We always look forward to City v Boro on MFW, and not just because it gives us a chance to rehash that now-famous YouTube clip of that Boro fan telling us “yous is shite”.
While the above is of course true, our real reason for looking forward to Norfolk colliding with Teeside is that it gives us an excuse to chat again with Paul Armstrong – formerly editor of Match of the Day and now author extraordinaire, who also happens to be a Boro diehard and friend of MyFootballWriter.
So, without further ado…
When we last spoke, your boys were seven points adrift of sixth place and two clear of the drop zone. Now you’re smack bang in the middle of the promotion mix having even had a brief flirtation with the automatic promotion places. Also, when we last spoke, Michael Carrick was just a promising rookie who you hoped could salvage something from the wreckage of Warnock and Wilder. A lot has happened since! Care to explain?
PA: It’s been arguably the most surreal turnaround in the club’s fortunes in decades. Probably since Bruce Rioch took a relegated, bankrupt club up two divisions in the late ’80s. However, the ragbag of kids Bruce inherited included future England players Gary Pallister, Stuart Ripley, and Colin Cooper alongside future Boro hall of famers like Bernie Slaven and Tony Mowbray.
Carrick hasn’t inherited quite that quality and has barely bought anyone, but has transformed us into a swashbuckling, risk-taking outfit with a points-per-game haul only rivalled by Kompany’s Burnley since he took over. It’s been too much for some Boro fans – see this cry of “it’s all very nice but it’s going nowhere” as a two-minute spell of possession at 3-0 up v Preston is about to lead to a goal Man City would have felt smug about.
Haha. You’ll be unfamiliar with the River End but it’s our equivalent of the above in the form of a whole stand behind one of our goals. Some in there absolutely loathed the “tippy-tappy rubbish” introduced by Daniel Farke and hate just as much its modified version under David Wagner.
Am guessing you’re more than a little bit chuffed with how things are going, but how does it feel having had what appeared as automatics in your sights only for the form to fall away a little at the worst possible time?
PA: Yes, I went to Swansea the other week where we won to go within three points of Sheffield United as they lost at home to Luton. They’ve kept their nerve admirably since then, to be fair to them. Meanwhile, we had an all too predictable nightmare against my old mate Colin Wa**er at Huddersfield, and a narrow defeat to Burnley, so the gap’s now up to eight. The best we can realistically hope for now is the playoffs. But given we were third-bottom in October, it’s been a fantastic turnaround regardless.
The fact that Colin gushed on about “Good old Boris” and Wilder ranted about “lefties and do-gooders” are very much secondary reasons I was glad to see the back of them. Carrick, refreshingly, is to the best of my knowledge yet to express a political opinion!
Blimey, you really have been through the mill up there. What a pair.
As you say, it’s been some turnaround by Carrick, who appears a decent bloke. Even in his formative weeks in the job, the signs were there, including when you beat us at home in the last game before the World Cup break. You were everything we weren’t, including being motivated and organised.
Let’s talk about Aaron Ramsey, or “AJ” as Dean Smith so irritatingly and incessantly referred to him. The little bugger was here on what we thought was a season-long loan, played quite well at times, and then, once Smith had been sacked, cited a potentially season-ending injury as cause enough to head off home to Villa for his rehabilitation. Then, before we knew it, in a matter of days, the little sod was 100% fit and playing for you! You’re going to tell me he’s played really well, aren’t you?
PA: Did Dean Smith do anything that didn’t irritate you all? Since we last came down in 2017, we’ve grown used to an ever more dire crop of loanees. Culminating last season in tiny non-goalscoring surplus Brighton forward Aaron Connolly, whose appearance off the bench was habitually with groans and cries of “We’d have been better off with Billy Connolly”.
So, the appearance in our ranks of Ramsey and his equally competent Villa teammate Cameron Archer has been a refreshing improvement, presumably down to Carrick’s pulling power. They’ve both slotted in well, though now you’ve told me about his antics at your place, I’m braced for him not hanging around if we don’t go up, or rapidly becoming “wantaway, failed a fitness test” Ramsey if we go up and stink the place out. You never got any of this with Duncan Forbes and Stuart Boam….
Nope… any shenanigans from Dunc and Stuart were confined to the pitch and usually involved them kicking a centre-forward ten feet up in the air. Different times.
But back to the 21st century … AJ aside, who else has shone under Carrick who didn’t shine under Wilder? In other words, who, in particular, should David Wagner and co be worried about? Please don’t say ‘everyone’.
PA: Our two biggest strengths are squarely down to Carrick. Chuka Akpom was respectively sent on loan to Turkey and made to train with the kids under the Warnockosaurus and Wilderdactyl. Carrick immediately recalled him, played him off Cameron Archer and he’s now our first 25 league goals player since Bernie Slaven.
The other thing Carrick’s done as a fellow clever, but unspeedy veteran midfielder is to pair the wondrous Jonny Howson (you and I have always steadfastly appreciated him) with an excellent prospect in 19-year-old Hayden Hackney. Naturally, Hackney wasn’t getting a look-in under Wilder but is now a permanent fixture in our engine room. The fullbacks are excellent at getting forward, too – especially Ryan Giles at left-back.
