Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Boro vs. Chelsea: Won't Get Fooled Again?

Even if Boro get a good result tonight, will it actually mean anything? Si's Insights looks forward to tonight's FA Cup clash with caution

I remember the days when one look at the entrance of the then-Cellnet (ah, the joys of corporate sponsorship) Riverside Stadium was enough to give one a tingle, to make one dream of going there. Sixteen-year-old me loved the futuristic look of the stadium, and the fashionably unorthodox kit, with the BORO in the background and the badge on the sleeve. Little did I know at the time that it was a glossy veneer spread over a flimsy, tacky framework... like much of season 1996-97 was.

Every now and then during the first half of that wretched campaign - let's face it, excluding August, the first half of September and most of March, that season was hell - a good performance or goal would rise, convincing us that we might just have turned the corner, only for us to revert to type soon after. The win over Newcastle in the last sixteen of the then Coca-Cola Cup was the ultimate case in point. With injuries and divisions in the camp escalating - Emerson and Ravanelli had hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, and Juninho had to publicly state how happy he was in the area to quieten the tabloids - we proceeded to pull the wool over everyone's eyes, me included, with a Juninho-inspired all around attacking display that sent us all into dreamland. But the Newcastle game was simply a case of spoiling us rotten to try and make up for and disguise league ineptitude. It was a mirage, not an oasis.

The 3-1 victory was utter wishful thinking, a sign of the team we hoped Boro would be. But in the long term scheme of things, it meant nothing. Sure, it felt great to see our foreign legion in full flow - well, one of them anyway. It felt great to see our two mismatched - not that we cared at the time - strikers scoring. It felt great to see the maligned Derek Whyte taking the chance to stick one up at his critics. And it felt great to beat the title contenders at a full Riverside.

But look at that Newcastle team again. Vulnerable on their travels; a big name, weak-willed manager; a wealthy local benefactor; an international attack; an erratic South American; a dodgy defence. Were they really that different from Boro? To be brutally honest, it did appear that having seen their progress following promotion, Gibson and Robson were trying to emulate them. If so, this was folly; Boro were attempting, and failing, to take after a flawed team who were just fortunate to have a much larger fan base, plus Shearer and Ferdinand at their peak. Yet we've still won more than them in the last two decades...

Fast forward thirteen years to a not-too-dissimilar situation. A Boro side with a dodgier defence and a promising but erratic, wasteful and worst of all, misfiring attack find themselves virtually sleepwalking to the dreaded drop. Yet once they reach the last sixteen of a cup competition, this time, the FA Cup, we see exciting flowing football, a solid determined defence and two superbly taken goals. Better still, it paves the way for a 2-0 triumph over Liverpool at the weekend, one of just two defeats that season for the Merseysiders.

Alas, normal service is resumed at Spurs the following week.

I've concluded on numerous occasions, perhaps slightly unreasonably, that Boro have shown themselves capable of consistency and professionalism and choose for the most part not to be. So much for the Doom To Boom waxed lyrical about in Dave Allan and Adrian Bevington's book of the same name... more like almost consistent doom with a temporary, misleading boom here and there.

Even a win over Chelsea tonight and a win over Cardiff at the weekend will around mistrust. We've established ourselves as The Club That Cried Wolf, a team that's given so many false alarms that you wonder why we should be convinced when they actually do produce something of worth.

Now, tonight could (don't laugh) see something like that famous 3-0 win over Chelsea seven Februarys ago. You know, the one that inspired survival and two memorable cup runs. But, judging by history, it's bound to be a fleeting moment.

It's such a shame. There is undeniable talent at this club of ours. But what will we do with it?

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POSTSCRIPT: Well, we didn't get a chance to do very much with it in the end. We gave it a good go, and it was great to see Scott McDonald back to full fitness. But the gulf in class was all too striking - we didn't seriously, consistently threaten the Chelsea goal until the game was beyond us and they had "switched off" a little. It remains to be seen whether a "combative loss" will be enough to spark a winning run, especially since our imperious home form seems to have evaporated. Read John Powls' piece at Boro Banter for a more detailed account of the match.

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