If, at the start of November, someone had offered me five points from the matches against Arsenal, Man City, Chelsea and Bournemouth I would have ripped their hands off! Yet a superb string of defensive performances have provided tremendous results against really class opposition and showed us all that this Middlesbrough side has a great deal to offer.
Who would have thought this time last year that we would be contemplating an away game against Champions Leicester with total optimism? There’s a real belief around the town that we can not only get something from that game but actually go on and win it.
But there’s always a downside to any ‘Boro optimism and on this occasion it’s unfortunately the ‘goals for’ column. Karanka has changed his system from his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation to a belief that using three in midfield is a better bet in the Premiership. While that system might provide the ability to contain the attacking threats of the top teams it also means that we are likely to get even less goal scoring opportunities than ever. Against Chelsea we had two reasonable chances but both Traore and Ramirez were unable to hit the target. Negredo did brilliantly to give himself an opportunity but – as on a number of occasions already this season – his final shot was week. So what does Karanka do?
It’s been said many times already that Negredo has very little support up front so replacing him with one of the other two options – Rhodes or Nugent – would seem pointless because they wouldn’t have any support either. But since both have scored consistently throughout their careers and Negredo has missed all his chances since the first game of the season (and that was off his shoulder), why not give one of the others a try? Fortunately, I’m not being paid millions to find the answer to that question which is perhaps just as well because I’m not entirely sure there is a ready-made solution.
But let’s look on the bright side. Unlike the previous string of fixtures we now face the real test against teams who are considered our peers. Being honest, results against the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea are not going to define our season. That we got two away points from them is true icing on the cake but the real crunch now comes against teams in a similar position to ourselves. Five of our next six matches come into that category. That we are unable to compete for the best players in the world means we have to rely on bargains from abroad and the consistent supply from ‘Boro’s wonderful academy. That is really where we hope to negotiate safety and I sincerely believe we can.
And on the subject of the Academy, I’m very proud to say that one of my best friends over the past thirty years has been the wonderful David Parnaby. I’ve known him since he was a P.E teacher at Spennymoor Comprehensive and we have – with a number of our mutual friends – enjoyed many weekends away in the Lake District, London, Pickering and the war fields of France and Belgium. We also completed the Lyke Wake Walk together a few years ago. Only a week or two ago he and I had a magnificent ‘Whisky Blending Experience’ in a superb York venue that was a birthday present from my daughter. It shows how much my kids think of him that she made it clear that the only person who should accompany me on such a great day was David Parnaby. That we share many happy memories and two wonderful families has made us very close over the years and I would like to take this opportunity to wish him true happiness in his retirement. I am more aware than most how much he has put into his role at the academy and I know that Middlesbrough FC will find it extremely difficult to find a successor who will be able to demonstrate the same enthusiasm, willingness, knowledge and ability he has given them for the best part of twenty years.
Their loss, however, is going to be his friends’ gain and we all look forward to many more great weekends with a truly superb bloke. Happy retirement Parno!