Reasons To Be Cheerful As A “Season Of Transition” Ends On A High

THE PHRASE I hear most often at this time of year is: “Well, that’ll be you finished now until August isn’t it?” Er, no. Same number of pages, Planet Boro continues to spin, the same insatiable appetite for news – but no matches. This is our busy time.
Anyway, I haven’t forgotten you but I have had a few days off. To keep you turning over until the movement starts, here’s my broad assessment of yet another transitional season.
Read on…

THE SEASON finished on a high at Yeovil, in a flurry of goals and with teasing hints of promise. And for this we are happy.
Four good goals, the fans holding a sun-kissed party and signs of a potent partnership emerging up front are reasons to be cheerful. But please, let’s not kid ourselves that 2013-14 has been a memorable or classic campaign. It hasn’t.
It has been a frustrating, dislocated year and with a significant break in narrative and club culture part way through. And on the pitch it has been a long slog with long spells of soul-sapping turgid low-key football and failure whenever expectations started to rise, especially at home.
The players have flattered to deceive and very few have managed a full season of consistent praiseworthy performances. That some dramatically improved in the second half of the season only underlined how erratic and error-strewn they had been before. The Championship: it is what it is.
Yes, there has been a marked, steady and impressive upturn under Aitor Karanka and in a solid finish Boro have taken big scalps like Burnley, Derby and Brighton, all teams who finished in the top six. And there are sure signs that a framework is now in place that will underpin a more concerted push for the play-offs next term.
And we finished with a sun-kissed four goal romp that sent us into the summer with a smile.
But there are no plans for an open-topped bus parade to celebrate 12th place and a final tally eight points short. It has been a frustrating campaign we will all be glad to see the back of.
Boro made a brave late lunge for the line with six wins out of the final eight but after stumbling at home to Nicky Bailey’s relegation haunted Millwall – typical! – and then an empty no-show at Reading they fell just short.
No, actually they fell well short. There is a bit of a low level feel-good buzz about the bits starting to fall into place under ruthless Karanka and we can all see the positives, especially when looking at fictitious league tables starting at the end of October, or in December or at any other arbitrary mark you fancy. But eight points is still a yawning gap.
If you squint a bit you can see the places where those crucial eight points were dropped, depending on your perspective.
With modern football’s short term memory or a view tilted against Karanka you would maybe pick out the Millwall flop when a win would have cut the gap to three points and piled the pressure on the teams just above. Or the still stinging injustice of a blatantly punched late leveller that robbed Boro blind against Nottingham Forest.
Cast your mind back a bit further and you can easily find eight squandered points that should have been in the barren wastelands of the all time club record eight game, 12 hour goal drought that brought a post-Christmas surge to a juddering halt.
Boro dominated but drew a blank in goalless draws against Wigan, lowly Doncaster – in front of 4,000 travelling fans – and again against Leeds and then stumbled at the back and lost in a error peppered game at Watford and then were denied at Wednesday by the goal that never was.
It all started to drift and the fans grew tetchy and doubtful with the quick to judge writing off the new revolution at birth. Meet the new boss…
But if you cast your mind further back and are jaundiced against Tony Mowbray there are lost points thrown around willy-nilly in the chaotic opening that ended with him getting the axe.
Boro were two up at Forest and dominating a pulsating game at the City Ground but shrivelled then fell apart in a flurry of mistakes in the closing stages and were pegged back for a 2-2 draw.
They bossed but lost the lead late on at Wigan too as the Achilles heel of failing to defend set plays cost them once more.
And at home to Bournemouth in a slapstick start they leaked two penalties in the opening 12 minutes, fought back to lead and then threw it away again.Crazy stuff.
Then came the suicidal first half implosion at Barnsley as the defence fell apart and leaked three schoolboy goals and the crowd and the chairman finally turned on the tarnished Holgate hero.
So there are plenty of watershed moments and pivotal periods where you can easily make a case that the season “went wrong” and the prospect of the play-offs was lost.
In fact, the seeds of the stuttering season were sown in the summer. With the millstone big earners that had dogged his planning for two years finally moved on, Mowbray was handed real money for the first time and had the chance to build a team in his image.
And he did recruit some useful players: Jozsef Varga and Albert Adomah can be considered among the best performers this year while Jacob Butterfield has shown flashes of creativity and Dimi Konstantopoulos has grabbed his chance, although £900,000 Kei Kamara has faded after a good start and remains unproven.
But Mogga fatally failed to bring in the key players he really needed to make his own system work – a shouty pointy battle-scarred centre-back to organise and plug the leaks at the back and a real goal-getter up front to add some teeth and kill off the teams who had been passed into submission.
He needed everything right to get off to the good start that Steve Gibson had demanded.
The previous limp finish meant he was on borrowed time, not least with the fans, many of whom had already decided he was a busted flush and were eager to bring matters to a head should Boro falter.
Being just above the drop zone come the culling month of October and never looking able to stem the tide of goals against finally saw Mogga off.
The toxic atmosphere at Barnsley as a woeful Boro collapsed to trail by three goals at the break with a furious Gibson watching as the travelling fans bayed for blood was the tipping point.
Club icon or not, there was no way back and Mogga was sacked. It was a sad but inevitable outcome in a harsh and unforgiving game.
But it also meant that whoever came in was starting from a low base, with demoralised players, a divided fan-base, little money to reshape an unconvincing squad.
Welcome to Middlesbrough and the traditional starting point.
For most, the season was already written off. For some, the pessimists (or “realists” as they would brand themselves) the priority was now survival. Few envisaged Boro going into the final four fixtures with a fighting chance of maybe just squeezing the top six.
After the brief three-game dug-out cameo of Mark Venus – now put in the limbo of extended gardening leave – Karanka came in and set about systematically rewiring the mentality, the team shape and the style. That’s not an easy job, nor a quick one.
He brought players in on loan before the deadline – Shay Given and Daniel Ayala were to be important factors in tightening the defence – and then in January there were to be further tweaks as Danny Graham and Lee Tomlin came in and Jutkiewicz and Marvin Emnes were farmed out on loan along with some fringe players. There was some ruthless pruning of dead wood.
It was a rejig that gave a better picture of exactly what Karanka wanted in but that was just too slow to take effect to bridge that eight point gap.
So it has been the archetypal season of transition: three managers, two contrasting philosophies, a big turn-over of players and a U-turn in the strategic direction of the club.
The season started with a broad Teesside accent, with a local chairman, manager and captain that had Boro in their DNA and the scent of Bovril on the Holgate in their nostrils.
It started with an overt ambition to play cavalier, expansive attacking football, a Teesside tiki-taka fired by parochial passion and with one eye on a future flowing from the Academy production line. – but it ended with a strong Spanish flavour in the dug-out, a functional tactical outlook starting from high pressing and a rigid rearguard and with Boro looking to build a recruitment model geared towards loans from a strategic network of clubs like Chelsea and Atletico Madrid.
And it has ended on an optimistic note.
The season gone finished with a far brighter outlook than the previous two when after scorching starts built up promotion hopes they fizzled out into recrimination and regrets.
This time we can look back at results since the turn of the year and crack a smile rather than wince and try to forget. Two impressive runs since Christmas and a finish of six wins out of eight tough fixtures isn’t bad. If that can be taken into next season. If.
With six months under his belt, his own players in and a good pre-season, ambitious head coach Karanka is raring to go next term.
And for this we are happy.
****This is “another chance to see” my Big Picture column from last week
MEANWHILE, here’s some stats that illustrate the season of transition. Boro have had three bosses this season. This is how the stats break down over the three reigns.
TONY MOWBRAY P12 W2 D6 L4 F19 A21 Pts 12
MARK VENUS P3 W1 D1 L1 F6 A3 Pts 4
AITOR KARANKA P31 W13 D9 L9 F36 A25 Pts 48
Points per game:
Mowbray: 1.0
Venus: 1.33
Karanka: 1.55
Over a full season of 46 games that would equate to:
Mowbray: 46pts
Venus: 61.2pts
Karanka: 71.3pts
Assuming the points return stayed the same over the whole season, under Mowbray Boro would have finished fifth bottom and two points above the relegation zone while under Karanka they would have finished seventh, one point adrift of the play off places.
Goals for per game:
Mowbray: 1.58
Venus: 2
Karanka: 1.16
Goals against per game:
Mowbray: 1.75
Venus: 1
Karanka; 0.8
DON’T FORGET…. swanky Oscars style awards ceremony on Friday in the Hotel Du Posh on the Embankment. Untypical Boro is up for blog of the year in the prestigious Regional Press Awards. Fingers crossed. I’ll keep you posted.


