Middlesbrough v Ipswich 7/08/2010
Much has been made of Gordon Strachan's policy of purchasing players from Celtic and Rangers where they are expected to win every game at all costs. This mentality and approach to games will be vital if Boro are to live up to their billing as Championship favourites, but are the fans at The Riverside ready to handle the pressure of expectation?
Having got used to mid table mediocrity in the Premier League, there was an air of entitlement at early home games last season. Regulars took a quick look at the opposition, realised they weren't familiar with many of the players and decided Boro should roll them over without breaking sweat. Although it soon became clear that Boro weren't going to be a dominant force in the second tier, the majority of fans didn't alter their mindset and there was a sincere lack of encouragement from the stands. The booing started with the first misplaced pass or slight hesitation; individuals were often wrongly singled out for blame.
To the neutral observer it would seem a strange notion but preparing a team to play confidently in front of the Riverside crowd - however low it may be - has become a real issue that Strachan and his backroom staff must overcome. On occasions last season even winning wasn't enough to satisfy the crowd. A comfortable 3-0 Boxing Day win over Scunthorpe was met with a collective shrug of the shoulders as thousands headed for the exits before the final whistle. This attitude from home fans is far from unique, of course. Fans at The Emirates and Old Trafford often lose interest before the end of Champions League games that the broadcasters would have the television viewers believe are the most important games of all time (well, since the last round of games two weeks ago).
For Riverside regulars though, there really does need to be a change of emphasis. Rather than waiting to be entertained, fans need to once again play their own role in proceedings. We need to be patient with the team - lots of new faces may take time to gel - and try not to participate in moaning and groaning en masse which will only result in more tension, further mistakes and make resounding victories less likely
The professionals prepare all week to stick to their game plan. They fully expect the visitors to get bodies behind the ball and make things difficult. They will be primed not to rush, to try different angles of attack. Fans also have worked all week in less enthralling surroundings, paid more than they would like to for the privilege of watching and are often keen to let off steam as soon as possible.
Perhaps a team talk for those on the terraces would work? A sports psychologist specialising in motivating masses of blokes many of whom will have had half a dozen pints before rushing through the turnstiles just in time to get a bet on at the Ladbrokes kiosk before kick off. That would help.
"Everyone remember their roles. We need a big start, a massive first ten minutes. If things don't go our way, stick together, heads up. We must be patient against this lot. And if it's still nil nil as half time approaches, don't flick any V's at the left back as you head for the concourse. We can do this." That kind of thing.
Boro fans love a player in the Barry Robson mould. He follows in the footsteps of Robbie Mustoe, one of my all time favourites, and can be relied upon to get the crowd going with a crunching tackle and his never say die attitude. Kevin Thomson and Nicky Bailey are said to be similar players. Hopefully the change in personnel on the field can herald a new style of support off it.
Boro v Nottingham Forest 21st November 2009
After yet another international break we get the opportunity to put our promotion challenge, hopefully, back on the rails with the visit of the tricky trees. It's a chance for The Saint to put the agony of Ireland's shocking exit from the World Cup behind him and set his sights on the Premier League. Dave Kitson is another who will be looking forward to the game but for different reasons. He hasn't featured for Stoke lately and will be desperate to start or at least play some part in the game.
With Kitson, Lita and Bent, the forward line is looking good for this level of football. GS2 has asked for goals so it is primarily up to those 3 to supply them, but if Johnno or any other players for that matter wish to contribute, then us fans won't mind one bit. Strachan has lost his first two games in charge and if Boro are to keep their interest in promotion alive then we can not afford anything but a win. 4 points from the last 15 is simply NOT GOOD ENOUGH. The home fans deserve to go home happy!!
Forest have a good away record in the League this season and will bring the biggest following, so far, to the Riverside this season, so it won't be easy. They sit 1 point and 2 places above us in the League. It's been said on many a message board, radio station and in the papers, but if Boro could put just half of the chances we create away then we would be sitting among the pacesetters and not resting among the bedwetters in this league.
The crowd, our support and our patience will be vital. Let's create an atmosphere for the players to flourish and enjoy the game. A win will keep us in the pack, a defeat doesn't bear thinking about. We showed how to support our team at the City Ground in the Carling Cup earlier this season. Despite an extra time defeat our support was superb. More of the same on Saturday, lady luck smiling and the players finding their scoring touch and I think that the Forest will go home empty handed while we celebrate the tree points (groan) in the bars on Teesside and beyond. We CAN and WILL make the difference.
