Spyin' Kop: Liverpool v Middlesbrough

Posted by Millsee on December 7, 2005, 08:56:17 AM

9 clean sheets. 16 goals since our defence was last breached. Rock-solid and entertaining performances with a team looking more capable by the day. Is this really the elusive corner that Liverpool fans have patiently waited to reach for the past few years?

Liverpool go into this game somewhat on the crest of a wave. The belief is back at Anfield and the crowd and the team are starting to think ďMaybe, just maybeĒ. Liverpool could well find themselves in 2nd place by the time the whistle blows at 4:45 on Saturday, and if our friends across the Park do us a favour on Sunday against Man U, then that place could be consolidated.

Of course, a well-drilled defence against one of the best attacks in the league mid-week will count for nothing if we cannot dispatch (with no disrespect intended) what would appear to be a team on the down. A good UEFA Cup run belies a relatively poor league position for Middlesbrough who currently sit in a disappointing 10th. What might be worse for the Teesiders is that they could slip realistically into 14th place should results not go their way Ė and just 6 points above the relegation zone should Portsmouth manage to overcome Spurs at White Hart Lane on Monday evening.

This game is likely to see the welcome return of Xabi Alonso, rested for the game against Chelsea. More will be known about Cisseís future at this game following rumours that he has ďonly been rested to take on the pedestrian defence of BoroĒ.

Liverpool v Middlesbrough
Saturday, 10 December 2005
Anfield Stadium, Liverpool
KO 12:45pm

Club Information

Founded: 1876 (re-formed 1986)
Club Nickname: Boro
Previous Grounds:
1886 Plumstead Common
1877 Old Archery Gound
1879 Breckon Hill
1882 Linthorpe Road Ground
1903 Ayresome Park
1995 Riverside Stadium Click for map
Ground Capacity: 35,049
Pitch Measurements: 105m x 68m
Record Attendance: Ayresome Park - 53,802 v Newcastle United, League Division 1, 27th December 1949
Record Transfer Paid: £8.1m for Massimo Maccarone to Empoli July 2002
Record Transfer Received: £12m for Juninho from Atletico Madrid, July 1997
League Scoring Record: George Camsell, 59, Division 2, 1926-27


Division 1 Champions 1994-95
Division 2 Champions 1926-27, 1928-29, 1973-74
League Cup Winners 2004
Amateur Cup Winners 1895
Anglo-Scottish Cup Winners 1976


Middlesbrough had never won a trophy in its 119 year history until the arrival of chairman Steve Gibson and his millions.

Boro have historically struggled in the shadow of their bitter North East rivals, Newcastle and Sunderland. Their best period in recent years came under the management of Jack Charlton who took over in 1973. ďWor JackieĒ took Boro to promotion to Division One with the highest ever points total and managed to stay in the top league for eight seasons. Worse was to follow as they dropped into Division Three and almost went out of business but having been saved, they began their climb back.

In 1992, Middlesbrough became founder members of the Premier League but after a good start to that season, they were relegated. After two years in Division One, they came back with ambition, facilities and a team full of some of the top players in Europe. However, despite reaching two cup finals, they ended up being relegated in controversial circumstances as three points were deducted from their total following manager Bryan Robson's decision to cancel a match mid-season.

After just one season they bounced back and stayed up. Robson came close to taking them back down again until Terry Venables was brought in. He helped Boro avoid relegation and it became clear to all, including Gibson, that Robson's time as manager had to come to an end.

The appointment of Steve McClaren from Manchester United has turned Middlesbrough from a team of foreign mercenaries into one more suited to the battles of surviving and climbing the Premiership. McLaren steered Boro to their first major trophy in 2004, beating Bolton 2-1 to win the Carling Cup.

Recent Form

L  Chelsea (0-1)
W  Crystal Palace (2-1)
D  West Brom (2-2)
W  Fulham (3-2)
L  Everton (0-1)
W  Dnipro (3-0)

The omens for this clash look good: Liverpool haven't lost to Boro at home in any competition since March 1976. Our last home win was on 2 May 2004: a 2-0 victory with goals from Murphy and Heskey. Our last home game against Boro ended in a 1-1 draw on 30th April 2005 and earlier this season, we came away from the Riverside with a 0-0 on 13th August.

