QUICK! Take evasive action! Instruments indicate media missle lock on. Expect hostile incoming waffle. Pundits now have Boro in their sights.
Boro have finally “popped up on the radar.”
*OFFICIAL: Boro’s progress has been picked up at Football HQ
We are now “there to be shot at.” Which is obviously very dangerous. We don’t want to get caught up in the tabloid crossfire with papers flogging our Top Guns to “big teams” like Stoke and Hull – or Sunderland – in the run up to January’s panic buying season.
A week is a long time in football. Is it only seven days ago Boro were just the “likes of,” another anonymous provincial makeweight in The Division That Telly Forgot? You bet. Three games ago Boro were Northern nobodies treading water well down the running order in the game’s post-midnight small screen Saturday night ghetto.
Then: Bang! Suddenly, you take a £150m Champions League side to the wire in a pulsating 31 goal televised thriller, and you are “a thing.” Suddenly Boro are bang on trend with the fashionistas, like those full-on Mumford And Sons geography teacher beards, pumps with no socks and gaudy checked shirts and jackets. And ‘normcore’, whatever the hell that is.
Now Boro are all the rage. We’ve been spotted. All the metropolitan football hipsters are name dropping Emilio Nsue, George Friend and goal-getting ‘false seven’ Grant Leadbitter.
*ON TREND: Boro’s fashionista fans ironically deconstruct 4-2-3-1
We’ve been emitting positive signals while flying high for a while but they’ve finally been picked up and transmitted back to the media’s tracking station. Now we’ve been identified as a legitimate target, “an interesting story,” and all news outlets are now despatching their best hunter-killer hacks to get the low down.
They will be gutted that they have been out-flanked by Ian Wright though. Hyper-active emotional football jester Wright “Wrighty” Wright was ahead of the curve in spotting the Karanka bandwagon. He picked out Boro as promotion contenders on the Beeb’s big club phone-in 606, in between talking down fans of crisis clubs Arsenal and Spurs.
That followed a rampant 4-0 battering of Brentford that took Boro up to fifth so it was hardly a curve-ball but it was nice to get a mention. He added that he had seen quite a bit of Aitor Karanka’s team on the box which seems a little far-fetched. Even diehard Boro fans have struggled to see more than a jerky 42 second blipvert on normal television and even if the game is on somewhere on the net it is quite hard work to find a stable stream on Wiziwig or find more than Vines of the goals on-line. Unless we are to believe he is secret member of Middlesbrough Supporters South hunched over a laptop and a parmo most Saturdays, it was probably artistic licence but at least we got the name check.
Before that, Boro were so low profile even the players’ Mams wouldn’t have recognised them. Boro had been using story-shrouding stealth technology: being in the North; being into a sixth season of fruitless Championship labour; being stable and sane off the pitch; avoiding troubling the play-offs even once; having a level-headed manager who very rarely gives sound-bites. And for this we are happy.
Boro have been wearing a camouflage of mediocrity for years and have slipped out of the media’s consciousness.
The Anfield epic was watched by an armchair audience of millions and plucky’s Boro’s spirited show prompted well informed national paper sports desk editors everywhere to ask their scribes “Hey, who are this lot?”
Conveniently there were plenty of big-hitters in the press box at Liverpool who raised eyebrows at well organised Boro’s gutsy display and were busy reintroducing themselves of the Teesside hackerati after the game and asking a lot of very easy to answer questions to fill in the gaps left by the cold, barren years of involuntary second shelf exile.
Then they will have looked at the league table and seen Boro’s quiet creep into the top six and into the national media’s limited field of vision. So expect a few sympathetic think pieces and soft-focus profiles of Aitor’s Spanish Revolution in the broadsheets over the next week or so. Beat Blackpool and Fulham and top flight scribes will be forced to make a trip to the frozen wastelands to interview the boss. He knows Jose Mourinho, you know.
Of course, it is always nice to have some attention, even if the tone is often patronising and the thrust predictable. Oh, do tell us about the decline of heavy industry again. (If there’s one thing worse than being talked about, its being talked about by idiots).
Meanwhile our meagre ration of screen time is being tweaked too. The Football League Show is a strange beast. It has 72 clubs to fit into a fast-forward blur over an hour and a half. And editing action bussed in from the provinces on the hoof – and from footage that at times looks like it has been filmed on a smartphone – can’t be easy.
Naturally every club will feel like they are hard done by as the show’s editors try to follow the story shaping up in each division and Boro haven’t been a story for some years now, I think we all have to accept that. Nevertheless, a touch of Boronoia has crept in over the years as the club has slipped down the running order.
