Middlesbrough v Bolton Wanderers, Tuesday 26th December 2017, 3pm

After the morning outing to the Northern League game at Willington it on to the Boro for the Boxing Day game with Bolton. As I approached the Riverside I noticed some new official graffiti on the side of the underpass. It commemorated the late Ali Brownlee by quoting his radio commentary from the final whistle of the UEFA semi final against Steaua Bucharest. I’d missed his excitement at the time as I was at the match and to be honest my mind at that point had already moved on to logistical matters around how to get tickets, flights and time off work for the final.

That comeback from three goals down, our second in a row in the competition, fully deserved all manner of celebrations. Nobody enthused about all things Boro as much as Ali did and it was nice to be reminded, a couple of years on from his passing, of those European adventures a decade earlier when we really were punching well above our weight.

This was my first Boro game of the season and it was the third different manager for me in as many games. Craig Liddle was in charge for this one, following on from Steve Agnew in our final game of last season and Aitor Karanka for the cup game with Oxford back in February. In between I’d missed the entire managerial reign of Garry Monk.  It’s as if Steve Gibson had been replaced by Jesus Gil.

I wouldn’t revel in anyone losing their job. It’s happened to me enough times for me to know that, whilst it’s an inevitable part of going to work, it’s a miserable experience. However, there wasn’t really any sense of direction under Monk. He bought forty million quids worth of players to suit a system that he promptly abandoned and then he persisted trying to shoe-horn the newcomers into the team when it clearly wasn’t working. When we won, it often seemed as if it was despite Monk’s involvement and instead due to the overall quality of the squad being sufficient to overcome the failure of that week’s seemingly randomly generated selection and formation.

I don’t think the fans ever warmed to him and I suspect most had him down as a bit of a chancer, a Tim Sherwood type. Still, thanks and all the best, Garry.

The match wasn’t a home sellout, unusual for Boxing Day and the overall attendance was further reduced by Bolton only bringing a couple of hundred fans with them. David Wheater was making a return to the club he formerly captained and, given that he sometimes turns up in the Boro support at away games, I was a little surprised by the lack of acknowledgement for him.  Another of the Youth Cup winning team from 2004 was also playing for the visitors but I didn’t realise until I spotted that familiar Taylor strut.

In a further nod to the past, there was a tribute to Leo Percovich, much more recently ‘One of Our Own’. He had just lost his two daughters in a car crash, prompting some light shining in the second half. I’ve no idea how to make my phone do that, but I sang his name and hope he took some comfort from the show of support.

The Boro never really got out of second gear. Similar I suppose to much of Monk’s reign. Downing looked a class above everyone else on the pitch and the overall quality in the side was good enough to secure a comfortable three points against a struggling Bolton side. New boss Tony Pulis was sat next to Gibbo in the director’s box and if he can manage to dodge the bullet until I’m back again at Easter he’ll become my fourth manager in as many games.

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