This weekís Spyiní Kop is brought to you by Steve Goldby and Andy Morgan from Come On Boro. ComeOnBoro.com was voted Top Boro Fansite of 2004/05, and itís easy to see why. The site is reminiscent of our own RAWK, with well written and informative articles, regular features and a well-populated and active forum.

How has the season gone so far for Boro? You're having a good UEFA cup run, but I guess you might want to improve on your mid-table position at the moment?

SG: The league form has been nothing short of disappointing. We proved what we are capable of against Manchester United and Arsenal (I'm writing this just before the Chelsea game) so to capitulate like we have done agianst 'lesser' opposition is hard to take. I actually could have handled losing to Sunderland and drawing with Portsmouth if we had gone down fighting but there are too many occasions this season when we didn't seem to be trying hard enough and you just can't accept that. 
I think Boro are all out to win a cup this year and the league form will suffer for that. If that assumption is correct, we better pull it off or the only time we'll be seeing Europe next season is when we got to Benidorm for our holidays.

AM: Itís been frustrating.  We beat Arsenal and Manchester United at home convincingly yet lost to Sunderland so abysmally.  We are still in the Carling Cup with a realistic chance of winning it and in the UEFA Cup we havenít lost a match yet - a good run as you say.  We are good enough to be a top 6 side this season but a lack of motivation in the players seems to be costing us- a 3-0 home defeat to Charlton, losing to Sunderland and Everton- there is no excuse for these results at all.  We are better than that as our performances against the big three have shown.  Maybe thereís a problem with motivation in the club which is why we can only perform against the bigger teams.  This may also explain our UEFA Cup run so far as well.

What are your expectations for this season? Have they changed from day one?

AM: Top 6 and a trophy- realistically either the FA or the Carling Cup.  I donít see why we canít win the UEFA Cup mind, we are one of the stronger sides in the competition (Bolton are in it for Christís sake!) and we are already through to the last-32 so anything is possible.  Unbeaten in that competition, remember.
As for expectations- all we want is for the evolution of our club to continue- we now have a European pedigree, qualifying for the UEFA for two seasons in a row and we want to move on to bigger and better things.  Champions League is the next target and itís not that unrealistic.  Maybe not now but in a couple of seasons I would be disappointed if we werenít challenging.  As for this season- my expectations still havenít changed.  Weíre only a handful of points off the top 6 and with some players coming back from injury, as well as the transfer window opening, thereís no reason why we canít turn our league form around.

SG: My expectations have changed dramatically. I've seen my high hopes for a run at a Champions League position scaled down to 'we may get into Europe through the league, but probably not.'

You are about to see the return of Ray Parlour and Stuart Downing. How much benefit will that bring to you? 

AM: New faces often inject a worn side with some energy so hopefully it will be positive if it doesnít disrupt the balance of the team.  As for the specific players mentioned, Parlour is an unsung hero although he is not really played in a position that does him as much justice as where he played at Arsenal. 
As for Downing, Iím going to be controversial and say that I donít rate him as much as everyone else seems to- his delivery into the box is poor as he often canít beat the first man.  Indeed I think James Morrison is a better all-round player.  However we have suffered through losing Zenden (thanks for that by the way) and an incisive creative midfielder is one thing we desperately need so I will welcome his return and hope he can deliver.  Creativity is something our midfield does need to improve upon although our goal tally for this season is not too bad.  But the frustrating thing is we are talking about injuries at all- last season we must have had about 30 and this season nothing has changed- and most of them were got in training.  I donít know what they do but I guess itís army-style avoiding landmines down at Rockliffe Park.

