Flat Boro Need To Bounce Back After Dead Rubber

I’M BUSY. (On a Saturday night? What is going on?)   I’ll get back to you soon. But briefly…

A lack-lustre and laboured leap from the play-offs launch pad fell flat.  It may have turned out to be a dead rubber but Boro will need to bounce back quickly. They will need to add real teeth and tempo to beat Brentford.

It was an opportunity to put in an up-lifting, entertaining display and record an emphatic win in front of a rammed Riverside to get Teesside buzzing and go onto the two-legged shoot-out on a high and with momentum. But Boro barely got out of second gear.

They had the better of the possession and most of the half-chances against a travel-sick side that have been woeful on the road but the attacks lacked conviction with the ragged final ball too often going astray forcing frontmen to stretch and stumble and check back with  hurried shots being screwed and spooned and stabbed straight into defenders and  nothing really clicked. The team was mis-shapen and mis-firing and while they never looked in real danger – Dimi never had a save to make – they never really got a grip.


 Aerial combat: Lee Tomlin in full flight 

It was an instantly forgettable game on a day when we really need to create memories and light the fuse for the final push towards Wembley. Now things feel flat. Play like that at Brentford and there will only be two games left this season.

On balance though, while the performance and the result were disappointing, the outcome may be for the best. With Derby’s long, slow-motion implosion complete, Boro now play Brentford, who we have beaten twice, after they leapfrogged into fifth – and it seemed in the final few minutes Aitor Karanka had decided that was the best fixture. With the crowd chanting “attack, attack, attack” he appeared to consciously reign the side in and settle for the draw. He seemed to call over Grant to tell him to keep it tight and not chase the winner.  After that the team started passing back and running down the clock


Abdicating third spot to Norwich meant Boro avoided being paired with Ipswich and thus preventing the obligatory defeat and Daryl Murphy goal at Portman Road – and it also means the pair of pitchfork wielders must now clash in what are sure to be volatile back-to-back “Old Farm” derbies with all the parochial pressure and historic animosity that entails: hopefully they will kick bits out of each other and rack up a lot of bumps and bruises and maybe even a suspension or two.

But forget about who we may play at Wembley; we have to get there first. And that will take a marked increase in intensity, discipline, hunger and firepower from the low-key stroll against the Seagulls.

So, to Brentford…..



What we said before the game….


BRIGHTON. The sell-out showdown with the Seagulls was pencilled in as a possible promotion party when there was a feeding frenzy and briefly a black-market for tickets last week. The frustration of Fulham took the shine off that but it is still a massive match.

There were some suggestions that Aitor should field a weakened side after missing out on the automatic spot,  put fringe players and kids in and rest regulars ready for the play-offs. That is crazy talk. This is NOT a dead rubber. This is a hugely important game, not least because Boro have an obligation to deliver a display of pride and passion for the full-house who have paid full price and will be expecting Boro to bust a gut to win and win well.

More than that, this game is our launchpad into the play-offs. We need to reach Championship escape velocity now and take that into the shoot-out to come.

Boro need to win to hold onto third spot and maintain the psychological advantage of being visibly the best of the rest.  It is a fallacy that the teams who finish fifth or sixth do better in the play-offs aided by some mystic power at being given a second chance. In fact five years in the last ten the team that has finished third won the play-offs. The team that finished fourth have won it twice. That is a reflection of performance over the season.

But more than that, Boro need to win to put the late blow of Fulham emphatically behind them and go into the play-offs with confidence and momentum and with the crowd behind them. Collective morale took a dent at Craven Cottage. Having come from two down with 10 men people would have been buzzing over the steely spirit shown had Boro drawn but the hard work felt as it it had evaporated with the stoppage time sucker punch.  A poor, or laboured or stuttering or tentative show against Brighton would leave people nervous going into the play-offs when we really need a sense of unity and destiny based on a resounding win showing desire, determination and a ruthless edge.

It is important to regain some positive momentum now.  And the odds are in our favour. Boro have won 11 out of 12 at home. Brighton have nothing to play for and have struggled to score away from home. Boro are fired up to put things right after Fulham and are smarting at Aitor’s challenge to prove they are good enough to play in the Premier League. It all adds up to a routine win – but we need something extra too. Zest. Desire. We need to see sure signs that this is a side that can succeed in their March to the Arch.

My #DaftQuid is going on 3-0. And I think you can get 6/1 anytime scorer on Muzzy if you fancy him to come off the bench fired up by football’s Inevitability Drive and Aitor’s glowing praise after he signed his new deal this week.

The giant surfer is out and the Twe12th Man are planning a tribute to Steve Gibson before the game with a minute’s chanting of his name followed by a minute of applause. And no doubt the Red Faction have got an end-of-term display lined up too. It will be a full house and a high-tempo start with have the Riverside rocking. I can’t wait.

