Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Insomnia, Injuries, Irishmen, and the Idiosyncracy of Boro

"Idiosyncracy (Noun) 1. A behaviour or way of thinking that is characteristic of a person.
2. A language or behaviour that is particular to an individual or group."

Those of you who read my tweets during the Crystal Palace match on Saturday afternoon - and no doubt, many of you did - will remember that they were absolutely laced with bitterness. Probably unnecessarily so. But it was certainly how I felt at the time.

It was bad enough that we lost even more key players - Barry Robson, Faris Haroun, Scott McDonald and Marvin Emnes - to the treatment table last week. It was bad enough that we conceded yet another sickening late goal. But to top it all off with something that I felt was more like a cure for insomnia really was the cheap frosting on a half-baked cake. I wasn't the only one who thought that way, either - I got a reply saying that pretty much every single one of our home games since November had followed a similar pattern. And yes, I know we haven't won a single match since Nicky Bailey (must I keep mentioning his name?) limped out of action, but it runs deeper than that. The September "spark", in which Marvin really was Marvellous and we won seven out of nine games in all competitions (with the only draws coming due to the usual late concessions!), has long gone.

It's easy to point the finger at Bailey, but if you think about it, we won just a quarter of our matches stretching from the Carling Cup elimination at Crystal Palace to the West Ham surrender at the end of November. On reflection, such a surrender was probably best for us - we bounced back with four wins and a should-have-been before the end of 2011, and have pretty much coasted on those results ever since. "Coasted" in that despite our recent relegation form, we're somehow still in the play-off places.

It's easy to say that injuries to key players have once again exposed our glory pretense - like they've done so many times over the years - and I'm just not taking it very well. And it's not necessarily Mogga's fault, either. It seems that no matter what manager we've had during the Riverside era - Bryan Robson, Steve McClaren, Gareth Southgate or Tony Mowbray -  we can never fulfil our promise. That is the idiosyncracy of Boro.

No doubt most of you will wish that I could be more optimistic. But all too often, I've had my fingers burnt through hoping that the lads will show that little bit extra mentality and concentration needed to fulfil the Boro promise. One thing I'll give Gordon Strachan credit for is that at least he virtually eliminated the idiosyncracy - it's just a pity he did away with almost everything else we liked about Boro at the same time! (Although we'll always be grateful for Robson, Bailey, McDonald and McManus.)

There are other ways of changing Boro for the better. News from the club and fellow fans tell me we have no money for players. So where were we able to find £1.5 million to spend on Jutkiewicz? Now, don't get me wrong - I like the guy, he's gradually finding his way into the team. But there's another way to bolster the squad that doesn't require quite as much money. And that would be...

Going Irish.

Kevin Doyle joined Reading for £78,000 back in 2005. An injury to Dave Kitson gave him his chance in 2005/06, and he grasped it with both hands, becoming the club's Player Of The Season as they got promoted to the Premiership. Everton's Seamus Coleman, signed for £150,000, was nominated for the PFA Player Of The Year Award in 2011. Derry-born Shane Duffy is just starting to make his name at the same club. 6 ft 3 in David Meyler, signed by Sunderland for just £250,000, is slowly finding his way into the first team again, thanks to Martin O'Neill.

But nothing has vindicated the "going Irish" policy better recently than the remarkable rise of James McClean. He was signed by Sunderland for a mere £350,000 back in 2008, as "one for the future", but he never played under Steve Bruce. Since Martin O'Neill gave him his chance he has gone on to become some kind of an "assist king", setting up goals for the likes of Seb Larsson, Stephane Sessegnon, and - most painfully - Frazier Campbell. (It's Robbo's inability to spot McClean lurking over his shoulder that explains why we're playing again tonight.) He has goalscoring instincts, too, that remind me of a slightly more gifted James Morrison - the kind of player we let go for a ridiculously cheap sum and never really replaced.

So that's the advice for the future. But what can we do about the here and now? Well, of course I was looking forward to tonight's replay after the Stadium Of Light game, but back then, I didn't anticipate the significant injuries.

All the more reason to have a go tonight, though. For after all, what have we got to lose? And we have a young, promising striker of our own ready to prove a point. Perhaps, as Mogga says, Curtis Main can become our James McClean. (Heck, they even rhyme.)

My gut instinct tells me, though, that Mogga may bench him and play Thomson, Smallwood and the returning Arca in the middle, with McMahon and Bennett either side of them. It would probably be best to move Hoyte to left-back, uncomfortable though he is there, and play Bates/Hines as an emergency right back, allowing McManus/Hines/Bates and Williams to play in the centre. That leaves the Juke on his own up front in a 4-5-1, with the option of reverting to a 4-4-2 if Main is brought on.

Of course, I'm still hopeful that Robbo and Emnes can make it, but I'm not counting on it...

Onto tonight then. And kudos to the 25,000+ of you who will be there!

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