SG: I like Ray Parlour and I'm looking forward to seeing him back in the side. Experience on a level of Ray's is invaluable and any team would miss a player of his calibre. You can be even more specific about Stewey Downing. We have missed the width that he brings to the team and this has been highlighted even more by Fabio Rochemback taking more time to settle in than we had hoped he would. Yes, we really could do with both of them back and even if the manager doesn;t change the team when both are availabe, he will have extra options that he will surely utilise.   

Viduka and Hasselbaink are right on form at the moment. Have your pie sales changed at all?

AM: After Michael Ricketts left the club many pie shops in the Boro went out of business.  If Vids and JFH are laying off them too then that would be the final death knell to these beloved emporia.  However you are mistaken somewhat- itís parmos what we eat round here, pies are of secondary importance.  Important, but secondary nonetheless.  They are playing well mind, they form a good partnership but the interesting thing is that you havenít mentioned Yakubu who has been far and away our most consistent striker this season.  He is real quality and with these three we do have an embarrassment of riches in our attacking department.

SG: Our pie sales dropped through the floor when Michael Ricketts was transferred to Leeds. I don't know where Mark got the fat reputation from because he isn't. He's not the busiest player on the field but running around all day is not his game. He's the best 'hold-up' player in the country and some of his goals this season have been truly world-class.
As for JFH, well I must admit that he had put a lot of weight on in the buttock area this season. OK, his arse is nearly is big as Surrey now but maybe it helps him to keep his balance? Whatever, he's still a top quality striker with a few years left in him and he hope he spends them at Middlesbrough.       

McLaren has recently signed a new contract committing himself to the club until 2009. You must be delighted with that. Did you ever worry that he would leave for Old Trafford, and do you think his England duties interfere with his day-to-day running of the club? 

AM: I am only delighted from the point of view that it means that the ship is steadier.  I think many of our poor results this season have been due to the fact that the players are not playing for the manager because he had not committed himself to the club.  This seems to be borne out by our performances after his signing, which have improved.  However I think he is tactically naÔve at times and I have never supported the Boro and England policy of defending a 1-0 lead as anything could happen- an unlucky deflection or something and your advantage is gone. His Boro duties and England duties are practically identical in terms of how he seems to affect the team so I wouldnít say there was much interference, indeed I would hope the know-how he picks up at England could be used to the Boroís advantage.  It certainly enhances our status a bit and that is probably no bad thing.  He may leave for Old Trafford or England but in the end, heís won us our first ever trophy and weíve been to Europe twice, I donít know how much further he could take us anyway.  Either way we still have a lot to thank him for.

SG: Very happy because there was an air of uncertainty over the contract. It took so long to get signed that there was clearly something wrong, some disagreement somewhere but now that it is sorted, we can all move on.
Steve Mc is the most successful manager in our history but that warmth that you would normally feel towards a man of his standing is missing because the fans feel that he is not fully committed after allegedly applying for the Leeds and Newcastle jobs in the past. He doesn't impress people with his post-match interviews either, especially when he says that we were 'magnificent' when he were really utter bollocks.
I was never concerned that he would leave for Manchester United but always felt that he would be straight out of the door if a club bigger than ourselves came in for him.
England - there are advantages in him being involved and disadvantages as well. I just can't decide whether it is good for us or not and it is certainly not a foregone conclusion that he gets the job when the Swedish Chef leaves after we fail to win the World Cup. I have a sneaky feeling that Clive Woodward is the man but we shall see.
I hope Steve goes on and wins another trophy for the Boro but if he does leave before his contract is up for whatever reason, then good luck to him. We won't be short of suitably qualified candidates. I wonder who Hibernian play today?   

We've both got experience of "un"Abel Xavier. What are your views on his drug taking and 18 month ban?

AM: Adrian Mutu only got 9 weeks or something for taking drugs (although it was recreational).  I donít know, I think the punishment is a bit harsh but if he has deliberately taken drugs he is very silly indeed and probably deserves to be banned for an extended period of time.  However he says he has not deliberately taken the steroid and there have been cases before when, because the body can manufacture these chemicals itself, that this has been a valid excuse.  I donít know enough about the case to comment much more about it really- weíll see what happens when the appeal is heard I suppose.

