Spyin' Kop - Middlesbrough v Liverpool

Posted by blurred on February 27, 2009, 10:18:53 AM

Liverpool travel to the northeast this weekend in a disctinct clash of contrasts. Going in to this Wednesday's game Liverpool would've been fearful of one of the form sides in Europe, who had won countless games on the trot; this weekend, we face a Boro side who've not won in months, and who are looking ever increasingly of becoming relegation certainties.

As for Boro, it makes grim reading. Not having won for more than a dozen games in the league, struggling to score, and with the club taking the fans to task for having the temerity to stand up and make some noise, all is not well at the Riverside. They're going well in the FA Cup, but Boro fans may be harking back to a time when they reached Wembley twice in a season, only to be playing Championship football the following year without any silverware in the cabinet.

Not wanting to be a pessimist, but wouldn't it be just typical of Liverpool to follow up Wednesday's heroics with a struggling performance on Saturday? On the back of a fantastic result in the Bernebeu, though, surely there's some cause for optimism, and hopes of re-igniting our tilt at the top of the table?

Middlesbrough v Liverpool
Riverside Stadium. Saturday 28th February.
Kick off 3pm

Middlesbrough Honours:
League Cup:
Winners 2003-04
Runners up 1996-97, 1997-98

Runners up 2005-06

FA Cup:
Runners up 1996-97

Football League First Division:
Champions 1994-95
Runners up 1997-98

Football League Second Division:
Champions 1926-27, 1928-29, 1973-74
Runners up 1901-02, 1991-92

Football League Third Division:
Runners up 1966-67, 1986-87

FA Amateur Cup:
Winners 1894-95, 1897-98

Anglo-Scottish Cup:
Winners 1976

Zenith Data Systems Cup:
Runners up 1990

A bit of a poor response from the Boro fans this week (yes I'm looking at you, FMTTM Message Board), I'm afraid. Ok, it wasn't helped by me being in Madrid and unable to cajole them into responding, but Boro supporting friend of mine Mark McElvaney was helpful enough to answer Spyin' Kop's questions this week, and so he has the floor to himself.

Spyin' Kop: This season must've been incredibly disappointing to date - did you fear it would be this bad at the start of the season?

Mark: The decision to go into the season without replacing Mark Schwarzer was a surprising one, and one which I feared would cost us greatly. Ultimately, it has been the least of our problems. Ross Turnbull and now Brad Jones have both stepped up to the plate and put in very creditable performances on a consistent basis. Last season, we were short of numbers in midfield and this was not remedied, in fact the situation became even more threadbare. Out went first team squad members Fabio Rochemback, Lee Cattermole and George Boateng and the only player that came in was Didier Digard. Hence, our reliance in 2009 of playing academy duo Josh Walker and Matthew Bates in central midfield, the latter a centre back. The goalscoring problems may have been foreseen by some, but not by me.

SK: Do you think you'll stay up?

Mark: No. Over the last 6 weeks, we have had no less than 3 must-win games. Our winless run stretches to 14 in the league, so while the gap to 17th is not a huge one, it is difficult to bridge when you cannot win a game. Our last 5 games are dreadful, so if we are to have any chance, we need to pull off a big result somewhere very soon.

SK: Will Southgate still be the manager next season? Does this depend upon which Division you find yourselves in come August?

Mark: I have no doubt that Gareth Southgate will be our manager come August regardless of which division we are in. Bryan Robson was given the chance to bring us straight back in 1997 and Gareth will be given the same opportunity.

SK: We've got our own problems with our owners - are you thankful for the support and longevity of someone like Steve Gibson? Has he backed the manager enough recently?

Mark: Gibson has been a fantastic constant for the football club and the area as a whole over the past two decade. The decision to 'cut our cloth accordingly' with the cutbacks on transfer fees and wages may cost us our Premier League lives, but in the longterm will ensure we have a football club well into the future.

SK: Getting on to our match - what do you expect from our clash at the Riverside? Are you hopeful of getting a point? Or a win against the odds?

Mark: We need a return to the 'typical Boro' tag and need to get a win. Liverpool also need a win to continue to have a glimmer of hope of catching Man Utd

SK: Care to predict the score?

Mark: A draw obviously. Boro to score at home! 1-1.

SK: Do you have any particular memories of matches against the Reds from years gone by?

Mark: Most people would point to Ravanelli's hat-trick, but that only secured a draw. The previous season's encounter was pretty good, a sign that Boro had arrived in the Premier League. A pulsating clash ended with a 2-1 home win, Barmby and Neil Cox with the goals. As well as that, the League Cup semi final 2nd leg in 1998 was an amazing night. We were in the second tier then, whilst Liverpool had the likes of Owen, Fowler and McManaman. 2 goals in the first 4 minutes signalled the beginning of an outstanding performance, with an atmosphere the Riverside did not see bettered until the UEFA cup run of 2006.

SK: If you could change one rule in football, what would it be?

Mark: I would love for 12 month rolling contracts to be introduced for players and managers, so that we move away from situations where managers get sacked from jobs after 7 months and walk away with £15million.

SK: What's your least favourite part of the modern game?

Mark: Lack of accountability for players. Managers take all the heat, but it is the players who walk on the pitch and cost managers their jobs. Oh and the Redknapp-Lampard mafia!

SK: Were you one of the fans who've received these infamous letters from your club?

Mark: These letters aren't unusual. Letters have been left on seats before asking fans at the back of the North Stand to sit down during matches. I suppose that it shows relations between the club and the fans aren't great. However, it's still good that we have so many local players in the team and it feels like our team. Whatever happens for the remainder of the season, we will be back I am sure of that.

Many thanks to Mark for going to the effort of answering our questions. I'm sure I'll still have a beer with him whatever the result on Saturday, and good luck to Boro in staving off relegation (although naturally we hope that the upturn in form begins after Saturday's match).

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