Blackburn: Car Trouble

SORRY – no blog up tonight from the end-to-end Ewoodwork rattling sub-zero stalemate at Baltic Blackburn but I’ve just got back.

We finished late (early deadline on Sunday so we did loads in the press room and didn’tget away until an hour later than ususal) then got to our official club designated pitch black unsecured scrubland car park to find the GazetteMobiles had been smashed up:  rear and front passenger side windows bricked (Phil had both offside windows put through but had the luxury of a rear window). Which is nice.

We tried to report it but the Blackburn bobbies had switched their answerphone on and knocked off.  Which is useful. And then we drove around a bit but couldn’t find a police station either in Blackburn or Darwen. It’s hard in an alien town. And, unusally,  we never saw a policeman or car or van anywhere.  Isn’t it always the way.

car 1

             Fully air conditioned: The Gazettemobile after Blackburn modifications

And if we phoned the lease company what would they do at eight o’clock on a Sunday night? Bugger that for a game of soldiers. So we cleared the broken glass off the seat and drove home over the top in the freezing cold. Minus one most of the way.  And I got stuck in a queue behind some groaning lorry at Blubberhouses. And obviously, in a car that looked like it had escaped from Syria or was escaping the scene of a crime I got some very funny looks. Great day. Just another war story.

The game? Oh yes. A Frustrating result in front of a big crowd (stop me if you’ve heard this one before…)  but a decent display I though.  Boro made six changes (which obviously will be the main target for complaints that we didn’t win but it makes perfect sense with a big squad when you have played a game 48 hours before) but still looked a strong side.

They worked hard, hit the woodwork three times and had one blocked on the line (so did they) and brought a couple of good saves from stand-in shot-stopper Boro Nemesis Simon Eastwood again.  Three games ian  row now Boro have battered Blackburn but been denied by the keeper. For a nil-nil it was a lively game with both sides going for it and played out with the soundtrack of a fantastic 7,000 strong Boro away support. Here’s a vine of the racket being made on kick-off. 

I know people will grumble about points ‘squandered’ but this is a tough division and Blackburn are a good side.  And they will grumble about the six changes  but the game was 48 hours after the last outing and without the switches Boro may have lost. And besides, Blackburn made five changes themselves.  And, after not winning, some who just grumble anyway, as their natural disposition kicks-in. Some who did not see the game may assume that as it was goalless that Boro were poor. But they weren’t.

Boro worked hard, created a lot of good chances and took a point away. That made it four points and two clean sheets in three days and added to the demolition of Derby in a trade off for the no-show at Ipswich it makes seven points from 12 to put Boro into third place and a point of the automatic promotion spots. So it hasn’t been a bad few weeks work.  Yes, we’d all like to be double digits clear and have the engravers working on the trophy already but that is a fantasy in a division of harsh realities. We’re still well placed.



66 thoughts on “Blackburn: Car Trouble

  1. A Vossen-inspired Boro to be 2-0 up at half-time before tiredness sets in for both sides in an uneventful second period.

    Blackburn 0-2 Boro

  2. Now I’ve seen the team I’m going for 4-0 to the Boro……most have points to prove to AK and ALL have a point to make to Blackburn…….add to that a packed Away end, the Friday success, and I see Yanic causing Panic from the off! Foamy Fingers waving as we return from the Welsh family!

  3. Well I’m not going for a win today after i failed miserably with the Ipswich result.
    Would settle for a drawn game even a 0 “0 !
    Just heard the team news looks a strange lineup today
    Will listen on Radio Brownlee with interest
    Fat Bob

  4. A point away from home is not to be sneezed at but those three home draws are starting to bite.

    Having done reasonably well in the tough run of matches up until the New Year we can safely say we are play off material at least. Derby and Ipswich play at home on Tuesday so you would guess they will edge away from us.

    Bournemouth show no signs of fading but Brentford are going backwards.

    If you asked me to put a quid on it would be for a play off place, a daft quid would be an automatic place.

    My head tells me play offs, we have committed the same sins as Mogga’s sides and got ‘points that may prove useful at the end of the season’ but I don’t think we will collapse in the same way as the decorations come down.

    Lots to play for.

  5. For me, well that was a good result. It sounds as if we could have won it, but at least we didn’t lose it.

    As Stan Anderson said, ‘a draw away and a win at home’ is promotion form, sorry paraphrased there. What is hurting us are those, was it two losses at home, at the beginning of the season even two points there would help now. Never mind we are well in the mix and damned hard to beat.

    Four points out of six from two tough games, good enough for me. We’ll lose a couple more yet before the end of the season as well, of that there is no doubt. And some will be utterly unexpected when relegation threatened teams start playing out of their skin and promotion hunting teams begin to get nervous towards the end of the season. So pray we don’t play any of them at the end.

    Injuries will happen and although Bournemouth have opened a bit of a gap I don’t think they will pull away.

    The FA Cup calls.


    John R

  6. Boring Boro! Boro made it four points and two clean sheets over Christmas this afternoon. 

    Well, actually I am quite happy with the two last results. Still difficult to understand how we coceded two at Ipswich ….