SG: It's just a big disappointment really because although he was rubbish for you and Everton, he was doing extremely well for us and despite only being brought in as short-term cover (we think), was well on the way to cementing a regular first-team place.
The guy made a mistake, albeit a silly one and the ban was ridiculously harsh when you consider what Edgar Davids, Adrian Mutu and Japp Stam got. As a club we were lucky because he had only played six games for us so that makes it easier to deal with but I wish he was still available.

Who do you think is your most important player(s), and who are the ones that you wouldn't mind seeing the back of?

AM: George Boateng is by far and away our most important- useless at passing but such an important lynchpin.  Last season he was out for 3 months and we won all of one League game.  Upon his return we only lost one of our last eight matches (a 1-0 defeat to Arsenal), including drawing with yous at Anfield.  I think that says it all.  Doriva meanwhile, his replacement, is not a Premier League player and is far, far too lightweight.  Headless chicken just doesnít cut it.  Beyond that, no not really.  Reiziger was atrocious last season but thankfully we got rid of him- quite why PSV wanted him mind is beyond most Boro fans.

SG: Our strike-force of Viduka, Hasselbaink and Yakubu are extremely important players because how many sides can boast quality like that in arguably the most important position. I've touched on Jimmy and Mark but next time you get a chance, watch Yakubu close up. He's an extraordinary striker because he can turn what would not normally even be a half chance into a scoring oppportunity with one touch. He's very special and he'll get even better as he's still young.

I have to mention George Boateng as well. When George is injured or unavailable, the defence seems to lose all confidence and we don't have the control that we normally have in midfield. George is priceless really and we are a poorer team without him.

I would like to see the back of Szilard Nemeth, who tried his best but is just a little short of the quality required at this level. We accepted two offers for him during the summer and accepted both but Szil decided to stay and see his contract out. I suppose that says something about the club. Or maybe it says something about Nemeth's wages? 

Any young up and coming players in the squad that we might not know about?

AM: There are loads and loads but if I told you, youíd probably sign them and stunt our development (a classic Man United trick with clubs like us).  Boro won the FA Youth Cup in 2004 and Downing, Morrison, McMahon and Bates are all products of this system.  We have a good youth policy and hopefully we can profit from that in upcoming seasons, particularly as most of them are local lads who will want to play for the club.

SG: We won the FA Youth Cup in 2004 and the word is that the squad is as good as Manchester United's youth side with Beckham, Scholes, Butt etc. So yes, we have a complete youth team waiting in the wings and one or two have already started to break through. Adam Johnson is a very good prospect, as is Matthew Bates and Jason Kennedy. Keep your eye on them.

What are your thoughts on "El Liverpool" Ė Rafa has brought in some big Spanish signings such as Alonso, Garcia and Reina. Do you view his term so far as a success? 

AM: Heís won the Champions League, of course heís a success!  Even the most optimistic Liverpool supporter probably wouldnít have dreamt that come the start of last season.  This season however, league-wise you started off a bit disappointingly but are starting to warm up now, maybe it was just a case of the team gelling.  You certainly have the momentum now and this is what I fear this Saturday.  In the CL you seem to be doing all right too so not too bad- youíve been a little unspectacular but you are starting to sneak up to the top of the pack again and I expect you to better last seasonís 5th place finish certainly.  The downside however is that youíve also signed Peter Crouch, not a bad player but not worth that surely?  Still, expect him to score for you against us- he ALWAYS scores against us.

SG: You can't win the Champion's League and not be classed as successful but it came at a price, i.e. league position. But this unbeaten run of seven without conceding says everything really. I thought some time ago that your Spanish stars didn't like the rough and tumble of the Premiership every week and couldn't handle it but something sems to have clicked recently and full credit to Rafa who seems to have got that part right as well now.

What's your best and worst Boro memory?

