Statistics, Spin And The Play-Off War of Words

THERE’S a phoney war going on with selected statistical snapshots being used to prop up positions that are more based on faith than fact. And I’m not talking about the election.

No matter how much you point to the data, the numbers, there is very little science about how individuals will perceive them . Those double-edged things – ‘facts’ – are all very well if they reinforce your own prejudice but can be easily dismissed by the entrenched opposing camp if they prove too awkward to square. They can be routinely countered with predictably scripted sound-bites and mantras.

That’s just like the on-going well rehearsed debates among football fans and the time-honoured tension between the opposite poles of perspective.


                     After all the spin pre-match power balance is “too close to call.” 

If you tell some people – let’s call them pessimists – that Boro have won both their Championship fixtures against Brentford this season and argue that it may just give them an edge they will rebuff that with a snort of well practised ‘realist’ derision and respond that is irrelevant and in these games the form book goes out of the window.

But they will still be perfectly happy to refer to precedent over the course of the campaign and point to brittle Boro’s frozen failure at Bournemouth and Watford as evidence that the team will inevitably struggle at Brentford.

After all they will say, with a ring of historic certainty, this proves Boro ALWAYS bottle it in away games against tough opponents.

And when optimists respond by pointing to the wins under pressure against rivals at Derby and Norwich (on indeed Brentford) that will be rebuffed too: ahh, but Boro ‘struggled’ in those games, ‘were under the cosh’ in those games or were “lucky” to get away with it.

As if that was reflected in the league table or other teams had won all their points cleanly.

The optimists are quick to discount some data too. Both sides know the script. Boro’s away form this year hasn’t been great. They didn’t just flop at the two promoted sides. They lost at Sheffield Wednesday and Forest and Fulham too during the run-in.

Again, the facts can’t be disputed – but they can be mitigated by history. The optimists will set aside those defeats either as integral to the season and budgeted for – “we ALWAYS lose at Wednesday and Forest – or exceptional freaks. You can’t take any lessons from Fulham as it was ‘crazy’ … and besides Boro came from two down with 10 men and almost snatched a point – or three – and that probably showed positives of spirit and bottle.

As with political propaganda, the play-off build-up banter it is not really about presenting killer facts to trump the argument or win over floating fans. It is about pressing emotional buttons to reinforce your own position.

The truth is that we are all powerless now and no matter how passionate or well informed we are in presenting the balance of power going into the games, we can’t influence the outcome. The pre-match build up will be an intense war or words but it will count for nothing once we start to file into the ground. And it doesn’t matter what the balance of power is when it comes to the prevailing opinion. This one is too close to call.

The future of the club in the years to come will be down to Aitor and the lads now. But whatever happens, its going to be lively in the spin room afterwards.


147 thoughts on “Statistics, Spin And The Play-Off War of Words

  1. Well, the inevitable wipe-out of Labour and Liberal in Scotland happened, but what looks like it will be a Conservative majority over all was way off my radar. My prediction skills (as assessed in the Exmil Challenge) are clearly as bad in politics as in football.

    So, I predict that it has to be a big Brentford win tonight, which will leave the Bees in an unassailable position come the 2nd leg next week.

    Some great posting on here as usual.

  2. Oh well the British Public have voted and a 25% minority of us will now determine the fate of the 75% majority of people over the next 5 years. Any sort of a “Mandate Triangle” will now be resigned to the opposition benches.

    Of far greater importance is the fitness or otherwise of Patrick Bamford. The strange decision to stick with him at Norwich hobbling and limping for an hour now looks like it could prove very costly indeed. It creates the opportunity though for Kike or Vossen to prove their true worth in a sensational fashion.

    Another question mark is at RB, is Freddy fully fit and raring to go or is he still struggling. Will we see Whitehead in at RB to keep it tight and leaving Albert perhaps a little more freedom but without the overlapping FB. I would suggest that AK should stick to tried and tested tactics and the players will have to conform but we do know that AK likes a tinker every now and then.

    Will he tinker tonight in an effort to surprise Warburton’s Warriors or will he keep his nerve and play our usual game plan. I’m certain he will tinker and surprise us all with selection and tactics. Its a first leg tie of a KO competition rather than a league game so if the gamble fails there is still the 2nd leg to recover but if the gamble works then a killer blow could be delivered tonight. My biggest fear though is that when he has tinkered it has never worked to date.