    Up the Boro!

  7. When I looked at the December fixture list at the beginning of the season, then again around the beginning of November, I wasn’t sure where the points were going to come from: Millwall (A), Derby (H), Ipswich (A), Forest (H) and Blackburn (A) so to finish with 10 out of 15 points (2 pts per game) I am a happy Boro fan.

    I think the team today should have been full strength, but then again I am not privy to players knocks and tired legs etc. I am not bothered about the FA cup and would play our complete second 11, especially if the weather conditions deteriorate. From Reading 10 Jan, there is a busy period up to the next international break ? 21 Mar – 3 Apr. Jan has 5 matches (incl the cup match), Feb 6 league matches, Mar 5 tough league matches, then after the short break another 6 matches in 22 days in Apr and that is without further rounds of the FA cup. I am not saying throw away the FA cup match but everyone is saying how strong our second string is then maybe we should give them a chance to stake their claim. Cup rounds are 4th : 24 Jan, 5th: 14 Feb, 6th: 7 Mar, semi 18 or 19 Apr, Final 30 May.

    What are other fan’s thoughts on this ?

    Come on BORO

    1. Blackburn weren’t rubbish today. They will probably finish in the top half of the table, perhaps just outside of the play-off places. We battered them at home and were unlucky not to win. Two points from six is a bit disappointing, but both performances were of an acceptable level. And Eastwood was certainly not rubbish.

  8. Can somebody explain to me how the fixtures are drawn up? When I saw at the beginning of the season that Boro were playing Boxing Day and then again two days later, I thought ‘well, that is going to be tough’, then later (after the depth of the squad had been illustrated) I thought ‘fantastic, Boro will have the edge over more tired teams that can’t rotate the players as easily’.

    Then today I noticed that both Ipswich and Derby are not playing until Tuesday, so they have TWICE as long to recover, and Boro’s advantage of squad depth is utterly lost. How is that even remotely fair? And it isn’t even as if it puts those teams playing on Tuesday at a disadvantage, because there are no league games on the following Saturday. It just seems really shoddy planning that should have been noticed and addressed before the fixtures were finalised.

    1. You’re absoutely right. That has me baffled too. I can’t get my head around why four other clubs are given an extra 48 hours to recuperate when everyone else is forced to play two games in three days. It is hardly a level playing field.

      And no game New Years day. What’s all that about? The Premiership has a fixture list New Years day yet we haven’t ?
      Surely it would have made more sense to play new years day as opposed to today and then teams could have had the option of fielding weakened teams for the FA cup should they need to rest their players.
      I just don’t see the point of playing twice in three days, unless of course EVERYONE is made to.

  9. Enjoyable game, a draw probably the fairest result. Boro hit the woodwork three times and Eastwood had to pull off two more world class saves to keep Blackburn in it. But the home team came out fighting after a poor first half performance, put the Boro under considerable pressure, and had enough shots on goal and created enough chances to have won it in the second half.

    Boro started the fresher, our passing crisper and more accurate than a ponderous Rovers, who seemed completely out of sorts. Boro pressure came from Blackburn’s inability to move the ball out of defence and frequently losing possession in dangerous positions.

    Reach spurned a very acceptable opportunity when bursting clean through with too heavy a touch which allowed the keeper to collect at his feet. Then a lovely ball from Kike allowed Vossen to reprise his successful drive against Forest. This time Eastwood made a great stop, pushing the shot against the post. Poor old Jelle. Foiled by a worldie yet again.

    Eastwood did even better when Reach met a perfect Whitehead cross almost on the goal-line. A goal looked a formality, but somehow the goalie scrambled across his line to keep it out.

    Rovers came to life occasionally at set pieces. There was a wonderful moment when the ref gave us a free-kick following an infringement at a corner, bringing rapturous cheers and applause from 7000 fans behind the goal. But at half time there was only one conclusion: Boro would have been 2-0 up but for some exceptional keeping. The hope was that things would get even better in the second half as the opposition tired and a ‘refreshed’ Boro came into their own.

    The opposite happened. Blackburn played with increased tempo and greater urgency. We were under pressure for most of the half, though we looked dangerous on the break. Kike, who’d had a productive first half, spent much of the second appealing for free-kicks that were never going to be given. But he burst into life with a great run and shot that hit a post. The ball bounced back to Bamford who had to take the ball early and succeeded only in hitting the bar of the empty goal.

    The main disappointment for me was our failure to build and sustain any real pressure at any stage of the game. This was essentially a hard working performance based on sound defence, good closing down and catching Blackburn on the break. It was a solid top-six rather than top-two type of display.

    There were, however, some very encouraging signs. Veljkovic, on debut, played so well in front of the back four that Clayton’s was not missed. The Spurs’ man, athletic and intelligent, with a good touch, covered and ran to great purpose in the first half. He wilted in the second,understandably given his lack of match fitness, and Clayton might have been brought on for the last quarter. But he showed that he could be an important part of the squad for the run-in. I hope we manage to hang on to him as one for the future.

