I’m an Exams Officer in a high school, and today was pre-results day for A-Levels. We get the results a day before the students do so that we can print everything off, gauge how we are performing as a school and prepare to dole out congratulatory high-fives and toughen our shoulders to be cried upon, depending on the outcome. Days like these are always busy and require a lot of preparation, so it isn’t until now that I’ve had time to talk about…
Middlesbrough 3-3 Notts County (won 4-3 pens) (Fletcher 2, Mahmutovic)
What a to-do, huh? On three occasions the Magpies scored before we pegged them back, and each time I was prepared to give up… It’s only the Carabao, the League’s what matters, right? And then I looked at that side, so few of the regular starters involved and Boro instead relying on players they had discovered down the back of the sofa i.e. Academy youngsters. As the match progressed the lads involved got younger and younger. A milestone was reached when Pulis introduced Nathan Wood, at 16 years and 75 days the youngest Boro player ever to turn out for the first team, like the new Fabregas except from the posh end of Teesside rather than Barcelona. No one else born in 2002 had played in the English professional league before this lad – hell he’s even younger than my dilettante son, who would no doubt declare ‘I’ll do it in a bit!’ if I ordered him to break any such record, before turning back to the hypnotic xBox screen.
As it was, Boro prevailed after a messy and largely graceless encounter that made up for the lack of style with character and determination. Other teenagers involved were Marcus Tavernier (a brief flurry of appearances while Monk was in charge, and then on loan to MK Dons for a spell), Djed Spence and Stephen Walker (not from Criminal Minds), which made Harrison Chapman at the ripe old age of 20 look like a veritable greybeard. Well, he’s got a beard… There were also substantial appearances for recent signings Paddy McNair and goalkeeper Andy Lonergan, while forgotten man Marvin Johnson was on from the start, and Luxembourger Enes Mahmutovic featured at right-back and found the net. Our two other strikes came courtesy of Ashley Fletcher, on the long, long road back from what must have been an annus horribilis in 2017/18 and looking sharp.
So that’s all good. Boro avoided a potential embarrassment, handed debuts to some very youthful performers and live to fight another day… But, the make-up of the side fielded by TP raises rightful questions about the depth available to him. It’s nothing unusual to rest your first teamers for a match of lesser importance, yet if the only alternatives were those we watched remove their nappies and take to the pitch last night then the absence of any quality players beyond the first eleven is frightening. If there’s an injury crisis, and hey! We’re Boro – players will get injured, then these are the guys we’ll be looking towards, and while overcoming Notts County is one thing putting these kids on the line against opposition of a similar level to ourselves sounds like it can only have one outcome.
The club remains quiet on the prospect of any further incoming players, but it seems impossible to imagine the current situation being allowed to last. We won last night. Great. But the message sent upstairs in the shape of the ‘back-up’ team should send shivers down the spine of Bausor and the suits, and may very well get phones ringing.