  3. Brentford went red last night, is that an omen though it has to be admitted Brentford have red in their kit.

    Our white kit has seen us win one and lose one. A draw to get the full set would be ok.

  4. Take away the SNP seats and this is what parliament might look like if the Scots got independence. It would be interesting to see the % of votes cast for each party in Scotland.

    The public uncertainty around Bamford’s fitness might just be Karanka trying to keep Warburton guessing. Maybe he will throw a curve ball and put the sprinters on with Muzzy, and Wildschut supporting a lone centre forward.

  5. Werner

    SNP got 50%, labour 24%, Tories were about 13% I think.

    I heard an interesting comment that Scotland may be given fiscal independence so that they could raise and spend their own revenues. Almost a federal idea. Somehow I don’t think the SNP would fancy plugging the £7.2billion black hole that would create.

    I certainly think we should help them over Trident, as they don’t like it, maybe it could be relocated to Teesport or Hartlepool. I wonder how the people in Faslane would vote then?

  6. Big game for the coaches tonight,if you go 1_0 up,do you sit on it,if you go down 1_0 ,do you push for an equalizer,you may get caught on the break,if you go down you take it on the chin and hope for a turn around in home game,
    Or is it , its all or nothing,talk about nail biting

    1. gt, you should know as most other sane objective football fan do, if you sit back, you invite them forward.
      Inviting the opposition to pressurise you is like holding a Russian roulette Pistol to your head and hoping all goes well.
      If we have the ball around their box… ooo err missus, they can’t score!
      Liken it to someone approaching you to have a fight, if you hit him and walk away he may just sneak up behind you and batter the crap out of you.

  7. Ian, that’s what I expected, the people who voted for independence plus a few extra who fancied some extra money for Scotland. I think Faslane was chosen mainly because of the access to deep water in the Firth of Clyde. The North sea doesn’t really fit. Falmouth would probably be a strong candidate.

  8. Ian,

    I think the MoD are already looking at Gibraltar because of deep water and secure moorings and the Parliament there have said that they would welcome the Navy and Gibraltar is a first strike target anyway for the Russians.

    If Trident leaves Faslane the job losses would be thousands and support businesses would suffer too, never mind shops, garages the whole infrastructure of the areawa Never mind the income tax revenue for Holyrood, and who pays the severance pay and the following dole money if Holyrood are in charge of their own finances?

    Strange times indeed.

    Meanwhile up the Boro, the main event is getting nearer.



    1. Looking at the political map with the Red of the NE in stark contrast to the Blue of the rest of the country, we’d be as well going for Autonomy and self rule!

      1. Loose affiliation with the SNP, perhaps? What about direct entry into the SPL – less money than the EPL but more chance of European football and not so far to go to away matches. The whiskey’s alright, the beers OK, we understand them to a degree and the price of tickets is reasonable in comparison to EPL. Chances of deep depression at the prospect of being relegated pretty low.

        Hmmm! Maybe if they were to throw in the occasional holiday voucher and of course if any aspiring NE student wanted a more cost-effective university education I’m sure we could come to an agreement- no!

  9. Boro to win 2-0 today, backlash delivered. Daft question, away goals rule or not ? I think not, but wasn’t sure..

    1. No away goals rule according to Aitor (see for more details) in his year day’s presser.

      Nobody nervous yet? Up the Boro!

  10. If we begin as we began at Fulham there will be no coming back from the wrong of a rout –
    The game plan from the last Brentford game – hoiit them hard from the off, score a couple and defend the onslaught – will give us a platform for the return. If they have to attack us at The Riverside we’ll be happier.
    We’ll know from the first few moments how the game will pan out.
    2 – 1 to us.

  11. I wonder who is going to get first past the post in this blog, or is it still too close to call ….

  12. Powmill, there should only be one chance per poster in my humble opinion. Oops, I had three now!

    Up the Boro!

  13. We need goal line technology introducing,
    AV, can the technobods provide you with an automatic counter to be displayed against each posting?

  14. I’m not sure we want to go down the technology route; some idiot will request ‘like’ buttons for individual posts and it could all get get very messy..