    Whitehead also starred at right back, the quality of his distribution being of a different quality to anything we have seen so far this season. Leadbitter again led by example. Biggest disappointment was probably Tomlin who should have been able to offer more energy and involvement in coming on as sub when the opposition was tiring.

    A good exciting Championship game then,perhaps lacking in real quality, that we could have had sewn up by half-time, but were finally happy not to lose.

  10. Understandable changes had to be made with two games in 48 hours but six was excessive and had a negative effect on the normal performance of the team.

    Thought Clayton should have come on early second half and didn’t see the point of him appearing for the last six minutes or so.

    Dean Whitehead never a right back,doesn’t have the attacking ability of the much missed Fredericks or his replacement Nsue,his balls were constantly sideways or backward passes and lacked creativity.

    The impressive Eastwood thwarted our forwards yet again (sign him on) and more composure from Bamford after Kike hit the post could have seen us go home with all three points but it wasn’t to be.

    From the moment we left The Riverside and encountered two RTC’s,diversions,police who decide to hold us to wait for other coaches for an escort to the ground fifteen mins before KO,resulting in missing the first tens mins and ending with AV and other press cars having their windows bricked meant it was never going to be our day.

    Goodbye 2014 bring in 2015 and hopefully promotion,don’t give a stuff about the FA Cup,the sooner we are out of it the better this season.

  11. For a team of our standard, to drop points today is unspeakable. We lack penetration up front. 48 hours earlier a rotund 37 year old Emily Heskey managed to score and help a below average Bolton win at Ewood 2-1

    AV writes: We don’t lack penetration though do we? Three good saves, one off the line, hit the woodwork three times, chances by the boat-load.

  12. It was a hard match and both sides gave it their best. This was not the PL so missed chances were to be expected, but we are still on target.

    I would like to see the backup squad play in the FA Cup too, although I don’t know whether we should apply that all the way to Wembley – mind you that is how we won the League Cup with AV sticking to similar principles.

    Back to the game, I didn’t see any weakness in the side that played last night and I was impressed with the front line even if they didn’t score, there was commitment and pace and that is what is going to take us up there. 8 points from the next 4 games is a reality not a dream.

  13. AV

    Sorry to hear abot the problems for you and Phil, if one of your tyres was slightly under inflated I am sure you would have found a member of the constabulary.

    Len’s and Never’s comments about Whitehead show beauty is in the eye of the beholder unless one of them has a tongue firmly wedged in their cheek.

    There is nothing we can do about the different dates for matches but get on with it, Bournemouth and Watford managed to win, Norwich and Brentford lost. I must admit I tend to think that as long as the team you are playing dont have two days more to prepare that is probably the main thing, at least some players got game time and others a bit of a break.

    Looking to the future and gaps are appearing between the teams in playoff contention and the rest, the concern is that by the time we play in the league again there will probably be a small gap between us and automatic places but we will just have to keep going, there will be blips for everyone by seasons end.

    I suspect we will need to get postive results at Bournemouth, Derby and Watford as well as winning at home against Ipswich if we want to go up automatically but there are no easy games and someone will come through from the pack. Despite yesterdays result I fancy Norwich as latecomers to the party, Brentford to get a creditable upper mid table.

  14. I think the Blackburn people should be more than happy with TWO points from mighty Boro in 2014. And not hit anger at Gazette reps’ cars. Luckily they did not destroy the whole Trabbies – with cardboard etc.

    Or they do not like the blog. Cynical. But glad you are fine, AV and PT.

    Up the Boro!

    1. Hmmm – who said they were Blackburn fans – any witnesses for PC Plod to interview? That’s after they’ve decided to show up that is.

  15. With the recent concentrated effort on all things professional at MFC, was a trick missed re the Christmas fixture list? If so, it is small details like this that can give you a slight edge over your rivals.

  16. Two games in two days then a week off isn’t too demanding,in Aitor we trust,but is it tinkering or necessary. What about keeping a winning team?

    Bad news about the car,we once parked up outside the Roker “yacht club” in our mini bus,and returned to find three windows and a headlamp broken,we got beat of a Davenport goal as well. Bin-bags and stickytape got us down the A19.

    **AV writes: yes, I’ve had that treatment at Sunderland too. And Leeds.

  17. The car vandalism thread, more original blogging from Boro fans.

    The other half used to be a teacher and was taking three girls to Paris for a study trip, The headmistress said to expensive by air, take my car, John can drive… parked in La Defense and on the morning we are returning back to the car and some has tried to nick the lovely Volvo radio by removing the dashboard, with a crowbar. Pillocks.

    French law, a gallic shrug. French Volvo dealer, a gallic shrug and you shouldn’t park there advice. In the hotel car park! No indicators, speedo, tacho, fuel gauge, absolutely nothing. Hot-wired it and away we went, got us home no problem and just as it was getting dark. Hot wired to get off the ferry. Happy days.

    I hope you had your string-backed gloves and tartan blanket AV, that must have been a freezing drive back, what about your colleague? Is he back yet?

    Pity you don’t get .25 of a point for hitting the woodwork, I wonder how that would accrue.


    John R

  18. Family commitments over the festive period meant either Forest or Blackburn but not both so I completely missed yesterdays game apart from “co-incidentally” (purely by chance of course) stumbling on some commentary of the last ten minutes of the first half before having to return to the family get together.