47 thoughts on “Reasons To Be Cheerful As A “Season Of Transition” Ends On A High

  1. All well thought out, a good rationale AV which encapsulates and puts our season into a well familiar nutshell of underachievement.
    What you haven’t mentioned and of course I guess you can’t politically, is to mention the lack of investment by the club in the transfer window in January when a marquee signing like Vossen could have tipped the balance and pushed us into the play-offs .
    Typically we will probably see Schteeve have a magnificent Wembley playoff final and get Derby over the line into the promised land of the Prem.
    What I really hope for next season is that we put our squad into place early and not rely on loan signings at the end of the transfer window to finalise the look of our championship playoff team.
    AK is always mentioning Burnley as the model (not too sure how many loan players they had?) but we had five and at times I felt it was too many and sometimes didn’t always play for the badge!
    Looking at England as an example with its mixture of youth ( albeit very skilful) and a few old heads, this is where we want to be with our squad to play as a team and not a collection of individuals.
    Nice to see big Nige get a gong for his achievement with the foxes and as every blogger and you will agree, the lack of a dominant leader like him on the pitch has cost us dear and I think perhaps gorgeous George should perhaps wear the captains armband next season? Maybe see if we can persuade Ferdinand to come for a season as a last hurrah before flying off to the states ( we have pulled off major name signings before)
    Good luck at the oscars if this piece of untypical blog is being reviewed by the judges then you should win at a canter and not even have to resort to the playoffs !
    Fat Bob
    **AV writes: No political gag: Boro invested heavily in January but Vossen – or any marquee signing – was never in the picture. That boat had sailed. Jiggling things about and getting a few out on loan let Boro go right up to the maximum Financial Fair Play ceiling in bringing in the two Chelsea lads and Danny Graham on loan. They are all on top flight money and were not cheap. Then Tomlin, who initially arrived on loan and then was renegotiated as a permanent deal. That probably pushed Boro over the limit.

  2. About right AV
    But my focus is on the fact we finished more than 30 points off Leicester, so I think Karanka has to really look at that gap. He must be ruthless,and either get the right players in,or at least farm out the weak ones in the sense of consistency,
    We must have honesty as well, I’m not picking out anyone, but the likes of Ben Gibson today, whilst a solid young man ,who can have a future, I don’t think can help bridge that gap over 46 games. Friend the same, Varga, Caryol,and you can say others. Good squad players. But be ruthless Aitor.

