Archive for the ‘Football’ Category

Middlesbrough v Bristol City, Saturday 5th November 2022, 3pm

November 7, 2022

As expected, Gibbo had appointed Michael Carrick as manager, with Leo taking a backroom role away from the first team as something to do with player development. I suspect that he will drop in back in as caretaker again when Carrick gets the chop, presumably next October.

It was a surprise to see Johnny Woodgate back as a coach. I suspect that was Gibbo’s idea rather than Carrick’s, but I’ve been impressed by Woodgate whenever I’ve heard him on the radio talking about coaching or providing analysis. I think he will make a contribution.

Alistair was available to come with us again and was wearing a boro scarf when I picked him up. When he first came along last season, he told us he was a Man City fan, so I’m hoping that these trips to the Riverside have converted him to his local team. I got him the white third strip for his birthday recently so hopefully that will help too.

Carrick had been in charge for a couple of away games with a last gasp defeat at Preston and a good win at Hull. He’s tinkered with the formation, moving Akpom back into a supporting three, behind Forss. It seems to be working reasonable well and hasn’t impacted upon Akpom’s scoring streak.

We started poorly again, conceding within ten minutes after City opened us up far too easily. Boro got better as the half went on though and the visitors had their goalie to thank for going in at the break a goal up.

Chris Kamara got a warm reception when he came onto the pitch at half-time. It was heart-breaking to hear his difficulties with his speech, but great to see him out and about.

In the second half we continued to create chances but took just the one with Akpom scoring for the third game in a row and his fourth goal in five games. Strange to think that both Warnock and Wilder had written him off for such a long time. The performance and the point were generally well-received and with the World Cup break just a week away, there’s going to be time for the new manager to get his ideas across to the players.

Bradford Park Avenue v Gloucester City, Monday 31st October 2022, 7.45pm

November 6, 2022

I’d had a few opportunities to get to a game over the last week or so, but the weather had been pretty poor. I generally don’t mind if it’s raining, as long as I’m going somewhere with some cover. The dog had been staying though and he’s less keen on heading out in the drizzle, so I passed up the various options and let him spend his evenings dozing on the settee instead.

Soph had taken him back for a couple of nights, the first of which coincided with a game down in Bradford. Whilst an hour and a half drive for a match that doesn’t involve the Boro seems a bit much, I’d just received the Revolver re-issue and was happy to spend time in the car listening to the two rareties discs. There’s little that I like better than hearing the formative versions of familiar songs, particularly when it’s The Beatles.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Yellow Submarine and would happily have seen it replaced on Revolver by Paperback Writer or Rain, which were recorded at the same sessions but put out on a single instead. It was great though to hear Lennon’s early demo and then the way it developed into the nursery rhyme final version that still forms the basis of football songs fifty-odd years on.

The game was between Bradford Park Avenue and Gloucester City in the sixth-tier National League North. Park Avenue are famous to me for being booted out of the Football League when I was a kid and then going bust. Apparently, they had a stint as a Sunday side before restructuring and eventually making their way back up the pyramid.

Gloucester never strikes me as a football place. Rugby, yes, fancy sausages, yes, Doctor Foster, that’s about it really. Plus, it’s down south, how on earth did they end up in the National League North?

I arrived at the Horsfall Stadium with twenty minutes to spare to kick-off and with the rain coming down was tempted to stay in the car for another rendition of Eleanor Rigby. I was hungry though and so paid the fourteen quid charged at this level and got myself a pork pie and a coffee from the food kiosk near to the main stand.

I also got a programme which covered both this game and the one two days earlier. There was a cabin that sold old programmes and second-hand books. I’m trying to cut down on bringing that sort of stuff into the house these days, but it was fine for a brief browse.

Bradford, who went into the game third from bottom of the table, were in green with Gloucester, who were up near the top of the league, in a red and yellow kit of the kind that shouldn’t really be worn by anyone other than Melchester Rovers.

I didn’t hear any away fans but there were a couple of sections of home fans at either end of the covered stand and we got renditions of ‘Avy, Avy, Avy, Avy, Avenue’.