    I’m not sure that playing Whitehead at RB was convincing but I guess AK had his reasons and a clean sheet indicates that we at least were tight as usual. Watching the FL show highlights and reading some reports it appears that on another day we would have won by two clear goals at least. Looking at the stats on the game though it didn’t read the same, but I guess its the lies, damned lies and statistics story.

    We seem to be going through a bit of a sticky patch at the moment yet still managing to pick up points. Bournemouth being in a purple patch at the moment is not helping to see the positives but its a marathon not a sprint. Like the Cherries we do need to start taking scoring opportunities a little more ruthlessly. We have a tendency to rely on the flanks, play everything wide then cut in rather than take a few opportunities down the middle and straight at them and a few speculative 35 yarders (which Blackburn seemed restricted to entirely). I suspect that is where we need Tomlin to be be more effective.

    It will be interesting to see what the January sales bring, I suspect no great changes but perhaps an outgoing or two to create space and an attempt to up the goals scored column and another right sided defender or Keeper depending on how Meijas is shaping up.

    FA Cup next weekend which sadly has now become very tarnished compared to its former glory pre the “greed is good” era. I’m certain AK will use it to give his lesser used squad members game time and an opportunity to stake a claim.

    Shame about the window breaking scum AV, I’ve experienced similar nearer to home some years ago and had to drive up to Peterlee in the early hours in sub zero temperatures, not a recommended experience so the drive from Blackburn must have been cold, windy and noisy to say the least.

  19. A shining star at Ewood Park – Simon Eastwood. He should become the darling of Ewood.

    I just wish we will get Steele back if Eastwood is that good and still don’t get a game if Steele is fit. Has anyone seen Steele play at Blackburn?

    Up the Boro !

    1. Yes Jarko, Steele played for Blackburn at home to Bolton and they lost 2-1 in their last game. I am not saying it was Steele’s fault, quite obviously Simon Eastwood does not like the Boro thank goodness we do not have to play them again..

  20. Listen very carefully, I shall say ‘zis only once – I seen, ow you say in Angleterre, thee beautiful game onleen avec commentaire francais.

    I must admit the game was compulsive viewing just to hear every minute the word Middlesbeau (or the centre of beauty as I think it’s commonly known) – though Gran Leedbeater sounded like he could be a film star – as did Jorge Friend.

    Quelle surprise! their keeper had another great day and I just had to shrug my shoulders in the traditional Gallic way and say “c’est la vie” to what could have been against le Brûlé Noir.

    OK I better go before I irreversibly slip back into the seventies – a bientot…

    BTW AV Did you drive back from the Blackburn match in a convoy with Jeremy Clarkson as I’m sure I saw something like what happened to you on TV last night before MOTD started – I’d check those number plates next time if I was you.

  21. Dean Whitehead should have been wearing “Bovver Boots” not football boots.

    He seemed determined to get his retaliation in first!

  22. It’s a sign of the times that there is a little disappointment over a decent performance and useful point gained away at a top half team. We shouldn’t be disheartened nor hinting at the end of our automatic promotion chances. There are so many twists and turns to come.

    I’m not worried about having to go to Bournemouth, Derby, Norwich et al. Those difficult away games means that we should have a theoretically simpler run of games at home. Perhaps the form tables will reverse by season’s end, with us top of the home form table.

    Those home games alone could carry us to seventy points and the playoffs (more or less). Four away wins and a similar number of draws and we’ll be very close.

    Most of the dropped-points-draws have been games when we’ve played well enough to win. Usually comfortably. That can be seen as a negative but I’m encouraged by the consistent performance levels. We only seem to throw in a howler about every eight games or so.

    I think automatic promotion is still very much on and looking at the competition, I would still make us joint favourites for the title for a few weeks yet, along with Derby. I stubbornly refuse to believe that Bournemouth will stay on at their current pace.

  23. Andy R –

    The bookies do have Bournemouth as favourites but Derby and Boro occupy the next two spots. The concern would be that they don’t have a big enough blip for us to catch them, a bit like a pacemaker for a race where the two favourites are in the pack watching each other then the pacemaker doesn’t blow up!

    They do seem to have a squad of 18/19 who feature very week with a handful of appearances outside that group. Eight have played 20 games or more, five players have missed a total of one game between them and those groups don’t include the keeper so it isn’t a huge squad.

    Our numbers are not too dissimilar but we have some coming back in.

    All that puts a slightly different slant on them lasting the distance, at face value they are no more likely to blow up than we are.

    As AV says, you can use stats however you want, it is all reading between the lines. There will be plenty of twists and turns. Who’s to say Leeds wont spring a surprise at the Ipro or Charlton turn in a sterling performance against the tractor boys on Tuesday?

    The one thing you have to ask yourself is this. Would you rather have the points in the bag when you play the likes of Derby/Bournemouth/Ipswich so they HAVE to win to catch/overtake or would you rather chase and play them needing to win?

    I am happy with how we are doing, I would be happier with a few more points, no harm being greedy.