  3. Thanks AV. Having that sort of information relayed to the fans makes it a lot clearer on behind the scenes activity.
    We obviously know about FFP rules but don’t think QPR stuck to them! Sometimes it doesn’t pay to abide by the rules .
    Waiting to see the results of the Oscars !
    **AV writes: A few clubs overspent in a gamble to get into the play-offs and up but it will come back to bite them on the bum if they don’t get promoted.
    If QPR go up they will get fined something like £20m for their overspend (which will eat into their budget to strengthen) but if they lose in the play-off finals then they are miles over FFP limits and if they don’t slash costs they face a transfer embargo from December onwards until they comply (it is December because a lot of clubs’ have financial years running Jan-Dec so that is the end of the first full cycle).
    Other clubs now facing massive cut-backs this summer or sanctions from December include hugely overspent Nottingham Forest, Brighton and Bournemouth (that £2.5m on Tokelo Rantie is looking like a very rash decision now.).

  4. The whole season was pretty hard work. Poor start under Mogga then under Karanaka a slow but very dull improvement. The long goal drought just about killed off any joy of going to the match.
    It was only in the last few weeks when you could see signs of progress. The players started to smile and we scored a lot more goals. Maybe things will be better next season. We’ll see. We’ve been here before.
    Those stats say as much as the article. Under Mogga one point a game, leaking for fun and a long demoralising battle in the relegation zone. That would have made the run on with three out of the bottom four very tense. And his side had no bottle.
    Under Karanka it would be just short of the play-offs. That gives some hope that next year with a few good additions that we could give it a crack. About time too. Five years down her without once making the play-offs is a major indictment of the club.

  5. It would be good if, at the end of the season, something connected with the Boro could win something. So let’s all keep fingers crossed that Anthony Vickers Untypical Boro and its “operator” wins a gong in London.
    At the very least, it should be a decent night out. I assume nominees will have a room booked at the relevant plush hotel, all expenses paid. Might as well hit room service then. And maybe a weekend in the smoke for a companion who likes to visit the shops?
    In the final analysis this has been a season that could have been much better. We started with high hopes that a Local Hero would take us to the Premier League but it soon became apparent that was not going to happen. A brief interregnum with Mark Venus then it was the exotic Aitor Karanka.
    He must have been surprised by what he found and by the league in which he had landed. We had a long run of games in which we couldn’t score and another run in which we had the tightest defence imaginable. At the end of the season we were, the odd blip aside, a team that was difficult to beat even for the better teams in the league.
    At then end of the season, and if they needed to win the game, Leicester City, Burnley or whoever wins the play-offs, wouldn’t choose to play the Boro if their promotion depended on it. But to be promoted, a team has to be consistent throughout the season. The name of this Blog suggests that is something Boro has rarely been – this is a club that wins when it shouldn’t then loses a game everyone expects to win. Typical Boro!
    We go into the summer feeling maybe a little better than we went into the last one. We need some good business in the next few months, then a good pre-season and some good luck with fitness and injuries and we might, just might, go close this coming season. If we can keep it together and become a little less “typical Boro”….
    It is, as they say, the hope that gets you in the end. No dreams, no disappointment, but how can a football supporter live without dreams? Stupid little game, football, isn’t it?
    Do we support and love football? Or is our club the centre of our affections? Would you rather watch Boro in the Championship or Man City v Spurs in the Premier League? Or Boro’s youth teams?
    My own view is that in England the press and the TV operates under the delusion that the Premier League is all that counts. Every weekend is a “Super Sunday” or some other superlative description. A Premier game can (and often is) boring or poor. A game in Division 3 might be really exciting. The same might be said of European football.
    We have ahead of us the play-offs, the FA Cup Final, the denouement in Le Liga and the Champions League Final. They might be great games, they might very well be disappointing. But they are not games involving Boro. I couldn’t stay at home and watch a Champions League game if Boro were playing at the Riverside. The other games just aren’t as important to me.
    But I must say that, at the end of a long season, I have had enough of football. You can only eat fish and chips (even Whitby’s best) so many times before you need a change and a rest. And then, THEY spoil it all by putting on a football tournament in Brazil this summer. Curses!
    On the other hand – Yorkshire are top of the County Championship, having today stuffed by an innings and 155 runs (if I remember the number correctly, and with a day to spare) the county which HAD been at the top of the table until today. Oh, joy that summer is here at last.
    **AV writes: Hmmmm, fish and chips.

  6. When the experts have finished judging this Blog on the basis of its incisive exposition of the joys of sport and following the Boro, can we revert to normal again?
    Stream of consciousness prose, threads delving into the theory of war, philosophy, politics, music and art? The judges don’t need to know that, here in this deprived part of the UK, the butt of so many jokes, there is learning, intelligence and a sense of humour to be found. Let’s keep that as our own little secret.

  7. Nice overview AV. I only made it to the three games over Christmas, the rest of the season has been experienced though my old man who is a season ticket holder, #borolive and the post match wrap up on the blog.
    It’s been painful watching / reading through the season. At the time of Mogga being sacked I must have been still high on the Holgate Bovril smell as I was disappointing to see him go, but the stats under that blog and watching the slow transformation under Karanka shows it was an astute decision by Gibbo.
    I agree that there’s a sense of optimism for the coming season. Yes, we had a strong end to the season, but for me it’s that for the first time in a long time I have an idea and a picture in my head of what the manager wants to achieve with the team.
    With Mogga I had no idea, just blind trust that he would land us on the moon. Karanka is as clear as day, he’s set out his tactics, his demands on his players, work rate, attitude and effort and he’s been unrepentant in imposing those, even on our ‘star’ players. Players coming in will know what they’re getting into, players staying know what is required and those that don’t make the standard will fall by the wayside.
    The hope is that the end result is a team that is solid at the back and has the ability to damage other teams at the other end of the pitch. If they park the bus, then we have the capability to hold the ball and grind out the result.
    I’m already crawling t’internet for any scrap of Boro related transfer news two-three times a day as my thirst for information and knowledge gets focus without the distraction of games. Hopefully we’ll have some of the confirmed outs this week or next before Karanka heads out on holidays.
    Good luck for Friday, certainly this blog captures the spirit of the region and essence of following the Boro with wit and charisma. Wouldn’t be possible without the rest of the community making comments, thank you for the game reviews! It saves ex-Pats like me having to live off the snippets of information on the BBC, and my old man! Hoping to contribute more over the next season!

