Riverside Rewired Ready For The Next Big Step

Aitor Karanka has admitted he would be happy with a 17th place finish next term. Ben Gibson would too. So would I – and I am routinely branded the spin-king of the ra-ras!

In truth the majority of Boro fans would probably willingly take a first season scrambled survival right now.  That shows how quickly we are collectively rewiring ourselves for what will be a very testing Premier baptism of fire.

The Championship promotion pressure cooker was demanding and draining for fans, a gruelling emotional assault course with no let up that was excruciating for the final few months. Next season may prove to be just as psychologically intense but fought out at the opposite end of the table and in a very different mental landscape.

Boro – the manager, the players, the club and the supporters – will need to quickly bridge a culture gap and adjust to some harsh new realities.

Last term was spent trying to win every week. Next season will be about trying not to lose.


Boro have had a win rate of over 50% for the last two seasons under Aitor Karanka.

Last season Boro won 26 of their 46 games, which works out at a very impressive 56.5%. At home the record is staggering: Karanka’s side won 16 out of 23 games at the Riverside, an amazing win ratio of 69.5%.

Boro lost just twice in the league at home last term and only three times in the previous campaign. That has had a marked effect on the collective supporting psyche. In the past two years it has been easy to support Boro. Especially at home. In fact, it has been a joy.

Yes, at times it didn’t go to plan. It was frustrating when Boro dominated but couldn’t finish off weaker opposition and there were a lot of long hauls and late goals. But they usually got there. Not everyone agreed with the shape and style and selections and there were moments of doubt but overall it was a successful season and the noise and colour and atmosphere at the Riverside echoed to that.

Next season could be very different, statistically and emotionally. Next year could be a nervous grind with hard-fought welcome wins far from being the norm.

We will have to be mentally prepared for that challenge.

Optimistic Boro fans will be hoping to go up to the top flight and “do a Watford.”  Of the three promoted sides the Hornets did the best. They got off to a solid start, stuck by the style that got them up and flirted with upper mid-table before running out of steam and finishing in “the comfort zone.” You’d take that all day long.

But if Boro were to match that it would mean a dramatic reduction in the Riverside points haul we have grown used to. Watford finished 13th with 45 points, a casual eight clear of the drop zone in a campaign that has to be hailed a resounding success – but they only won six games at home.  Hornets fans saw six wins and six draws and their side – promoted in a goal rush – netted only 20 times.

That is a win ratio of “just” 31%. And that’s good for a promoted side.


Bournemouth went up as champions, stuck to their principles and played expansive, attacking football and won a lot of friends – but not a lot of games as they found top flight defences far harder to penetrate.  They only clocked up five league victories at Dean Court and drew five more to finish in 16th place with 42 points and a win ratio at home of 28%.

Sunderland stayed up – just – with similar stats as their basement battling purgatory went on.  Sam Allardyce’s side won just six home games (and just three away) and lost 17 overall to just stay up by two points. They finished 17th, which Aitor and most of us would think is a success if we matched that next year.

People will point to Leicester as a possible model and it would be brilliant to go anywhere near that fairytale – but in their first season up the Foxes won six and drew five at home, scored just 23 and only just pulled off a late great escape.

There has been a lot of construction work going on at the ground as Boro renew, revamp and reconfigure the stadium so it is fit for the purpose for the Premier League.

Boro fans will need to do the same: we need to rewire ourselves and steel ourselves for the new challenge. Success will be built on performances at home but the parameters of what we should expect will change markedly.

The win ratio will drop from our promotion pushing norm of over 50% to the survival mark of around 28-30%. That will be a massive culture shock.  We will need to get used to a rhythm of winning one in four and hopefully drawing one or two of the other three rather than expecting victory in every other game.

If Boro can match or better Watford’s record of winning six and drawing six at home then that will put down solid the foundations of a decent season – but that will mean budgeting to lose seven and that is just about one in three rather than one in three months.

And that requires a radically different mindset from supporters.


If Boro fans rise to the challenge they can make the Riverside rock and be a central to the story.  The season will have a completely different narrative but there is no reason it can’t be fun.

Boro are back after a seven-year exile and there is a lot of lost time to make up. Battling against the big boys home-and-away will sprinkle some fairy dust on the fixtures and no doubt fans will raise themselves for those glamour games but it will in the bread-and-butter matches where our fate will be decided.

Last season our anxieties at home came when Boro were turning the screw and not killing off teams.  Next term the palpitations are more likely to be prompted by a last gasp Alamo effort as plucky Boro dig in to defend a slender lead or a clean sheet to claim a precious point. And the team will need the fans behind them just as much.

