Goalless Grind No Classic But Plenty Of Positives

COMATOSE neutrals across the nation snoozed on sofas.  Affronted “purists” stormed out of the living room slamming doors behind as they went to find their hipster Ajax 74 Total Football DVD collection. And pundits with fear in their eyes groaned at the thought of digging out the “highlights” from 94 minutes of functional, glamour free grind.

Meanwhile metal merchants everywhere must have been surveying the screen avidly because if it was weighed in for scrap this match had hit pay dirt.

Welcome to the ‘Greatest League In The World’ and the start of yet another sizzling small screen soaraway Super Sunday subscription spectacular.

Continue reading Goalless Grind No Classic But Plenty Of Positives

Mackem Weep: Derby Days Back With A Bang

Is it a derby then? Of course it is. It is from our end of the A19 hotbed corridor anyway.

And a famous one too:  Boro’s first win on their return to the Premier League, against the neighbours and marked by two superb goals that have sizzled into folklore.

Smarting Sunderland fans are frantically spinning the “weez not bothered” line but it will hurt them to have been turned over in a superb battling Boro away day display.

Continue reading Mackem Weep: Derby Days Back With A Bang

The Sunderland “Derby”… Another Cultural Cocktail

Is the Sunderland game a derby? Only if we win.

A victory either way will prompt metaphorical jubilant hand gestures from an open – topped banter bus parade along the A19 on one side and furiously feigned *meh* “just another game” indifference on the other.

If either team take the three points it will spark either bouts of gleeful triumphalism or a series of history and geography lessons proving conclusively the result is irrelevant.

We all know the script, the scoreline just determines who plays which part.

Continue reading The Sunderland “Derby”… Another Cultural Cocktail

Riverside Redemption Ends Seven Year Exile

BORO showed they are fit for purpose in the Premier League on an emotional day at the Riverside.  The new look team – four debutants – more than held their own against an organised and robust Stoke side that are the cliché “can you do it?” benchmark.

And they have a precious first point on the board after a solid 1-1 draw.  That they failed to hold on for the full three may have been initially frustrating, but on balance most will be happy at drawing with the side who finished ninth last season.

But the day was about more than football. It was about Boro – the club, the crowd, the community – being delivered back to the big time after a long road to redemption.  Boro are back up where we belong. That was the important thing.  And so long as Stoke didn’t turn out to be party-poopers (there is always that ‘typical Boro’ fear) it was always going to be smiles all round.

Continue reading Riverside Redemption Ends Seven Year Exile

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.

Continue reading Riverside Rewired Ready For The Next Big Step

Big Mac, Fat Sam and the FA Dug-out Handgrenade

TEESSIDERS know how to nurse a grudge, to feed and water it regularly and to nurture it until it sinks deep roots in a dense jungle of historic animosities.

Barely a day goes by without something rustling in the undergrowth, some seemingly remote movement tugging away at trailing tendrils that quickly connect to still smarting scars of grievance.  A brief mention of Rick Parry on Sky Sports Premier League Years can make the hackles rise for instance.  The dog hides if it hears a passing reference to Christian Ziege.  Or, for some, Peter Beagrie in the studio for a televised Boro game can send them racing through the emotional gears. And that was 30 years ago.

So the news that Sunderland had growled at the FA over the approach to Sam Allardyce had some Teessiders swiftly simmering with retro-anger.

Continue reading Big Mac, Fat Sam and the FA Dug-out Handgrenade

Blazing Squad: Aitor Draws Up Red Hot List

AT some point in the next few weeks Aitor Karanka is going to sit down with a piece of paper and write down the 25 names he will submit to the Premier League as the Boro squad. It won’t  be easy.

We already have 24 senior professionals in the squad with the club looking to bring in more – a keeper, a striker, a right back at least… possibly a left back as cover, maybe another centre-back…  – and everyone that arrives will effectively push one of the existing players out of the magic circle. There some tough decisions to be made.


And his hands are tied by some strict rules: the number of home grown and foreign players is limited. So there may be a lot of crossing out as he tries to jiggle his resources.  Here’s a long read I did on the rules around the squad and some factors to consider. 

If you want o start work on your own list of definites for the 25, feel free…

Borexit: EU Need A Work Permit To Play Here Mate

NO DANI  Ayala. No Emilio Nsue. No Tomas Kalas. No Kike. No Ritchie De Laet. No Diego Fabbrini. No Aitor Karanka. No Leo. Boro may have looked very different last season without the free movement of labour inside the European Union.

Without the social and economic mobility granted by an EU passport, none of those would have qualified for a work permit under current UK employment law.  They would all have had to apply as foreign nationals and be measured against the tough entry criteria set by the Department of Employment. And all would undoubtedly fail under the existing rules.

In fact, last season Boro had 17 players on their books that would have needed to apply for a permit and all but one – Cristhian Stuani – would have been refused automatic permits.

Continue reading Borexit: EU Need A Work Permit To Play Here Mate

The Play-Offs Are Great – From The Outside

LET’S see what you could have won…

As a neutral and eager observer I’m enjoying the Sky Sports trailers for the looming Championship play-offs: four top teams in a tense tussle for the ultimate prize. High-stakes home-and-away encounters leading to a winner-takes-all £170m shoot-out under the iconic Arch.  It looks like a brilliant cut-throat competition full of action, and drama and colour and heightened emotion.

Thank god we are not in it.

Continue reading The Play-Offs Are Great – From The Outside