Gloucester took an early lead, but Bradford levelled before the break and went ahead in the second half. The visitors pushed hard for an equalizer and came closest with a speculative shot from around forty yards in the last minute of added time. It hit the bar and bounced out. If it had gone in it would have been real Roy Race stuff. At the final whistle and with the rain still coming down heavily I legged it to the exit along the running track that surrounded the pitch. I doubt I’d have covered the ground any faster in my prime.

Middlesbrough v Huddersfield Town, Saturday 22nd October 2022, 3pm

October 26, 2022

It’s been a while since Harry’s cousin Alistair has been able to come along to the match with us. He’s a kid with lots to do and plenty of people to see, mainly on Saturdays it seems. In fact, it’s been so long that he’s been able to grow his hair sufficiently for him to attract ‘Jack Grealish’ comments from passers-by.

It wasn’t the best of games for Alistair to make his return. We struggled to create much and whilst I think that Leo’s decision to play four at the back best suits the players that we have, it seems a waste of Giles to play him at left back. If he’s focusing on defending, then it limits his opportunities to get crosses into the box and we don’t have anyone better than him at doing that. I’d go 4-4-2 with him and Jones both playing wide and feeding Muniz and Watmore. If Coburn hadn’t been loaned out, I think he would have thrived in that formation.

Anyway, it was goalless and a less than ideal send-off for Leo. Highlight of the afternoon for Harry and Alistair was having a post-match kickabout in the car park with some of the Cook Islands rugby league players who were in town for their World Cup and had been watching from the posh seats behind Gibbo. I suspect that the kickabout was the highlight of their day too.

Easington Lane WMC v Thornaby The Griffin, Sunday 16th October 2022, 10.30am

October 25, 2022

As I tick off more of the grounds in the local leagues, my options for new places to visit get fewer. The various Sunday leagues provide some fresh choices though and I took Henry along to South Hetton Cricket Club to watch a first-round tie in the Heart Foundation Cup between Easington Lane WMC and Thornaby The Griffin.

As you’d expect at this level, there weren’t any stands, or even dugouts. There were changing rooms though, so at least the players didn’t have to get togged up in their cars. It was well attended, with around fifty or sixty people turning out and a few more wandering over for the second half, carrying pints from the clubhouse on the other side of the cricket field.

Thornaby, of the Stockton Sunday League, went ahead around ten minutes in against the run of play. Easington, of the Peterlee and District Sunday League, grew into the game as the half went on and after hitting the bar and forcing a succession of corners drew level on the half-hour. They took the lead from a penalty not long before the break that the Thornaby keeper was unlucky not to keep out.

The contest looked over early in the second half when Easington added a third, but Thornaby pulled one back with a quarter of an hour remaining. Despite the ref playing a fully warranted five minutes of added time they couldn’t force an equalizer though and it was Easington that progressed to the next round.

Middlesbrough v Blackburn Rovers, Saturday 15th October 2022, 3pm

October 18, 2022

It’s getting on for a fortnight since Gibbo pulled the plug on Wilder and there’s no sign of a replacement. Rumours of Rob Edwards, Michael Carrick and even Lee Cattermole have been doing the rounds but with no word from the club yet.

I’d assumed that there had been some sort of succession plan in place similar to when Woodgate and Warnock got the bullet but it seems not. That suggests to me that the Wilder decision came suddenly, perhaps after a bit of a bust-up.

The game started badly with us failing to pick up players from a set piece and Blackburn were a goal up within a couple of minutes. They added a second a quarter of an hour in with a shot from distance that left Steffen flat-footed. If Joe Lumley had conceded that one last season there would have been hell on. Steffen made up for it though in the remainder of the half with some excellent saves to keep the game alive.

Watmore nicked a goal just before the break to give us hope that there might be something to be had from the game. We played a lot better in the second half, particularly after Leo switched to a back four. I think that formation suits the players that we’ve got as playing with wingbacks who don’t offer much defensively leaves us exposed at times, particularly now that Tav isn’t there to bail out Howson and Crooks.