And not just against the elite. It will be just as tough against “the likes of” teams: West Brom, Swansea, Stoke, Palace. They may not be giants but they have three, five, seven years head start when it comes to investment in quality, experience and nous and they will see Boro as one of their most likely away wins.

So supporters have a vital role to play in making those games as hard as possible for the visitors.  We have to make the Riverside a crackling cauldron next season, an eye-catching and ear-bursting hostile arena that cows the visitors and urges on our heroes.

Boro fans showed last season they can have a visible and audible impact on the unfolding game, that they can drive the team on and leave neutral spectators awestruck by the spectacle.  We need to be doing that again.

Especially when Boro are hanging on against “the likes of” Watford.

**This is a remix of a bit in the paper while I was away.


And here’s a bit I did today looking at  Seven Things Boro Fans Can Expect This Season – home defeats, televised touch line bust-ups, a campaign for an England call-up and the press trying to sell our players in January.





197 thoughts on “Riverside Rewired Ready For The Next Big Step

  1. Really good half for Boro but you see immediately that everything’s at a different level. This isn’t Kansas any more.

    Ramirez is having a stormer and Friend and Clayton as well. Shame about De Roon. He was looking sharp.

    1. I thought Adam Forshaw slotted in seamlessly and looked at home in the middle of the park. Everyone of the players knows the system and have been drilled into it.

  2. Wow

    Traveling now across the ME after watching the match can’t stop the buzz

    RR will no doubt disect the match but on a G and T infused level of optimism I must say Wow and of course Wow again


  3. Len was spot on as to how the match would pan out. I also agree that we don’t yet have anyone to understudy Ramirez.
    On a positive note, 1 point on the board, only 39’more needed and we can relax.

  4. A warm summers day provided the perfect backdrop to the return of the Boro. The Riverside started filling, even MMP wasn’t too bad so that was an improvement, just a shame he didn’t let go five minutes before KO when the crowd and atmosphere in the ground was building.

    During the warm up a wild Albert shot hit a little lad in the North Stand and much to his credit about 5 minutes later when the players left the pitch Albert went back behind the goal leaping the perimeter hoardings, ran up the steps and apologised to the little boy cradled in his fathers arms and gave him his training top for which a rousing round of applause broke out. It was good to see that even Premiership footballers have class and humility.

    The Police helicopter was buzzing overhead obviously in anticipation of the ensuing riots and crowd trouble that was inevitable except it wasn’t and just demonstrated either an abject and profligate waste of tax payers money or Steve Gibson’s depending on who was footing the bill for the pseudo Robocops in the sky. Perhaps Cleveland’s finest haven’t heard of drones should they place such importance on aerial surveillance. Had they perhaps allocated resources to a solitary Police Motorcycle closing off Dockside Road they may have saved tens of thousands and actually improved safety from Cars bombing down Dockside Road against the flow of the exiting fans at full time. Strange how that was standard practice when we were last in the Premiership yet now its abandoned in favour of a solitary buzzing irritation in the sky. Anyway, leaving the boys in blue, their toys and incompetence behind and onto the game itself.

    The Team was probably what we expected. I had hoped that Baptiste would get his chance but Barragan was named as the CB partner to Ben. I have to hold my hand up, he didn’t excite me as an exciting RB signing but at CB he was calm, strong. solid and can ping a ball out to the flanks. A no nonsense and solid display from the lad and definitely one of our better performers today, so take a bow son. I am on record here as one of his biggest doubters but apart from a solitary under hit back pass in the second half he was impressive and gave an air of trust and confidence. I’m not sure I can say the same of Valdes, he may or may not have been a bit slow in getting to the equalising goal and its probably unfair to judge him on one game but the friendlies didn’t endear me to him in a Mejias sort of way and today hasn’t improved that irritable bowel type syndrome.

    We matched the Potters in the first half and our goal was superb in that it was played out from defence in a very calm and controlled manner, into the midfield and out wide to be swung in for Negredo to open his account. 1-0 and the Boro’s return was looking great after only 11 minutes. The rest of the half was fairly open and both sides showed intent but the Referee, Kevin Friend seemed intent on being a tad biased or incompetent in favour of Stoke, shame that as an otherwise good game was being spoilt by Official standards that wouldn’t look out of place in the Championship. The MOTD highlights will be interesting to see why he couldn’t spot a goal kick from a corner, a 50/50 challenge from a punch in the face and why he let the game go on, eventually fizzle yet blow for a free kick for a non event incident that occurred a few minutes previously. Clearly we have some gamesmanship lessons to learn in this league.

