Monday, 26 December 2011

Football's Not Logical - But That's The Beauty Of It

Not too long before Malaury Martin gave us a reason to believe again more than three weeks ago, I had a brief chat over Twitter with Boro PR man Dave Allan. He wasn't convinced by my claim that this 'Boro side were like a Championship version of the 1995/96 Boro squad, during the first half of the season anyway. And while he's probably right when he says that Juninho, Higgy, Big Nige and especially poor Nick Barmby - robbed of the chance to do one over his old club today - wouldn't agree, the similarities are there.

Okay, so we're not getting crowds of nearly 30,000 every game (well, apart from today, but more on that later). But think about it - until we imploded after Christmas (and here's hoping that doesn't happen this time) we were treated to attractive, attacking football by a blend of youth and experience, with a solid defence marshalled by Nigel Pearson. Yet we scored so few goals back then, and we haven't been renowned for our goalscoring prowess this season either. By Boxing Day '95, we'd scored 23... by Boxing Day '11, we've scored 29.

The Hammers have outscored us by ten goals, the Saints by eighteen. And we have yet to score more than three goals in a single match, be it league or cup.

All this makes us David in the battle of the Goliaths of the Championship, without a doubt. To me, it is absolutely miraculous that a small squad like ours is still in touch with the top two in this league. I can't think of many, or any members of our squad who are proven in the English Premiership (even Mogga has never kept a team there for more than one season), whereas with West Ham, the seasoned Premiership pros - Allardyce, Nolan, Carew, Piquionne, Green, Carlton Cole, Diop, Noble, Joey O'Brien, Sears - trip off your tongue. And I haven't even mentioned Gary O'Neil yet.

It's the same with Manchester United and Manchester City, really. Supposedly, City reign supreme in all areas of the park. And, as Gary Fowler pointed out in a Stretford End Arising blog, United were forced to play a 19-year old defender and 38-year old ex-winger in centre midfield against Basle, while Gareth Barry and Adam Johnson can't even get in the City starting XI! Yet, thanks to Dimitar Berbatov's hat-trick in today's 5-0 rout of Wigan, United are level on points with City, with only a slightly inferior goal difference separating the two! But for that terrible day at the office on October 23, United would be top of the league. Had we beaten West Ham, we'd be in the automatic promotion places instead. It's not logical.

But whoever said football was logical? That's the beauty of the "beautiful game". And, so far anyway, it appears to be working in our favour. After all, logically, we should have lost today. We were under the cosh for most of the match, with Hull having more possession, shots and corners, plus a viable penalty claim. I felt that once again, we were set to disappoint when burdened with high expectations - 27,794 had turned up for the match, and we haven't seen that kind of attendance in a long time! - but then, Barry Robson produced a Christmas miracle.

Actually, if anyone's defying logic in football at the moment, it's Robbo. 33 years of age, and yet he seems ageless. He just keeps getting better. He's arguably been our best player this season, a powerful, tireless runner in the centre of the park capable of equally important moments of creativity. Thanks to players like him, Bailey, Rhys Williams, Bates, Marvellous Marvin, Scott McDonald... strike that, everybody in the squad, we've been able to punch above our weight to make promotion a realistic possibility.

Sometimes, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And let's hope it remains so until next May.

1 comment:

Mike said...

The success of this squad, for me, lies in good organisation and the number of players with genuine top flight talent - Bates, Williams, McDonald, Emnes - linked with good pros who can definitely cut it at this level. Barry's a workhorse, a grafter, and you need that in the Champo - he reminds me a bit of Paul Dickov, the old Scottish striker who had very little talent yet tortured defences by running about in the opposition half endlessly and dragging players along with him.

When you think about it, there's not a massive amount of class in this division - you mention the differences with West Ham, but they're the exception to just about everyone's rule this season.

I don't think a post-Christmas implosion is on the cards - it really was in 95/96 as injuries and the second tier underbelly of our squad exposed our shortcomings. That said, I'd be stunned if we do make the top two (not to mention worried about this squad playing in the Premiership) but I've upgraded my initial prediction to playoffs.