  24. Ian –

    Oh yes, of course I’d rather we’d have the points. I’d love to be top and clear.

    However, that only needs to be the case in five months time. As you say, who knows what will happen between now and then.

    What we can say is that we have a good squad who are generally turning in good performances each week. We should be setting ourselves a target in the region of twenty-seven points plus for the remaining home games an fifteen points plus away and see where that takes us.

  25. Andy R –

    Totally agree, there are plenty of mutual throat cutting opportunities to come, the Rams and Tractors Boys meet mid January.

    Two points a game should see us thereabouts, is this like the last time we were promoted where four teams got over 85 points?

  26. As the debate seems to be about who will do what in the next few weeks, I thought I would list the top 4’s next ten fixtures and that is no disrespect to any team outside the top 4.

    Date Boro Ipswich Derby Bournemouth

    10/1 Reading (A) Derby (H) Ipswich (A) Norwich (H)

    17/1 Huddersfield (H) Millwall (A) Forest (H) Rotherham (A)

    24/1 Cardiff (H) Brighton (A) Blackburn (H) Leeds (A)

    31/1 Brentford (H) Wigan (H) Cardiff (A) Watford (H)

    7/2 Charlton (H) Rotherham (A) Bolton (H) Wigan (A)

    10/2 Blackpool (A) Sheff W (H) Bournemouth (A) Derby (H)

    14/2 Birmingham (H) Fulham (A) Rotherham (H) Huddersfield (H)

    21/2 Leeds (H) Reading (H) Sheff W (H) Brentford (A)

    24/2 Bolton (H) Birmingham (H) Charlton (H) Forest (A)

    28/2 Sheff W (A) Norwich (A) Fulham (A) Blackburn (H)

    I think that Boro will get 22 pts, Ipswich 18, Derby 20, Bournemouth 12 which means at the beginning of March (providing Derby & Ipswich win tomorrow night) Boro, Ipswich and Derby on 65 points with Bournemouth on 60.

    Any thoughts anyone !

    Come on BORO.

  27. Reading the Jason Steele story, he says that he manages Newton Aycliffe.

    That we knew. But what we didn’t is that he likes to go for a pint after their games on a Sunday.

    Could that be the reason that Karanka has ostracised him? I can’t imagine that a side project and a pint would go down well with AK.

    Exmil –

    22pts from our next ten games would be fantastic. I’ll predict 19.

  28. Exmil –

    We play Brentford and Brum away in that run, if you can arrange for us to play those two at home twice a season that is fine by me.

    I think Bournemouth will get more than 12 points but I wouldn’t be surprised to see four teams neck and neck to the end of the season.

    1. Ian you are right, thing is on the bit of paper I wrote everything down I have both fixtures as (A) should have gone to specsavers !

      Come on BORO.

  29. As an exile from up north, I understand completely the differences from the culture of the the northeast and the planet of the apes mentality of the the northwest.

    Anyone who calls a roll a balm cake, is possibly just that.

  30. Just a thought, but I do think we can and still should improve as a team. We got some 10 to 11 new players during the last window and we should still improve and bed in as the season progress. How many games Jelle Vossen has started this season? He is still reasonably new player for us.

    So if we take our August difficulties away from our stats, we are in the “correct” level points wise.

    I for one am very happy with the strikers we have at the minute. Keke, Vossen and Bamford are very good indeed – and I still expect Kike and Vossen to improve.

    But of course we need to see Bamford signing an extension. But I believe that is all but done – why would Aitor talk about that if he would not be 100 % sure?

    We also know that Gibbo – the chairman – is willing to invest in January on a new player. As we won’t need many, I would expect a “marque” player arriving – somebody who would really improve the squad. A midfielder perhaps?

    Especially so as the attendances seems to be getting higher. I don’t know how much 4 000 extra spectators for half a season brings in, but it must create some space inside the fairplay rules on money.

    So I am positive. We should collect more points in the latter half of the season than we did in the first. In Aitor we trust.

    Up the Boro!

  31. AV

    Have you had any sort of apology or comment from Rovers about the cars. It isnt the clubs fault but you would expect some courtesy and wringing of hands.

    **AV writes: I’ve not been in today, I’ll e-mail them tomorrow. Although they haven’t responded to my tweets.

  32. Some interesting divergencies on individual performances at Blackburn. Phil T was as impressed as I was by Veljkovic; Simon F thought he had a poor game. There is credible evidence for both views. The 19 year-old covered more ground than any other Boro player in the first half (Leadbitter perhaps excepted), and had an awareness of what was going on around him well beyond his years. His covering and pressing, were exemplary but much of it was off the ball and may have passed largely unnoticed. On the ball he was comfortable, showed excellent control and passed the ball on accurately and quickly. He looked to me like another Matic in the making, strong, skilful and athletic.

    After an hour, however, he looked as though he had little left in the tank, and the intensity of his play dropped. The sceptics could cite much of the second half to support their views. In truth the boy should have been subbed after an hour, but he had already done enough to make this one of the most promising full debuts I have seen in some time.

