Too Good To Go Down? Learning The Lexicon Of Life In The Drop Zone

OH NO! There goes the relegation cliche klaxon!
Jacob Butterfield has uttered the dreaded phrase: “We’re too good to go down.”
That will scare the hell out of a lot of battle scarred supporters – including a cocooned few who may not have even been too worried before those dread words were uttered.
It is part of the lexicon of the lower end of the league.
Everyone knows that once you start putting up that particular linguistic defence you are already deep in the sticky stuff. Supporters of all clubs know that phrase is one of the key indicators that a basement battle is OFFICIALLY on.

It is a simple sentence heavy with symbolism and loaded with assumptions and delusions. Clearly, if you were that good you wouldn’t need to be saying is the obvious response it invites.
Thinking that you are better than actually you are shouts out that there is an air of complacency. It suggests you have badly misjudged the gravity of the situation.
And it is a phrase that is so obviously a hostage to fortune it should be relayed to the press on a note made up of letters cut out of magazine and delivered tersely by a jittery man holding up a copy of today’s Gazette.
Bruised Boro fans will remember the phrase well from the Premier League. We heard it every week in the increasingly delusional Comical Ali post-match battlecries.
In fact, optimistic two-thirds-full ra-ra in chief David Wheater was still insisting Boro could still make seventh place and the UEFA Cup as late as March while the rest of Teesside was dug in for a tense last ten games. Keep The Faith!
There are echoes of that now whenever a player insists that two or three wins and we’ll be right up there. The time for that has long gone. The league is starting to stretch out now and we are at the stage where two or three wins – even if the rest of the results fall the right way – still leave you six points short.
There is a familiar script to much of what is being said now: “We just need to cut out the mistakes and we’ll start to climb the table;” “We are not getting the breaks but it will soon start to even itself out”; “Everybody can beat everyone in this league;” “We have some fantastic players in this squad.” That is fine before Hallowe’en. Cliche wise, everyone knows ‘you don’t look at the league table until Christmas.’
But it is almost Christmas now. We are almost at the half-way mark. We are deep in “the league table doesn’t lie” territory.
To be fair to Butterfield, he didn’t roll out the phrase in a glib fashion to deflect the gravity of the situation. He added: “You can’t argue with the table. It doesn’t look good. We are down there now so you’ve got to say we are looking over our shoulder.”
And he put his hand up. He was quite open about the players need to take responsibility, maintain concentration, work harder and cut out the errors. He put it context of early days under a new boss with new methods and a different shape and tempo that were slowly taking root. And he rejected the notion of a run of ill-fortune. Because obviously, you ‘make your own luck in this game’.
Plus, it should be said that Brighton assistant boss Nathan Jones said pretty much the same – that Boro are a good squad, playing good football and that the Seagulls had nicked a big result against a side that, once they had adapted to Aitor Karanka’s game they would take off. Or: “They are too good to go down.”
Another equally frightening cliche has started to pop up in recent days too. One national newspaper said that “Boro’s new Spanish boss would continue his quest for his first away win in next week’s trip to Millwall for a televised six pointer.”
SIX POINTER! It’s not even Christmas. And the view from the South is that Boro have been branded as one of the basement battlers. You can’t blame them. Any objective, distant view would pretty much write Boro off as serious contenders for the play-offs.
One away win this year… serial sucker punchees,.. barely worth a minute on the fag end of the Championship review… crowds flat-lining… a former top flight club that has slowly and steadily morphed into an ordinary, middling second tier side… take that into consideration and glance at the table and anyone outside the Boro bubble would obviously think it was team very much part of the trapdoor tussle. Unless they look at the recent Premier League pedigree and decide they are ‘too good to go down.’
Having established we are not – no one is, just ask Wolves – and having steeled ourselves for the reality of a string of six pointers comes the next stage our mental preparation for the relegation battle: the search for three worse teams.
Slowly we have collectively started to look down rather than up. The night before Boro suffered their last gasp blow at Derby – the Twilight Zone closed in as the bottom three all won. Barnsley beat Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday beat Leicester and Yeovil beat Blackpool. The dotted line inched closer with menace, accompanied, in my head at least, by the Jaws theme music.
On the whistle on Saturday the first thought was not how play-off pretenders Forest, Leeds and Blackpool had got on but to take a furtive glance at the fixtures down below.
Phew. Millwall, Charlton and Doncaster got beat. That pegs them back. The bottom two – Barnsley and Yeovil – engaged in a mutual suicide pact and draw to leave them adrift. Well, I say adrift… the Wurzels are three points behind. Gulp.
That scraping noise you can hear is Boro fans’ moving their mental furniture. Very few people at the start of the season expected promotion. Certainly not the bookies. Not many more expected Boro to be cemented into the play-off place.
Most – including Steve Gibson – probably expected Tony Mowbray’s side to be ninth or tenth now, within touching distance of the top six and with as good a chance as any, injuries permitting, to be the team that made the late surge from the pack. I know I did.
But very few would have thought Boro would be a fragile three points above Yeovil at this stage.
So, we are in a relegation battle. Karanka has said as much. “It is not a good situation in the league.” Boro have 20 points from 20 games which is an alarming return, especially considering that the Brighton mugging was the first Championship defeat at home since opening day.
That leaves them below the points curve dictated by the magic formula that survival specialist Lennie Lawrence once outlined to Boro fans. Lennie’s mathematical “Iron Law of Survival” was NP = P+2 …. necessary points equals games played plus two. Boro are currently trading two points shy of that safety margin.
And as we know, “there are no easy games in the league.”
Plus, now Christmas is looming and we all know what that means: Yes,it is not long before the traditional January jitters kick in. Gulp. Boro’s first foot flopping is a notorious millstone and has proved toxic to many a season of promise in the past.
The last two are obvious examples but you could pick out just about any year at random and the results until the daffodils popped up would look like Roman numerals: LLLLDDL
No wonder people are nervous.
Still, the “six pointer” with Millwall next and a reunion with snarly scoreophobic Scott McDonald who has a point to prove
What could possibly go wrong?


