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Half Term Report; Middlesbrough

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Stephen Orford

Due to the mild irritation of his disability Stephen Orford has never kicked a football in his life. However, he is a serious asset to any editor looking to comply with equal opportunities legislation....
[full biography]
31/12/2007 10:00:00.
read: 139 times.

Things are pretty much going as expected for Middlesbrough so far in the 2007/08 season.

In his second full season since replacing Steve McClaren (remember him?) as manager, Gareth Southgate is still finding it difficult to find the right formula for avoiding a relegation scrap. Nineteen games in, Boro are 16th in the Premier League table and are separated from the relegation zone by only three points.

Home form has been a bit like an indifferent trifle, in that it has been a trifle indifferent. Southgate’s charges have won just twice at the Riverside Stadium, and have managed the same number of victories on their travels. Only three sides have scored less home goals than Boro, while only two have shipped in more on their home patch. Yet it is the six away defeats, illustrated by a paltry six goals on the road which have had most to do with Boro’s predicament.

Some may cite the loss of strike duo Mark Viduka and Aiyegbeni Yakubu in the summer as a major factor behind the side’s struggles this term. Viduka hopped boldy across the north east to pitch up at Newcastle under Sam Allardyce (a move from frying pan to fire if ever there was one), while Yakubu now dawdles around lazily notching the odd hat-trick in the blue of Everton. The pair may most politely be described as languid during their time at Middlesbrough, but there is some justification for Boro fans to feel that their goal threat has not been adequately been replaced.

Turkish international Tuncay Sanli recently woke up with three goals in three starts against Derby County, Arsenal and Reading in the first half of December. Yet the former Fenerbahce and Besiktas man has reverted to old ways since then, having not scored in either of the club’s defeats to West Ham United or Birmingham City. The performance against Blues on Boxing Day was particularly abject, but perhaps there are some mitigating factors as to why it is not quite coming together under the former Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Boro defender.

Having lost his strike pairing from last season Southgate brought Tottenham’s Egyptian international troublemaker Mido to the Riverside in the off-season. Yet his £6million move from White Hart Lane has hardly paid off, with the former Roma man having netted only twice and made only seven appearances since the switch. Injury has plagued his Middlesbrough career so far but tellingly, Mido has been booked more often than he has troubled the net manufacturers. Jeremie Aliadiere looked a world-beater during Arsenal’s run to last year’s Carling Cup final, but since moving to the north east the 24 year-old has scored just once in 15 appearances.

Stopping goals going in at the other end appears to be the sole responsibility of Jonathan Woodgate. With injury problems to make Mido thank his lucky stars, the England defender has at least managed to stay fit for the majority of the season so far. Yet he remains the one defender in the Boro ranks who possesses genuine international class at present, although 20 year-old David Wheater can only improve with the benefit of the experience he is gaining this year. At full-back Luke Young has good and bad days, while goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer remains at the club despite a seemingly infinite number of announcements of his intention to play elsewhere. One thing that is constant about Schwarzer is his potential for disaster.

If you are looking for highlights in the midst of a desperately average season so far then I could point you towards a 2-1 triumph over Arsenal on December 9, the Gunners first and only defeat of the season to date. Boro also beat Birmingham City at home in September, and secured away wins at Fulham and Derby County. Royal spankings at Manchester United (4-1) and at home to Aston Villa (3-0) have done rather less for the confidence. There’ll be no Carling Cup heroics at the Riverside either, with Boro crashing out 2-0 at White Hart Lane at the end of September. A trip to Championship hopefuls Bristol City awaits in the third round of the FA Cup on the first weekend of January.

By now the more fair-minded Boro fans won’t be expecting anything other than a scrap to beat the drop. They’ve been here before of course, when the expensively assembled squad of Bryan Robson reached both domestic cup finals yet still managed to plumb the depths of the league table. This time around they can perhaps be a little more optimistic, as there are surely three or more worse teams in the division than their men. North east rivals Sunderland are busying themselves shattering the myth about Roy Keane being the next Brian Clough, while Derby County have looked doomed from the outset. Fulham have recently appointed Roy Hodgson as manager but are also scrapping around pointlessly at present, so there is reason to believe that Southgate’s men will be alright.

Squarefootball Target: SURVIVAL; Rating C
Premier League Half Term Grades

By Stephen Orford
28 December 2007

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