  15. I understand that a.k. is in touch with mourino during the team’s stay in London. If that is the case then I would very much expect that they would erect a brick wall across their goalmouth at brentford. Bamford is obviously not available, from the tone of the statements being issued by a.k. the match is immense, so the watchword must be ‘keep it alive until the home match at least’. Also, there is no law that says you can’t score with a breakaway. I would think that mourino would love to be in charge during the play off’s, the entire situation is right up his street, he has emerged triumphant from many such situations.

  16. I’ll be interested in seeing what you all think of Alex Pritchard in tonight’s game. For me he’s just the sort of player that the Boro could have done with all season, a young play-maker, great with the little angled balls and passes through the channels that Bamford would have thrived on, and a key men at set pieces.

    For some reason that I have never fully divined, this type of player has been deemed not to fit in with our system, and doesn’t appear to have been on our radar, particularly in comparison with the necessity of ensuring that we had cover for our cover for our back four or defensive mid-fielders.


  17. Given that this has been a truly depressing Black Friday, I’m not approaching the match with my usual optimism.

    I do think that there has been a tendency for us to underestimate a progressive attacking Brentford side that is on a roll. If this game conforms to the pattern of the previous meeting when we were outplayed, and saved by the post, some great Dimi saves and the ref’s turning down a very plausible penalty claim, then we will have a real scrap on our hands.

    A lot will turn on Bamford’s availability and fitness. Since Aitor tends to use his pre-match comments to mislead the opposition I’m reassured by reports that Patrick is unlikely to play. I hope I’m right. The prospect of Kike up front may not worry Brentford, but it scares the living daylights out of me.

    2-0 to Brentford, then.

    Setting up the great prospect of the Boro having to go all out on attack for the second leg.

    1. No pre match Blog?

      Has Comrade Vickers been rounded up by the storm troopers of the new Tory government?

      I thought they would be too busy formalising plans to eradicate the vulnerable and helpless, to worry about small fish like him.

      **AV writes: I was up all night shouting at the telly then on the train down today the wifi was goosed. It wasn’t even that good at Brentford. I’m going to drink beer now. I’ll get back ASAP. A quick look through the blog now shows you have all played nice without me. I’m made myself obsolete.

  18. Late entry for the Exmil Play-Offs:

    Brentford 0-0 Boro
    Ipswich 1-1 Norwich

    Boro 2-0 Brentford
    Norwich 2-1 Ipswich


    Boro 0-0 Norwich (aet)
    Boro win on pens (5-3)

  19. Which Boro will turn up tonight? We’ve seen several different ones this season. Will it be the one that “wins ugly” as happened more than once during our good run at the beginning of the year, the one that nicks a goal and plays backs against the wall for most of the game like at Norwich and Brentford, the team that dominates, creates a boat load of chances and loses, like home to Leeds or away to Forest, the team that just didn’t turn up, like away to Bournemouth,Watford,Wednesday, Ipswich,Wolves. I’m hoping for a performance like the first 15 minutes at Norwich or the entire match at home to Derby.

    Literaly anything can happen. That’s why I love being a Boro fan. There’s no other team I’d rather support.

    COME ON BORO!!!!!

  20. Bamford starting – Karanka keeping them guessing once again. Good looking lineup, best of luck lads. Keep the faith all!


  21. On top of Election night sleep deprivation, I’ve already been a bit liberal with the Merlot so hopefully I last the distance – especially if Karanka has decided to go conservative and plays out a laboured 0-0.

    I can’t say I’m feeling confident about tonight given our end of season performances – I was contemplating 0-2 like Len but anything less will be a good result to take back to the Riverside.

    Of course Bamford will play but there’s no point if he’s a lone striker supported by Tomlin playing too deep. I think maybe Reach may start and I’d prefer Forshaw to Clayton to partner Leadbitter but I will probably be disappointed.

    We need leaders tonight – but it seems leaders are dropping like flies today – so hopefully we’ll escape scot free and don’t get done like kippers.

  22. Great game. Great result. Brilliantly planned and organised by AK with the best possible climax. Full credit to both teams for a pulsating advertisement for the Championship. A smashing end to a day that began so depressingly.

    Thanks lads.

    And it’s still only half-time.

    Nothing is won yet.


  23. Great game to watch and absolutely no danger of dropping off – I would have taken 1-1 but an injury time winner was a bonus that I didn’t see coming – puts us in the driving seat but still plenty of work to do next week – but a great chance to progress to Wembley

    1. Ian I don’t know about starting badly as I make you out to be the early leader after the first match !

      Come on BORO.