45 thoughts on “Too Good To Go Down? Learning The Lexicon Of Life In The Drop Zone

  1. In fairness to Jacob I agree with him that we are too good to go down.
    That said it won’t be the first time in footballing history a club has been too good to go down, there is a very long list of them including Chelsea and Man Utd.
    On paper these Boro Players should be higher up the table but fine margins, lapses in concentration, dysfunctional organisation, fragile mentality or whatever has cost us dearly.
    Anyone can beat anyone in this league as the “Barnsley beat Brighton, Sheffield Wednesday beat Leicester and Yeovil beat Blackpool” the week of the Derby game proves. Brighton then beat Leicester and we matched Brighton and indeed more than shaded the 2nd half until the dubious corner and fragile defending.
    We need some strong characters arriving in January but we also need some intelligent ones. Tactically we need to up our game, I have this horrible feeling we practice defending corners and free kicks at Rockcliffe with Leadbitter taking the free kicks and corners then wonder why they are more difficult to defend during actual game time.
    Against Millwall I’d go with three at the back (Hines or Richardson, Ayala, Gibson), keep Carayol on the bench as an impact sub and give Adomah a free role causing confusion as to who should be picking him up with Main/Emnes or even Ledesma up front.
    When defending corners let them do what they normally are drilled to do be it zones or man marking but excuse Hines from duty. As the extra man he should be instructed to watch, track and attack the ball and nothing else. I would also put two on the line, one at each post.
    At the other end with our Free kicks and set pieces anyone but Leadbitter please. Surely someone at the club can curl a ball or loft a corner over the opposing Keeper. Is it also beyond the realms of reason to have someone stood at the far edge of the 18 yard box as the trajectory of balls delivered in from corners have a habit if ending up there instead of all the Red shirts clamouring to get into the 6 yard box.

  2. Well I feel sorry for the new manager. What a team he has inherited from TM.
    I think a complete overhaul is needed. Players with passion and flair and a strong will to win. What about the new no 2? What the hell is going on at that club? MFC in my mind have never been a well run club,going back to the days of Charles Amer and nothing has changed.
    Surely it is of great importance the new manager has a top no 2.Mike Phelan springs to mind, otherwise MFC are going nowhere fast. Come in SG wake up!

  3. Where on earth is the club Press Officer and what on earth is he getting paid to do?!
    In all competent organisations it is the comms team job to monitor the thoughts and feelings of stakeholders and to respond accordingly, yet at MFC there seems to be a totally different media strategy because for as far back as I can remember- without fail – after every defeat we get some thoughtless statement about ‘needing to improve’ and now we get this!!! Like teams need any more motivation to play us at the minute.
    We have long since laughed at the Mike Ashley mishap up the road but I don’t how we can be held above them when it comes to PR.
    As much as our fanbase enjoy the £12 ticket deals (suitable and well thought out in these austere times) for me it is not enough. By that I don’t mean lets have a race to the bottom on pricing – I know the Football League rules about ticket pricing – what I mean is that its about time our PR and Marketing team take a long hard look at themselves because the self loathing post match battlecries from whoever gets drawn out of the raffle in the changies needs to stop.
    We are obliged to field someone each week so lets get some consistency on who that is and get him up to date and on message with what fans are saying on Radio Tees and on the Three Legends. I get the feeling that these footballers live in bubbles. Jutkiewicz has said in the Gazette today that the players are fans of the club as well. START ACTING LIKE ONE THEN!
    We are all bemoaning our lack of leadership on the pitch but the late great Brian Clough won two European Cups with a bang average side through leading by example. I think Aitor Karanka could be a catalyst for positive change at our club but he isn’t going to stick around when he is surrounded by amateurism in a key component of the organisation- the communications side.
    The man has no emotional connection to Teesside so he is relying on these people to innovate so that his team can get bigger crowds, create more funds to play with and get us back up the league.
    If we want success on the pitch we need to get our house in order off it. That includes getting in an assistant and full coaching set up. I’m sorry but Mike Phelan is not coming here and we don’t want him either. This is someone who recently said that he “effectively managed Man Utd for the past five years.” No thanks.

  4. Rather than being too good to go down, perhaps we can say that this team should have been better than this.
    Boro have only lost one game by more than one goal this season (away to QPR) and as has been said already many of the points dropped were down to individual errors.
    I think many thought a change of manager may have given us that extra 5% to get us back up the league table – sadly the errors have continued and Karanka now finds himself with a damage limitation season to negotiate.
    Karanka would probably have not been the right choice if a relegation battle had been envisaged instead of needing to get a promotion season back on track. He needs a bit of breathing space to build his team and that means getting results sooner rather than later.
    Once you’re in a relegation scrap it’s all about fighting to avoid losing rather than experimenting to find the right balance.

  5. Couldn’t disagree more with Matt.
    PR is an abomination,a particularly virulent form of cultural, political and media pollution. If one hundredth of the money spent on it were devoted to tackling the problems it is designed to cover up, the world would be a better place, and the media might occasionally run stories that are more than recycled press releases.
    The last thing any fan wants is coverage that is on message, because the message that would be ‘on’ is the club line, not the concerns of the fans.
    If the club isn’t all that good at public manipulation, then that is a bonus in my book.
    And don’t anyone try to spin me the line that modern PR techniques are actually in the public interest. The industry exists primarily to manipulate public opinion in favour of the big corporations, and to limit the damage caused by their excesses.
    Things are not going to plan for the Boro at the moment, but making the press officer a scapegoat doesn’t strike me as a sensible move. Maybe Matt is pitching for the job. If so I hope he doesn’t get it. Who wants to read what the predetermined club line is and to be assured that any deviation from it will be strangled at birth?
    I await the standard PR response that my ideas are hopelessly out of date and that companies spend millions of pounds every year as a charitable donation to our collective well being.