The late improvement wasn’t enough to nick a point and we slipped back into the bottom three. If Huddersfield and Coventry were to win their games in hand, then we’d be rock-bottom. Whoever comes in certainly has some work to do.

Middlesbrough v Birmingham City, Wednesday 5th October 2022, 7.45pm

October 13, 2022

It’s that time of year when the nights draw in and Gibbo pulls the plug on the manager. I remember when he had a reputation for giving them time, too much time probably. Not these days though. It doesn’t seem like long since Karanka left, but we’ve burned through Agnew, Monk, Pulis, Woodgate, Warnock and now Wilder. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve missed one or two off that list as well.

I parked in the college on the other side of the ground, as Harry had rugby practice and I thought we might be cutting it fine if I parked in our usual location of near to the old Gazette building. It worked, but at the price of taking ages to get out afterwards. I think I’d rather gamble on missing the first few minutes for any further Wednesday night games.

Caretaker boss Leo did well. He didn’t try to reinvent the wheel and kept the wing-back system that had produced diminishing returns as Wilder’s tenure drew to a close. He brought in youngster Hayden Hackney though and the lad impressed with his energy in a midfield that often looks pedestrian these days. The overall performance didn’t seem much different from recent weeks but a first half goal from Akpom was enough to clinch the points and move us out of the relegation zone.

Durham City v South Moor, Saturday 1st October 2022, 2.30pm

October 12, 2022

I’ve seen Durham City a couple of times this season and at times you feel like peeking through your fingers. They came down from the Northern League in the summer and in the games that I’ve seen so far they lost by eleven and fourteen goals respectively.

For some reason they seem to struggle to find a settled squad and it’s like watching a new scratch side every time I see them. For this game, they announced six new signings, although I’m not sure how many of them started.

Jen and I drove up to the pitch at Leyburn Road in Houghton-le-Spring. I’ve never been to Houghton before and noticed they have a castle of sorts. If I ‘d realized I’d have left an hour or so earlier and had a wander round. Although we had the dog with us, so that might have made things difficult. The pitch was a fair walk from the changies, so when we got to half-time the players just sat down on the grass.

This game had been publicized as raising awareness for a young lad who needed a bone marrow transplant. He was there kicking around with, I think, his brother. I thought that someone was going to be taking swabs from people to see if they were a bone marrow match, but there was nothing going on. I’m probably too old anyway from what I’ve learned, as you might have to be under fifty-five.

Durham started well and kept South Moor at bay for the opening half-hour. By the break they were just the two goals down and their manager was telling them that it was the best that they have played all season. It all went tits up in the second half though as they conceded another seven without reply. Still, they kept it to single figures which is an improvement of sorts. I’ll keep an eye on them and hope that they can become competitive before the season’s up.

Washington v Ryton and Crawcrook Albion, Tuesday 27th September 2022, 7.45pm

October 10, 2022

This game was at the Washington Football Hub, which I think is a new location for Washington. Shame I didn’t realise earlier as I could have ticked off their old ground prior to the move. The hub has a few all weather pitches with a car park separating them from the grass pitch used for this Northern League Division Two clash between Washington and Ryton and Crawcrook Albion.

It was a fiver in and I took up an initial position on the rail. There were two covered stands opposite on the dugout side with a few people in them, but with the rain holding off most of the one hundred and sixty-six-people present were spread around the perimeter.

I asked the fella next to me which team was which and after a small period of consideration he suggested that Washington were in the navy kit with white sleeves and Ryton and Crawcrook were in yellow and blue.

Washington had much of the early possession with Ryton relying on their attempts to beat the offside trap with early runs from deep. Neither side finished well though and as we approached half-time it was goalless. The deadlock was broken in added time when a cross from the Washington keeper’s left drifted over his head and dropped in at the back post. He was distraught, but it was clearly a fluke that not even the fella who floated it in had anticipated.

