As ever, when a City/Boro game is imminent, it’s former MOTD editor, author, Middlesbrough aficionado and friend of MyFootballWriter Paul Armstrong to whom I turn. Rather than the traditional Q&A, we just chatted…
GG: Has our Colin finally been able to achieve what quite a few have failed to do, and that’s turn Boro into bonafide promotion hopefuls? Because from where I’m standing (defeats by Rotherham aside), that appears to be the case, even if it is in his own inimitable style.
PA: Yes. As you know I’m not historically a fan of Colin, but he’s managed to turn pretty much the same squad who looked a woeful ragbag under Jonathan Woodgate into a competent, competitive outfit. Then again, they were that under the similarly, shall we say pragmatic, Tony Pulis who reached the playoffs (1-0 aggregate defeat to Villa) before Woodgate, so it probably just illustrates what a bad – if well-intentioned – appointment Woodgate was. It’s possible they’ll squeeze into the playoffs on current form.
G: Good ol’ Colin! have you grown to love him, Paul? Was he as waspish as he appears when you encountered him in your Match of the Day editorial capacity? I’ve interviewed a few football folk since I’ve been writing about the game, and they’ve almost all been complete gents, but I’m pretty sure the sphincter would have been going ten to the dozen if I’d have been tasked with interviewing the Warnock!
P: I don’t think even Colin would describe himself as a “gent”, nor would many managers he’s fallen out with over the years, from Gary Megson at the Battle of Bramall Lane (worth a look on Youtube) to Nuno from Wolves. His outburst about “to hell with other countries” at some Brexit crunch point a couple of years ago suggests you and I might struggle with his global outlook, too. But he’s won over the local press with his bluntness and approachability, charmed the virtual fan forums and generally not ranted too often while at Boro. He did lose it last Sunday when Dael Fry nearly had an eye removed by an unpunished kung-fu clearance from Branthwaite of Blackburn. But at least he and the Sky team, and anyone watching (bar the match officials) all agreed he had a point on this occasion.
G: Ha! You beat me to it… without wanting to rile those I always rile, has the dear fellow’s stance on that Brexit thing mellowed at all? (just as an aside 😉 ) (And yes, the Battle of Bramall Lane is well worth checking out on YouTube! … here if you’re interested).
P: I’m not sure he’s said any more on the subject since, although he’s probably on safer ground in majority Leave Teesside (yes, it makes no sense to me, either) than when he was managing 15 different nationalities for Malaysian owners in Remain Cardiff. At least – as far as I know – he hasn’t gone the full Sam Allardyce and bemoaned the fact that his own Leave vote means none of his EU transfer targets are now allowed to play in the UK. Warnock also still has his main home in Cornwall where the council demanded its massive EU regional subsidy be replaced from Westminster the morning after the county voted Leave. But now its poor old fisherfolk have discovered they’ve been royally shafted, he’s probably steering clear of the subject. That said, watch out for him demanding the deportation of Farke if Boro lose on Saturday.
G: Hhmm … I daren’t say what’s in my head as I’ll get told off, but you know I agree with every word… including the bit about Cornwall’s EU funding. I was a local government accountant in the Nineties and Noughties and saw the positive impact of the now-departed EU funding. But hey… anyway, if I’m still on air, we’d best return to footie. Who’s going to put the willies up us on Saturday?
P: Jonny Howson was magnificent in our last away outing – a win at Forest – so will presumably relish a trip back to former pastures. Then again, you’ve got two Teessiders in your ranks in Ben Gibson and Jordan Hugill, so odds are that’s where the “Sod’s Law old boy winning goal” will come from. We’re more of a unit than anything, though the Boro fans have fully woken up to the Howson excellence you and I called out when he first joined us.
G: Am glad it’s worked out for him and that he’s settled. He cut a lonely, sad-looking figure when, in his first season on Teesside, he went over to applaud the City fans after our James Maddison-inspired win at the Riverside. As well as being a fine player, he also seems a jolly decent human being and he’s still loved around these parts. Only today I witnessed a Twitter love-in for the bearded wonder under the #NCFC hashtag. I’ve done it now … he’s nailed on to score! How are Assombalonga’s knees of cheese holding up?