AM: Being a Boro fan there are so many worst memories.  The 1997 FA Cup Final was arguably a mixture of the best and worst, finally we had made it to the FA Cup Final for our dreams to be snubbed out after 43 seconds.  The three points debacle earlier that season was very dark and of course, most Boro fans will tell you the dark days of receivership in 1986 still courses a lot of pain (but I was only three so I donít remember it).  Best memories- well, you donít really have to go beyond Boro 4-1 Man United in October.  I am sure you Pool fans would agree on that one!

SG: It's always good to see the big names fall but when Peter Osgood's Chelsea went in at half time with a 1-0 lead, it didn't look too good for Boro.
This was an extraordinary game because we were outclassed in the first half. But when John Neal's men came out for the second, everything changed. Eight goals in forty-five minutes, seven of them to Boro and four for Micky Burns, who teamed up with Terry Cochrane to form the most potent strike force that I can recall seeing in Boro shirts.
Cochrane slaughtered the Chelsea defence that day and every time Boro got the ball in that magical second half, you could see a goal coming.
And most of the time, it did come. I was in what was then known as The Boy's End, which was opposite The Holgate, on the same side as the Away Supporter's End. A Chelsea fan, a stereotypical skinhead thug who was clearly incensed at the thrashing that his team was receiving, broke out of the away end, made his way along the touchline and stood at the foot of The Boy's End making threats and being generally aggressive.
This guy was big. Really big- and I was a little nervous, to say the least. I do not support football violence in any way, shape or form but what happened next will never ever leave my memory. As the big Chelsea nutter stood there waving his fists at us, a Boro fan jumped over the barrier and just smacked him one and down he went, like the sack of shit that he was. The Boro fan got a cheer that was almost as big as the one that Terry Cochrane got when Boro's glorious seventh went hurtling into the roof of the net. A wonderful, wonderful day.
Worst memory is Middlesbrough 2-4 Portsmouth, on a cold Wednesday night in March 1992. It was a complete shock when it happened. Chants of "Where's the defence?" rang out from all over the ground as two little known players called Guy Whittingham and Darren Anderton took us apart. This was a game of two halves as Boro looked quite strong going forward in the first half but our two first period strikes were both quickly equalised. In the second half, we just capitulated and were lucky not to go down by six or seven. The headline in the Gazette the next day said it all. 'Humiliated'. And we were.

Where do you expect Liverpool and Boro to finish in the Premier League?

AM: Liverpool 3rd, Boro a hopeful 6th but realistically about 9th.

SG: I reckon Liverpool will take a Champion's League spot. Probably fourth but maybe third. As for Boro, I have to say that top ten is very realistic and top seven would be a big achievement.

Which Liverpool player will you fear the most? 

AM: Peter Crouch as he always scores against us.  And Gerrard of course, heís world-class.

SG: We won't fear any one particular player but we'll be aware that Steven Gerrard always seems to have a good game against us and Cisse is looking to be back to form and Zenden is up against his old club. We might also be concerned about Peter Crouch as he's just bound to score his first Liverpool goal against us. It just has to happen.
What line-up do you think you will you put out against us?

AM: Probably Schwarzer, Pogatetz, Southgate, Riggott, Bates, Morrison, Rochemback, Boateng, Doriva, Viduka, Yakubu.  The strikers seem to be interchangeable half of the time mind.

SG: I can't say until late next week because of our injury situation. Three defenders are taking a fitness test this morning ahead of the Chelsea game, so we may not be at full strength. We'll probably start with 5-3-2 and switch to 4-4-2 somehere along the line but it's not difficult to name our strongest side, even with everyone available.   

Finally, want to embarrass yourself with a prediction? 

AM: My head says 2-1 to Liverpool but I thought this last season and we got a credible 1-1 draw at Anfield.  Iíll go for the same again.  We gave Chelsea a good game at the Bridge last weekend and this season we are good against the big opposition, so 1-1.  Oh and letís just hope Gerard is as hopeless at shooting as he was at the Riverside earlier this seasonÖ

SG: I'm sitting on the fence for this one and going for a repeat of last season's match at Anfield. 1-1.

Thanks again to Steve and Andy from Come On Boro for their help.

© Millsee 2005

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