AFTER all the groaning about away ties it was a bit of a disappointment to be drawn at HOME to Accrington Stanley in the League Cup. Not just because I fancied a trip to the Crown Ground to tick another one off but also because I was starting to take a perverse pride in the hard midweek miles Boro had ground out in their record trek of 12 consecutive away games.
Yes, Boro have had 12 away games on the bounce – a sequence that would have been a 4095-1 shot – and travelled just shy of 3,500 miles since their last home game. Gillingham, Palace, Millwall, Forest, Man United… the latest sponsors Capital One felt so sorry for the travelling Teessiders that they laid on free coaches for the 640 mile round trip to Swansea last time out. There are a generation of regular supporters who have never seen a League Cup tie at home. They assume that every tie is an away tie.
We have been so long on the road that the last Riverside rumble actually took place in another dimension: Gareth Southgate’s side were a well established Premier League side giving first starts to £10m of new signings as they thumped poor Yeovil 5-1.
Yes, that was Boro’s last League Cup home game. On August 26th 2008 a new look team put in a polished performance and got a glowing review as they leathered the Glovers.
Southgate gave a debut to £3.2m Dutch new boy – “a project” Marvin Emnes while £3m signing from Arsenal Justin Hoyte and £4m Didier Digard (brought in replace Lee Cattermole AND George Boateng) made their first starts after cameos from the bench in the first two league games, a 2-1 home win over Spurs then a narrow 2-1 defeat at Liverpool thanks to a spawny late deflection.
Boro lined up in an attacking formation (remember them) with Emnes and Mido up front and Jeremie Aliadiere and Adam Johnson on the flanks. Digard and Mo Shawky (who played more games for Egypt than Boro in his two years on Teesside) were in the middle with Hoyte, Chris Riggott, Mad Dog Pogatetz and Jonathan Grounds as the back four in front of future Champions League winner Ross Turnbull. Gary O’Neil, “the new Cattermole” Josh Walker and very young Rhys Williams came off the bench. The unused subs were Jason Steele, Stewart Downing, Tuncay and Afonso Alves.
It was a great night full of promise with pace and purpose going forward and plenty of attacking intent. The team looked balanced and looked like it had width (Downing was a red hot England regular) and creativity (Tuncay had shown flashes of genius) plus in Mido and Alves they seemed to have a cutting edge. There was a sense of cautious optimism abroad on Teesside. What could possibly go wrong? *sigh*
Back to the harsh reality of the present and the tie with Accrington at least gives us something concrete to tie our imagination to. The league fixtures are out on Wednesday morning (exclusively in the Gazette) and then we will all be able to plot out the coming season in full technicolour glory/horror depending on outlook.
It will be the first time Boro have faced Accrington Stanley in any competition. Their previous incarnation was a Football League side for 40 years but got bogged down in Division Three (North) and then Division Four and they tended to go out of the FA Cup in the early rounds before Boro joined in. They folded the year the League Cup was launched in 1960-61 and since their return to the ranks six years ago the two team’s paths have not crossed.
Stanley only entered the nation’s consciousness once in their long dark years of exile when they were very briefly a meme thanks to a milk advert and the Scouse question: “Who’r’daay?”
So, no new ground but a new team to tick off. And an easy headline for the pre-view.
That impending visit of Accrington leaves just nine other teams in the Football League that Boro have not crossed swords with: AFC Wimbledon, Cheltenham, Dagenham, Exeter, MK Dons, Fleetwood, Morecambe, Crawley & Stevenage. Get your money on drawing one of those in the FA Cup.