BORO……it's in the blood.
Boro v Leicester
The best thing about The Championship is that the games come thick and fast. After the heartbreak of conceding two late goals at Coventry at the weekend, Boro have an early opportunity to banish those bad memories by getting three points at the Riverside tonight.
In some respects dropping two points at the Ricoh Arena was harder to take than the 5-0 humiliation at the hands of West Brom. A draw in such circumstances always feels more like a defeat. If we had held on for the win we could have been looking to build some momentum tonight.
Instead we again we go into a game looking for a response. There is a great deal of expectation on the players, especially when playing in front of our home support and there is already a concern that we aren't being as consistent as our 'friends' from up the A19.
Coventry's late goals left such a bitter taste because Boro had cruised through the majority of the game. We had wasted some good chances but didn't look too threatened until the later stages of the game when panic set in. The same old lapses of concentration occurred as Boro failed again to kill a game. We are naïve when it comes down to running down the clock and lack the composure to grind out the result.
Tonight's visitors also come into the game after a disappointing result. Nigel Pearson's Leicester have enjoyed a reasonable start to their season and despite losing at home to high flying Preston on Saturday they will be targeting a play off spot at the end of the season.
Pearson was a colossus for Boro: he led by example and often played through the pain barrier as his career came to an end. We can expect his team to play in the same committed style.
I would like to see Gary O'Neil deployed in the centre of midfield tonight. He is arguably one of the best midfielders in this division and is wasted on the right. He drifts inside in any case which can leave the right back exposed when the opposition break.
Mark Yeates deserves another opportunity while there is also the option of playing Marvin Emnes from a wide position. Emnes seems to have the heart for the battle and will only get better with more experience. His pace is an obvious threat and he works well off the ball and wins aerial challenges when you least expect. His missed chances at Coventry cost us dearly though and it may well be that it has to be either him or Jeremie Aliadiere up front with Leroy Lita.
Tonight's crowd could well be the lowest for a league game at The Riverside but what we lack in numbers we can make up for in passionate volume. The support has been excellent so far this season and there is a growing bond between the fans and a young team who seem to be giving their all. Win tonight and we can travel to Reading aiming to go into the next international break on a high.
Come on Boro. We need to dust ourselves down and get this promotion campaign firmly back on track.
Boro V WBA
Some people are saying that Saturday's game against the Baggies is massive, a must win game. I don't think that at this stage of a 46 game season that it is either of those. True, a win would send confidence shooting through the team and us fans, and would also send a warning shot across the bows of every other Championship team that we mean business. But a draw or a defeat wouldn't be catastrophic. We dealt with 2 defeats in a week. We dealt win an injury time winner in the second of those defeats, and we came back with two 3-1 victories in potentially tough matches. It seems that we have become a tougher team this year both mentally and physically.
We stood up to Sheffield United's aggressive style on the opening day and dealt with Ipswich's tenacity last week while mixing it ourselves. We have learnt from last season's disappointments and seem able to meet the challenges facing us far better. Saturday sees a chance for us to settle a score with West Brom. They took six points off us last season, the win at the Riverside being daylight robbery. I hope to witness a confident, mobile Boro unit out battle the opposition roared on by a noisy, hostile crowd. I hope to witness passion in the stands matched by passion on the pitch. I hope to be stood after the game, pint in hand, looking at the league table on the telly after Boro have boing boinged there way over the baggies to the top of the Championship.
Come on you mighty Reds !!!!!!!
As so often seems to be the case, the international break came at the worst possible time for The Boro. With the disappointment of losing Robert Huth and Tuncay to Stoke City still lingering, we lost for the first time in the Championship at Ashton Gate.
The players would have been eager to bounce back from that defeat quickly, hoping to show it was just a minor blip in our attempt to bounce back to the Premier League at the first attempt.
It would also have been good for us fans to get that game out of our systems. Instead we had to endure a deadline day of frustration as the club's main transfer target, Rob Hulse, decided he wasn't interested in moving to The Riverside.
Noises from the club suggest we will dabble in the loan market (how we could do with a 2009 version of Uwe Fuchs) and Gareth Southgate will need to move quickly to beat off competition from our promotion rivals to add much needed depth to our wafer thin squad.
