At best, half season tickets are a scam. At the Riverside it is robbery. Each December, the predatory sales manager eyes their quarry: the over-indulged-over-optimistic fan wallowing on his sofa after his second turkey-stuffing sandwich, dreaming of that run that will bring his team to an automatic promotion slot. And why not fork out? For most fans, the first halves of each term match the second. Not in Middlesborough.
For two seasons running Tony Mowbray’s side have themselves indulged in a post-holiday-season-slump. Leading to the table in December, and fighting relagation in March. But this year will be different.
Blood, sweat, and tears. Veni, vidi, vici. Emnes, Carayol, Adomah. The thought of facing ‘Boro’s new look the attacking tricolon will leave Championship defences quaking in their fluorescent boots. Mustapha Carayol now back from injury has looked classy so far. He has the pace and trickery to beat his man, but with his flair comes inconsistency, and sometimes immaturity. Thrilling travelling fans, and irritating home fans, Carayol has a propensity towards goal line fever. He loves a shot. But in a team short of goals his attacking spirit is a great asset.
If fans thought the ‘Boro attack looked skinny before the signing of Albert Adomah, they will not comforted now. Signed for around a millions pounds, the right-winger has the mixed badge of being the best player in a relegated team. Undoubtedly the solution to the lack of an out and out right-footed wide man that has continued since our premiership days, Adomah has unbelievable pace and runs beautiful lines. He crossing ability provides an alternate root of attack if Mowbray’s preferred method of passing though the defence is bringing results. But he makes the emaciated Sami Ameobi look like someone dying from a KFC based overdose. He is thin.
With another nutter to back up the heroic Grant Leabitter, Joseph Varga is my kind of guy. Very bald, very small, and fond of a 50/50 tackle. I sometimes think players like Varga rehearse loose touches so that they can dive in straight away to retrieve the ball. In Hungary he is called ‘the pitbull’. And that is how he has played so far. He is a good passer, makes room for himself, runs at defenders, and covers the back four like a wrecking ball in constant motion, smashing midfield runners into pieces.
Dean Whitehead and Frazer Richardson are established names, and while unfashionable in their brand of no nonsense football, they bring experience and reliability to a team lacking both. But more importantly than the players that Middlesbrough have bought in are the players they have managed to offload. Finally, the infuriating Scott MacDonald has left the North East and (except for the now converted-to-left-back Andy Halliday – who seriously needs to stop tweeting about how much he supports Rangers) represents the end of the Strachan legacy, three years after leaving Middlesbrough in the darkest period of their history. Some people seem to remember a player who scored a goal every three games, most fans remember a tiny striker that behaved like a toy programmed to walk in small circles, run offside, and then fall over. Conversely, best wishes follow the tireless Nicky Bailey who was signed by Millwall in the summer.
Four games (three if your don’t include the opener which Middlesbrough lose on purpose to honour tradition) there is hope echoing around the reconfigured Riverside Stadium. A win in style against a tragic Charlton side, and two positive draws against fellow promotion contenders, puts the reds where most fans would like them to be. This is the year that Middlesbrough turn it round: a tragic start and marvellous finish. Flirt with relegation at Christmas and finish with automatic promotion. That’s how to play Championship football.