  24. Vossen goal great!
    Amorebieta goal even better!
    Well done to all.. half way there, more to do next week. A great performance though in my opinion.

    I believe what does everyone else think?

  25. Thank you Boro for relieving some of the pain of the country being ruined for the next five years.

    I don’t believe in fate, so I will declare this now – we booked our Wembley hotel last week.

    **AV writes: I booked ours in August!

  26. Wonderful result, what a pair of central defenders. Half way there, a solid defensive display should see us home at theriverside but they will go bonkers attacking at will, and why not, as the prize is enormous, caution is the watchword, meaness is the policy and hopefully we will have our day at wembly

  27. stephenh –

    I cannot find your play off entry posted before 1900 on 8 Apr 15, if you have posted one could you please advise time and date as I have searched twice with no joy. If you did not post an entry before 1900 8 Apr 15 then I am afraid you have been eliminated from the play offs.

    Exmil is a happy bunny as my team won today and yesterday !

    Come on BORO.

    1. Exmil –

      I misunderstood your post. I thought the TOP five were in the play offs. In fact you said the ABOVE five which included me, I would have predicted a 2-1 victory for Boro tonight. Honest! But’s lets assume I tipped 1-0 to Brentford. Can I tip the other games in the play off?

      1. Sorry stephenh but I have got to stick to the rules, especially as I posted them twice.

        There is nothing to stop you posting your predictions and everyone will see how you would have done

        Come on BORO.

      2. That’s okay, exmil. It’s an unfair advantage knowing the result from Boro’s first game. It obviously affects the return leg.

  28. We are better than them. We are leading 2-1 going into the home game. Where are we meeting up for a pint in London?

  29. Just back,some bright spark decided to close both the M1 and A1 for repairs tonight diversions all over.

    Great result,we certainly weren’t on the sun loungers!!

    Wembley game is ours to lose now.

  30. I wonder how many tickets Brentford will sell for Friday’s match or even how many have been allocated.

  31. Can anyone advise me why season tickets holders or boro pride members, ie me, are unable to buy tickets online via mfc despite the numerous links and invitations to do so?

    Driving me mad

  32. Masham Wiggy

    They should be on general sale from 10am so that may be more accessible. I tried to get on as a boro pride member yesterday with no joy.

  33. Great result. Just need to keep our heads next week and our fairytale ending at Wembley beckons. UTB

  34. ” You are my Boro,

    My only Boro.

    You make me happy

    When skies are grey…”

    Amazing how such a sentimental and trivial ditty can suddenly seem the most appropriate and moving expression of a more complex emotional truth, as it did yesterday.

    Agree entirely with BoroPhil.

    1. I felt Bamford was let down last night. He was getting terrible treatment from Tarkowski, Leadbitter, Clayton or Friend should have “Sorted him out”.

  35. AK was my M-O-M.

    Impossible to pick out any individual. They all performed well, but it was the way that they worked together as an organised unit that was most impressive. Immaculate preparation by AK, brilliantly executed by the team.

    Did anyone else notice the extent to which Tomlin, puffing and blowing, looked completely shot? With 8 minutes on the clock. Lee had a good game,I thought, but it looks to me as though his poundage has gone up and his fitness levels down over the past few weeks.

    1. I was thinking exactly the same thing yesterday – he seemed quite a bit heavier and appeared to move in slow motion at times and was late into tackles – he reminded me a bit of when Gazza played for us (vision and passing still great but movement was not his forte). Though I can’t imagine AK picking him if he wasn’t fit – perhaps he was in charge of the sun loungers during the warm weather training…

  36. Yep, spot on len. The preparation and execution by the players was spot on. I was not confident going into the game having seen how we contrived a ‘smash and grab’ in the league game. But, we were superb last night and could have won 3-0. Matches like that make all the poor/dull games worthwhile at a stroke.

  37. It was amusing to see the change in attitude after we received four cautions, all the players calmed down and still managed to be affective, at least until the later stages of the match when subs came on and promptly got booked. It does make you wonder if the early bookings were a deliberate attempt to establish a pecking order? If so they succeeded. I see that the Chelsea manager was in the stand, I can imagine he would be invited to address the Boro team and it would be a tremendous lift for them all before the kick off.

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