    The resultant free kick led to the goal that from the North stand looked pretty weak from a goalkeeping perspective but perhaps TV technology tonight may be kinder to our man between the sticks. That goal in fairness was coming, we were looking tired, weary and a bit leggy around 60 minutes. Stoke came out in the second half fired up and we were sitting too deep and struggled to get out of our half. A defensive masterclass is great but you cannot endure bombardment with zero outlet and expect to survive.

    Early in the first half we lost de Roon which was maybe just as well as the way the Ref was flashing cards its questionable whether his tackling would have survived the full 90 minutes. So keen to flash his yellow best friend he actually managed to lose it and had to retrieve it from the pitch near the East Stand in the 2nd half. Poor officiating aside the Boro put in a decent shift, defended with confidence for the first 60 then fatigue set in. George was excellent as were Ben and Barragan. Nsue had a very composed game and often the main catalyst for attack in the second half. Albert was Albert, exciting, tantalising and tore at the Stoke defence but too many times he dawdled when he should have passed or crossed at the end of an attack.

    Stewy had a decent game and nearly headed in the winner but Shay clutched the header comfortably. Negredo looked a handful but faded as the game wore on and struggled against Shawcross who manhandled him for large parts of the game to the Referee’s indifference. Clayts scrapped and battled hard, Forshaw who replaced the hamstrung de Roon didn’t look out of place and for me edged it out of our midfield pairing. The obvious fatigue as the second half wore on didn’t seem to transmit to the bench, Nugent eventually came on for the impressive but often isolated and often tackled (and punched) Ramirez. For me Fischer and Nugent should have come on for the last 25 or 30 minutes. Its hard to tell if I mean 20 or even 40 minutes so small was the type font on the snazzy new scoreboard layout that I gave up looking at it immediately after KO which seems to totally defeat the purpose of the advertising revenue which I assume adds to our coffers. Me critical of marketing, never!

    All in all we matched them for the first 60 minutes then looked tired, suspect and lacking a believable outlet after that. A solid display up to the equaliser but after that we desperately needed fresh legs. Negredo is a handy unit but has the turning circle of the QEII and the speed to match. His headed (or shouldered) goal was a great start to his career in a Boro shirt but he needs a few more games to get fit. His second half performance was less than industrious. No real poor performances from anyone but tellingly it was our Championship stalwarts that looked the more competent and believable. As the game wore on the lack of pace and an outlet was telling. Early days and a steep learning curve ahead but an opening day point is far from a disaster.

    I was disappointed to hear Given being booed when the Teams were read out but pleased that the North Stand gave Shay a deserved round of applause when he took up his place in the goal for the second half which he courteously and genuinely acknowledged. Some people have short memories and fail to recognise the start of our ascent began with a solid defence of which Shay was a part off and laid the foundations which Dimi admirably picked up from and continued.

    6th in the Premiership tonight, not too bad. By the way has anyone seen the Championship table, just sayin like!

    1. Good report RR pleased someone agrees with me about the referees performance today and no it not sour grapes.

      Agree Given should not have been booed but racing to the half way line to try and get a Boro player sent off in the first half is not the sportsmanship or sportsman I thought he was

  5. Managed to catch the game online and it was a creditable performance from Boro, though admittedly against a Stoke side that on the whole offered very little going forward.

    Boro started well and were full of energy and the goal came nice and early to calm the nerves – Gaston continued where he’d left off and didn’t seemed phased by the next level in the PL – he makes Boro tick and is capable of unlocking any defence and we may struggle without him.

    I felt the De Roon injury probably cost us the win today – not necessarily because of his loss but it seemed to stop our momentum just after scoring as we first coped down to 10 men and then looked to get back up to the opening energy levels. 2-0 at half-time would have been game over today.

    There were some good moves and Boro had a of of control even without possession they seemed to look comfortable and gave Stoke very little time to ponder their next move.

    Adomah wasn’t bad but I felt he didn’t offer much threat when it came to the final ball – a bit similar to Downing who was tidy without looking like someone who would threaten a goal.

    So given the lack of goals in central midfield it leaves only Negredo or Gaston to carry our goal threat – which I find a slight worry at this level and I’d be looking for more potency from the left and right.

    George had a good game and looked sharp and Nsue also didn’t look out of place in the PL – plus Barragan had quite a good game in defence and offered a route out from the back – whilst Gibson didn’t looked phased throughout the game.