    Karanka pronounced himself ‘pleased’. The lad had ‘done well’. His ‘performance was good’. But, he added mystifyingly, ‘in terms of play he could be better.’ Make of that what you will. How it will translate back into Serbian for the lad to digest is anybody’s guess.

    Conflicting assessments of Whitehead too, with Never Give Up… apparently doing so on this occasion. That particular selection took everyone by surprise, but it had a certain logic. Marshall had been the main Blackburn threat at the Riverside and had exposed Nsue’s defensive deficiencies. That position needed tightening up for the return, and Whitehead certainly did that. He played right in front of me in the second half and I literally had a grandstand view of the way in which he defended manfully. But more, he distributed the ball like the experienced pro that he is, coolly, along the ground and generally forward to a colleague in a better position. That is what I saw at close quarters. Never… clearly saw something different.

    One interesting sidelight. During an injury break deep into the second half the players came over to the coaches for drinks and final instructions. AK was at the forefront. By his side, encouraging and cajoling, Lee Percovich. Behind them, looking out of it, and every inch the No. 3, Steve Agnew.

    In everything that has been written about Agnew’s appointment, nothing has been said about its precise terms and conditions and in particular the issue that may have played a part in Higgy’s demise, the pecking order vis-a-vis the club’s goalkeeping coach, and AK’s confidante.

    It is surprising that the prominence of the position occupied by a goalkeeping coach in the club’s set-up has not attracted more comment. It is unusual to say the least. And for good reason. The goalkeeping coach has a narrow and specific skill-set which is not directly transferrable to other positions. Almost universally he is regarded as lacking either the authority or experience to have much influence upon team affairs. What, from his extensive knowledge of goalkeeping, is he able to pass on to other players? In Percovich’s case it is not even clear that he has been particularly successful within his own narrow remit. He presumably was a key influence in deciding that Mejias should be bought, that he was our No.1 keeper,that he should be persevered with in spite of his errors, that Steele should be offloaded, that Blackman should be recruited etc. etc. Not, on the whole, an inspiring roll-call.

    Agnew has been appointed at considerable expense . It will be interesting to see how his relationship with Percovich works out, and to have some insight from either the club, or the journalists closest to it as to their understanding of their contractual relationship.

    **AV writes: Agnew is a highly qualified coach with top flight dug-out experience and in-depth knowledge of the players and teams. I think he has been brought in with the Premier League in mind. However harsh it may seem, the club have taken the opportunity to up-grade from Higgy. Agnew may be making a calculation that in the long term it could put him in line for the hot seat (Karanka is a man in a hurry and doesn’t plan to stay at Boro for the long haul) and it may suit the club to have continuity and to keep the current “philosophy and methodology” in place rather than rip things up with a future new boss. The chairman has long expressed a desire for the club to have a Swansea style sustainable model with a tactical DNA that transcends short-term needs.

    But that doesn’t mean Agnew will supplant Leo in his most important functions. Whatever his official designation he is Karanka’s right-hand man, friend, tactical wing-man, confidente and psychological foil and in some sense the de facto No 2. That relationship – which may be crucial to getting the best out of Karanka – will remain no matter what the labels they are given. You can’t go out and recruit a better friend. Agnew is a sharp bloke. Certainly no patsy. He will know the power structure and landscape and wouldn’t come unless he was comfortable with it.

    1. Thanks for the mention Len! I think, on reflection, it is easy to misread things in the heat of the moment when you’re desperately focused on winning the game, so much so that it’s equally easy to overlook the more subtle aspects of players’ performances.

      Take another example: Kike. I wasn’t terribly impressed by his decision-making throughout the game – I feel his goal drought (just one since September 20) has gotten to him and affected his mentality, to a point. Only later did I realise that he had shown three of the best first touches of the match.

      Technically, then, he was among the finest on the pitch – unfortunately, you don’t just judge performances on technical ability. “Technically”, I am delighted with Bamford, Vossen and Kike – they just don’t score as often as we would like them to, and I can understand how that may be worrying some. It is arguable, perhaps, that they’re a victim of a solid, patient style of play which seems more about getting the right result than frenzied goal-scoring. Which I’m not complaining about – in fact, I am welcoming it with open arms – but one cannot help but cast an envious eye towards Bournemouth, their half-century of goals, and wonder if those home draws and missed chances (particularly Bamford’s) really will come back to haunt us.

    2. So, succession planning coming from the inner sanctum, eh AV! Who would have thought it? I did wonder what Steve Bruce was talking about when he mentioned the ‘fantastic offer’ SA had been given – carrots for the future. Well here’s hoping it works out.

      However, I’ve yet to see any of the top teams giving management jobs to ‘potential’ successes. If I recall even Fergie came with a pedigree from Aberdeen/Rangers when approached by Man Utd. Dare I say that the list of managers we’ve selected (when I say we, that has of course to be taken with a pinch of salt) since Lenny Lawrence have not come with a list of league championships under their belt.

      It’s an interesting conundrum. Just when you think you’ve struck management gold he invariably buggers off for bigger things or gets the sack coz it didn’t work out quite as you’d hope – so is the nature of the beast!

