WELL done to Boro for getting through a tricky League Cup tie in torrential conditions at Preston.
Cup games away to sides from a lower league are always potential banana skins because they are fired right up for it and the bigger side usually makes a few changes – a few, not usually 11 – so are vulnerable.
Throw in the nightmare weather and a slippery pitch and you have all the ingredients of a cup upset.
When you are playing in a downpour it can be a real nightmare for the players because the conditions introduce dangerous mistakes, especially in the box.
When you have a slippery surface, players can’t control the ball as smartly as they would like. They can’t judge the roll and bounce off a damp surface and they can’t twist and turn so quickly.
That makes it very difficult for defenders when the ball is squirming all over the box. If they turn too fast they can go over. If they try to close down and their man turns they can’t recover. If they commit to a tackle, they go sliding away.
Keepers too. The ball is wet and greasy and if it is in the air it is very hard to catch so they tend to punch or parry and that means it can land anywhere in and around the box.
Personally I loved playing in those conditions as a striker because you know you will get chances and that sooner or later the defence and keeper will drop a blob.
Lower league teams love those conditions too because it makes the pitch a leveller. It reduces the chance for a quality team to turn on the style and makes it more of a battle.
And if you are up for it and are scrapping a side that have the edge taken off their skills by a slippy pitch and maybe have rested a few key players too, then you’ve got a chance.
That’s why there are so many cup upsets in January when the pitches are a quagmire.
The Fancy Dans can’t do all those stepovers and Cruyff turns when they are slipping all over. That’s when it all comes down to fighting spirit, work-rate, attitude and a sometimes a little bit of luck.
I’ve played in those sort of games and in those sorts of conditions so I know how difficult it can be.
I remember a few times playing in monsoons for Boro.
We went to Old Trafford under Lennie Lawrence in the semi-final of the League Cup – I think it was the Rumbelows then – and we gave it a real good go against Manchester United.
We were in Division Two and they were just getting going under Fergie and up the top of Division One so it was a bit of David and Goliath.
We had got a 0-0 draw at Ayresome Park in the first leg and people were saying it was a good result but I was gutted because it was my first game back after a cartilage injury and I missed three sitters.
For the second leg the heavens opened. We were drenched in the warm-up. The fans were too. There were about 10,000 Boro fans there but there was no roof at that end because they were rebuilding the ground. I felt sorry for them. My word, it was bouncing, sheeting down.
But we were confident. We thought it gave us a really good chance. We had done OK in the first leg and thought we could sneak it on a slippy pitch.
We were quite a young side too. They were a lot of older than us, Giggsy was playing as a skinny kid but they had people like Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and Mark Hughes who were getting on a bit and we thought when it went to extra-time our extra legs on a heavy pitch would swing it.
We went close too. We had chances but Schmeichel made a couple of good saves then Giggsy shinned one in and that was that. Game over.
Another one we played when it was raining stair-rods was the ZDS semi-final against Aston Villa. They were second in division one and we were down at the bottom of division two and no-one gave us a prayer.
The first leg at Villa park was ridiculous.
We had only just dried out before the second leg at home and it was lashing down for that too. But we won that one – me and Paul Kerr scored – and got to Wembley.
So these games, away to a lower club in a downpour, are always tricky and you have to take your hat off to Boro.
Especially as they made 11 changes. My word! All managers shuffle it up in League Cup games and maybe rest a few – but 11?
That was a big, big risk for Mogga.
I wouldn’t have done that. After a good game some guys need to play the next game to keep it bubbling and after the win at Blackburn – which was fantastic by the way – some of them deserved to start again.
Jutkiewicz for instance had just come back from injury and had scored two goals. He would’ve been desperate to get out there again and, for me, he should have been given the chance.
Some of the ones who did get their chance though did well and will be desperate for a first team start in the league now.
It was great to see Nicky Bailey get 90 minutes unscathed. I hope he is back in the first team picture now as he is very important.
Richie Smallwood too. He played well, got a goal and will be buzzing right now. He’s staked his claim.
Another bit of fantastic news is Adam Reach signing a four-year deal – although I’ll eat my hat if he sees it out.
Mark my words the boy is a real player. He has pace, energy, a sweet left foot and a bit of arrogance about him. He has the ability to go all the way and he will already be on the radar of far bigger clubs than Boro.
For me, that’s why they have given him the deal. It gives him a pay rise while he is still cutting his teeth and gives the club protection and a nailed on fee if they do sell him.
And we are a selling club now. That’s what the Academy is for now.
So if big clubs come in – and for me they will – we will get a decent price for him.
I just hope we get to see a couple of good years from him first.
YOU can listen to Bernie on the Three Legends Monday to Friday evenings on Star Radio, Koast Radio and online.Or call in on 0845 013 22 00.
Look out for our new book 7-9-4 details will be out next week we also have a dinner to launch the book and tickets will go on sale next week.