For once, where to head for a pre-match Q&A was a no-brainer. Paul Armstrong, occasionally of this parish, former Match of the Day editor, Boro nut and all-round nice guy kindly agreed to have a civilised Sunday chat to mull over all thing Boro/City…
At this juncture I’d normally enter game show host mode and ask for ‘your name and where do you come from’ but given you’ve darkened these doors before there’s probably little need. But for those that don’t, Paul’s the guy single-handedly responsible for us being last on MOTD for three years running. That’s right isn’t it? ?
P: Yes, Norwich were always last on MOTD when I did the running order. Along with 16 other teams, including my own! The other four teams were only put on first when they’d lost. Because we hated them and loved their biggest rivals. So that’s Man United if you were a Liverpool fan, or Liverpool if you were a United fan. At least that’s what the feedback was every week. Usually from Cornwall or Surrey. Anyway, neither of us are in the Premier League now, so it’s all Sky and Channel 5’s fault. They hate us, too. And love Ipswich and Sunderland. Probably.
Ha! Good answer. So… on to Boro v City. The first time we’ve met since *that* day I believe. A lot has happened since! Who knew in two seasons we’d both end up precisely where we started prior to that fateful day…
Yes. “Better to have loved and lost” and all that. We’ve been to Wembley six times, scored once, and never won, so that Play-Off Final was sadly predictable. Boro were well beaten. The following season was great for us, less so for you, and I don’t think either of us will want to remember last season for too long.
Boro amassed a paltry two points from losing positions last season, we’ve got four this week in the Championship. It’s a lot more fun back at that level at the moment. I was at Fulham on Saturday – unlike almost every away match last season, other than Sunderland, we were at a similar level to the opposition, and when we conceded after 86 minutes, it wasn’t inconceivable that we’d equalise, as indeed we did. The only thing with the Championship is it’s easy to get stuck there for years, or go even further down, as many relatively big clubs have shown.
Your last comment there about the fear of getting marooned in the Champ is particularly pertinent in these parts. We have eight months worth of parachute payments to make any financial advantages count and then we’re back to relying on Delia’s piggy bank – and with the greatest respect to Delia, that’s a fairly unedifying prospect.
It’s not all about money of course – Huddersfield proved that – but with most having some form of benefactor it will leave us feeling a little vulnerable. Boro fans still 100% behind Steve Gibson?
Yes, they are, although last season saw his judgement questioned more than at any time in his 23 years in charge. He tries to be loyal to managers, and because we were out of the bottom three until some time after Xmas, getting rid of Karanka was a lot less clear-cut than, say, Swansea getting rid of Bob Bradley and saving themselves. Appointing Garry Monk, who did well in this division at Leeds (though not quite as well as the new bloke & our supposedly useless ex-Head of Recruitment, Victor Orta!) and spending a decent slice of the parachute money on what look like decent Championship pedigree players has kept most fans on board so far. And the fact that his nephew, and much our best player last season, Ben Gibson has stayed, has helped that. As has a reasonably solid, hard-working start to the season.
Solid and hard-working eh? Hhmmm. Unnerves me slightly. Ours, as you’ve probably seen, has been more roller coaster than solid although we’ve eventually found a reasonably even keel. We’ve gone all Germanic so guess we were never going to hit the ground running, but it’s probably fair to say that you have? How’s our Jonny settling in? Hope you’re looking after him.
When I say “solid and hard-working”, we’re actually giving the opposition more chances than we did last season, but creating far more ourselves, though the conversion rate has been mixed. There’s just a nice honesty about the team at the moment. I saw us lose 2-1 at Forest the other week, but actually enjoyed it. We created 17 chances, which was about half a season’s worth in the Prem. I don’t like getting into national stereotypes – my favourite ever Boro player was Brazilian, and Mendieta was a marvellous Spanish Boro player – but we did seem to have an unhappy dressing room under Karanka, with an often negative, run-the-clock-down, pull a fast one (mostly Gaston Ramirez) approach.
I know the Premier League is a streetwise place and avoiding defeat is often the name of the game, but the body language and sense of having a go is much better so far this season. I doubt Monk is as scary as Karanka, either for a start, he isn’t going to cause a players’ mutiny by telling them they’re all awful, and he should know because he’s played with the Galacticos at Real. Karanka did just that after a midweek defeat at Rotherham, and was asked to stay away from our next game. Then again, the right foreign coach can transform a club – just look at Huddersfield. And Wagner came from Borussia Dortmund, like your bloke. Guess you have to give him time. I went to your League Cup tie at Brentford – I know they rested players and hit a penalty which jeopardised the Heathrow flightpath, but you played them off the park. Two ex-Boro players featured – James Husband, who hardly got a game for us because of George Friend and Yanic Wildschut who we didn’t see much of either, but was apparently great at Wigan. Cameron Jerome was a youth player at Boro, too, I believe.