Okay… beginning to wish I hadn’t asked. 🙂
In the same spirit, any discernible weaknesses in the team and/or Carrick’s management of them?
PA: About 10%-20% of our fans hate Carrick’s insistence on playing out from the back, and audibly panic every time we do. I assume they never watch any modern football at all, and haven’t noticed Zak Steffen, our keeper (on loan from Man City and therefore schooled in this stuff) regularly taking out three opponents with a pass through their high press.
When it goes wrong, we do occasionally concede a not-too-pretty goal or two, and have on a couple of occasions – notably at Colin’s Huddersfield the other week – then had a calamitous quarter of an hour or so. If you catch us in one of those spells, we are very much beatable. I still know whose side I’m on in the tactical battle of Carrick v the Cavemen.
As an aside, not sure either of us saw cheese-knees Assombalonga pitching up at Watford! Have you played them with him in the side yet?
PA: No, we played both games against Collapsible Clown Car FC of Hertfordshire before he arrived, so no nostalgia-drenched and tearful reunion as yet. To be honest, we’d all be too busy shouting abuse at this week’s Watford manager Chris Wilder to notice who was in his team.
Understandable. Wilder, ex-manager or not, is one of those spiky characters who almost demand abuse from the stands.
And while we’re on asides… as former editor of MOTD, what did you make of the Beeb’s handling of Lineker-gate?
PA: I was invited onto BBC News channel to talk to Tony Livesey on 5 Live when Gary was suspended. The main issue to me was the double standards employed. Lord Sugar – also a freelance BBC flagship presenter – recently berated the union leader Mick Lynch on Twitter and previously told everyone to vote for Boris Johnson on the front page of The S*n at the last general election. No reprimand or any punishment whatsoever for that, but Gary was suspended for criticising the language used by the Home Secretary.
Either both have to be permissible or neither, especially when the BBC Chairman appointed by the same Boris Johnson has been linked with the facilitation of an £800k loan to Johnson himself, and is on the record as having donated £400k to his party.
The other thing that amazed me was that no one in senior management anticipated Ian Wright or Alan Shearer’s reaction. I guess if you’ve never been in a team or a dressing room, you may think that a two-footed tackle on the captain would just cause a debate over who takes his armband.
Anyone who knows – or ever watched – Wrighty or Shearer, would instead have anticipated what would happen next. My overriding feeling was sadness at the abysmal mismanagement, then relief that sanity eventually prevailed. Albeit a lame duck, completely compromised chairman is still there, plus a couple of board members who’ve nailed their politics to the mast even before they set up GB News (Robbie Gibb and John McAndrew) who are still ludicrously overseeing BBC “neutrality”. It’s absolutely dismal, but all too typical of where we are as a country.
Well said, but we’d best move on before we get told off (again).
What have you made of our topsy-turvy season?
PA: You’ve surprised and disappointed me – and more importantly, yourselves – to be honest. In the recurring tale of the yo-yo clubs, we’d expect you to be top of the podium while we battle for the lesser medals. Burnley were the ones I expected to struggle most of those who came down, but their managerial appointment made all the difference.
Seems strange that Wilder’s cliff dive in public – and most importantly, chairman – opinion at Boro can be traced back to his flirtation with Burnley’s supposed chat-up lines this time last year. Wish he’d just gone then and freed up an automatic promotion place. I bet Burnley’s board thank the (Bob) Lord on a nightly basis that it can be dismissed like a Bobby Ewing shower dream. Two contemporary references for the youngsters, there…
I got them… am confident most of our readers will too. We’re mostly of a certain age you see. 😀
Finally, standard, a score prediction for Friday night?
We’ll either win 2-1 or come a cropper playing out from the back and fall apart. If it’s the latter, 20% of our crowd will be able to fold their arms and say “See – told you so. Coming here with his fancy big club ideas. Bring back Tony Pulis”
Cheers Paul. Appreciated. Let’s pretend, as always, to hope that football is the real winner tonight.
MYSTIC KEV says
Hoping for a win tonight. Am going 1-0 to us. Isn’t it funny how we couldn’t be anyone in top six then won two away games against them and then couldn’t beat two teams in bottom six. What a strange old season this is. COYY!
Isn’t “Tony Pulis” something that mothers whisper to children when they won’t quieten down for the night?
Carrick was quite a cultured player, no reason why he shouldn’t be a cultured manager, is there? Glad for Howson, he was terrific for us.
All very interesting, but NCFC are going to win tonight and Teemu Pukki will score!.
Oh dear, what an absolute shit-show, embarrassed for the NCFC fans who travelled all the way to Middlesbrough for that!
Just hoped you might got some fed back on how your friend thought Kieran Scott was doing as their DoF and if there was any possibility we could swap him for Webber 😱😱.
I always though that Phelan might have joined Carrick in some capacity, completely sidelined at Manchester United but still getting paid, Ten Hag brings back the Wally with the Brolly and dumps Sir Alex’s right hand man for 10 years.
Tonight could be chalk and cheese again who knows what will turn up on the night but are away form is proving better that the home pressure so maybe we can turn the table on the Carrick Express or will we be like Ivor the Engine still thinking he can.
Bernard Owen says
BBC neutral 😅😅😅. Good point.
Will tune in as ever, more In hope than anticipation.