  6. I’ll still stick with my previous conclusion(s) that it’s an incestueous dogs do do. This means that the MFC organisation is almost genetically dysfunctional and almost terminally so.
    Keith Lamb was synononous with this culture in that although a competent administrator he had responsibities and influence that were beyond his knowledge and ability. His key role in my opinion was one of SG’s watchdog. A watcher and controller who guarded his masters treasure.
    The focus has been firmly focused on money or rather the saving of it for the owner’s financial safety. He who now resides some distance from the community that facilitated his fortune.
    l strongly suggest (and who could disagree) that the imposition of ‘moneyball’ and the abject failure, not of the system itself because it can work, of it’s implementation has led to the situation Boro now find themselves in.
    Karanka is new to management (an error to appoint him?) and thus after five games he concludes his position as one who is frustrated- welcome to the club Senor. It takes him five games to reach that conclusion after watching numerous matches on tape? Beggars belief!
    But then he can’t be expensive can he? Would someone like T Venables have taken so long and still not provided solutions? l don’t think so! But then he would charge considerable amounts of money would he not?
    Yes, AV SG has provided millions to keep the club afloat but then how much valve would the club lose it he hadn’t?
    ln conclusion l can only hope that Karanka can sort it out on the pitch and soon but l have to say l have grave doubts. The only hope is that teams above and below us accrue less points than we do.
    As a postscript l think it was a retired US general, Colin Powell who once said any organisation is only as good as the quality of the people it employs. l would strongly agree with that sentiment and would add that this point must be applied through every level of the organisation. This it is evldent has not applied to the Boro or we wouldn’t be where we are.
    **AV writes: I think there is a tendency in any organisation to think that if results are good (profits, sales, league position, circulation, arrest figures whatever) then there are no problems to be addressed and everyone can congratulation themselves on their vision, structure and performance.
    It is only when results are going badly that the flaws in the structure are exposed and by then often it is too late to make real changes as you don’t have the time or money and the focus switches to firefighting.

  7. Len –
    in your scathing attack on PR I don’t think you have fully considered that it can be a force for good! PR is not spin. I didn’t say we needed a spin officer. PR is Public Relations and it is very important in modern day football. I haven’t asked for the club to get on message with an agenda, I’ve asked for them to get on message with the fans, unless you can see where I have said otherwise?
    Does it not anger you that you walk away from a game to hear the same old message on the radio? Do you go on the MFC website? If so you are actually consuming club PR.
    The role of a press officer (of which I know well) is to satisfy stakeholders. This relates back to my previous question, are you happy with what comes out of the players’ mouths? If so then I take your argument if not then altering what they say to suit your tastes would actually be in effect a change in PR!
    What I am asking for is for the club to come up with something that promotes all of the supposed fantastic work behind the scenes to build for future. I don’t want to hear about lack of concentration I want to know what is going on to address this. In turn this will produce confidence/patience amongst support and perhaps stop us feeling as short changed as we do at 4:55pm on a Saturday.
    **AV writes: If the club gave us quick and easy access to the players during the week and responded proactively to the questions we asked rather than give brief interviews with the players in the immediate aftermath of a game when they are mentally attuned to revelling in/mitigating what has just happened then the news agenda may be very different.
    To be fair to the club what used to be a seven man dedicated press operation is now down to three spread over press officer, PR, website, community events and producing the programme. I’m not sure they have the staff, the skill-set or the time (or the authority) to carry out a coherent strategy based on fostering productive relations with supporters and ‘stakeholders’.

  8. It’s fairly obvious now to everyone, including AK, that this squad are going nowhere, the continuous making of the same mistakes is something that has to be stamped out. The manager can’t go onto the field with them, so he has to rely on leadership on the pitch.
    Obviously we are bereft of anyone remotely capable of filling that role from within, so it is paramount that the club source a player who can link the whole team from a central position.
    In Jack Charlton’s time the club went out and convinced Bobby Murdoch to help propel the Club into the top division, likewise Bryan Robson talked Paul Merson into stepping down a league and enabled a relegated team to jump straight back into The Premiership.
    I suggest a similar course of action could be a possible solution to the present predicament the club find themselves in. A player that ticks all the boxes, in my humble opinion, is Kevin Nolan at West Ham. A proven leader both on and of the field, a regular goalscorer and the kind of player who can galvanise his team mates into playing above their limited ability.
    Before you trundle the FPP out AV, the club says they have funds available, (Graham and Vossen) so why not give it a try. Nolan is 31 now, and a Northern lad. Maybe he could be lured back up North with the promise of a player coach role? Or even No 2 to AK? One thing is for sure, if the club don’t act quickly then relegation is a real possibility.