P: He scored at Forest and then had a fairly ineffectual game v Blackburn, but is uninjured as far as I know, so you’ll probably see him on Saturday. Unless Colin switches to an 8-3-0 formation to combat your fluid passing game. As you know,, he likes nothing better than trying to destroy other teams’ fancy-dan stuff, especially if some forrin type is pulling the strings.
G: Haha … can imagine him and Blackwell having a proper behind-closed-door rant about Farke and his “bloody passing ideology …. how dare he even have a bloody ideology!” So, you’re anticipating a war of attrition rather than the beautiful game?
P: If there’s much talk from the Sky pundits afterwards of any beauty having been on display, I suspect that means we’ll have seen a resounding home win. A narrow home win, draw or an unlikely away win will probably mean attrition has prevailed. Actually, this Boro team can play a certain amount of football in the right circumstances, sometimes without the goals to show for it. It’s just that Norwich play a lot more football. Which in itself illustrates a gulf between the PL and Championship that takes some overcoming. Wolves, with the cream of Portugal available to them did it, Sheffield United managed it for a season, a Grealish-inspired Villa are now kicking on, Leeds should stay up (sadly) but most promoted sides are in a relegation battle from day one. It’s just reality. To be honest, I’d rather support a competitive Championship side than go up and be awful, like we did under Karanka.
G: I have to agree. The pain of last season’s Premier League campaign still lingers and every win that edges us closer to a return comes with a ‘why the hell do we want to go back there’ caveat. I guess the football supporter in us all gets around that by saying it’ll be different next time around, even when there’s zero evidence of that even being possible. As you well know, it’s a lonely, desolate place when you’re sh1t (by Premier League standards), and, of course, there’s the added joy of having every move dissected on national TV every Saturday night by a bloke with big ears, a mumbling Geordie and a Londoner who forgets names but laughs a lot. Tell you what though … the bloke who used to edit that show was a blo.ody genius … even when he did put us on last!
P: Ha, ha. I thought everyone in Norfolk loved MOTD once Hansen went. He was never forgiven for saying Norwich wouldn’t win the league in 1992/93 when you led the table for quite a while. As a young assistant producer and lifelong supporter of the underdog, I hoped he’d be proved wrong. I even went to that infamous heavy defeat you had to Wimbledon at Selhurst late that season. Sadly, his customary dismissal of the underdog proved right, even though he didn’t want Manchester United to win their first title in a quarter of a century either. Shame he’d packed up by the season Leicester won the title.
G: Ha. Hansen will, of course, be forever remembered for that ‘you never win anything with kids’ line, which I swear was Fergie’s main motivation for winning that first title! Anyway…. where were we… yep … City/Boro… care to predict Saturday’s score?
P: Narrow home win, I suspect. Feb 6th sees the 50th anniversary of the first game I ever went to – Boro 5 Norwich 0 – so I guess I owe you one.
G: Well, if it is a home win, which is by no means a certainty if our FA Cup efforts at Oakwell are anything to go by, then it will almost certainly be narrow! Of our 16 wins, only three have been by more than a single goal, so, especially with Colin’s penchant for solid defence, this is not going to be a goalfest.
P: You never know, Cheese-Knees may run riot. Or more likely, Jordan Hugill will double his tally for the season against the club he supports.
G: Oh god. Wish I hadn’t asked … I now have visions of Cheese-Knees giving Hanley and Gibson their roughest ride of the season. I’d take a 1-0 City bumsqueaker right now however nerve-shredding that may be!
Our chat occurred before Boro’s midweek home defeat by Rotherham, so it was only fair that Paul was given the final word and the chance to reassess his prediction once Paul Warne’s men had inflicted some Riverside pain…
P: I didn’t watch it, but it sounds like we were abject. Colin will demand fire, brimstone, and probably violence on Saturday. Red cards incoming…
G. Noted. Thanks mate – come again.