The Brentford game for instance had four goals and pushed Boro up into a creditable fifth place – but was still relegated to the dawn chorus segment at the tail end of the show. After showing action from games featuring the Championship top four a pattern seemed to be emerging – but then the programme meandered about geographically and in terms of position before coming to Boro, third last out of 12.
And they crammed the four goals – some beauties too – into an action packed one minute dead with half as much again being allocated for such vital footage as the teams getting off coaches and shaking hands. Then they tagged on 22 seconds of interviews with both bosses so heavily cut as to be worthless.
Call me sad but I actually cynically time these things (although to be fair, I am “working” which is some mitigation. Some people are angrily wielding a stopwatch in their own time). The shortest ‘highlights’ we’ve had was the 42 seconds shown after losing 1-0 at home to Reading. And to be fair they did well to find that.
Fast forward to the Brave New World of post-Liverpool sexiness and Boro’s were ushered beyond the red silk rope into the VIP area and were shown third and even with got an extra second for a goalless draw… although they still missed the obligatory Bikey elbow.
But it is progress I supposed. Who knows we may even be designated a “featured match” and get the full four minutes plus a visit from Clem soon.
It is not just the media radar that Boro have suddenly popped up on. The bookies – and the punters – have locked on too. As Boro gave Liverpool an almighty fright, their odds were tumbling on the Championship promotion and title markets.
Yes, some of that may have been euphoric and drunk daft quid-merchants in pubs in Teesside, full of beer and bravado and egged on by mates hammering their betting apps as the game wore on and Boro more than matched their hosts.
Some may have come from shrewder, more sober gamblers across the country impressed by a well-drilled and highly motivated side and seeing decent value in backing them to reproduce that form in what can be poor and erratic division.
But the bookies aren’t daft. The odds had been shortening for weeks. They probably have better anttena than the media. Or at least, are not wearing big club blinkers.
Back in early August you could get 20 or 22/1 for Boro to win the title. I know a few foam fingered types and habitual wild eyed optimists who put a ritual tenner on that, even if they didn’t really believe it a likely outcome. It is a demonstration of faith. Just think of the kudos and bragging rights – and beer – that would buy if it came off.
Now any cautious faint-hearts looking for a slice of the Aitor open-top coach action would be lucky to get 10/1 with most places pricing bubbling Boro at 8/1.
Before the big kick-off Boro were between 10 and 12/1 to be promoted, including through the play-offs. Now that has been slashed right back to around about 5/2. That’s not worth backing… although you can still get a hefty 50/1 for Grant as top scorer if you want to have a little VFM dabble.
Of course, the odds shifting is a much about Boro’s recent league form as being squeezed out 14-13 on penalties after a 2-2 draw at Liverpool: four unbeaten, three wins on the spin before a draw with unbeaten Charlton, three crisp clean sheets in a row pegged out proudly, showing which way the wind is blowing.
So not only must Boro now deal with the raised expectations of a higher media profile, they also have to deal with an easy tabloid tag: “… among the promotion favourites.”
To be honest, I preferred it when we were under the radar.
BLACKPOOL? Boro crumbled under pier pressure in a less than illuminating display. The 1-1 draw was lacklustre and laboured. They looked tired – mentally as well as physically – in their sixth game in 18 days.
They started well and got the opener but after the basement boys pegged them back quickly (Big Ish, naturally , Football Inevitability Drive fans) they gradually lost their shape, tempo and direction in a disappointing show. There were some poor individual performances and the team didn’t click. It wasn’t great. It was Very frustrating. But not quite “typical Boro”… they didn’t lose. Tony McMahon didn’t score.
That said, it was a strange night in the Championship and Norwich, Forest and Ipswich all stuttered too. Bizarrely, Boro slipped a place but gained a point on the top three. Boro dropped points but stretched the unbeaten run to five league games. Two draws on the bounce have made it feel like a loss of momentum but a win on Saturday against Fulham will make the run between the two international breaks look very productive.
So, frustrating (especially that Boro have stuttered through the home fixtures) but far from a disaster. Promotion is built on unbeaten runs and Boro, even looking jaded and faded, have kept that going. We are still well placed. And that dropping points hurts and is seen as a major deflating disappointment says a lot about the collective expectation.
Karanka wasn’t happy with the display and some individuals who “played for themselves rather than for the team.” We will all have our own ideas of who he was simmering about. The team as a whole will get a rocket tomorrow and some who failed to deliver could find themselves on the naughty step. Ledesma was lively for 15 minutes then faded, Reach had little end product, Bamford and Kike failed to help each other… up front it didn’t click. It wasn’t all bad though. Fredericks was excellent, Husband was very promising and Dimi made a superb first half save just after the goal.
Now Boro need to respond and improve markedly against Fulham on Saturday to stay on trajectory for the top and to give the Riverside fans something to cheer.