  9. I feel a bit sorry for Jacob Butterfield.
    Too much has been read into his comments.
    They don’t suggest to me an underlying complacency in the squad or provide evidence of poor PR at the club; rather, the overreaction to what he said reflects the fact that we’re struggling and players in struggling teams can’t say right for saying wrong. In Butterfield’s case, it is made worse because he is unfortunate enough to have been signed by Mowbray and is therefore automatically part of the “dross” that poor old Karanka has inherited.
    Interestingly, the “squad is dross” line wasn’t being peddled before Karanka arrived. The perceived wisdom then was that we were ” less than the sum of our parts”, talented yet flawed, too cautious in our approach rather than just plain poor. Set up differently, and free of the meddling of Tinker Tony, we were going to climb the table. Ian was so excited he even gave us the Skybet odds for promotion.
    There was no mention of relegation at that stage, yet it’s now viewed as a distinct possibilty. It’s certainly more likely now that we’ll go down but not because the squad are a load of deadbeats; it’s because we’ve taken the bizarre decision of appointing a novice with no experience of English football, let alone the hurly-burly of the Championship. It’s the modern equivalent of replacing Bruce Rioch in 1990 with Dr Josef Venglos.
    Under Mowbray and Venus the team scored goals and was at times very entertaining. It was however defensively flawed which resulted in points being thrown away on a regular basis.
    Things are undeniably worse under Karanka. The two home games have been dishwater dull, absolute snorefests of the worst kind. An increase in sideways passing, less players in the box and zero excitement.
    Worryingly, the standard of our defending has also declined.
    In the latter days of the previous regime the team was almost in the black regarding goals scored versus goals conceded from corners and crosses from free kicks. That improvement has not been maintained indeed, quite the opposite; we are now conceding goals from set piece crosses at will.
    The confidence of the players has also been eroded. Perhaps that’s not surprising given that the first thing the new boss did was to try to replace them with a load of loanees. That was the wrong decision, as wrong as suggesting we need to decimate and completely gut the squad to progress.
    What we need to do is not panic, to recognise the qualities the squad does possess and to augment that with defensive nous and leadership. Perhaps 2 or 3 players need to come in to improve the spine of the team, including at least one centre back. It’s possible to do that, even in the minefield that is the January transfer window, although you’re as likely to see that happen as you are to be sunbathing in the back garden on Christmas Day.
    Instead, ready yourself for a mix of young Spaniards and Portuguese, hardly wet behind the ears . They’ll be combined with a few snotty nosed loanees from Chelsea with Sanskrit tattoos. All of them here because they have told to come by Agent Mendes or their parent clubs, not because they’re hungry to be part of a championship relegation scrap.
    I imagine that a beaming Mendes has already passed his glossy colour Iberian exchange and mart around the boardroom, with appropriate targets flagged up with post it notes for ease of reference. All will come highly recommended but will be devoid of the skill set and experience we desperately need.
    There is no precedent that suggests this venture has any chance of succeeding and the prospect of further decline fills me with dread. I haven’t felt as depressed since Warnock’s QPR dismantled Strachan’s side in 2010, killing stone dead any lingering hopes of promotion that season.
    I actually feel a bit jealous of the Wolves fans, enjoying life under unfashionable Kenny Jackett after bottoming out in League 1 and finally learning the lesson of their ways. Sadly, it’s a lesson we are yet to learn.
    I really hope I am wrong about all this but experience suggests otherwise. If it works I will be amazed. In fact, should Karanka lead us to the Championship Top six by this time next season then I shall jump in the church crib and eat hay with the donkey. I also hope the club has a contingency plan in place for a far more likely scenario: League Division One with a bunch of homesick Spaniards.
    **AV writes: Whatever recruitment model the club pursue, surely there is no gain for Steve Gibson, Karanka or Mendes to dump poor Spanish cast-off on Boro. Even if you take a cynical view, everyone involved needs this to be a success: Gibson needs an upturn or faces a long term stagnation of his club, Karanka needs a success on his CV or his managerial career is dead in the water and Mendes needs to deliver talent fit for purpose or they have no resale value and so no profit margin for him.
    Seriously, I understand your concerns and there are clearly risks involved but I think you do Steve Gibson – who is a global businessman working in massive cut-throat Far Eastern markets far more infested with sharks than football is – a great disservice if you think he would be so easily duped.

  10. PP –
    I think you’ll find I have been calling the squad “dross” for several seasons now. Player recruitment going back to the Southgate era has been abysmal. Let’s hope AK has a better eye for a player

  11. October’s lynching is starting to look more and more like an ill thought out panic decision with no plans in place in the short or long term
    How we have ended up with an Spanish manager with no experience to lead us in a gruelling relegation battle is beyond me. Where is the experienced number 2 we were assured would come in? The probable reality is that no one actually wants to do it and would therefore expect Clapham to be appointed to this position on a full time basis shortly
    Whatever the future holds, When we sign a gaggle of Athletico Real division 2 players in January, they need to be be Gianluca Festa’s and not Maxi Hass’s

  12. PP –
    Not all of us bought in to the stronger squad weaker league syndrome. Certainly Steve Gibson was concerned enough about relegation to take action.
    The similarities to our relegation from the Premiershp are there to see with defensive frailties – that isn’t just the back four. You play well but concede late on, don’t get the points you think you deserve and it then erodes confidence. Then the slither starts and it gathers its own momentum.
    When we were harshly dealt with at Hull and went from 1-0 and coasting to losing we were 12th in the top flight with 19 points from 16 games. The rest is a sleep walk to the Championship.
    Fast forward to the abysmal performance at Barnsley and we had 12 points from 12 games in a continuing horrific 2013. The evidence was there in the defensive chaos against Bournemouth the supine displays at Ipswich and QPR.
    The die was cast. Mr Gibson has made his decision, lets hope the players that come in improve the squad or even better, Karanka can get the squad to stiffen up.

  13. AV wrote: ‘I’m not sure they have the staff, the skill-set or the time (or the authority) to carry out a coherent strategy based on fostering productive relations with supporters and ‘stakeholders’.’
    But surely in the 59 days since Mowbray was fired either they or the local journos could find the time to explain why Karanka has been unable/not allowed to recruit his backroom staff. How difficult it must be for one newcomer to change the culture of abject failure.
    **AV writes: Karanka has a full back room staff barring an official No 2, a role which Jamie Clapham is doing “for the time being.” The manager has brought in fitness and conditioning staff, first team and goal-keeping coaches his own match/next opponent analyst, There’s quite a few there now.

  14. Len –
    I have sympathy with you about PR, Max Clifford has become famous (and rich) on the back of it.
    The difficulty is that one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter. We tend to merge spin doctor with PR. The problem the club faces is that we as fans interpret what is said in light of our own prejudices. Then the club, manager, chairman, player become hostages to fortune.
    One of the best lines about George Bush was that USA had been late for two world wars so was determined to be early for the next.
    In the same way Steve Gibson said they hadn’t seen relegation coming so he was early with his axe this time round.
    I personally tend not to take much notice about what comes out of the club, it is sound bites to fill media. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t. Should Butterfield have come out and said we are doomed? We want news but we want to hear what we want to hear.
    That is the way of life but you could have the situation like at Toon where local media get banned.
    **AV writes: People shout at journos for “not asking the difficult questions” but really they are upset because they don’t get the answers they want. We can’t force players to stick to script that plays to the gallery. But I think some people genuinely DO want players and managers to say “we are all rubbish and we are nailed on for relegtion” because that would reflect their own outlook
    We ask the questions. In this case Butterfield was asked first by BBC Tees and then by me something like “are Boro now in a relegation battle?” I also later asked him directly “are Boro ‘too good to go down’ and I even phrased it in italics.
    His answer in context and at length is perfectly reasonable and predictable and probably chimes with the analysis of a lot of fans. The article I have written is not about what he thinks or the reality of the situation but about how fans react to certain trigger words and phrases and how they fit into the changing psychology of the crowd in an unspoken way. Football is a universe framed completely in cliche, memes and coded communication. The semiotics of the game are fascinating. I’m more interested in that cultural aspect of the game that I am with tactics. That’s more for technocrats whereas I am an imagineer.
    The only reason there has been a reaction to it is because of recent results and the fact that a lot of supporters are twitchy and they want a public vindication of that. They want someone to come out and say “yes, you are right.” That’s natural because of the emotional investment they make.
    But no player would ever answer such a question:”No, we are not to good to go down, we are a poor side and we are right up to our neck in it.” In my experience of over 20 years talking directly to players not one would answer like that.
    That is not because they are deluded, or evasive or don’t understand the situation, It is because the mindset of all athletes is essentially positive and confident and forward looking. It is part of the mental make-up of successful athletes that they are supremely self-confident. They believe in their own abilities. That is what has got them where they are. Not just talent but determination and mental strength.
    Athletes don’t dwell on defeat or mistakes. They look forward to the next event, race, swim, match or whatever and focus on being better next time. What they say after a game isn’t delusion or disinformation. It is what they really believe. They may be later proved wrong of course but that is their innate outlook.