  8. As I pointed out on a previous thread, the more relevant comparison between Mowbray and Karanka is to look at Mowbray’s first 31 in charge (not his last 12 extrapolated). Karanka managed 48 points, Mowbray managed 46. Conclusion? None can be drawn.
    History now tells us Mowbray couldn’t translate that encouraging start into future success. Whether Karanka can is now the question. Bring on August so we can start to find out.
    **AV writes: That would be a different kettle of fish. Maybe over the summer I’ll do a first 31 for Karanka, Mogga and Strachan. This one was just a break down of this season.

  9. For me it was one of the most contentious seasons I’ve experienced in a long time.
    The Boro support were fractured well and truly over the issue of ‘one of our own’. No one wanted to see Mogga fail in footballing terms. We all wanted to dance the fandango with him at the end of the season, be it at Wembley or at the Riverside.
    Still what perturbed me the most was the incessent Mogga love-in and that regardless of results he should be given ‘one more chance’.
    If I was to stab at an opinion I’d say the whole distasteful episode, and Steve Gibson was central, was such that it cost us a chance of being in the play-off final.
    I believe if you hesitate when it is clear from the portents that things weren’t going to improve, then you are guilty of poor leadership and there’s no other way of putting it.
    Still the Spanish maestro is in the seat now and I like what I’ve seen in terms of improvement. Yet (and I’ve mentioned this before but I feel it’s that important I’ll do so again) Karanka has said so himself that motivating the troops to produce above and beyond their capabilities is something he’ll have to dig deep and find somewhere in the darker recesses of his managerial locker. I only hope he can find it.
    So in conclusion the biggest lesson learnt is don’t put a personal idol in the hotseat cause it the devils own trouble to get him out of it when things don’t go right.
    UTB – next season would be nice!
    Oh, and before I go, what about some supporter representation on the board. They can do it at Swansea and the Bundesliga seems not to have a problem with it. Why should the Boro be the last bastion of dictate.
    **AV writes: Last bastion? Are you sure about that?

  10. ‘the scent of Bovril on the Holgate’ took me straight back there, a piece of superb writing AV. Good luck on Friday and if you fancy a stroll after the awards go over to the South Bank, right up your street I reckon.
    Well, to use the old cliche it was a season of two halves really. The first half was a disorganised shambles, the second was structured with a clear objective.
    I hope we can do a deal with Swansea who seem to want Emnes and also with Bolton for The Jukebox, if both those deals go through that will leave us with a bit of cash to spend (hopefully), and some decent head room on the wage bill. I think its time for Rhys to move on too, which again would create some headroom on the salaries. Although selling him might be problematic given his injury.
    I’m certainly a lot more optimistic than I was before the six wins from eight run, when we couldn’t buy a goal and the football was turgid at best. It appears that Karanka has done a very good job in a short space of time, firstly getting the basics right and making Boro hard to beat and then sharpening the attacking play to give us 18 points from a possible 24 in the last eight games.
    I like Karanka’s no nonsense style, I think it leaves the players knowing exactly what they have to do and the consequences if they don’t. It makes their lives very uncomplicated and simple I would have thought, which leads to good morale and hence team spirit.
    I’m looking forward with some optimism to next season, it may be too much to ask Karanka to convert Boro from a 60+ points team to a 90+ points team in one summer, but creating a 75+ points team seems a reasonable target to me.

  11. Nigel –
    There was another smell wafting from behind the Holgate End and it wasn’t Bovril! Oh the joys of open sanitary ware! I was surprised no one from the hospital ever complained.
    Onto the close season and what is the Spanish equivalent of Strachan’s smithy?
    I think no incoming player will be unaware of what awaits them. The jungle drums will have been beating out the messages about what is expected..
    It seems many have the players have bought in to Karanka’s methods, I doubt that includes Emnes and Juke. They seem to want away, if they go I wish them good luck as long as there is no bad mouthing.

  12. I’ve just about given up trying to post here. Just in case this goes through, I’ll state now that if that Rag Tag and Bobtail squad just fell eight points short then next season should be a Cake Walk to the Play Offs. Get your Wembley seats booked now! I have every confidence.
    Good luck on Friday AV, not that you’ll need it.

