20 December 2009 ~ Middlesbrough’s trip to the Sportsdirect at lunchtime today was due to be a revenge for last season when Newcastle fans danced in the streets after they all but condemned us to relegation. Then it was looking like a promotion six-pointer as Newcastle adapted better than most had expected to the Championship. Now most Boro fans would be content just to avoid further humiliation.
Gareth Southgate had to go. Even those of us who had continually given him the benefit of the doubt knew he was a lame duck even if Middlesbrough had managed a quick return to the Premier League under him. He was seen as a “yes man”, the cheap option, yet another rookie, his authority with the players suspect and destroyed with the fans by the tame FA Cup exit to Cardiff and the limp towards relegation. And his inability to bring in a competent forward, Tuncay Sanli apart. In his defence, he had to oversee a constant reduction in the playing squad’s costs – and quality.
Gordon Strachan – GS2 – was a reasonably popular choice with most fans, with Alan Curbishley seeming to be the other likely contender, and the king over the border Tony Mowbray unobtainable. The loose-tongued Scot’s record may not be stellar but a couple of eyecatching Champions League runs, a tough reputation and not being GS1 were enough. The hope was he would soon have Middlesbrough grinding out the wins that we were missing out on despite looking a class above most of the sides we played, and also get the stayaway fans back onside. A popular angle for coverage of the club is the crowd sizes. The official gate for the Cardiff game last week was 17,232 – if you watched the match you may have other ideas.
For me GS2’s initial mistake was not reinstating Danny Coyne in goal. The general consensus is that he’s best keeper at the club, not least because he talk – or better, shouts – at the defence. We’ve suffered a lack of organisation at the back for some time and the central defence pairing of Wheater and St Ledger seem to need it imposing on them. Brad Jones, whatever is said about his own ability (“banana foot” shouts the bloke behind me whenever he takes a kick), was always on a hiding to nothing as he wasn’t a top-drawer replacement for the outgoing Mark Schwarzer. Jones compounded Strachan’s error by being picked for the impressive Ross Turnbull when he was dropped for contractual reasons. Then after Coyne became a terrace hero in record time, he let five in against West Brom at home and Jones was back, to near-universal dismay.
Strachan has, to his credit, the inspired short-term loan signing of Dave Kitson, who has on occasion also sparked his old team-mate Leroy Lita, but Marcus Bent has so far failed to excite and verdicts are very much split on Isaiah Osbourne, although he looked a very tidy player as we demolished QPR. January will be the real test, as GS2 tries to rebuild a side against a background of an angry, shrinking crowd. Furthermore there are doubts over the future of two of the best players in Adam Johnson and Gary O’Neil and concern that the purse strings will continue to tighten as they have over the past four seasons.
But then this club always suited adversity better than glamour – I’m still hoping for a performance today that gets the fans muttering the old watchword: “Typical Boro.” Chris Horne