  15. I still believe that the squad isn’t too far away. I don’t think it’s “dross”. I don’t see many squads in this division that are a million miles ahead of us.
    Confidence is very low and we have not addressed an easily exploitable flaw of not being able to defend balls into the box – we do not cut enough out, we do not defend them well enough when they come in. That alone makes us far too easy to score against and desperately needs addressing but I don’t see any other major problems in comparison with everyone else.
    A solid left back and centre-half in January who do not need time to settle in could make a big difference. That was the case in the summer also though, so I have no great confidence that it will be resolved in January.
    In Kamara, Adomah, Carayol and Emnes however, we have a tricky and versatile front four that are one of the better attacking units in this league. Leadbitter would make plenty of other Championship starting elevens. It’s not all bad.
    Entertaining article AV and sadly true – it’s a fight for survival now.

  16. **AV writes: Karanka has a full back room staff barring an official No 2, a role which Jamie Clapham is doing “for the time being.” The manager has brought in fitness and conditioning staff, first team and goal-keeping coaches his own match/next opponent analyst, There’s quite a few there now. ”
    AV, I think I follow the local press and MFC’s website fairly closely but, with the exception of Cachada the assistant fitness coach, have seen no mention of first team and goal keeping coaches or an analyst.
    Either I’m missing something or the Boro’s PR is even worse than we thought.
    Incidentally, if these people have been appointed who are they?
    **AV writes: I think Phil T did a bit in the Gazette a fortnight ago. May be on the website. I’ll have a look later.

  17. I agree with Paulista in a lot of what he says, we certainly have gone backwards attacking-wise in the two home games I’ve witnessed so far. Arguably we are tighter, possibly because we now have two holding midfielders but it seems to have totally nullified our attacking intent.
    Grant Leadbitter was having a great season as an attacking midfielder, he was dictating play, having attempts on goal, getting into the box, scoring, and now he is a shadow of his former self.
    We probably are in a bit of a false position, look at our goal difference, it’s vastly better than the teams around us, which suggests the games we have lost have been close (although it is also beefed up by the successive 4-0,4-1 games). I think the only game we didn’t compete in was QPR away. You could make an argument for us getting more points in most, if not all of the other games. We could have even escaped with a point from the Barnsley debacle.
    I wasn’t the only one to say that changing manager would not change anything on the pitch – the only possible way we could have acheived success this season was to stick with Mogga and hope that the fine margins would fall in our favour. Yes, you can point to our horrendous run in 2013, but our performances in the latter half (ie this season) were much better than those towards the end of last season.
    Changing manager was always going to mean more upheaval, a change in style, players in and out and a refocus towards the bottom rather than the top – and pinning our hopes on next year.
    The play-offs are gone now, unless we have a Reading-style miracle. If we hit promotion from for the rest of the season (2pts per game), we’d end up with 72pts and it’s debatable whether that would be enough for 6th place.
    As for Butterfield, I’ve no problem with our players being positive, I know some have and I think that’s all he is trying to be here. I’m sure he realises that anyone is capable of getting relegated in this division.

  18. Funny that we are talking about the club’s PR dept, or lack of it, when what should pop into my inbox but an e-mail from ‘borocummunications’
    Oooh, what’s this I thought? To my dismay it was extolling the virtues of Ramsdens ‘Xmas buy back scheme’.
    Do these cretins not get it! Ramsdens are modern day Shylock’s and I’m ashamed that the club are sponsored by them. To try and benefit from peoples misfortune at this time of year is despicable. The chairman should chase this outfit with big bricks and replace the logo on the shirts with Bulkhaul.

  19. ‘But no player would ever answer such a question:”No, we are not to good to go down, we are a poor side and we are right up to our neck in it.” In my experience of over 20 years talking directly to players not one would answer like that.’
    I seem to remember Colin Cooper saying something exactly along those lines in a post match interview after a SKY live game during our relegation season.
    **AV writes: Coops wasn’t playing during our relegation season. I think you mean the televised Valentines Day 4-0 kicking in 2000. So maybe you get them speaking like that once every 14 years then?

  20. I agree with Len. A good company producing a good product that people want for a fair price has little need of PR. A lot of modern business is dishonest or shoddy and such concerns need it very much indeed.
    Jutkiewitz ‘s recent statement that the players feel the same frustration as the fans was bad PR because it was so stupid.
    We fans CAN’T do anything about the current situation except keep paying our money to the club and keep turning up (or decide not to do so any more). That is frustration. Here is the difference, Lucas: The squad CAN do a great deal to make things better. They can learn how to play the game better, work harder, show more commitment where it matters, oh, and take the money!
    Not quite the same frustration, methinks!

