LET’S not pay too much attention to the league table when Boro go to struggling Birmingham on Friday night.
It’s vital that they stay focused, because you can’t take anything for granted in a crazy division like the Championship.
We have all just seen how extreme it can be in the space of four days.
The Bristol City defeat was an eyebrow raiser, but you can’t say it was a major surprise. It was typical Boro!
If you look at the history of the club, Boro have always had a wobble against sides or players with poor records.
If a team hasn’t won or scored for months away from home, you can bet your bottom dollar that they would turn it around on Teesside.
And if a player can’t shoot for toffee, they will bang one in from 35 yards against us. It’s just the way it is.
But the main thing is that Boro bounced back against Huddersfield on Tuesday night after two straight defeats.
You can never turn your nose up at three goals and a clean sheet.
What a brilliant way to put two straight defeats behind you and move back up to third.
But let’s just keep our cool. If you win a game these days, you are Barcelona. You are going to win everything and get promoted.
When you lose you are under pressure and it’s all doom and gloom.
There are going to be good days, off days and indifferent days.
But nothing is going to be sorted until the end of the season.
Birmingham are a sleeping giant. They have gone off the rails since they won the League Cup under Alex McLeish but still have some good players, and a manager who had great success at Huddersfield in Lee Clark.
Jack Butland is some keeper and Marlon King is a seasoned campaigner up front who is still rattling in his fair share of goals.
And we all know how it goes when players come up against their old clubs.
They seem to score, more often that not. It’s almost like an unwritten rule.
But you can’t get away from the fact that Boro travel to Brum on the back of an encouraging team display against Huddersfield, which featured some fine individual performances.
The trick now is sustaining it and trying to go on another unbeaten run, of course.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves and think the three points are already in the bag in the Midlands.
The sides are at opposite ends of the table but games don’t win themselves, like Bristol City showed on a foggy, forgettable day at the Riverside.
I’VE never been a betting man. And, after having my first bet on Saturday at the tender age of 52, that’s not going to change. Pic sent to Carl putting his bet on
I was in Chisholm the bookies at Bedlington on Saturday with my Three Legends co-hosts Micky Horswill and Malcolm Macdonald to promote our latest book.
Micky put two quid on a 12-team accumulator, and if it had come off he would have won 28 grand. Needless to say, it didn’t.
I backed 10 teams – all of the favourites – to win. That included Boro, Celtic and Sunderland, but it was all over with the very first game because Sunderland lost in the early kick-off.
That was my £500 winnings down the drain, and it was just a reminder why I don’t bet.
I certainly didn’t get any enjoyment out of it and no real sense of anticipation. There’s more exciting things to do.
Scott’s good haul
I THINK Scott McDonald can hold his head high with his scoring record for Middlesbrough.
His double against Huddersfield, in his 100th game, makes it 34 goals. One goal in every three games? I think that’s a good haul.
I’ve never said he should be an automatic starter. But equally, I couldn’t see the sense in leaving him out in the cold at the start of the season and said it on numerous occasions.
That situation has long gone now anyway, and credit to him for coming back into the team with a bang.
Here’s hoping he can keep it going.
Ledesma settling in
EMMANUEL Ledesma had his fair share of clubs before he arrived at the Boro, but he looks like he is finding a home on Teesside.
Everyone at the club who I spoke to about him when he first arrived said what a good player he is, someone who can play round the corners, has a good touch and can score goals. He showed that with a peach of a free-kick against Huddersfield and hit the woodwork from another dead ball at Cardiff.
He is certainly coming to the fore now. Sometimes when you join a club it can take a while to settle. You might not get to grips with your surroundings at all in some places, because things have to be right off the pitch as well.
When I first came to Middlesbrough I hated it. I was 24 and living in digs with a family near Kirby College. I didn’t have any mates or a social life, and all of the other players were married.
I’d trebled my wages but actually rang my old man at one point to say I was packing in and coming home. Things eventually improved and the rest is history.
Ledesma unveiled a T-shirt when he scored his goal the other night, and although I don’t speak Spanish he seems to be in a good place on and off the pitch right now.
Respect for Bails
NICKY Bailey deserves a pat on the back for the way he performed after coming back in against Huddersfield.
He was one of the first names on the team sheet last season, but has had to be patient this time around with Josh McEachran and Grant Leadbitter forming such an effective partnership in the centre of the park.
That’s the hallmark of a good professional though. Bailey has rolled his sleeves up and got on with it, and against the Terriers it looked like he had never been away.
He hasn’t been quoted anywhere saying he is fed-up with not starting, which I admire.
I was never backwards in coming forwards in speaking to the press during my own career if I felt I’d been hard done by.
But we are all different. If I had something on my chest, I couldn’t sleep at night unless I got it out of my system.
It probably didn’t do me any favours, but I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind or have a go at authority.
There’s no point being a mushroom sat in the corner and letting people tread on you, in my opinion.
Left back wanted
ANDY Halliday had a great game as an emergency left-back against Huddersfield.
But I’m a firm believer in round pegs in round holes and still maintain that Boro should have bought another left-back after selling Joe Bennett to Aston Villa in the summer.
We got £3.25m as a down payment for the lad, so surely £500,000 could have been spent on bringing in another one?
Left footers are like hen’s teeth – rare. Left-back is a specialist position. Players who are good on their right foot are 10-a-penny.
With George Friend out with a hamstring injury, it’s a gamble not having specialist cover for him there.
Boro gambled in central defence last season and got burned when Seb Hines and Matthew Bates both got injured against Ipswich.
It meant we had to go cap in hand and recall Stephen McManus from his loan at Bristol City.
Boro are well-stocked in pretty much every other position, and whoever plays at left-back is keeping that area of the pitch warm until Friend returns, but it’s still a risky strategy having no like for like solution in the short term.
Fair play to Halliday – a winger by trade – for doing so well against Huddersfield. He did well in pre-season in the position, but it’s still only one competitive game he’s had there.
How Boro get on in Friend’s continued absence is going to be a test of their mettle, and a test for whoever gets the temporary No 3 spot.
Justin Hoyte can switch flanks, as he did against Bristol City, but he looked uncomfortable in difficult circumstances. Stuart Parnaby can adapt too but Julio Arca – another left pegger – is out until Christmas.
For me, I would still have liked to see a genuine left-back in the Boro side while Friend is in the treatment room.
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