Usual drill: post your scorecasts and predict how the game will pan out here and we’ll all meet up again later for a debrief and to discuss the play-offs.

Blog icon Jarkko is here with his Finnish footy team. They will be in the Navi before the game if you fancy a swift pint with Boro’s Baltic contingent get yourself there.


111 thoughts on “Flat Boro Need To Bounce Back After Dead Rubber

  1. Andy R

    A final thought, the better options were just as easy to choose as the odder options, Aitor showed that by swapping positions in the first half and players in the second.

    I have no problem with one up front if the rest of the team is set up to do it. It just seemed a perverse selection. Looking at who got game time, the second line up in my post just looked more sensible.

    Maybe it is just me.

  2. AV

    I suggest you blank this blog, the season is over. Long live the season – and now its on to the yellow brick road of the promised land. The hard work is done. I hope Aithor takes it easy this week, a couple of walks on Redcar beach for the boys, fish and chips in Whitby, maybe a trip to Roseberry Topping just to fill their lungs with unfiltered Boro smoggy pride.

    1. You forgot the lemon-tops from Paccitoes. Last time l was there the coffee smelt great and they still had the same red & green wicker chairs that I’d used as a young lad 45years ago. l still remember the trip buses all lined up bumper to bumper from the cafe on the stray to the caravan park at the dunes. It was bloody cold back then in the summer and nowt changed Iast summer l took the bairns. Still trip buses had disappeared-sad really!

  3. Well Ladies and Gentlemen, for most of us the exmil challenges are over (more about that later) the league table for the exmil challenge third and final leg (?) is listed below:

    1. Len Masterman: 10,10,9,8,5,8,9,9 = 68

    2. Werdermouth: 8,7,9,5,9,10,10,9 =67

    3. Jarkko: 8,8,10,4,8,8,9,8 = 63

    4. Ian Gill: 8,7,9,8,5,8,9,9 = 63

    5. Andy R: 8,8,9,6,3,9,10,9 = 62

    6=.Allan in Suadi: 6,8,5,9,7,8,9,10 = 62

    6=. Stephenh: 8,6,10,9,5,9,8,7 = 62

    8. Brisbane Phil: 10,7,8,9,6,6,5,10 = 61

    9. Never give up on Boro: 10,7,9,8,2,8,9,8 = 61

    10. AV: 8,8,9,5,6,7,9,9 = 61

    11. Grovehill Wallah: 9,6,5,4,9,8,9,10 = 60

    12. Clive Hurran: 8,9,10,5,3,5,8,10 = 58

    13. Simbar3: 10,7,10,7,4,6,6,8 = 58

    14. Exmil: 8,7,8,9,3,6,8,9 = 58

    15.Pedro de Espana: 7,7,8,3,8,8,8,9 = 58

    16. Nigel Reeves: 7,6,10,5,3,8,9,9 = 57

    17. Redcar Red: 10,6,9,8,3,6,6,9 = 57

    18. Powmill: 8,8,9,5,3,6,8,9 = 56

    19. Selwynoz: 10,7,8,9,3,5,5,7 = 54

    20. Vanteis: 4,7,9,5,5,8,8,8 = 54

    21. Ron back in the Delta: 7,8,9,3,6,5,5,9 = 52

    Champion – Len Masterman

    Automatic Promotion – Werdermouth

    Relegated – Selwynoz, Vanteis, Ron back in the Delta

    Play Offs: Jarkko, Ian Gill, Andy R, Stephenh and Allan in Saudi (identical scores)

    Exmil Play Offs challenge rules (only open to above 5).

    a. Predict each Semi Final leg score.

    b. Predict the score (naming teams) in the Final.

    c. If you predict a draw (naming the score) after extra time in either the semi finals second leg or the final, then you only need to name the winning team on penalties, not the penalty scores.

    d. Scoring: 5 points for correctly predicting each teams goals in each leg and final, minus 1 point for +/- per goal. (Note: If you predict team Z to score ? goals in the final and they do not make the final you will lose ? points).

    e. You must post your predictions for ALL 5 matches before 1900 hrs Friday 8 May 2015 otherwise it will be deemed that you have not accepted the challenge and eliminated from the Play Offs.

    f. If there is a dead heat after the final, the last promotion place will be decided by a conkers match in the “Navi” car park at 1400 hrs before the first league match of next season (bring your own conker).

    Any disputes or queries about the final league or the play off rules, please contact Exmil.

    Come on BORO.

    **AV writes: I’ve “done a Derby” – been in touch with the automatic slots all season only to implode and slip out of the frame in the final furlong.