  21. I agree with Andy R that the squad isn’t too far away.
    There is a lot of frustrated negativity at the moment but like Andy I still don’t believe we are too far away. There is a fair amount of analysis paralysis going on (myself included) because of the recent poor results.
    In any business when systems and procedures are changed there is inevitably a bedding in period which causes a few problems as the new software needs a revision (remember the issues we had on here when Trinity Mirror were updating things) or a new shop floor layout causing a bit of confusion with the production flow or the new carriers failed to pick up last night. We have all experienced it so I don’t think there is anything too desperate just yet that couldn’t have been expected.
    The big concern is the shortening gap between us and the bottom three which by the time of the Millwall KO on Saturday could be even more desperate looking!
    I still believe we have some decent players and that we are underachieving, they need galvanising and the Kevin Nolan shout above is a good one but I suspect that is what Mogga was thinking when he brought Whitehead in. If Aitor addresses the leadership issue on the pitch then I think things will turn in our favour.
    The last five results don’t look good on paper but we know they were self inflicted. It would be a lot worse if we had been played off the park looking lost and demoralised in those games, reality is we weren’t and should have picked up another win and two draws. A look at our goal difference compared to the others down there tells a story.
    **AV writes: When Mogga came in and tried to change the preparation, training,mentality and approach with the same players he initially got largely the same results. In fact, for 10 minutes of so, when they went behind at relegation rivals Preston, they were briefly on the bottom. He had been in over two month before it started to click and that season ended with quite a flourish.

  22. Re back room staff **AV writes: I think Phil T did a bit in the Gazette a fortnight ago. May be on the website. I’ll have a look later.
    Thanks for that AV. I did hear rumours about a Uraguayan but saw no confirmation. If this stuff is all in the public domain could you put my mind at rest and tell me who the first team coach, the goal keeping coach and the analyst are?
    **AV writes: The goal-keeping coach is the Uruguayan. He isn’t official yet. As far as I know he is still waiting for his work permit but qualifies for EU work visa status through Spanish residence for X years.

  23. I think it’s important to put some perspectie on how ‘good’ Boro are or aren’t.
    Last Saturday both teams were poor, particularly in the first half. In the second half Boro were (ironically) dominant. The difference between the two teams was an incorrect refereeing decision and a poorly defended goal.
    We could get relegated this season, on the other hand we could end up comfortably mid-table. I think the point is that us fans would like to hear the players state that they’re not complacent and acknowledge they have a fight on their hands and that they are up for it.
    Maybe Butterfield was stitched up by Radio Tees/AV when asked the ‘are we too good to go down’ question. The question itself is a cliche, perhaps it would have been fairer to ask if he and his colleagues were prepared to put themselves on the line and to scrap for every point.
    By answering the question he produced a ready made quote which when taken out of context immediately turned him into public enemy no.1 on Teesside. We dont need in fighting right now we all need to pull together, players, fans and local media. Perhaps the local media need to take a look in the mirror and ask themselves a question or two. Juicy headlines are one thing, but what I want is for my team to survive and then flourish in the Championship.
    **AV writes: He was asked if Boro were in a relegation battle and he introduced the phrase as part of the answer. I then asked him again ‘in italics’ to give him the chance to elaborate so he wasn’t .taken out of context. He gave a perfectly reasonable answer. He wasn’t “stitched up.” It is the local media (often accused of being in the club’s pocket remember) not a tacky tabloid.
    Three points above the drop zone after 20 games makes that a reasonable and obvious question and if we hadn’t asked it we would have been accused of being soft of them and dodging the difficult issues.

  24. Andy R –
    I don’t think the squad is as good as some people thought but nor is it as bad. Some issues haven’t been addressed and have come home to roost.
    What is more, other teams have managers, coaches, scouts and players who take notice of how other teams play.
    Eventually the weaknesses wear you down and erode confidence, you stop playing reasonably well with things conspiring against you and end up just playing badly.
    I don’t think we will go down, I like the idea of playing further up the pitch with a more pressing game. It should lead to more entertainment, should being the operative word.

  25. AV –
    reference your response to my last post, of course the players need to be challenged on the prospect of relegation and I acknowledge your point about what you asked and how you asked it.
    But wasn’t the headline along the lines of ‘Boro too good to go down’? If it was, then there it is, out of context and Butterfield stitched up like a kipper. It’s the headline that sticks in everyones mind (that’s what headlines are for isn’t it?).
    Many probably only skim the piece underneath and those that do are seething at that point and read what they think is written. No amount of explaining the context of what he said afterwards will change the opinion of the average Boro fan toward Butterfield. Not least because the majority probably dont bother to look for context or explanation.
    I know the Gazette is not a tacky tabloid and I know you’re a top notch journo, no harm in being challenged once in a while though?

  26. Thanks for your re[ply AV but getting a clear picture on who is actually in Karanka’s staff now seems like that water from a stone.
    We seem to have established that there’s no goal keeping coach working at the club at the moment even though one has been identified. But what about the first team coach and the analyst that you’d mentioned in the earlier post. Have they been employed and if so who are they?
    It still seems as if it’s Karanka and the remnants of the old guard struggling to impose cultutral change with Veno’s Ghost still hovering uncomfortably nearby..
    The only thing which is clear is that the club are not keeping the fans up to date. I suspect that the press does know more from ‘off the records’ briefings but can’t let on.

  27. I guess it’s only reasonable that MFC have downsized their Media/Communications staff as I doubt there is much national interest in the club now we’re out of the PL.
    But the club still needs to do better at getting its message to the fans across. Often the manager acts as the focal point for such things but whether that’s a conflicting role is debatable.
    I don’t think communication was Mogga’s strength, especially when things were going badly. As for Karanka, well his limited use of English will not make that role any easier.
    Previously, Strachan’s utterances were either weird or antagonistic. Southgate spoke well but you got the impression he wasn’t leading the show and McClaren sounded a bit like a spin doctor long before he started speaking double-dutch.
    In truth, unless you agree with what is being said by representatives of the club then you will find something to fault.
    Steve Gibson and Neil Bausor talk well and explain things in a way that makes sense – but over-exposing them to the media will put them more in a defensive position if targets and plans are not being met.
    In the end you can’t beat straight talking by an articulate person with a bit of media nous.
    **AV writes: I agree. It is the single biggest structural failing of the club. We have tried to persuade Gibbo to do a State of the Nation to elaborate exactly where we are as a club, what our core values are and what the strategy is from here. There needs to be a vision that people can understand and buy in to. That doesn’t come from putting players up for interview or sending them to a charity event.