I joined the lengthy queue for a half-time Bovril and was pleased to be asked whether I wanted pepper in it. It’s always good when people know how to do something properly.

Ryton added two more goals in the second half, the first from the penalty spot and the second from an eventual successful evading of the offside trap. The win allowed Ryton to put some space between themselves and the teams fighting relegation but left Washington firmly in the bottom three.

Blackhall Cricket Club v Murton Colliery, Sunday 25th September 2022, 10.30am

October 9, 2022

I didn’t get to a Saturday game this week and so thought I’d have a look at what my options were for a Sunday morning. It’s so much easier these days with the amount of information online. My app of choice for identifying nearby fixtures is Futbology, but that only covers the top ten levels of English football. Nevertheless, there is plenty of info out there and the Peterlee and District Sunday League provides great info on their games and grounds. I selected a fixture at Blackhall and stuck a couple of camping chairs in the back of the car.

One of the reasons that I picked Blackhall is that it is on the coast and has a dog-friendly beach. We took the beagle and walked along the cliff-top above what I presume are the Blackhall Rocks mentioned on the sign-posts. It’s a pretty safe bet that a cliff-top will have a path and we headed south initially towards Crimdon Dene.

The high path appeared to come to an end as we reached the caravan park and we descended the steps to the beach for the wander back. There weren’t many people around, a couple of fishermen casting out for fifty yards or so and the odd dog-walker. Henry was keen to get into the water, which is unusual for him after almost drowning in Billy Beck as a puppy. I’d been expecting dead sea-life to be littering the sand but saw nothing. It must only be an issue further south.

The game was a mile or so away from the beach at the Blackhall Colliery Welfare ground. It’s a pitch without any terraced areas, although it does have a perimeter fence on three sides and an embankment where we set up the chairs.

Just over the fence at the back is the cricket ground which was home in the eighties to West Indies legend Desmond Haynes. It’s hard to imagine one of the world’s leading batsmen turning out in club cricket these days, but back then the NYSD league was the place to be for players who, I suppose, would be following the T20 circuit these days.

Blackhall were in green and black, with Murton in white and blue. The visitors took the lead early on and doubled their advantage on the half hour. By the time that the players sat down for their four minute half-time break, Murton were four goals to the good, all of them scored by the same fella.

The second round of the Tommy Burrell Cup fixture was well supported with around sixty people having made their way in. Maybe, once you’ve walked the dog on the beach, there’s not much else going on in Blackhall on a Sunday morning.

Blackhall did better after the restart, knocking in an early goal and then a second with ten minutes to go. Their prospects were helped by one of the visiting strikers giving the lady ref a bit of slaver and earning ten minutes in the sin-bin. Any hopes of a comeback were ended in added time though as Murton added a fifth to take their place in the third round draw.

Middlesbrough v Rotherham United, Saturday 17th September 2022, 7.45pm

October 4, 2022

Apparently this one was moved to an evening kick-off by Sky Sports as they hadn’t been able to schedule a televised fixture for Rotherham at any other date. It didn’t inconvenience me, but for those intending to travel by train it will have been another game missed. I doubt the away fans will have been too enthused by not getting home until midnight either.

In addition to having a game postponed after the Queen’s death and a minute’s silence and the singing of the National Anthem at the next one, this game featured a minute’s applause on the seventieth minute. It seemed over the top to me to have to pay our respects three times. I stood and half-heartedly clapped on the basis that I didn’t want any cap-doffers nearby getting angry that I didn’t share their royalist sympathies.

A much more worthwhile tribute came from Red Faction and their banner for Chris Kamara. He has been having a bad time of it lately and I hope the show of support from his hometown team gave him a boost.

We had finally reverted to two strikers, with Muniz and Watmore starting up front, but it made little difference to the performance. Once again it was as if the Boro players had met for the first time that day with passes frequently going astray. It finished nil-nil and the point wasn’t enough to lift us out of the relegation zone. October is when Gibson often fires his managers and with just ten points from ten games I wonder if he is already eyeing up Wilder’s replacement.