  33. Len –

    As usual an interesting, thought provoking and interesting piece. I think you are probably right about Veljkovic and I’m guessing AK sees the same potential. The LP record however is an entirely different kettle of fish. Leo’s passion for the game is unquestionable and his eccentric personality is uplifting without a doubt. I do share your concerns though that he believed that Meijas was firstly worth signing and then (perhaps in justification) the No.1 keeper at the club when in reality he was probably no better than Jayson Leutwiler (who in fairness seems to be doing the business at Shrewsbury).

    LP I presume would have had an opinion and big input on Steele (who in balance was very acrobatic but never gave me personally a huge degree of confidence) but seemed light years ahead of where Meijas was at the start of the season. The fact that Eastwood can’t get in the Rovers team because of the same individual raises and eyebrow or two.

    My guess is that with AK he will need to see something from Agnew in terms of training, technical competence and in-game analysis that strikes a chord with him and until then Leo will remain as his friend and confidant. AK will no doubt be astute in the workings of a side kick so perhaps it is just Leo’s exuberance that you witnessed whilst Steve was just playing the thinking mans game, time and results will tell. It wouldn’t be beneficial to find out in 6 months time that Agnew was Gibbo’s folly and AK merely paid lip service to his employer’s trifling. If in 6 months time we are in the Premiership then all this will be lost in the annals of history. Either way I suspect that AK is too single minded to allow sentimentality to affect his goal.

    In other news AK is being mentioned by some of my Toon friends as their preference to replace the pardoned one up the road while he goes back to his future at the Palace. I’m wondering if Schteve could be tempted especially as it would reduce his commute time and he could “acquire” a Cockney accent over time.

    **AV writes: I don’t think Leo would have had the decisive say in the Meijas signing. That move was driven by Karanka who will have known him in the Real reserves close up for several year. That is the one question-mark over his judgement so far, although he was quick to act when it didn’t work out. Meijas may well one of those keepers who is technically excellent and brilliant in training, like Brad Jones, who ALL the staff at Boro raved about when he was here. He may well be a great talent in waiting given the opportunity – but he plays in a position where you don’t get time to feel your way into a team. And it is a brave manager who will stick with a keeper suffering a crisis of confidence.

    1. I heard the odds about AK too, Redcar Red. With our raised profile and progress in 2014, this is something we’re definitely going to have to get used to.

      **AV writes: Karanka will be “linked” with every job going from now and will feature in the bookies odd. Pay no heed. These are the people remember who made Ravanelli and Mike Phelan odds on favourites for the Boro job. It is meaningless guesswork. Karanka is playing the long game. He wants to be seen to build something and stamp his personality on a club to make it a success, he won’t want to jump ship and start again. His trajectory is success at Boro (promotion and then consolidation) – success at Bilbao – the Real job.

      1. AV- I respect you no end, I enjoy reading your reports. I also feel you know more information then the most of us Boro folks.
        I have to ask, is karanka here to the long or short term? I would be absolutely gutted if it’s the latter. In your above post you say he is here for the long haul, in a recent post you quote this-

        (Karanka is a man in a hurry and doesn’t plan to stay at Boro for the long haul). I’m rather confused!!

        **AV writes: To clarify… Karanka doesn’t intend to stick around at Boro any longer than it takes to complete his objectives: ie promotion with a side he has built from scratch so he can point to and says “see, I did that”, maybe one season of consolidation in the top flight then he is off to (probably) Bilbao and then onwards and upwards (probably to Real)…. BUT he won’t be blown off course on that. He won’t leave Boro for another slightly better off English club to start building again. He is not interested in short term switches for minimal gain. He is a man with a plan.

      2. I fail to see why AK would be “linked” with every job going.

        Yes he’s doing a fine job at the moment but he has hardly achieved anything yet, (Southgate and Mowbray had us at the top of the Championship).

        Lets see where we are come season end.

  34. Redcar Red –

    Those are amazing stats, I knew our keeper had the fewest shots to save, just need to knock them in.

    Up the road is even more amazing, a manager leaves a team in the top ten of the premiership with 50,000+ attendances to join a team in a relegation battle. At face value it doesnt make sense but at Toon with Ashley in charge it seems anything is possible.

    The difficulty is who will go there, AK wouldnt take kindly to being told what to do. Schteve went to Forest and the job wasnt as advertised, he would know it is a basket case of a job at Toon,

    The thing is they are a club with potential, most managers would back them selves, like eevryone they can rationalise any situation.

    1. Ian –

      I have to admit that those stats surprised me and are incredibly impressive and recognition of just how effective AK has been in just over a year. They may not be glamorous or exciting but definitely the most solid and strongest of foundations.

      If AK can ease and tweak just a little more out of the sharp end promotion should be inevitable especially when as Jarkko suggests above we discard the August bedding in period set of results.

      Its very strong proof that we are heading in the right direction but more importantly an indication that we can and will sustain our growth curve which will be crucial as we look to Bournemouth, Ipswich and Derby etc. to splutter in the coming months.

  35. It makes sense to me……

    “Exclusive: Alan Pardew to DOUBLE Newcastle salary and get a £1million bonus if Crystal Palace stay up”

  36. GHW

    The background to the story makes sense, Pardew is probably grateful just to get away from St James Park, the package at Palace is a bonus.