  28. Not going to talk about the football, very depressing and we have seen it all before.
    However Mrs Smog met Aitor and the lads at James Cook and they were all very nice. Especially Curtis, Woody and Ben Gibson.So despite performances to the contrary they aren’t totally incompetent dunder-headed numbskulls
    Seasons greetings

  29. Ian –
    Agree with all of that. We witnessed last season that playing well but not getting the breaks eventually affects confidence, and in turn performances. I think the same happened to an extent in our Premier League relegation season – how many hat-tricks did Alves miss?
    What I can’t understand is that the weaknesses were well known at the club last year – Gibson told us as much – but weren’t addressed in the summer. I would love to know the true reasons why. I don’t believe they were ignored.
    Maybe they just couldn’t get their men but if that was the case then Mowbray was sorely let down. Then fired.

  30. All this joy. And the next game is away at Millwall. My cup runneth over….
    Commiserations Vic, at having to go there. Unless, of course, you’re going to London early to do some Christmas shopping and merely take in the game afterwards. Actually, in my case, the thought of (1) London and (2) Christmas shopping are bad enough without chucking in a Boro game too.
    I badly need that inrush of enthusiasm Boro fans sometimes get from the post-Christmas fixtures. No, I can tell that the cynicism is already showing through..
    **AV writes: Can you see us turning up at Millwall bearing Harrods bags?

  31. Will Saturdays blog appear at 6.05pm as same again, speak amongst yourselves or will it appear sometime Sunday eulogising points from unexpected sources.
    I bet AV is really looking forward to driving back up the M1. Maybe he will get to stay over at some posh hotel.
    **AV writes: You’ll definitely talking amongst yourself,. I’m not spending a night in London sat over the laptop. We’re staying over but not at a posh hotel. I think we are in the Bermondsey Travelodge. Merry bloody Christmas

  32. At 0847 December 19th **AV wrote: Karanka has a full back room staff barring an official No 2, a role which Jamie Clapham is doing “for the time being.” The manager has brought in fitness and conditioning staff, first team and goal-keeping coaches his own match/next opponent analyst, There’s quite a few there now. ”
    That’s quite a strong statement. Since then I’ve made a few posts prompting AV to name names. But without success.
    Come on AV tell us who they are.
    **AV writes: And as I said when you asked Phil did a bit on the emerging backroom team last week. It was in his Insider column so its not on-line. I haven’t been in the office the last few days so haven’t had a chance to dig it out.

  33. In a nostalgic mood, I found myself reminiscing about my early years suppoorting the Boro. It occurred to me that we are now in a similar position. Having been relegated in ’54, Boro had been in the second tier for six years by my first match.
    Even starting with some top notch players, a couple of bad seasons saw us go down to the third tier in ’66 before bouncing back in the Ayresome Angels era. That momentum was maintained under Stan Anderson and we were usually in the promotion pack. However it took Big Jack to realise the potential and get us over the line 20 years after leaving the top flight.
    Are we settling into similar mediocrity? Will we have to suffer relegation in order to gain the impetus to push for the PL? It’s hard to see where the promotion spark can come from.
    FFP prevents the injection of big money that enabled Robbo to succeed. We lack a single player that stands out as top Championship/PL standard and we have no natural leaders. Although the Academy is a reliable production line, there is no sign of a catalytic starlet. We’ve thrown the ‘new manager’ dice and so far, although he’s done nothing wrong, he seems to have had no inspirational impact.
    Where does that leave us? For the forseeable future we have to rely on wheeling & dealing better than the competition, which presumably is where the contacts of AK and Gibbo’s new playmates come into play. But, even then, any imports would need to be paid and we again come up against the restrictions imposed by FFP.
    So the situation feels similar in many ways to the 60s but we now have our hands tied behind our backs. The only saving grace is that the other clubs (or most of them, anyway) also do.

  34. Well Gents, my last day in the office this side of Christmas. so Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
    Remember it could be worse, we could all be Cardiff supporters.
    Here’s to 2014 being a whole lot better for Boro than 2013 has been!

  35. Thanks AV but still no names for Karanka’s staff. What seems really odd that there’s been nothing on the web from the Gazette, Echo or MFC.
    Support of/for Karanka is both important and of interest especially with the team in free fall. But all media are quiet. There are not even questions being asked about why MFC are unable to appoint a No2. Why? Is our press as effectively muzzled as Ashley’s?
    **AV writes: We’ve got a story on the No 2 situation today. We asked Karanka and he said “not before New Year” although it sounds like he will be busy in January. Surprised the club website hasn’t got anything about the new staff though, even if it is just pen pictures in the profiles page.
    I’m not overly surprised that it hasn’t made the news stories in the papers though. Slowly moving the chairs around behind the scenes isn’t eye-catching back page stuff. Boro brought in a dozen new coaches last year when they restructured the Academy and I couldn’t name a single one of them. I’ve only met Clapham since he stepped up to this job and he was in quite an important role.
    We’re not muzzled. It is just that nothing is happening. We can’t just make things up to give the impression of activity. People say we should probe into what is going wrong. Nothing is going wrong. It just that Boro have turned into an ordinary middling Championship club now. They don’t operate with the profile, resources, ambition or speed they used to. It is frustrating but nothing out of the ordinary.
    Over the years we got used to Boro having a lot of money and just going out solving problems or recruiting the staff we wanted by just throwing cash at them. We can’t do that now. Everything has to be costed. If you want a particular person it needs to be worked at. We could go out and get a coach or a free agent central defender tomorrow but would they be the quality you want and need?

  36. Bermondsey Travelodge, how the other half live.
    I agree Harrods shopping bags may not be suitable. Come to think of it I would recommend some cockney lessons and sewing some pearly buttons on your cardie. John Powls has a list of suitable phrases to be used on such occasions.
    And don’t sneer at poor beer. If you go to the local boozer don’t enter the pub quiz, with your accents the first question is likely to be ‘who are you @@@***** looking at?’