  13. I think GT is being unnecessarily pessimistic.
    Before arriving Aitor had never managed before, he had no direct experience of English football let alone the Championship. He has put down a blueprint in terms of organisation, structure, attitudes and expectations of his charges. They have largely bought into it and for the first time since probably the Robson glory years the fans are turning and also buying into it.
    If Aitor’s extrapolated full season points tally is 70 after a few games to bed in, a few games to try and understand the league, try to understand the new opposition and what he had to work with then thats not a bad return.
    Throw in some borderline games where we didn’t get the rub of the green (I’m convinced had the ref gave a goal kick at Leicester instead of allowing that “goal” then our season would have soared instead of dipped at that juncture) and a few extra points (Forest at Home, Wednesday etc.) then we could have been looking at well over 75 points or even nearer 80 for Aitor over a full season.
    So what exactly do we need to do. Well defensively its starting to look like he could play the Tea Lady and three ground staff in the back four and still keep a clean sheet. Keeping Varga would be ideal but I suspect the club and Aitor will have a plan B (or perhaps even a Plan A) in that regard. We need cover for George but if we have Reach back then isn’t that the cover we need and saves the club a small fortune.
    Halliday I believe has played most games for Blackpool during his loan stint so could be a low cost cover option plus with the benefit of some Championship experience worse case is he could be offloaded more easily now to seek his fame elsewhere.
    Centrally I think Ayala and Gibson are as good as we need. Rhys is unlikely to move before January so he and Woody are two good back ups and indeed extended training under Karanka could be the missing ingredient in Rhy’s game.
    Midfield I think we are OK. Grant is a 7/10 performer week in week out, never a 9 but more importantly never a 5 and only very rarely a 6. With Butts, Richie, Ledesma, Carayol, Adomah, Tomlin, Luke and perhaps now Morris not forgetting the underappreciated Whitehead there is plenty of competition for a start and of course Reach will also fancy himself in amongst that lot as well as probably 1st cover for George. That’s 11 bodies for only 4 or 5 shirts (I’m guessing 2 or 3 of them will probably depart).
    Up front is the real dilemma, can we grab Grabban from under the noses of the Redbirds? Being honest I would welcome him but at £3m then I’m squirming and not so sure. Can the Juke come back and fill Danny’s boots or has he pulled on his last red shirt. The irony is that due to his success Mogga’s buy still has market value, likewise the same applies to project Emnes. I’m guessing their combined wages are at least in the 20’s if not nudging 30K a week and they could possibly realise a few million in fees for us to spend.
    Is Danny the answer? I’m still out on that but my guess is he would probably get as many if not more than Grabban over a whole Season in Karanka’s team especially now that Tomlin is pulling the strings.
    Speaking of Tomlin, his ex Posh Pal Britt Assombalonga has to be worth a look and my guess is that he will be on the London Road sometime over the summer with his suitcase in hand, lets hope he turns North rather than back to the Hornets nest.
    Speaking of Hornets, Deeney would be an interesting proposition and to my mind probably the best fit tactically but his personal baggage perhaps indicates that he would struggle under Aitor. There is of course always Ross as Rachel once said but perhaps like Jennifer Aniston its time we realised there are more fish in the sea.
    Whoever comes in, theirs will be the pivotal season defining appointment, lets hope its a good choice in fact we probably need more than just the one even if Danny Boy does hear the pipes a calling on Teesside.
    OK so a RB is a must, probably two, likewise two strikers as a minimum and if Kei goes make that three as an absolute. For me that is all we are short in. Goalkeeping we have Dimi and I suspect Steele will remain to “fight” for the jersey rather than move on but again he can also command a few bob and getting a loan keeper is not always disastrous as has been proven by not just Boro in the past.
    Then speaking of loans I haven’t mentioned “double or quits” Ken or his Chelsea partner Nate. If they return I’m happy, if they don’t I wont be distraught but we would possibly then need to look for another CB just in case Rhys and Woody collide in pre-season training.
    So Aitor has had his highs and also had a few lows. Higgy came in during a barren spell and the lows evened out then ended, Pools sadly collapsed at the same time so I’m sure that wasn’t coincidence. Leo looks to be a no nonsense goalkeeping coach, I don’t think star drops is his mantra. So for me there are some real strong reasons to be cheerful.
    Its a shame these last few weeks I have had to miss out on Boro whilst watching the FA selling the Premiership to the highest bidder and now I will now have to endure a farce in the jungle of South America where over paid mercenaries are performing for the pleasure of other mercenaries who have sold the game out and sadly at a cost of human lives.
    Roll on August and real football in the real world and the belief that this time next year Boro will genuinely be “untypical” and be promoted to the greed is good table.
    Oh and I hope you are Crockcliffed for Friday night AV (thats Boro parlance for break a leg in case any non smoggies are reviewing)!

  14. The Good:
    1. The pulsating Pride of Teesside night, an emotionally charged high octane affair at odds with the low key mediocrity served up for most of the season.
    2. The passion and innovation of the Red Faction, the highlight being the superb “We Built the World “ banner.
    3. The Frankie Bam Bam tribute
    4. Our amazingly loyal and vociferous away support. If any group of fans deserve some success it’s them.
    5. The form of Mowbray “flops” Adomah, Friend, Ledesma, Leadbittter, Carayol and Dimi. The latter recovering admirably from the Whoops Acropolis moment that was Bottletop Gate.
    6. Ben Gibson
    7. Relative defensive and financial stability which gives us hope, but certainly not any expectation, of a better season ahead.
    8. The overwhelming success of the family zone and a sense that the penny has dropped at the club re fan engagement.
    9. The Karankachief welcome for the new boss, heartfelt and quite astonishing given that nobody had heard of him a month before.
    10. Probably my favourite. In a high tech world of wifi, google, scanning, downloads and tablets, our club getting its knuckles rapped for not paying photocopy charges at Doncaster Library – The Legend of Karank Xerox as it will come to be known by future generations.
    The Bad
    1. Karankety blank and the record breaking barren run. Noughty, noughty very noughty.
    2. The abandonment of any notion that we should aspire to a brand of entertaining, expansive football in favour of an ultra defensive approach fuelled by a morbid fear of losing.
    3. Marvin Emnes
    4. An unhealthy obsession, on this blog and elsewhere, with the Premier league as if life isn’t worth living if you’re not swimming in its shark infested waters. If it is the “promised land”,as some on here claim, I don’t think Moses should worry too much about missing out.
    5. Our brown nosing and general bottom licking of all things Chelsea. I’d rather starve than live off the scraps from their table. And can we all please stop referring to their awful manager by his first name. You’re not his friend and it’s more than a tad embarrassing.
    6. The scapegoating and then marginalising of Jason Steele, devaluing one of our best assets.
    7. A record number of penalties conceded and players sent off.
    8. Dwindling home attendances and the impact of that in a FFP environment.
    9. Sunderland staying up
    10. The phrases “pressing high up the pitch” and “sixth is a minimum requirement”.
    The Ugly
    1. Tony Mowbray’s sacking. Not so much the fact of it, which was pretty much inevitable in the end, but the unnecessary abuse he had to put up with at Barnsley followed by the smug “I told you so” reaction from some who seemed to revel in his demise and the subsequent purging of any local influence at the club.
    A season of frustrating inconsistency in sharp contrast to the consistent excellence of this blog. Good luck at the Press Awards AV, we’re all rooting for you.

