I WAS going to write tonight but I’m knackered, I’ve got a cold and I’ve just spent six hours in a car, much of it listening to overgrown infant Matt Dawson screeching like a buffoon about egg-chasing in full Question of Sport “banter” mode. Then I got home and opened twitter to find a swathe of kneejerk comments from combustible fans who clearly believe that you are only as good as your last game and the world is ending.
It seems that the previous games in the Week of Destiny, the points tally and the position going into the last seven games count for nothing and that the spirited sweat soaked team who were heroes of Tuesday are now suddenly a feckless, spineless bunch of talentless wasters who chose deliberately to lose because they “didn’t fancy it.”
There are always two teams on the pitch. Some days you are the best one. Some days you are the worst. Sometimes it is a finely balanced battled between two. Sometimes there is a gulf and the battle for success is finding systems, shapes, mentalities and players that ensure you are on the right side of that divided often enough to win.
You don’t have to win every game to succeed, just more than you lose. A fortnight ago Bournemouth looked out of it. They had “gone”. But now they are back above Boro. That is a boost for them and a set-back for us but neither position is fixed yet. Both coaches know that. Both sets of players know that. Most fans should know that too.
That is the nature of any competitive team game. In a division like this there are wild fluctuations between those states and even the teams at the top suffer from that inconsistency. Two steps forward, one step back. It is the nature of the beast. Everyone sagely nods and accepts that you can’t win every game – until it actually happens and suddenly all hell breaks loose and people unload their angst and pronounce the team a busted flush.
On balance, Boro have had a good week that ended on a bum note. They have taken six points from three games (that magic two points a game ratio) in very tough fixtures, they have badly dented two of their automatic promotion rivals and been boosted as others have squandered points…. but they then been given a good thrashing by a good Bournemouth side whose boss after the game said it was their best display of the season.
Heads down: Dejected Leads and Reachy trudge off
Yes, Boro were poor. They were sluggish, shapeless and lacked zest and never got to grips with the pace and movement of the the Cherries. They were given the run around by a team that played crisp, high tempo passing football of the sort Boro have aspired to (and often achieved) this term. They were repeatedly carved open and were forced into conceding an early spot-kick (and conned into giving away a second) by the trickery and movement around the box. So, no excuses. Boro were beaten by a better side
Aitor Karanka was quick to admit it was a substandard, error strewn show. And it was a painful set back, as much because of the damp squib of missed opportunity (they kicked off top and could have opened a five point gap over the Cherries) after a week of raised hopes and emotions. It hurt. It was a bitter disappointment. It was a football lesson.
But nothing has been decided today. Boro haven’t become a poor side any more than Bournemouth did when they lost a few a fortnight ago. Boro lost but remain well placed going into the last seven and what felt like a major blow on the whistle was mitigated within hour as Watford, top for the first time, cracked under the pressure and lost. Brentford could only draw with Millwall. And last night Derby lost at Wolves. One point off the top, seven games to go: there is everything to play for.
The next round of matches includes Ipswich v Bournemouth and Derby v Watford on Good Friday while Boro take on Wigan – before going to Watford on the Monday. Who can predict what the outcome of that batch will be? There’s along way to go yet. Keep the faith.
Anyway, I’m not going to write tonight. Lemsip. Whiskey. Bed
WEEK of Destiny: Act III:
At the start of this Titanic trio of top of the table tussles I had budgeted for five points: A win over Ipswich and draws at Derby and Bournemouth. We are ahead of schedule on that projected tally so this game represents a free hit, the chance of a bonus that could leave us two or even four ahead of what I had pencilled in… and for this one thing I am happy.
So far in the Week of Destiny Boro have holed Ipswich below the waterline and badly dented Steve McClaren’s fast fading Derby and opened up commanding gaps over both. Dare we dream of a third successive game changing victory? Why the hell not.
Bournemouth will be tough. They are a good side who play attacking passing football at pace and score a lot of goals. But they have wobbled of late and leaked a lot. And the pressure is on them not to lose. God they can’t afford to lose. That has got to present resurgent Boro with hope and opportunity. A win would open a five point gap with seven to go and leave the Cherries needing to win two more games that us. A draw will leave the status quo with them still two points behind with time running out. If Boro lose – I am legally obliged to admit it as a possibility – then the top tightens once.
As with every game for about three months, this is MASSIVE, a high stakes showdown and possibly a pivotal point of a pulsating season. And I’d be more than happy with a draw. It will be hard work. It will be tense. It will require organisation, industry , hunger, concentration, bottle and maybe a bit of luck. Boro will need to be at their best. There is not question they are up for it and focused and know what the prize is.
I’m going for a 1-1 draw. And I’d be happy as Larry driving home with that. What say you? Usual drill: get your pundit’s scruffy jeans and maroon jumper on and predict the score and how the game will pan out and we can and stare in awe at your prescience. Then be the first on your block to put up your post-match reports and impression. I’ll do my bit as soon as possible. Probably about 10pm. Unless we stop off at the Whaler. And possibly a pub to celebrate.
COME ON BORO!