Speaking of exes, Jonny Howson has been in and out of our side, but I thought he was our man of the match at Fulham. Tidying up in front of the back four and playing intelligent passes. I always liked the look of him, so was pleased when he joined. Daniel Ayala is on the bench at moment – Gibson is being partnered at centre-back by another academy graduate, Dael Fry, which is pleasing to see. Sadly, our fantastic “La Bamba” song is no more – “Dani, Dani, Ayala, Alvaro Negredo, Victor Valdes, Gaston Ramires. Ay-tor Karanka, Ay-tor Karanka” – since Ayala is the only Hispanic name left at the club.
However, listen out for a marvellously cheesy “I’m into Something Good” based on Garry Monk getting us promoted, which provided 99% of the noise at Craven Cottage on Saturday. I love that place, but taking on massed singing with free clackers is never going to work out well.
“Tidying up in front of the back four and playing intelligent passes.” You’ve summed Jonny up in a nutshell. Got yourselves a good’un there; and loves a pigeon too does our Jonny. Rescued one once at Upton Park (think it was being bombarded with jellied eels). The bit about Boro’s class of 2018 being more honest and likeable than its 2017 counterpart rings true for just about every Champ team that’s sampled life in the Prem, and for the leagues themselves to be honest. While we’ll both be straining every sinew to get back to the EPL, for clubs like ours it’s not a bundle of fun even you’re there. Agreed?
On the subject of new songs, the few hundred who’ll make the trip will treat you to a variation on Parklife that we’re quite proud of.
Ah, “Farklife” – yes, very good. Our best play on words was probably when Joseph-Desire Job’s debut was greeted with “There’s only one Job on Teesside”. Newcastle’s deluded support and lack of trophies in the colour tv era also breeds some funny chants, but that’s a bit of an easy target.
There was a lot of debate at Fulham about the merits or otherwise of being in the PL. Everyone enjoys going to games when you have a decent chance of seeing goals and a win, and given the gulf within the current PL, realistically the days when you and we regularly beat the biggest clubs may be gone for good. We both won the League Cup, had some incredible European trips and have produced some great players. I’ll settle for that in many ways – the 606 entitled big club brigade are watching a different sport, one that has somewhat left me behind these days. But you’ll still all troop down to the Emirates in a few weeks in hope and expectation, and some of us might even go to Bournemouth for our “glamour tie”. Easier for me because I’m in London, but some loons will come down from Teesside.
As for the Monk philosophy, he seems to want to entertain – partly a practical necessity in this division where you need to win most games to have a chance of going up – and it looks as though he gives players a chance. Assombalonga had a terrible return to Forest, trying too hard and snatching at chances, Adama Traore had an even worse return to Villa, flying into a tackle and getting a third-minute red card. Karanka would probably have compared them unfavourably to his good friend Zidane, and not spoken to them for months, but Monk seems to go in for the arm round the shoulder, and an acceptance of their limitations. Traore’s ban has just ended, so you might see him on Tuesday night. He’s the fastest, strongest, most erratic player I’ve ever seen – last season’s rumour was that he was a rugby league world-beater playing the wrong sport because of a translation mix-up – but Monk seems to think he can get something out of him, so that could be an interesting subplot.
For what it’s worth, I think Wolves will win this league. That weird combination of Chinese ownership and a Portuguese agency tie-up has landed Porto first-teamers the rest of us can only dream of us. And I really this won’t happen, but Dirty Leeds seem best-placed for second. Hope that puts the mockers on them. The rest are much of a muchness: I’ll be disappointed if Boro don’t finish in the top six, and you might well do, too. So, enjoy Tuesday (though not too much) and see you on Feb 4th in Norfolk as a dress rehearsal for late May at Wembley. Oh God, no – what am I saying?
The though of a Wolves/Leeds top two…. Eugh. But yes, certainly not beyond the realms. Cheers for your time Paul – appreciated. Before you depart… a prediction for tomorrow night?
I know. I’m saying Leeds, in particular, based on my professional and football mantra of “expect the worst, and you might get a pleasant surprise”. As for Tuesday’s game, I’m obliged to say a Boro win, though I’m by no means confident. It won’t be a repeat of the first game I ever saw – Boro 5 Norwich 0, Ayresome Park, 6th Feb 1971. I’ll say 2-1 to Boro. But Norwich will probably have the last laugh at Wembley again…