There have been plenty of City/Boro clashes of note over the last decade and each and every time it gives MFW the opportunity to engage with a friend of the site, Paul Armstrong – former Match of the Day editor, author and, crucially, Boro diehard.
He was kind enough to take time out of his break in NYC and Washington DC to talk to us ahead of Tuesday’s game.
GG: Winding the clock back a few months first… the playoff semi against Coventry must have been a proper blow to the gonads. It looked for all the world like you guys had the form, momentum, and quality to win that four-team tournament and make it to the “Promised Land (which is actually a bit sh1t”)”. Did its impact rattle through to your lukewarm start to this season?
PA: Yes, I think a hangover is a fair description. It was a particularly miserable play-off defeat (not that there’s a good type) in that we seemed to have done the hard work with a 0-0 away in the first leg. Coventry won 1-0 at the Riverside with pretty much the only shot of note from either team in either leg.
Our extraordinary run to get from bottom of the table in October to the playoffs in the first place got slightly overshadowed. That said, as you point out, there’d almost certainly have been no Promised Land.
I’m not sure we were any better equipped for the Premier League than Luton or Sheffield United, and we were arguably less well-equipped than Burnley. It’s not at all inconceivable that all three will go back down, as we probably would have -.Burnley might finish ahead of Bournemouth, but I suspect that’s about as much as any of them will ultimately achieve.
I’m guessing the departure of Chuba Akpom to Ajax and Cameron Archer returning to Villa (and then signing for Sheffield Utd) left big holes for Carrick to fill. I’m also guessing the joyously named Emmanuel Latte Lath was intended to fill part of that void – how have he and the rest of the summer signings (and there were a lot!) settled in now?
The departure of what was a very good Championship forward line was a massive blow, as was the return of midfielder Aaron Ramsey (no, not him, the other one – oh, we know all about him; don’t worry about that – Ed) to Villa after his loan spell. They promptly sold him to Burnley. Ditto left-back Ryan Giles who went back to Wolves to be sold to Luton.
The fact that three of those four aren’t starting for their new clubs and that the one who is (Archer at Sheffield United) isn’t pulling up any trees, suggests we’d have struggled even if we’d gone up and kept them all.
None of the replacements have set the world on fire so far, though Latte Lath, formerly of Atalanta, has shown some promise. With the wondrous Jonny Howson possibly finally just over the hill, academy product Hayden Hackney in midfield looks like our best player by some distance so far. He was superb in England U21’s 9-1 defeat of Serbia last week and looks destined for the very top. Probably not with Boro for much longer, being realistic.
After going winless over the first seven games, you then go and win five on the spin. Talk about famine and feast! Just a case of the new players settling or Carrick making tactical or personnel changes? (Can only imagine how much you will have enjoyed winning 4-0 at Sunderland!)
The turnaround has been stark, to put it mildly. We were genuinely poor for the first few weeks of the season. Most of us thought we’d struggle to match last season having lost four of our best players, but it was worse than we anticipated.
It says a lot for Carrick that he’s been able to get the train back on the rails, albeit by switching things around and deploying fewer of the newer signings. The return of the dynamic Aussie, Riley McGree – you might remember his worldie at Carrow Road last season – has particularly pleased those of us who didn’t understand why he was being left out in the first place.
We’ve played fairly well in recent weeks, but we’re still far from watertight at the back. And while the 4-0 at Sunderland was a quite wonderful thing to behold, all the goals came in the second half when Sunderland were down to ten men. It had been pretty even until then
Given how well you finished last season, I imagine the automatics were very much the aim. Has that been realigned to the playoffs now given how Leicester and that other team in blue have pulled clear? Or you going to revert to that BBC book of banned footballing cliches and tell me Carrick is taking it one game at a time?
Miserable sod that I am, the loss of those three loan players plus Akpom over the summer meant I thought we’d dip a bit this season. I expected two of the relegated teams to bounce straight back:
Leicester should never have gone down in the first place and looked nailed on for automatic promotion all summer. They really ought to walk it, and I suspect they will.