  15. I’m not being pessimistic RR but we did finish 12th,and that was after six wins in eight. I dread to think what might have happened if we had gone on a bad run. We didn’t so that’s the positive,
    For a long time couldn’t get how Burnley and Leicester were so far ahead of us. Even Derby. Can anyone really name some of their players? Maybe one or two. But having watched them a couple of times you could see, they were very solid, physical, hard working ,movement and all had a number of goalscorers.
    To think this squad can reverse a thirty point difference is questionable, Right now we don’t have a Wes Morgan,or a Shackell or a Trippier. We don’t have an Ings, a Nugent. ,
    The three coming down wont make the same mistakes other relegated clubs do I’m sure of that.
    If we think 19 and 20 year old homegrown or loanies will get us out of this league were kidding ourselves. Why did Leicester pay top wage for a 40 year old Phillips? Because as a sub when needed he was aware of his roll and could be relied on.
    And that’s the crux of the matter – players that can be relied upon,

  16. Redcar Red –
    a great post. Fully agree with your thoughts. We are not far away from a decent side and just need a tweak or two. Strikers and full-backs.
    Secondly, I wouldn’t write Steele off just now. Dimi just jot a one year contract so he is hardly a nailed-on first choice. Jason just have show his talent and WIN back the 1st team shirt.
    GhW –
    it’s Ok to book a hotel for Wembley, but we could go up in top two spots. You never know with Boro.
    Up the Boro!

  17. Excellent round-up of the season, AV. Well balanced and difficult to disagree with in terms of its general conclusions.
    And, as ever,interesting comments from everyone else with standout posts from Redcar Red and Paulista Park. There’s no need for me to comment much these days. I simply wait for Paulista to say what I think. He does it much more analytically and eloquently than I do it myself.
    Best of luck on Friday. This is the best football blog on the planet simply because the panache, commitment, humour and insights of your own pieces, AV, draw from your readers responses that seek to live up to those qualities in their own contributions.
    That it is so free from the garbage that pollutes the rest of the web is a remarkable achievement all round. You at least can celebrate a triumphant season.

  18. Good article AV and kind of leaves us with the impression of this season being a missed opportunity as in reality there was nothing very special about the teams finishing above us.
    I guess Mogga (and the players) started the season under pressure to have a decent start but we just seemed to concede goals too easily and failed to score when it mattered.
    If people are wondering how Boro will be able to bridge the 30+ points to get into the automatic promotion spots then that is what Leicester have done from last season.
    2012-13: 66pts – W19 D11 L16 – GD +23 (F71 A48)
    2013-14: 102pts – W31 D9 L6 – GD +40 (F83 A43)
    Their defence only conceded five goals fewer and their attack scored 12 more than the previous year – so on the face of it not a massive turnaround, perhaps just a bit more consistency and organisation, with a couple of better players is enough to make the difference in the Championship.

  19. AV – is there a live blog on Friday? There is hardly anything going on on the football front and we are all your fans! Up the Boro!
    **AV writes: No blog (never blog when drunk!) but I’ll let you know on twitter.

  20. I am facinated by Werdemouth’s analysis and comments on the difference between Leicester City’s last two seasons.
    In the season just ended they conceded just five less goals than the previous 2012/2013 season and scored only 11 more goals but achieved a massive extra 36 points, just shows how fine the margins are between success and failure.
    As Werdemouth has quite clearly shown the will to be top dog and a little bit of luck (and fortune favours the brave) is what is needed in this league . Myself and my wife renewed our season tickets a few weeks ago been a habit since 1966. Could be the best thing we have ever done, imagine getting promoted without having to suffer the agony of the play offs (We have very painful memories of the old Wembley) and save a fortune into the bargain.
    Roll on next season.
    JC Marske

  21. Werdermouth –
    Leicester did what teams such as Toon and QPR did. They got the 1-0 wins that make the difference.
    They also avoided the types of incident such as we suffered against Leicester, Wednesday, Forest and QPR. These things go hand in glove with being consistent and also a decent team.
    It is no surprise that Manu haven’t had their share of luck this year. They haven’t been good enough to deserve it.
    We are not far off.
    Len –
    I agree that it is good to be spared some of the drivel on other message boards.
    The Gazette succeeded in stopping spurious posts by introducing facebookgate. Sadly that has suppressed all comments, people just don’t seem to bother on the main site whereas we live in a moderated community where everyone’s view is valued and allowed but insults/crudity/abuse are not.
    We can debate and disagree without rancour.
    **AV writes: It shouldn’t be forgotten that Leicester have spent the best part £80m in fees and wages over three years to build their highly organised and consistent team. Perhaps crucially they stuck with Pearson. Several times he came close to the axe as spending big cash raises the stakes but people at the club could see the incremental progress.

