballer)
    16 Brusque (Oz)
    07 Villa (reject)
    17 Ped-ro Z
    **AV writes: Excellent Borocelona nick-naming. Teesside On-the-Tick, Tacky.

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