The next stage of the season, comprising of five games in 17 days, will go some way to determining whether or not we will win promotion. The squad is bound to be stretched by injuries and fatigue and I'm not convinced that our fringe players are ready to contribute to what will be must win games. The manager said he had every eventuality covered should senior players leave the club. We must wait and see what experience he can bring in on a short term basis.
Teams that win automatic promotion stay ahead of the chasing pack by winning game after game. Boro managed three back to back victories in August and fielded a strong side at Nottingham Forest in the Carling Cup in a bid to make it four on the bounce.
Consistency has been something of an alien concept to Boro teams in recent seasons. This season we really need to become one of the form teams in the country.
Just as it seemed we were beginning to build some strong foundations from which to challenge for promotion, the transfer window departures and incoming inactivity have sapped some of the growing morale.
With the games coming thick and fast this month we must hope that the team can gain some more momentum and stay in touch with the other fancied sides in this division.
Saturday's game against Ipswich will be a tough test. There is no doubt that Roy Keane will have his team fired up. The Tractor Boys have made a slow start to the season and in contrast with Boro, they will have welcomed the international break as a chance to lick their wounds and regroup.
The table will begin to take shape and become more significant by the end of this month. It is absolutely vital that Boro start September with a win.
Boro v Doncaster 22/08/2009
After a lacklustre start to our Championship season Boro have picked up 2 away wins on the bounce, something that hasn’t been a regular feature in recent years. Those wins were difficult looking, when the fixtures were announced, but they turned out to be comfortable wins due to the quality of our play. Many questions were raised before the start of the season as to whether we would be able to compete physically in this league, but the opening fixture was ideal as an introduction to the more robust qualities needed to do well.
Looking back on it now, the result against Sheff U wasn’t too bad. Yes, we were all gutted not to win and we were short changed by a poor second half display, but 2 games later things look much better. At Swansea we more or less controlled the game for long spells, and were good value for the win. Those of us who travelled down gave the team fantastic support from start to finish and despite the early start and late finish it was well worth it. The game at Scunthorpe was much tougher. Scunthorpe played well in spells and had us defending desperately at times, but our quality was the difference. The 1st goal emphasised the point. We sold out our allocation and the support generated from our parts of the ground was superb. You could see how much the players appreciated it and were lifted by it.
We need that level of support in all games. We have a few areas of the Riverside where constant support is the norm, it would be great to think that ALL the stadium could be like it. Impossible? Maybe, but you can only hope. If you are reading this then you are probably of the mindset that vocal passionate support is part of the game and our duty as fans. You may be sat at the Riverside in an area that isn’t as noisy as some others and you probably wish that people around you would sing. But sometimes it only takes 1 person to have the balls to stand up and sing and others may follow. There may be fans near you wishing the same thing. Take the lead, be the one to kickstart those fellow fans wishing to ignite the passion in a normally quiet section. With the support we all know we can give our team, this season may turn out to be a memorable one. Lets shout the boys to victory and reflect in a job well done. We’re all in this together.
Sheffield United - Friday 7th 2009.
Champions. That's what Gareth Southgate expects his team to be at the end of this long season and as everyone at the Club readies themselves for the challenge of winning promotion it's important to realise the crucial role us fans will have to play in the Championship.
Despite the disappointment of relegation from the Premier League, Boro fans can hold their heads high and be satisfied that we stayed with the team until the bitter end. Fans from all corners of the Riverside encouraged the team and tried to stay positive right until the end of the final home game with Aston Villa.
After successive seasons battling to stay in the Premier League, we now need to give the team all the support we can to help them get back in it. The expectations of everyone at the Club, which were evident from the moment Steve Gibson assured fans that he would do everything he could to make sure we bounced back at the first attempt on the BBC Tees phone in, will undoubtedly put massive pressure on the players to succeed.
So while the challenge of winning promotion is a different one for the players, the fans in the stands also need to adapt our mentality to Championship football as well. Home games are always important but this season we really do need to make sure this place becomes Fortress Riverside.
With 23 home games and plenty of night games among them we need to pick up as many wins as possible to make sure we're among the contenders at the top of the division.
The Riverside needs to be positive in its support of our players and intimidating for the opposition. We must make the players feel proud to represent us and Middlesbrough Football Club. Everyone at the ground tonight has pledged their loyalty to the Club for what will be a long slog of a season. Let's raise the roof and make this the place to be for all Boro fans.
The manager expects his team to be Champions and there is no doubt that should be the aim for a club with our recent history. For now though we need to take it one game at a time and get the points on the board. Come on Boro, give us that Friday feeling.