    Their goal was a disappointing one to concede – first the free kick was a cheap one and then Valdes looked to be caught wrong-footed to a shot which was probably savable.

    In the end we had to settle for a point and some late loose play by Adomah showing his tricks and losing possession could have given Stoke a chance of victory they didn’t deserve.

    The lesson today was we need to bank three points in the PL when teams are not at their best but there was enough from Boro to suggest we can hold our own at this level – but we need a bit more composure and quality in the final third to see off teams who will likely have players capable of taking a chance at the other end.

    1. Just a point about the sub the referee wouldn’t allow Forshaw on for ages when the 4th official was waiting to raise the board

      Aso Ramirez went off when fouled and again Referee wouldn’t let him on for ages thought there was a rule change this season ref subs

  6. Good News and Bad News to start the day. Despite the “Sold Out” notices being posted this week it was still possible to buy a ticket this morning. Good. However it was in the South Stand. Bad.

    I’m not a fan of watching the game from behind the goal and my discomfort was compounded by the noise levels. According to my phone app, 120DB. If I find myself with a seat there again then ear plugs will be de riguer.

    I saw several parents leave the ground with youngsters as they were obviously in distress. If any readers plan to take young kids to the game then ear defenders are an absolute must.

    One other thing about the South Stand. It was a complete standing stand for the whole duration of the game. Was it safe? Yes. Should we end this facade of no standing areas? Yes again. At no time did the stewards attempt to get people to sit as they would have been wasting their time. Celtic are trialling safe standing at Parkhead. It’s about time the PL took it on as well.

    On to the game, Boro were comfortable and took an early lead. Stoke are noted as being a physical team and we matched them on that front. It was a refereeing decision that resulted in Stoke’s equaliser and we should have won the game.

    Clayton (without his usual partner in crime) was outstanding, he must have covered every inch of the pitch. Ramirez is a class act and looks even better in the Premiership. Downing is usually my boo boy but he was excellent today helping out Friend in his defensive duties.

    The defence never looked worried, although I prefer Dimi in goal. Negredo may not be the paciest but ask Given what he thought. On a few occasions he felt the full weight of the Spaniard, not least when he bundled the ball in for the opening goal.

    So, a satisfactory start to the season and the players know they have nothing to fear in this league.

    On to some more Good/Bad news. When I parked on the grass verge close to Costa alongside around 30 other vehicles, the conversation between all the drivers was about a possible parking purge. No wardens in sight so everyone went to the ground.

    Bad news, on my return every vehicle had a parking ticket on it. The Good News I hear you ask. Well they were PWN (Parking Warning Notices) as opposed to PCN (Penalty Charge Notices) They could have very easily fined everyone but decided to warn everyone instead. Very welcoming in this bureaucratic world.

    So, off to a good start and everything augers well for the coming season.

    **AV writes: The Premier League clubs appear to be operating a policy of turning a blind eye to standing. The old multi-agency political hard line on that is evaporating quickly.

  7. Isn’t it time MMP got the message? We don’t want ear splitting music drowning out the pre – match build up. I am preparing my claim against MFC for deafness caused by the mega decibels “music” which he insists on inflicting upon us right up to the kick off. It really does spoil the match day experience.

    1. Mark Page has been a pain in the backside for years, should have got rid of him a long time ago.Totally unprofessional.

    2. Mark Page is an embarrassment for the club.Always has been , right from the Ayresome park days . Totally unprofessional.

  8. RR for Mayor.

    The Gazette should take him on as a match reporter.

    He should be running Adidas.

    He clearly should be Chief Constable.

    He should be running the town.

    Fabulous authoritative report. He has easily handled the step up to the Premier League. A great first game.

    Many thanks to him and also GHW and Werdermouth for their reports.

    I see that Forestieri did not make the trip for the Wednesday game. Both Derby and Newcastle are interested. I haven’t studied him in any depth, but he has always looked good to me whenever I have seen him. He is a diver, though but. Player of the Year in the Championship last year. I wouldn’t half mind seeing him coming on when Ramirez starts to tire.

    He could just be the final piece of the jigsaw. Shouldn’t we at least be taking an interest?

  9. You’re right Len, RR is a diamond in our midst. I’ve said it before, I like his reports because he’s always seen the same match as I have, unlike some other observers.

    I’d go further than your suggested occupations for him … RR for PM! Sorry Spartak.

    Not sure if Forestieri could step in if Ramirez was unavailable but might be worth a punt. We certainly need a true Number 10. I like Forshaw but I’m not sure if he could fill that role.

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