I hoped Leeds would continue their pleasing shambolic collapse, and was sorry to see that Jimmy Somerville-inspired comeback at your place on Saturday, but thought Southampton wouldn’t be far behind Leicester. While that hasn’t materialised so far, the playoffs were as high as I thought Boro would be likely to finish, and I think I’d still say that.
Ips**** have clearly found a good young coach and some upward momentum, although I had no notion whatsoever they’d start as well as this. They’ve even got a bit of a points cushion, as you say, although this is early days in the 46-game marathon, and it might be more of a reflection on the mediocrity of the chasing pack to date.
Somebody will doubtless go on a long “one game at a time” run at some point. That said, it would take something truly exceptional for Boro to bridge the 14-point head start that other mob from East Anglia have over us, even after our four straight wins.
Going back to Carrick… I may be wrong but he appears to have a likeability factor that somehow eluded your previous two managers.
Yes, he’s clearly a good bloke. You could argue that pretty much anyone would be an improvement on the likeability front compared to the previous pair of rotters – the two CWs, Colin W and Chris Wilder – but Carrick really has something.
Players seem to want to play for him, he gives considered but straight answers in interviews, he’s coped brilliantly with his first rough patch in the job, and I fully expect him to manage a really big club in due course. Possibly one of the ones he played for, though not just yet, I hope.
Given that the Teesside ship has been steadied and you’re upwardly mobile again, dare you dream of next season locking horns with El-Toon? Talking of whom… I’d love your thoughts on those lovable scallywags in black and white.
And our chat was going so well… Did you have to mention them?
Imagine if you will, that your mates down the road in Suffolk suddenly had a highly controversial and oil-rich wealthy government…sorry, completely independent national investment fund…pouring squillions into them for sportswashing purposes? Add in their support’s decades-long delusion that neutrals love them and are heartbroken that they haven’t won a trophy since the Fairs Cup in 1969.
To be honest, it’s so surreal and removed from anything even vaguely resembling sport as we know it, that I don’t really see them as rivals to any normal club anywhere. Sunderland and Boro are now the last two real, reasonably big North East football clubs.
We’ll very shortly be unable to sing the song that sprung up as Juninho and co ran around the Millenium Stadium with the Carling Cup in 2004 – “Have you ever seen a Geordie lift a cup? (Have you f***)”. And the banner with an arrow pointing to a black and white away end at the Riverside, reading “Trophy Virgins” will probably never see the light of day again.
But I wouldn’t swap our one cup ever and the considerable ups and downs of following my club over the years for the wheelbarrow loads of empty, widely-resented silverware that is probably coming their way.
And I’d hope most fans of similar clubs – Sunderland, Norwich, and others – would feel the same.
Hear hear – goes without saying, mate. Is good to be reminded of that occasionally, especially when things are feeling a bit sh1t … as they do right now.
Anyway… finally… standard stuff… care to offer up a prediction ahead of tomorrow night?
I’ll go for a 2-2 draw. Boro beat Norwich 5-0 in the first game I ever went to (Ayresome Park, Feb 1971). I’ve never seen Boro win at Carrow Road in five visits, having missed the two relatively recent wins, which I think are the only two in my lifetime.
I’m coming to the game this time, despite not enjoying much luck football-wise in Norfolk over the years. My first two trips were draws: a respectable 0-0 in the top flight in 1988, then the utter debacle that was the 4-4 under Steve McClaren in 2005. Younger readers might have to Google that one: a Boro team containing the current England manager went 4-1 up with twelve minutes to go, then fell apart. A smurf-sized left-back called Adam Drury scored an injury-time equaliser with what must have been the only headed goal of his career (surely?).
If you think your turnaround against the forces of darkness from West Yorkshire on Saturday was grim, that was a whole other level of collapse. Especially sandwiched in the middle of a long and awkward January return journey. Then there was that day at Wembley when you turned up and we didn’t.
So, even though we’re on a good run at the moment, I expect it to end on Tuesday. My long-established football motto of “expect the worst, and you might get a pleasant surprise” means I rarely go overboard, and a draw would probably be acceptable for both of us.
Let’s just not have any injury-time headed equalisers from have-a-go hero full-backs this time, eh?
Thanks mate … appreciated as always. Enjoy your visit to the Fine City.