    1. Exmil are you sure that I did that badly????? Anyway thank you for the challenge, I will not bother in future as I am rubbish

      Again will not even hazard a guess at our semi matches..

      1. Pedro your predictions were: Norwich 89 (7), Bournemouth 87(7), Watford 87(8), Derby 84(3), Boro 83(8), Ipswich 80(8), Wolves 80(8), Brentford 79(9) which equals 58 points. Most of your predictions were close, except Derby which most of us were well off the mark, apart from the top two most of the scores were between 57 and 63.

        Come on BORO.

    2. Did I finally beat AV? I am proud of that as last time around we shares the top spot. And he is professional.

      Could we calculate the scores together from the last two rounds, too? #blam very

      up the Boro!

    3. Bottom!!! I was challenging for auto promotion at the last count

      Gutted……..toys have been thrown out of the pram

    4. Congratulations Len!
      I’m happy to have finished in the top half,Derby let me down as they did for most people I suspect

  4. Out of interest gents, what time did you leave the Navi on Saturday? I got stuck on Ormesby bank , having forgotten what impact a 30k+ crowd has on traffic. By the time we reached the Navi it was half empty!

    1. It was standing room only at the Navi. In fact, if you could get 2 legs on the ground at the same time, you’d have to be a contortionist.

      There are advantages to having small crowds at the Riverside. When the game got started we were up, down, up, down etc as late-comers wanted to get by into their seats (“Sorry, mate, just took longer than I expected for that 3rd pint”). Then it was up, down, up, down, up etc as they all left early either to go to the loo or to queue at the bar for more drinks before half-time. Then the whole show repeated itself in the 2nd half…. someone suggested that it was an example of Boro’s commitment to its community – employing people to go in and out as a means of ensuring the fitness of the Boro’s spectators. I have never got up and down so often in such a short time. And the queue for refreshments inside the ground, for the lavatories and the fact we had to park in Thornaby instead of near the Transporter Bridge – there were advantages to the club not being very popular.

      However, if push comes to shove, I’ll cope with the crowds. If we could only get though those Play-Offs….

  5. I seem to remember AK stating that Boro don’t perform in the early KOs. Perhaps that explains Saturdays turgid affair. So in the end it may be a masterstroke by AK to play for the 0-0 and secure the late KO slot for the playoff semi’s!

  6. Nigel Reeve –

    Good grief, we drove up form Derby in to York, had to drive south then round the city by circuitous routes, braved the A19/A66 interchange, got to near the Nissan garage, parked, got the Navi and still shook Jarkko’s hand as the Finnish contingent headed towards the heady excitement of a 0-0 draw.

    Andy R –

    I forgot, Against Derby, Adomah played right side and Tomlin left, look at the highlights.

    Whatever, the selection was poor.

      1. Part of the problem on Saturday was that several of the players had mares, too. Still, it will be a nice few days training in the warmth of Spain before the reality of a Friday evening match in Brentford hits home. It’s a hard life for a contemporary sportsman.

  7. Nigel

    In a way our detour was the worlds revenge for tempting fate.

    As we turned off on to the A64 my wife said that we had been lucky over the years missing York Races. Headed past the Racecourse with signs saying City Centre was closed but had to get close enough so she could walk in to town or catch a bus. Luckliy dropped her off near where she went to school so not too far.

    York may have welcomed the Tour of Yorkshire but from what Mrs G said a lot of the retailers will have lost out as people kept away.

    Shame the Tour of Yorkshire couldnt have come to Middlesbrough. It could have gone to the Riverside via the ender passes, done a couple turns around the gazette offices, gone through Acklam past Vic’s house.

    The Gazette could have done a special pull out. Maybe next time.

  8. We are all entitled to an opinion, whether our team enters the Play-Offs on the crest of slump or powered forward on a tsunami of recent good form. It’s interesting to hear what others, not part of our little cocoon, think.

    Danny Mills on the radio with TalkSport has just given his view on the Play-Offs to win promotion to the Premier League. Clearly finding it difficult to make a decision, he finally plumped for Brentford as winners of the promotion race. Well, chaps, if he is correct, we will at least be spared a trip to Wembley. My bank manager will be thrilled.

  9. I’ll always maintain goals get you out of the division, yes a good defence is the catalyst but you need goals. Bournmouth proved that, 30 goals more than us, I actually thought they would be this seasons surprise team.

    Having said that I see some light at the end of the tunnel. If you look at a lot of the games we played we missed a lot of not half chances but certain goals. Bamford himself to be truthful should have scored at least 15 more, he wasted one a game. I’m not knocking him I’m just saying, so that leads to the premise, we could potentially score a boat load if the chances start going in.

    Come on lads,have a go,take shots from all angles and distances,they might just go in.