  22. AV –
    Maybe that is why Woodie and Aitor mention Burnley rather than the foxes.
    On to the awards ceremony. Are you taking your lappie so we can have a live blog during the proceedings? Perhaps not, I suppose you have to be a luvvie for the night. Is it full tuxedo and a posh frock – wont ask who will be wearing which.
    **AV writes: Not a tux, although I have been to those in the past. This is a normal suit with slap up nosh in a top London hotel on the Embankment, equidistant between the Thames House (where MI5 live) and the House of Parliament. You can imagine the disconnect between me and rest of the crowd in the piano lounge.

  23. As close-season Friday’s go, today is huge!
    Senor Karanka should be informing those that are to move on of their fate but more importantly AV will surely collect his well deserved gong.
    Good luck AV. May the spirit of Teesside by with you.

  24. Pity you couldn’t quite go all the way AV but reaching the Blog playoffs was nevertheless a great achievement.
    I think you can build on this for next season – maybe some of the older posters are struggling with pace of the new media and will need to be assessed in the pre-season.
    Some will no doubt be advocating foreign investment but I feel it would only erode the identity of the blog – beside with FFP (Financially-Free Posting) it’s not going to make too much difference.
    Though in the end it was all about fine margins – perhaps a couple more pixels on the left margin would have made the difference this year to observers – anyway well done and put your acceptance speech back in the box for next year!

  25. …. the suspense is unbearable. How did you do
    **AV writes: Incredibly, I didn’t win. I’ve got to learn the lessons from this and aim at incremental improvement in every area, every week next season. You lot too, up your game. Still, top five place… European blogging next term.

  26. AV –
    Gutted for you. I googled for the awards this morning and think I eventually found them. Was the winner a chap from Wolverhampton the winner?
    Doesnt matter because you are a winner with us. Keep it up, for someone like me it is my link to Boro, a set of mates I can chat with just like being in the Coro, Norman Conquest or wherever.
    It is such an important link for fans from afar.
    **AV writes: Yes, bloke from the Express and Star doing a quirky take on the days news.

  27. Having seen the financial league table for the Premier League this season and the fact that Fulham finishing bottom reaped in over £20m more than Man Utd did last season for winning the league will surely put to bed any stupid statements from people that Steve Gibson ” doesn’t want to go up.”
    I do find it incredible that in the five seasons since being relegated we haven’t once made the play-offs. I think next season the play offs should be the very least expected from the team.
    The danger now is with all the relegated clubs coming down with over £60m and the parachute payments the Championship is going to end up like the Premiership with only four or five teams having a realistic chance of promotion with the rest just competing against themselves.
    How can the likes of Brentford, Rotherham, Charlton compete fairly against Fulham, Cardiff and Norwich with the millions they are bringing down with them especially with FFP?

  28. AV –
    Any idea what Tony Mowbray is up to these days? Haven’t seen or heard a peep out of him since he left.
    **AV writes: he’s on gardening leave. He was on a one year rolling contract so will still be being paid until October. He’s still around Teesside but I think he has been putting feelers out to get back into work after taking some tim eout to recharge his batteries.

  29. Never Give Up Boro –
    You are right. As a fan abroad I must remind that the vast popularity of English League was based on the unpredictability of the results and generally the small margins separating the top teams from the ones near the relegation zone. That was one of the main reasons I started following English League over German or Spanish Leagues that were already dominated by Bayern München, Real Madrid or Barcelona.
    Now the Premier League is becoming too predictable. Eventhough Liverpool nearly made it, the top four places always go to the same four teams. Boring!
    I hope the Championship does not become as predictable. It is still the fourth popular league in Europe. But there must be a chance for the Brentford, Charlton and Rotherham fans to dream about promotion – at least one in life time.
    It think Boro have a chance to get promoted – but it will be hard. I wouldn’t be too concerned if we play in the Championship for a few years – but I can see them on TV only if they play in the PL. And then I could see them on TV regularly.
    Up the Boro!

  30. Jarkko –
    It was good to see Athletico break the grip of Real and Barca temporary as it may be.
    I think the Championship will always be competitive because of the length of the season.
    We must remember that the teams that were relegated came down because they were not good enough generally in several areas. Well organised teams with some skill will always do well in this division. That wont change.
    Boro, Blackpool, Bolton, QPR, Wigan, Reading, Birmingham, Blackburn, Derby, Burnley, Leicester, Wolves have all been in the Premiership in the not too distant past. It is not the same six teams swapping places very year as once was the case.
    **AV writes: Generally, one of the teams coming down go back up (usually automatically, not always convincingly), one flounders about in mid-table and one struggles. Generally.
    All have a massive financial dislocation as they have a massive cut in income but still have a massive wagebill and need to sell over-paid players who have just demonstrated that they are not good enough for the top flight. The teams that fail to adjust to that dangerous imbalance in the first six months struggle and often go down again the following year in shambolic circumstances.

  31. Ian –
    remember when Ipswich was up there with Arsenal fighting for the League Championship in the then First Division. When we were kids and started following football …
    Up the Boro!

  32. jarkko –
    And Toon won a trophy.
    AV –
    Was the scran good at the do?
    **AV writes: Yes, the food was excellent. No expense(s) spared.

  33. Jarkko said: ‘remember when Ipswich was up there with Arsenal fighting for the League Championship?’
    That’s the point I keep making – supporters of middling-sized clubs like Boro used to look at Ipswich as a role model. We knew that, if the planets could just be aligned, even we could have that kind of success (of course some of us remember Ispwich – and Burnley – winning the title). It was unlikely but possible. We knew it couldn’t be sustained for long but at least a third of clubs could dream of having their day in the sun on an open-topped bus.
    Not now, which is a great shame because it’s hopes & dreams that are the essence of being a supporter. Heaven knows, we have plenty of disappointments so there needs to something to counterbalance.
    The urban myth (and our dads) tells us that, but for the two wars, Boro would have challenged for the old First Division around 1915-16 and 1940-41. Those dreams are restricted to computer games these days.
    Even with the munificence of ever-richer Steve Gibson, any hope of that type is purely delusional. Boro would need to triple attendances and, even then, we’re hundreds of millions away from having any chance of challenging for the PL.
    Including those that are currently well short, there are probably now less than a dozen clubs who could realistically aspire one day to win the title. The current top six plus the likes of Villa, Leeds and a few others.
    That is a fundamental change and not for the better.