  37. The lack of a No.2 is a concern but using my business head rather than my supporters head it leads me to believe its because there is something going on which is probably sensitive. In other words its likely that whoever they want has to be cajoled for whatever reason.
    If for example it was going to be Veno then clearly they haven’t met assurances or guarantees that he may be insisting upon, if its someone who is currently employed it may be that it was presumed he would be out of employment by now (Mackay as an extreme example) and is not willing to walk away.
    I don’t think it is either of them for an instant but it gives two opposing extremes as to why they can’t nail their man just yet.
    My guess is that Gibson is looking for succession planning. Someone who will take over the reigns when Boro finish 6th in the Prem, win the FA Cup and Manchelskiarsepool come seeking Karanka’s services. If so then a few months wait now will seem like an incredibly shrewd, insightful and brilliant piece of business.
    Of course if there are visa issues and other concerns then a “formal” appointment may not be possible and of course if they are going through the application process than blatantly advertising the fact that they are already in-situ is not the best way to foster relations with UK Immigration pen pushers. Having played and worked at the highest level in football I don’t think that Aitor is naive in all this.
    Some of us on here at some time in our own careers will have been “approached” and/or “poached” by competitors. During these clandestine discussions, usually a series in motorway services, remote hotels or airports, we keep our heads down and try not to alert or ruffle feathers until we formally agree terms and conditions or otherwise.
    Hopefully if the intended target can be persuaded we will all be pleased and impressed but until the appointment can be made public we will just have to sit and speculate.
    **AV writes: I think you have made some perceptive points there.

  38. Nigel Reeve at 10.11 –
    Me too, not back in the dock till after Hogmanay.
    Your Cardiff comment had me wondering … perhaps we should change the team
    colour from red to blue.
    Holding my breath for tomorrow!

  39. AV, after all the posts on this thread about PR, Marketing and Spin, its rubbish that the manager has to be asked about the Number Two.
    Have MFC took an early dart this Xmas?

  40. AV:
    To help you out and maybe get John Bowman off your back, the new fitness coach is Carlos Cachada, unfortunately I have not got the name of the new analyst.
    I personally cannot wait for 2014, some older supporters always said BORO were cursed by a Gypsy, so any year with a 13 in it was never going to be good for MFC.
    Come on BORO

  41. I have followed Boro from 1970 & I have read this blog for the last few years.
    My last attended game was Ayresome Park in ‘77 or ‘78. During half time a song played over the tannoy : Bonnie Tyler ‘It’s A Heartache’. It summed up perfectly the majority of the recent games + that 1st half.
    Are Boro supporters ever going to witness football from their team as per the current top sides in the Championship? I say no. Boro will continue to struggle & will never achieve three wins on the bounce in the next five years, never mind six wins in a row in one season which the likes of Derby have achieved to date.
    Steve Gibson missed a trick in the last transfer window. If his heart was in making Boro top flight, then when all other clubs were dithering, why didn’t he speculate to accumulate? To spend a few million (not a lot in the big picture) could’ve proved to be a master stroke.
    The only positive this season is looking forward to the inevitable derby matches with Sunderland next season. As things stand we will be humiliated & get a good hiding.
    Supporters contributing to this blog must know that they spend their time going around in circles making excuses for the scenario Boro always seem to end up in.
    Life is too short for such negativity. I would politely suggest fans do something positive & vote with their feet each Saturday. Suggest :
    1. Support grass roots football
    2. Take the missus shopping
    3. Go to the pub & watch football on Sky TV
    4. Meet the missus in the pub after she’s been shopping
    5. Get drunk with your missus & put the world to rights
    6. Take in a rescue dog & exercise it (along with previous suggestions)
    It’s a win win situation in my book.
    **AV writes: Or just accept that football is cyclical and Boro are currently in a trough. That’s what happens to all clubs bar maybe the top six or eight historic giants. Boro have slowly turned back into an ordinary second tier side. That doesn’t mean you should stop supporting them it just means that, it just means the mental and emotional landscape of that relationship has changed.
    People shouldn’t torture themselves by measuring every thing that happens against a Premier League benchmark. It can only cause pain. You have to start any analysis from objective reality and where we are, not where historically we were or where subjectively you think we should be.

  42. My heart bleeds for you AV, staying in a Bermondsey hotel after the Millwall game. Hitched down there twice in 68 & 69, whacked both times and to add insult to injury got nicked by plod once for walking on the motorway when we got fed up standing on a roundabout for hours in the middle of the night. Got done for hitching in Hitchen.
    If you are reading this VW,my fellow crim, Merry Xmas.

  43. Live in the Now AV – yes, that’s a good route to take but life can be a little more sophisticated than that at times and good decision making is worth it’s weight in gold at crucial moments esp. for high stakes.
    That’s why it’s vitally important to have the right people in the right place at the right time with the right resources. There lies the conundurum. Seems like our favorite team (and l mean that in the broadest sense) have been struggling with this issue for sometime.
    Anyway’s hope we get a result today- seems like Millwall have their own major defensive problems. Maybe we’re in for a goal feast.

  44. ‘All the very best’ (to quote Vin Garbutt) for the festive season & 2014 to all who contribute to this compelling & user friendly blog. All clubs need dedicated fans like you. I hope Santa can fulfil your wishes, except bringing in players the calibre of Danny Graham who wouldn’t make the bench in my Subbuteo team.
    To Mogga : You will always be a Boro legend but knowing your ability to assemble a football team I sincerely hope a mischievous Santa doesn’t bring you anything from IKEA.

  45. AV (and phil probably)
    No eioing or anything similar darn sarf or however they pronounce it. Just shrug your shoulders and be brave, remember to lock your doors and look out for knuckles. Dragging on the floor is either trolls or Millwall fans, the former are easy to deal with because they turn to stone in sunlight.
    Meanwhile I am sitting smugly, I am even looking benevolently on all the presents Mrs G has saved money on.

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