Glimmers of Hope (just a glimmer, mind)

Morning all. I’ve decided to do what I probably ought to have done a couple of days ago and taken a day off due to this bloody cold. Currently I’m providing a fine service to Kleenex and my nose feels like it’s taking out a subscription to the Daniella Westbrook Club of Nasal Abuse right now. Oh well, hopefully a day of rest, sugary drinks and Dr Beecham’s life-restoring powders will do me good. Maybe it’s time to get back to that marathon rewatch of Mad Men – honestly it’s really great, though it’s the kind of show that I can’t describe without making it sound impenetrably boring. That might be down to my own descriptive skills of course – the world of copy-writing is not forming an orderly queue at my door…

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I am dedicating today to Joey Barton, to his commitment in finding crazy ways to hit new corridors of controversy. Gambling is one addiction that I’ve never succumbed to thankfully (always been too skint; also I used to work in a bookie’s so have seen first-hand the damage it can cause), but betting on your own team’s results strikes me as bizarre, almost a wish to be discovered. I’d like to have any sympathy, and the testimonies given by Matthew Etherington – a footballer I always admired due to his sheer willingness and efforts to maximise on his limited talent – do shine a light on gambling problems, but this? And that it’s happened to the always lovely and unfairly disliked Barton? Just not feeling it, sorry.

Then there are the reports of Newcastle United and West Ham being investigated for tax fraud. I don’t know a lot about the Hammers, former workplace of Sam Allardyce (just saying), but I do feel for Mags supporters whose celebrations at getting promoted have suddenly come with a hard edge. That there’s an innate distaste for anything that involves Mike Ashley – the sort of club owner who makes me want to set up pagan shrines to Steve Gibson, sacrifice goats in his honour, etc – should be clear enough. He’s a nasty piece of work, isn’t he, and his very presence at St James’ Park (or whatever it’s been rebranded as these days) is a black mark on a huge and well supported club that seriously deserves a lot better. Ha, and indeed, ha. In the meantime, Rafa Benitez has gone public in his declaration that Newcastle need to spend heavily in order to make their promotion more than a mere bounce. Based on our own experiences I heartily agree and knowing Ashley has hardly been ‘Cashley’ in his chairmanship previously, I’d hope they take him seriously. What I wouldn’t do for a manager who possesses even a fraction of Rafa’s nous and cachet…

Instead we have Stevie Agnew, and a first win for our bald headed mastermind. Okay, so he’s hardly emerged as Boro’s answer to George Patton as a result of beating Sunderland. We were pretty terrible, but we weren’t as awesomely poor as the Mackems and that was the difference. Any shoots of hope should be levelled by the prospect of Man City, Chelsea, Southampton and Liverpool to come, making this game a restoration of some pride, hopefully a guarantee that we at least won’t finish bottom of the table, and little more than that. We’re still going down. All we’ve proved is that we are slightly less awful than the visitors, and just to pile a little more misery on David Moyes he should consider that two of our five victories this season were against his team. That’s bad, isn’t it?

Being completely honest, I feel sorry for Mr Moyes. There’s part of me that believes he would be a fine Boro manager. With us, he’d be outside the spotlight, especially in the Championship, and he’d be working for the sort of Chairman who, a bit like Bill Kenwright, would give him time. There’s the possibility it would be like Everton all over again, a scenario in which he shone. I think his poor record at Sunderland should be balanced against the innate problems he inherited within his squad, the sort of deep rooted issues that have been skirted over with the rotation of managers in the past. There are fundamental troubles within the Stadium of Shite. Anyone taking charge would want carte blanche to weed out the bad elements, instigate a massive overhaul of the playing personnel and end the era of footballers who feel they are entitled to earn fabulous Premiership salaries without working for them, which is most certainly the case up there. But that’ll never happen because the Board is looking to sell and move on, and therefore won’t fund such a sweeping change, leaving Moyes in charge of what he has to work with. A depressing situation. Not that I think he’d be perfect, and that’s especially the case when it comes to his brand of football. The last time I went to Goodison Park – home of the self-appointed People’s Club; pass the sick bucket – was a 1-0 win for Everton over Southgate’s Boro. It was moribund, parochial fare, and while you might argue Moyes achieved much with the resources he had it was a dull afternoon. My son started crying out of sheer boredom. I wasn’t far behind.

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Speaking of which, there should be no mistake about Boro’s general dreadfulness last night. Admittedly I’m getting this from reading trusted sources and the bits of Boro+ I heard last night as the service went down with Tees’ phone lines and the side’s attacking fluidity. We got lucky with de Roon’s moment of magic and Sunderland’s utter poverty when it came to ideas. Had this been against a team with more about them it would not have been this good. The disjointed nervousness that punctuated the (lack of) performance at Bournemouth continued here. Stuani was selected and was rubbish. Downing played manfully but was flattered by the opposition. Agnew went for a classic Karankian three-man midfield, starring Clayton, de Roon and Forshaw, which said more to me about the line-up designed to protect its goal rather than go for the jugular. Worse still, when the game cried out for more attacking prowess and pace, Traore was ignored and the manager instead replaced Negredo with Gestede, subbing off our one decent source of goals up front. Beanpole did what you expected him to, holding up long balls and little else, one of the more bizarre changes you’ll see and at odds with the spectators’ feelings over what was needed. This happened in a second half that somehow had Boro defending desperately against Sunlun’s half-baked forays. More than one person described it as two bald men fighting over a comb and it’s difficult to disagree with that assessment.

So what have we learned? Number one is the continuing belief that Agnew should not get the job permanently. This match was a gift and we accepted it, but a number of incomprehensible managerial decisions and a clear lack of confidence and belief within the side – which we need; at the very least a ‘nothing to lose’ mentality would be something – indicate the club needs to look elsewhere. Nigel Pearson’s stock has risen with punters; easy enough to see why. There’s an ominous shortening in Ryan Giggs’s odds, implying Gibbo going down the Robson route again, but on the plus side David Wagner appears to be a name on more people’s lips. Make no mistake. This decision is more crucial than any other. Second, whoever takes over has to oversee a decisive clear-out, and quickly. My list of players to sell keeps lengthening. Also I would love to know why Patrick Bamford remains at best a bench warmer. What’s going on there? Someone, tell me.

Anyway, back to bed…

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