  34. So Karanka hedging his bets on Varga; having a scout round to see if there’s someone better about before deciding whether to sign him or not is hardly a resounding endorsement!
    **AV writes: The situation is clear. If Boro trigger the “buy now” option they are committed to a fixed fee (of around Euro 600k). If they allow the clause to lapse they are free to either bring in someone else with that money OR go back with another – lower – offer in a few months time if he is still available and they don’t sign better.
    The signals are that they think they can get better value for money elsewhere and are working on several options. George Friend cost £200,000 for example. There are plenty of right-backs out there priced at that mark or available of a free. We have to trust the manager and the scouting department to bring one in.

  35. Ahh Vic, Images of the proletariat feasting at the trough of the bourgeois in a swanky hotel in London waiting for recognition so richly deserved, a little ruffle of the hair, a slap on the back from the mill owner and a giggling blush from his daughter given instead to some bloke from the Black Country for his services to the Clean Air Act, or something.
    Still, “It were a right grand day out” I’ll wager.
    No doubt you will have some sympathy for that other hero of the working classes, Comrade YaYa. A paltry Birthday cake on his birthday? why the very idea !
    Not for him the normal felicitations of friends and (if you’re lucky) employers. Let him eat cake? Non Marie ! his £200k a week salary deserves more respect than that.
    The Man wants a Bugatti, otherwise he wants a transfer to some club that will recognise his talents and cosset his fragile esteem, thus bunging a few hundred thousand into the pockets of his vile agent.
    You should take a leaf out of his book….get in there next year and demand a Ford Ka, otherwise, you’re off to the Coventry Telegraph. (other regional newspapers are available)
    If you need an agent, vile or otherwise, my fees are reasonable.
    **AV writes: A Ka? What about the continental elan of a Fiat 500?

  36. The way Citeh have treated poor old Ya Ya is a disgrace, my heart goes out to the man, he believes he deserves a Bugatti and a handshake from the owner for his birthday and all he gets is a Victoria Sponge! Demanding a transfer is clearly the only way forward.

  37. Couple of things caught my ear this week, Karankas admittance of his reliance on other employees regarding his roll as the manager. I take that to mean the Scouting network. I know we have Gary Gill (is he held in regard in this position? just wondering). Do we have others fulltime?
    Also the release of eight under achievers. But I thought there was a number out of contract, what do they do now? I assume they can negotiate with any club if they wish.
    **AV writes: yes, they are free to go. A few more may be edged out in the second phase of the reshuffle.
    Yes, Boro have a fairly big scouting team, watching videos, analysing data, physically watching games and preparing a very complex data base. If the manager asks for a list of, for example, left-footed creative midfielders with Championship experience under the age of 26 who speak Spanish and are available for less than £300,000 then they can provide a comprehensive list almost immediately. The manager can then choose which two or three to investigate closer.

  38. gt –
    Gary Gill is heading the scouting team. He has five full time persons to work with.
    And around 10 part time scouts in the UK and a few abroad. So plenty of people and info on that department.
    Up the Boro!
    **AV writes: I’m away next week but when I get back I’ll go something in detail on exactly how comprehensive Boro’s scouting is. There isn’t a player across Europe’s top leagues that can fart without Boro knowing about it.

  39. AV –
    Your replay to Jarkko raises more questions than answers – Are you saying Boro want players who are prone to farting? Or does farting exclude them from consideration?
    Also do you have any idea how much this pan-European fart detection technology is actually costing the club? Maybe the scouting network are just blowing their own trumpet but it seems like a long-winded way of drawing up a short-list of targets to me.

  40. Thanks for the info guys (Scouting)
    I’ve always felt its an area we may have neglected for too long. I know in my day back when, Burnley, Leicester, Southampton, Ipswich, Derby and others where always sniffing around our area, seems they had scouts at every youth game. Charlie Ferguson (Sunderland scout was very prominent)
    Lets hope we can find another Graham Souness,a diamond in the rough somewhere.

  41. Confusion over TaTa Toure.
    Apparently his about turn was due to someone who does his twitter for him only for TaTa to remove the tweet that seemed to smooth over birthdaygate. Now he really does want to go.
    The amazing thing is the fact he has someone who runs his twitter account. Bless!

  42. Nigel –
    Having holidayed in many countries I can confirm my derriere is multi lingual.
    Werdermouth –
    As the Riverside is trying to be green maybe methane generation is part of the plan. The players do lots of work in the community so there is no reason for them not to do their part for green energy.
    The only problem is that sometimes when they do interviews they are full of recyclable matter. Probably helps the pitch keep green rather than buying man made fertiliser.
    The club certainly has green credentials, its just a shame this thread wasn’t before the shindig darn sarf or AV would have been a certainty.

  43. Ian –
    You may be right that it’s all part of a green initiative by the club. Anyway, let’s hope the scouting network get wind of potential signings before they’re trumped by other clubs.
    We could do with a Spaniard that’s full of beans in the engine room and a sauerkraut fueled right-back to breeze past defenders – then there’s a potential deal with the new russian prodigy Gazzaprom to increase supply to the forwards.

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