Verdict on Boro’s season so far?
So far so good. To break a ten year record for best start to the season in Middlesbroughs history indicates how good a start it has been.If anyone would have told me that 10 games in we would have been second top of the division, I would have questioned their sanity.Full credit has to go to the manager, coaching staff and the players for turning things around, they have instilled a confidence, belief and arrogance, not just within the club but with the people that really matter the supporters. There is a belief that irrespective of opposition or venue, that we can win the game of football.
Has Boro’s start surprised you?
Surprised is an understatement. When Tony Mowbray told us in advance of the season, that we had to reduce the wage bill, by 10 million and get rid of some of his big hitters, I feared the worst. When Litre Boro’s second top goalscorer last season with 12 departed that confirmed what I was thinking. The players that Mogga was bringing in were unknown and cheap, not exactly a recipe for success. No doubt I had those tags when I arrived on Teesside. But the manager to his credit seems to have unearthed a few gems. Malaury Martins looks a player, Belgium international Farous Haroun looks the business and in time could become a cult figure. Of course holding onto Joe Bennet and Williams was essential, but the biggest surprise for me has been the form of Marvin Emnes. Since joining us in 2008, he hasn’t exactly pulled up trees. Gareth Southgate who signed him didn’t seem to know his best position despite spending 3.5 million for his services. Strachan shipped him out to Swansea, for me his loan spell gave him confidence and kick started his career. Since Mogga has made him number one striker and given him an extended three year contract he has never looked back, winning player of the month, he has eight goals to date and no doubt has more to come.
Why have Boro done so well away but found it hard at home?
At home the team is set up defensively, the onus is on us to break them down. But only 1 win in 5 is poor statistics no matter how you try to camouflage it. In front of your home support who you want to please and encourage back to the Riverside. Is it, the vast amount of empty red seats, lack of atmosphere? Is it psychological , lack of bottle, wrong tactics, wrong clientele. I don’t know the answer and at the minute nobody does. In my day playing at home was a pleasure and an advantage. Staying in your own home, sleeping in your own bed, getting a longer lie in, great reaction when you run out of the tunnel from your own supporters. We were always told win your home games and pick up points on your travels, you will not be far away come the end of the season. At the minute we are doing the opposite. I said weeks ago on the legends show that we will start to find out how we play away and it will become more difficult, if results go against us. We have to start taking all 3 points at home if we want to reach our goal.
Which areas need strengthening?
I would focus totally on our 2 centre forwards. Goals win you games, goals win you promotion and good front men breed confidence throughout the team.If in form Emnes was to be out any length of time we would struggle to score, as Scott MacDonald , who I am a fan of has not discovered his goalscoring touch as yet.In my opinion we need a big ugly no nonsense centre forward, who has good ariel ability, can hold it up, chip in with a few goals and create them for his partner.We need someone who will compliment the smaller centre forwards, who can come on and change our style of play. I know Mogga loves to play entertaining, free flowing football, but if thats not working its important to change it and at the minute, I don’t believe we can do that.
Can Boro maintain their promotion push?
As it stands at this minute you couldn’t disregard that. To keep it going we have to add to a thin squad, avoid injury, suspensions, loss of form, hopefully get through the January window unscathed without any departures and start winning at home. And don’t forget you need the rub of the green and luck. Up until now we have done very well, but there are stiffer tests round the corner, Southampton, Derby, West Ham, Brighton Hove Albion etc . We still have to face them all. Before the season started I thought we would finish 10th – 12th. Of course with the start we have had, im just looking silly. Are we going to finish top 6? I hope and pray we do but my gut instinct is we will just miss out on promotion. I could sit here and say the opposite, no doubt the majority of pundits who support Middlesbrough will say of course we are. Thats not my style. I don’t set out to gain popularity, the majority who do are usually portraying a dishonest message. I just like to give my honest opinion. I hope I am totally wrong and we achieve our goal, if there is one guy in Middlesbroughs history who deserves it, its Tony Mowbray.
Has the club finally stabilized itself?
Well it is no secret, since Eindhoven and the UEFA Cup Final, the club on and off the park has been in a downward spiral. Relegation, shortage of cash and asset stripping has been the trend. the departures in the summer suggest we have not.Lets see what happens in January when the transfer window re opens, on the park things have settled down, we are playing entertaining football, gaining points and look as if we are enjoying it. Behind the scenes there is a much better feel good factor to our football club, Strachans departure, along with chief executive Keith Lamb and several others behind the scenes, in my opinion have paved the way for an all round better environment. The fans have still to be convinced, don’t forget that they have been delivered empty promises for the last few years.But you cant ask for much more, than what has been on show since the start of this season.There has been no PR blunders or own goals,the manager has never tried to hoodwink the fans and the players have played their part.In my humble opinion the club has not stabilised as yet, but we are on the right road.
Do you see any simularities between Middlesbrough and any other North East team?
I hate to say it, but I see comparisons with Newcastle United. Both have suffered relegations over recent years, both have sold all their star names, both have reduced their wage bills, both have fallen attendances, both have laid staff off, both have got rid of the commentary deals with Real Radio, both have got rid of managers and coaches and just to round it off, both have had autocratic partnerships at the top, Mike Ashley and Derek Llambias at Newcastle and Steve Gibson and Keith Lamb at Middlesbrough, its their way or the highway. Of course the biggest thing I have missed out is we are both near the top , both of us are undefeated and both of us have got the best defensive records in our respective leagues.