I’ve just watched the televised horror show that saw Swansea City completely dominate the game and score three goals against us for the third time in a row. Yet thinking back to the Friday night before that game it seemed that the three or four months of lockdown had somehow diminished the threat of imminent relegation, even though it had hung over ‘Boro until the last gasp win at Charlton took us above the bottom three. I think most of us thought there was a strong possibility that the season would end there and we would be saved. Sadly, the complacency that gave us was completely shattered by the performance against Swansea.
I have to admit I was one of the many who was dubious when I saw the team selection, though one immediate query was answered when it was announced that Harold Moukoudi was ill and couldn’t play. But leaving Patrick Roberts out of the starting line up was a bit of a shock because in his brief ‘Boro performances to date he had looked head and shoulders above the rest and had at last provided a degree of midfield creativity that we’ve lacked for a long time. Using the excuse that he couldn’t guarantee his fitness doesn’t really work because nor could anybody else and was made even less convincing when his introduction at half time improved the look of the team. Perhaps the most puzzling feature of team selection, however, involves Ravel Morrison, who – when his loan signing was announced – was supposed to be a man who could bring ‘something different to the team.’ I can’t see how we will ever find out the truth of that statement because it seems no matter how badly the team is performing he is never given the chance to prove it. In which case, why was he signed in the first place?
The Daniel Ayala situation hasn’t helped either, and the fact that he was still injured at the time of the Swansea game was an irrelevance because his determination to leave meant he wasn’t going to play anyway. I’m afraid his attitude will now forever stay in the heads of ‘Boro fans and he will join the ranks of former ‘Boro players who the Riverside faithful will never forgive. To be fair, though, many of us were never completely convinced and he was always considered an accident waiting to happen. I refer you back to the horrendous moment at Wembley when he gifted Norwich the lead that ensured they went into the Premiership instead of us as a perfect example. I’m afraid he was a bit like the little girl with a curl – when he was good, he was very, very good, but when he was bad he was horrid!
So what happens now? At the time of writing we are still marginally outside the bottom three thanks to goal difference. The three conceded against Swansea didn’t do much good in that direction, of course, and now we face an away trip to fellow strugglers Stoke in what can only be considered the definitive ‘six pointer.’ That they have been as inept as us does offer some sort of hope but I’m certainly not banking on a result. Whether it’s a good thing or not, our last seven games after that don’t feature any of the top ten sides so we should at least have some sort of chance. Perform as we did against Swansea, however, and that will also evaporate.
At this stage I would normally look for reasons to be cheerful but after the last three months I find cheerfulness a hard commodity to conjure up. It’s been awful for everybody and the whole coronavirus story has perhaps put a lot of things into perspective. It makes you wonder if football is really relevant in the light of so many lives being lost. To most of us, though, it certainly is important and let’s be honest, when it’s all over we’ll all still go to the Riverside hoping to see good quality football and a winning ‘Boro team.
I feel there has to be a lot of improvement in the next three weeks. We certainly need to win at least four games out of the remaining fixtures to guarantee safety but on the strength of the Swansea game it’s difficult to see where they are going to come from.
We can only live in hope, but in the meantime continue to live safely so that when that day comes we can once again enjoy the spectacle of live football with real crowds.