Sunday, 21 April 2013

Away Day Boo-Hoos For Miserable Boro

While the obvious temptation today would be to focus on our "unlucky" loss at Bolton (well, Anthony Vickers and many others thought it was; John Powls thought otherwise) and how it has mathematically consigned us to another season in this division with a lesser squad, there are more serious matters - or should I say, there is a more serious matter - to be concerned about.

To be frank, the nature of yesterday's defeat doesn't upset me in the slightest. We were genuinely unlucky against a play-off chasing team. On another day, Woody might not have gotten sent off and we would have won the game. And we have played much better in the last few games, albeit with little to show for it.

But is that the sort of thing that is going to entice the numerous Lost Riversiders to return? It is tough enough for them that Boro have blown as good a chance as any to get promoted (let's face it, Cardiff aside, none of the promotion challengers have shown any real consistency). That Mogga will have no money for new players unless he sells. That the manager is fielding soon to be lost causes (Dyer, despite his goal yesterday) at the expense of more hopeful ones (Reach, who didn't even make the bench). That the goals have dried up for Scott McDonald and that Lukas Jutkiewicz is nowhere to be seen.

No, most damning of all is that a season that promised so much is fizzling out with potentially our lowest league finish since 1990. And one can only suspect that the real reason to that has little to do with injuries, suspensions, bad luck or even Mogga's tactics, but an away day hoodoo that has dogged Boro for years.

After three consecutive away defeats at the start of the season, we went on a seven match winning spree on the road in both the league and cup, lasting from September 21 to November 3, which finished with a 1-0 win at the Stadium Of Light followed by a 4-1 romp against Charlton at the Valley. If you felt "the higher you peak, the harder you fall" at that stage, you'd have been correct, as Boro have managed just a solitary victory away from home since then.

But this is nothing new for Boro.

The club's away day hell has actually been extremely consistent throughout the whole of the Riverside era. Many point to the extremely large injury list for our freefall in 1995-96, yet the fact we managed just one away win after October should have been more of a concern. And in a way, it was kind of fortunate, with Lucas Radebe forced to play in goal for half the match and Gary McAllister blasting a penalty over the bar. 1996-97 was worse, with only the Juninho-inspired victory at Filbert Street (the same win that probably cost us the League Cup) to celebrate on the road after September. And in 1997-98, only one away triumph between the end of December and early April, including a dreadful run of just one point in fifteen, came very close to derailing our automatic promotion campaign.

Had enough yet? We managed only one away win between September 1998 and March 1999 - and that was at Old Trafford! - and in 2002-03, we picked up a mere 12 away points from a possible 57. Crucial injuries and a UEFA cup campaign were entirely legitimate reasons for nearly throwing away qualification for Europe in the league in 2004-05, but a solitary away win after November 14 is also telling.

It truly was hell for poor Gareth Southgate on the road in the Premiership. The 3-1 triumph at Charlton was our only away win in 2006-07 until May. 2007-08 saw a solitary victory on our travels either side of December, a 2-1 win at Fulham that would not have been if David Healy's "equaliser" had not been cleared from behind the line. 2008-09 saw Boro pick up no points on the road after November. Not one.

And after both Southgate and Adam Johnson had departed in 2009-10, the journey home from Plymouth was the only one the travelling Parmo Army could celebrate. It was one of just three away wins in Gordon Strachan's abysmal tenure. (For fun, see if you can name the other two.)

There have been exceptions to the rule, of course, like our great run earlier this season, and the twelve away victories of 2011. Six of those were consecutive, with Boro notching up twenty-three league goals away from home in the New Year during 2010-11.

But said "exceptions" have been few and far between. What is it? What exactly is holding Boro back on the road, not just this season, but throughout most of the last twenty years?

Whether it's fear of failure, tactics or just bad luck, your guess is as good as mine, but it's become quite clear now, more than ever before, that focusing on taking care of the away day boo-hoos could really help us move forward.

Let's just hope that (shudder) our home form doesn't suffer as a result.

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