Abraham Lincoln’s assertion that “You can please some of the people all of the time; you can please all of the people some of the time; but you can never please all of the people all of the time” has never been better demonstrated than by Tony Pulis’s comparatively short spell as ‘Boro boss. That was mainly because he arrived with the contrasting reputation of a man who would achieve a number of good things for the club but would actually do it with the type of football nobody wants to see.
I must admit when he first arrived I was one of the people inclined to see the good points of that concept and felt he would stabilise the defence and midfield, make us hard to beat and would, as he has done in the past, achieve success by playing on the break to win games by very small margins.
To an extent that has proved to be a fairly accurate description of what we have seen over his eighteen month tenure and to his credit would have now seen us in an excellent position in the table but for one disturbing fact. We have no fewer than five supposedly good – and certainly expensive – strikers, yet none of them are actually able to put the ball in the net on a consistent basis. That’s why, in Pulis’s defence, you could say that there have been many, many opportunities created that have been wasted through a lack of composure, wayward shooting and poor decision making.
On the other hand, though, you only have to look at his team selection for the Aston Villa game to see there are other inherent problems with his management style. After two home defeats that really should have been wins and an eminently winnable away draw against lowly Wigan it was surely a must-win game, yet he played five across the back, four mainly defensive-minded midfielders and a lone striker who has so far seen only six goals scored from nineteen starts. That Jordan Hugill spent most of that particular game completely isolated up front is also tangible evidence of the problems that ultra defensive tactics create. Having seen the team selection, it was a unanimous declaration among the away support around me that the game was lost before it had kicked off and so it disastrously proved! Perhaps the worst aspect of it was that unlike in the two previous games where we had created chances that our strikers missed, against Villa there were simply no chances created!
That’s why, I’m afraid, Pulis has to go. What Abraham Lincoln didn’t say was that you can actually reach a point where you upset all of the people all of the time and it would seem that Tony Pulis has now achieved that somewhat dubious recognition.
We’ve heard on many occasions that the only way to achieve success at a football club is to have everybody – and that certainly includes the fans – working together in complete harmony but since that looks like an impossible situation as long as Pulis remains, Steve Gibson has little choice. His contract is fortunately up at the end of the season and there is absolutely no argument for extending it. The biggest difficulty – as always – is who will replace him.
In the past, Steve Gibson has tended to veer away from the merry-go-round of supposedly tried and trusted names and certainly with the likes of Brian Robson, Steve McLaren and Aitor Karanka the policy paid strong dividends during their occupation of the post. And who knows how good things might have become had he not got rid of Gareth Southgate when he did. Conversely, the ‘tried and trusted’ Gordon Strachan, Garry Monk and now Tony Pulis have proved to be huge mistakes.
There’s a lot of talk around the Riverside at the moment that Jonathan Woodgate is being considered as the next incumbent but no indication of that has been suggested from within the club, so it’s pure conjecture. Perhaps the advantage of such a choice would be that we would have a manager who would develop the undoubted talent we have already in the club rather than pay lip service to the quality of our youngsters without really giving them the chance. Lewis Wing, for instance, has had to force his way into the squad with the season’s most consistent performances, while Marcus Tavernier has done exceptionally well in the limited opportunities he’s been given but those opportunities have nevertheless remained limited.
I think it’s fairly safe to say that not only have we missed out on automatic promotion but our season-long stay in the play-off places also looks in real jeopardy, especially with Norwich up next. April will be an interesting month but I can’t say with any conviction that it has the look of a successful one.
Next season can’t come quickly enough!