Middlesbrough Football Club currently sit two points adrift of Wigan and safety with a must win game against fellow relegation zone residents Barnsley at home tonight. As bleak and miserable as the November weather, the situation at the Boro looks grim as Jonathan Woodgate and co. prepare to batten down the hatches for a hectic run of festive period fixtures before the opportunity to bring in reinforcements arrives in January.
Confidence is low amongst fans and many have already publicly brought out the axe with Woody’s name on it, never mind sharpened it.
A terrific chance to instil some faith and gather momentum was spurned on Sunday after the Reds let a 2-0 lead at halftime against Hull City slip through their fingers to come away with just a point following Marvin Johnson’s red card and 45 minutes of constantly inviting pressure on from the Tigers that ended in the inevitable.
Even with confidence shredded and a nervy supposed six pointer, there’s something to look forward to tonight. There’s no international break until March now so games are coming thick and fast, which means that we’ve got a game under the floodlights tonight. There’s something different about midweek matches.
Whether it’s the chance to break out your big coat for the first time this year, getting a flyer from work so you can have a few pre-match pints while the rest of your colleagues are still in the office or the thick, oily smell of ratburgers frying in the vans down Sheperdson Way; midweek matches are a bit special.
It helps break up the working week and gives you the chance to get out of the house so that you’re not stuck watching I’m a Celeb with the missus whilst having the exact same conversation about how well Ant McPartlin looks after rehab that you had the night before. It means you can have a sneaky parmo pie for tea instead of the syn free Slimming World tofu scramble you were *meant* to be having.
Besides that, there’s plenty of reason to go into tonight with a touch more hope than many have at the minute. The first 45 minutes of Sunday’s match were by far and away some of the Boro’s best football this season. Yes, those moments have been few and far between, but the team showed signs of the incisive, edge-of-your-seat football that was spoken about as a real aim of Woody’s regime. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a Boro side proactive and confident enough to cut open the opposition like they did for Ashley Fletcher’s goal.
As well, Them Reds are actually pretty formidable under the floodlights. Under Aitor Karanka, the club went 21 games unbeaten at home during evening games, with memorable nights including playing Brentford off the park in the play-offs, the siege mentality 9 men victory against Birmingham and the last-gasp promotion race triumphs over Hull and Reading as part of that run. Even since that remarkable series of results was broken against Liverpool in December 2016, there have only been a handful of negative night time results seen on the Riverside pitch.
With that said, tonight is not going to be a stroll under the stars. There are clear issues throughout the team. There’s a reason we’re in the bottom three. Only Bolton, who’re just glad to have not suffered the same fate as Bury at the moment and Stevenage, the fake Boro have scored less goals than us in the entire football league. The defence, despite being marshalled by Dani Ayala and Dael Fry who on paper are two of the top centre halves in the Championship, looks shaky and fragile. Paddy McNair, maligned by many last season and rarely used by Tony Pulis, has been the only midfielder to put in consistently good performances.
Nervous energy and even apathy are running through the support at the minute, as a result of current form and years of mismanagement that has eaten away at the foundations of the fanbase. That’s a matter for another time, though.
The Riverside has lost it’s roar and it’s easy to see why taking everything into consideration but it’s also going to make it progressively easier for other sides to come here and pick up points. The second Jarrod Bowen’s shot had hit the back of the net for his first goal on Sunday, you could almost hear every supporter thinking “that’s us knackered then”. Hull knew it too and they could’ve easily won the game with a bit more quality or an extra few minutes on the clock.
Those are the times when teams need their supporters the most. It is incredibly effortless to sing, shout and get behind a team when the going is good. It’s when your backs are against the wall with seemingly no way out where having that vocal backing can make the difference. Allowing nerves, caution and apathy imbibe a team only results in one thing. They are the silent killers of football clubs and they need to be punctured with the Spirit of Teesside throughout the rest of the season, starting tonight.
Have your opinions on who to play, who should be in charge and who we should sign but always back the team once you’re in the ground. Don’t be a Mackem. Don’t give up the fight.
Into ’em tonight, Reds.