  37. Money aside I can understand Pardew’s willingness to go back home and leave a place were he is generally derided at best and abused at worst. He is sandwiched in between fans who believe their club should be in the Champions league despite not having won anything of merit in 60 years and an owner who is possibly despised by the same fans more than he is and who micro manages every facet of the club.

    What is there to miss? He knows Ashley won’t risk serious money and he knows he has to operate a nursery feeder club in developing young talent that he will not be allowed to retain and grow to develop the side. He knows Ashley will want to sell on any assets that can realise a serious profit and he has those fans with their “big Club” mentality. Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, in fact just being manager of NUFC means you are damned regardless.

    In truth he has done very well with the hand he has been dealt with and in fairness Ashley I think appreciates what he had in Pardew and recognised that if anything his manager probably overachieved which is why he shrewdly stuck by him at the beginning of the Season. Finding a like for like replacement is not going to be easy for Ashley, indeed the likelihood is that the Toon army come Easter may be looking up at Palace and anxiously down at the trapdoor.

  38. GHW –

    I can’t see Pulis putting up with Ashley’s level of control and influence and after Fat Sam I definitely can’t see the Toon army being appreciative of TP. I think if it went ahead that would be a marriage made in Hell.

    My money would be on WBA for TP, a better fit in that although the Baggies fans love their football they also realise that they have to compromise and be realistic. Realism isn’t in the Toon dictionary.

  39. AV:

    Thanks for your very full and detailed response on the Lee-Steve relationship.

    It’s sounds complicated to me with the lines of authority and responsibility well and truly blurred. Who would want to be a No. 2, but with less influence and access to the boss than his old mate. A de facto No.3, forever outside of the Spanish speaking inner sanctum.

    It’s not a situation designed to generate sweetness and light.

    And I’ll wager it was not the job as advertised.

    **AV writes: Agnew still has a lot of friends inside the club so I can’t imagine for a second that he isn’t aware of the nuances of the bootroom structure. He is strong and ambitious and don’t believe he would come if he thought for a second it was just a bibs and cones gig. And he is shrewd too. I think he sees Boro and the Karanka project as a far better prospect professionally in the short and medium term (there isn’t a long term in football) than struggling Hull where the owners are at war with the fans and local press and occasionally, it appears, the under-pressure management too.

  40. I think we have to be careful when we discuss the dynamics in the coaching team, we are not there to see the interaction and the role played by each member.

    For all we know part of Higgy’s role may have gone to the lightning conductor that is Leo and Aggers may be the technocrat in the background providing a lot of the technical stuff about the opposition and preparation.

    That may be the missing piece that Aitor was looking for.

    The truth is we don’t know and we can tie ourselves in knots second guessing. Confucious says ‘every mound is a potential grassy knoll’. Well, I made that up.

    **AV writes: I never understand why in football so many normally astute people rush to conspiracy theories (“he’s Gibbo’s spy in the camp”, “it must mean AK is off,” “I heard they had a bust up over who won the X-Factor final”) around every single event within nono-seconds, precisely at the point when any real information is so scarce, rather than just opting to wait and see.

    1. AV: I haven’t seen too many conspiracy theories on here. Just people reporting back on what you rightly describe as the media’s own “meaningless guesswork” in relation to AK’s future.

      For myself, I don’t believe in conspiracy theories. But I do believe in conspiracies.

      Ian, I was actually there to witness the brief interaction between the coaching staff, and the unconscious leaking of information about the relative authority and status within the group by their body language that I described. It seemed quite revealing to me. Far more so than the official statements from inside the club.

      When the chief coach sacks his No.2 a couple of days after issuing a public statement praising him to high heaven then it is clear that we, as supporters, are being fed rubbish. In these circumstances it is probably wise to look elsewhere to try and work out what might really be going on. Observation of the participants unconscious interactions may not be such a bad place to start.

      On a more general level I tend to agree with you. I have a low tolerance threshold for those who hold strong opinions on matches they have not seen.

      **AV writes: Not many conspiracy theories on here but you should see my twitter time-line.

  41. Interesting, and indeed useful for well backed clubs likes ours, that the FFP ceiling is to raised for 2015/16. I thought the ceiling was to be continually lowered.

    I wonder what the thinking is there? And if Gibson had prior knowledge before our wage splurge in the summer?

    **AV writes: They are switching to a system based on a three year cycle in two years time that will allow clubs to lose up to £39m. The existing accounting regime will be place next year but the ceiling is to be raised from £8m to £13m as part of a transitional period. It is a classic luxury hand-finished chocolate covered fudge.

  42. Thanks AV.

    Where do you think we stand now financially?

    £14m loss last financial year but lots of higher earners off the wage bill since. Then a number of new players in rebeefing the figures. Transfer fees seem to be about even.

    **AV writes: Yes, £14m loss in company accounts for the previous year but the FFP figure is calculated differently with discounts for things like the £2.5m Academy running costs and a couple of other of the running costs. There was also a big saving on wages in the accounting period (although it will have gone back up now).

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