    1. gt, I agree that you need goals on the back of a good defence, and yes Bournemouth scored goals for fun. Jackie Charlton’s mantra was you start with a point, don’t lose it, however he had in his team more than one player who could score goals.

      Bamford may have missed chances, but so have all the other forwards in the top six or seven teams. Did you see the miss by Murphy from two yards??

      Our problem is first our set up and then the way we play, but primarily we do not have anymore players who can score goals, all the other teams play slightly different, let more goals in, but score boatloads more.

      As RR said we will need two more decent strikers whichever division we are in next season.

  10. Could AK have deliberately played the Brighton game with a background statistician equipped with a Radio giving him soundbites?

    At the start we had avoided Norwich which was probably the strongest of the three potential play off sides. As the early afternoon wore on Derby and Ipswich were in and out with Brentford entering the reckoning. Ipswich especially with Big Mick’s savvy would be a handful as would Wolves I suspect with a physical presence not best suited to our style of football.

    It looked a distinct possibility that Ipswich would be 6th as the games progressed especially in the latter stages. We all seen Grant telling them to calm things and pass it back when we were urging them to attack. At that point Norwich had overtaken us and Ipswich were desperately hanging by their fingernails onto 6th with Brentford in 4th.

    Out of the permutations Brentford or Derby would have been my first choices with probably Wolves and Ipswich second and Norwich last on my preferred list. As it turned out we got the side I would have chosen given the choice of the final three end options. I would also have hoped for the Farmboys battering the living daylights out of each other with no quarter given.

    The Brighton game was a massive flop as an an entertainment spectacle and as a fan retention opportunity but tactically was AK really operating at a level way beyond those 90 minutes?

    **AV writes: My spread in today’s Gazette covers just this proposition. On-line later I think.

    1. Believe me, AK WAS pulling the strings to the team, with an eye on the team we would be playing first in the Play-Offs, depending on the results elsewhere. Winning the game on Saturday was not on his “to-do list”.

  11. One thing I haven’t said about Saturday was that the banter with the Brighton fans was quite good, the good nature on the pitch had spread to the terrace.

    AV writes: “We score once a month, we score once a month….”

  12. Not sure about the warm weather training,teams that do that more often than enough lose their focus and results suffer

  13. RR –

    My sentiments entirely. When I saw the final results I thought we had just been lucky, but then you never know . . .

  14. Now there is a conspiracy theory Boro stage managed throughout the game to get the right opponent in the play offs. How easily that could back fire even from Brentford, haven’t we learned anything from this season there just aren’t any easy opponents and sooner or later you have to face the toughest.

    But nobody fancies playing Norwich over 2 legs so you never know……….

    I have an inclination towards what I said earlier and what John Powls writes in his column, maybe making the play offs was an end in itself. Just too bad nobody mentioned that to the 33,000+ who spent good money.

    There were better ways to spend a freezing cold Saturday afternoon than a nonentity of a soccer match.

    Hopefully I will be proved wrong, hopefully

  15. Never Give Up

    Many moons ago, Cloughies Forest lost to Derby in the third round of the cup. The week of the fourth round Mrs G and I went for a winter break in Majorca between my moving jobs within the company.

    We were sat on the beach in Magalluf and there in front of us were the Forest players on punishment duty playing football on the beach.

    I always wondered why if I someone had an iffy appraisal they were not sent on holiday. One or two minor targets missed and it is a week in Cornwall. Not performing well over the year then it is off to Spain. Really Mickey Mouse and it is off to Orlando.

    Invade Iraq and find no weapons, become a middle east ambassador and charge a fortune on lecture tours.

    Wreck a companies performance and get a lottery sized handout.

    Balance there AV so don’t get hair shirty.

    At least we got in to the play offs and we have something to look forward to.

    1. Ian,

      Don’t forget it was ambassador for peace. Oxymoron or what.



      PS buy another Islington house to stack money in.

    2. Look what happened to Man City when they went on a break before they played us in the cup.

      **AV writes: But they did touchdown a hour before kick-off and get changed as they waited for their cases at the carousel.

  16. By popular request I have trawled through the back articles to find the table from exmil Challenge 2 and I have a combined table from 2 and 3, I cannot include table 1 as that was done on a different scoring system. Unfortunately I am about to watch the Hull v Arsenal game, therefore I will post the table on Wednesday as I am at work tomorrow, if I get time before my 2 – 10 shift I will post it in the morning.

    Come on BORO.

  17. Exmil

    The scoring system doesnt matter, just allocate points according to position. This is nothing to do with getting as high as possible even though I came very high up in the first challenge.

    Come to thick of it that challenge was over 10 matches so should be weighted accordingly.

    To put it another way just twist the scores so I am top.

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