Thursday, 22 December 2011

A Matter Of Time

Time really is everything, isn't it? And to be brutally honest, I haven't had a lot of it since my last post, which was written before this whirlwind of a month kicked off (and that's more than three weeks ago!). Assignment after assignment has flooded in, the holiday season is well and truly underway, and I've found myself thinking all about friends and family and not at all about Boro.

Okay, that's not true. The Twitter account, for those of you that follow it, has been as active as can be from my last blog at the end of November. That was written just prior to the rude awakening we got at home to West Ham, which led me to conclude that our "automatic promotion pretense" had been shattered by a team much stronger and classier than us.

I then proceeded to list some sobering stats. Enough to make Boro fans reach for the bottle...

Record against Promoted Teams in 2009-10: Won 0, Drawn 1, Lost 5, For: 2, Against: 16. 

Record against Promoted Teams in 2010-11: Won 0, Drawn 1, Lost 5, For: 4, Against: 13.

Toss in our record against Southampton and West Ham this season (two games, two defeats, no goals scored, five conceded), and it all makes for pretty uncomfortable reading.

As Andrew Glover rightly went on to point out in his blog on December 2, Tony Mowbray was becoming a victim of his own success. But, as Glover also said, that wasn't a bad thing, as it helped to put our dreams of automatic promotion in perspective. Still, at the time I felt we needed an implausible series of events to get our hopes up again.

Curiously, they were forthcoming.

Three straight wins, coupled with conveniently-timed wobbles for the Saints and Hammers, have reduced the gap between us and "them" to just two points. Yes, we've had our share of lucky breaks in those games. The Bristol City win was a real smash-and-grab, and Cardiff's penalty claim looked legitimate. But how good does it feel to hit a fine spell of form again and have some new memories to talk about? Like Martin's free-kick, Haroun's delightful control for the winner against Cardiff, and the Bartman's first goal? (Deflected, schmeflected.) Even mostly unhelpful refereeing, Andy Taylor's rough challenges (you know, you had the opportunity to stay with us, Tayls) and the absence of Marvin Emnes didn't stop us against the Bluebirds. It certainly seems like the players saw my Alternative Boro Badge and took its message on board.

Just in time for Christmas too. It's really all a matter of time, isn't it?

But what I've also learnt over the years is that it's not just about the time, but the tim-ing. We've waxed lyrical about Mogga a lot this year, and his recent North East Sport Award is well deserved. But... but... in the midst of all this acclaim, a thought has occurred to me recently. Would Tony Mowbray be receiving as much praise as he has done this year if Gordon Strachan hadn't left us in such a mess to begin with? There's no doubt that Mogga has done a magnificent job, but he has had the added bonus of following a manager who had, in the words of my colleague Mike Baker, been "awful". Strach had taken "a tremendous management opportunity, spent our money and sent us spiralling off in reverse", and at the time, I'm sure a lot of fans must have been thinking, "Whoever we get next, he can't possibly be worse than Gordon, can he?" Now, I'm not about to turn this blog into an apologia for Gareth Southgate or anything like that, but you have to admit he wasn't dealt the fairest hand of cards when he took over. Replacing himself in defence, following a manager who had both won a cup and taken 'Boro into Europe, and rebuilding an ageing side with not quite the same amount of cash his two predecessors had to themselves... all in his first managerial role.

Of course, it's not just the case with modern day 'Boro bosses.

Let's take a look at another 'Boro managerial legend, Jack Charlton. Big Jack will always be admired for being the first manager to take Ireland to international finals. He'll also be much appreciated for the way he raised the profile of "the beautiful game" on this side of the Atlantic. But what if Ireland had managed to qualify for a major tournament before he took over? And furthermore, what if they had done so by playing a more attractive passing game? Would he have been as much of a "celebrity" in Ireland during the late '80's and early '90's? (Would Eamon Dunphy, for that matter?)

Would Michael Carrick have been regarded in a better light when he signed for Manchester United if he wasn't replacing Roy Keane? Antonio Valencia's done a terrific job in a United team that remains a pleasure to watch for the most part, but he'll always suffer the burden of not being Cristiano Ronaldo. Ironically the same burden that Ronaldo had to shake off when he put on the shirt that once belonged to David Beckham.

And would Nigel Worthington be viewed so negatively by NI football fans today if he hadn't had to step into Lawrie Sanchez's shoes? This was, after all, the same Lawrie Sanchez that had taken Northern Ireland to the top of the Euro 2008 qualifying group by the halfway mark, beating Spain and Sweden in the process! And he'd arrived in the job with the much simpler brief of getting the team to score a goal! It's easy to be harsh on Worthy now, but what if he had followed Sammy McIlroy instead?

Plenty of food for thought there, methinks. For now, I'll leave you all to think of real food as the 25th gets nearer. I'll be back to blog after the Hull game.

Until then, I'll leave you with this Christmas cracker...


Mike said...

In fairness the teams that win everything tend to do consistently well against the teams they ought to beat, making the 'six pointers' with fellow promotion rivals less important. But you are right - those Saints and Hammers defeats do put our respective merits in their place, don't they, a warning that in the summer none of us were talking about going up with anything other than rose-tinted specs wearing.

Anonymous said...

Very true. And I think this whole "lack of expectations" thing has worked in our favour. As I believe you said in your latest blog, we've done well when we're not expected to, and not so good when we have been expected to do well. Barring the Saints and Hammers blitzes, of course.

Aside: 20,000 tickets and counting sold for the Hull game so far. Will we see a full Riverside again?