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Middlesbrough v West Ham United

Filed: Friday, 20th January 2017
By: Preview Percy

We swear we saw Preview Percy smiling after THAT goal last week. He'll deny it of course. Here's his look at this weekend's visit to Middlesbrough. Extra information provided as ever by www.kickoff.co.uk

Next up its up to the frozen North we go where our opponents will be Middlesbrough. Kick off at the Riverside is 3pm which is ok. Trains in the area should be ok – though there are diversions for East Coast trains via Hartlepool which might have a knock on effect on the connections between Darlington and Middlesbrough. Check before you leave and all that.

So Boro’ then. Safe to say that they have been under everyone’s radar this season. I mean everyone is sort of vaguely aware of the fact that they are in the Premier League but nobody could tell you precisely where. Until I got the work-experience girl wearing the Chris Rea t-shirt without knowing who he is to do the research I had absolutely no idea of where they were in the league or how they had been getting on.

It was as if nothing of interest ever actually happened in their matches and, had they not been Watford’s opponents on the weekend that football said farewell to Graham Taylor, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you who they played last week. The suspicion was that they were just phoning in their results every Saturday evening. For the record it seems that they have actually played 21 matches from which they have gained 20 points. This leaves them in 16th place, four points clear of Palace and Hull in 17th and 18th spot respectively, and another point away from Hull and Swansea who seem to be playing pass the parcel with each other over the bottom two places.

Their last two games (away at Watford and at home to Leicester) have finished goalless and the Watford match was their fourth such result this term so maybe it’s not surprising I’m struggling to remember their matches - the effects of 8 pints of Byram’s Old Peculiar in the Swan and Superinjunction means that I’m usually asleep by the time they turn up on Match Of The Day on a Saturday evening here at the Avram Grant Olympic Rest Home For The Bewildered.

In what (outwardly anyway) has been a relatively quiet transfer window so far, Boro’ are one of the few clubs that has actually signed anyone, though even that didn’t actually make too many headlines. An undisclosed fee (or £6m if you read the papers) was enough for them to obtain French-born Benin striker Rudy Gestede.

Gestede marked his debut by breaking a record as the 0-0 draw against Watford (you’d forgotten already, hadn’t you?) marked his 32nd consecutive Premier League match without a victory. This seems amazing until you factor in the fact that his previous club was Aston Villa. Those of you who are nervous of our past reputation as sequence-busters might like to look away as I tell you that Gestede is available for selection as he was not selected for the African Cuppasoup for Benin.

At the time of writing Boro’ look set to spend another £6m (+£4m in add-ons) on Chelsea Loan FC striker Patrick Bamford. A curious one this. He’s been up on Teesside before, becoming their top scorer with 17 goals in the league that season, an effort that gained him the Championship Player Of The Year award. However since then he has played for three different clubs in the Premier League without once troubling the goalscoring statistic monitors.

He was supposed to spend 2015-16 at Palace but the loan was cut short after Christmas with a lack of first XI opportunities being cited as the reason. Sometimes that happens because a player can’t dislodge someone who is performing well (see Moses/Antonio). However you might recall from last week’s preview that Palace are a side for whom strikers simply do not score. In the middle of a goal drought Bamford wasn’t considered as an option. With bridges burnt at Palace, Norwich stepped in to take over the loan documents.

That spell ended in tears as the Canaries went down. Burnley were next to have a look at the player, signing him up on a season-long deal for the current campaign. However, again chances were few and far between and he was recalled from Turf Moor prematurely as a deal was struck to take him back to Boro’. A (possible) £10m fee seems a lot for someone with his mixed record but should they go down at least they will have someone proven at that level.

Top scorer so far this season is former Man City striker Alvaro Negredo. Negredo is on a season long loan from Valencia and has hit 6 goals in all competitions this term (5 in the league). He also has 21 caps for Spain but with the last one having come back in 2013 it’s probably fair to describe him as a “former” Spanish international rather than a current one.

He had a spot of bother a season or so ago as he went public on exactly what he thought of the tactics employed by the then Valencia manager Nuno Espirito Santo. My Spanish isn’t that hot but reading between the lines I think it translates as “not a lot”. Esprito Santo left the player out before he himself got the push.

Negredo was welcomed back to the fold by the new boss, a certain Gary Neville. However, Neville’s spell at Valencia was not the greatest of times, unless you happen to be one of the many players he’s criticised over the years as a Sky pundit of course. Neville went and, at the end of the season, Negredo decided to seek fresh pay packets, I mean challenges, in the Premier League.

At the time of writing the future of Uruguayan midfielder Gaston Ramirez is less than clear. His injury listing is rather ambiguous – he’s listed as having both “no return date” and as a “slight doubt”. Given that he wants away from Boro’ that probably means that the former applies on Teesside, the latter to any new club that might be interested. The Fray Bentos-born (that’s only amusing to those of us of a certain age I suspect) midfielder is another who has had problems with his bosses (I see a theme developing here).

He had a bit of a contretemps with the then Southampton manager Ronald Koeman who eventually told him he would never play for Southampton again. They shipped him up to Boro’, presumably as some kind of punishment. He spent the last few months of his Saints career up at Boro’ as his contract – which he had theatrically torn up in a display of how much he wanted to leave – came to an end. He signed a three year deal with the Smoggies in July but sometime between then and now he changed his mind – possibly they had carefully planned his route to the ground so he didn’t see all the chemical works beforehand.

It looks like Leicester are favourites to take him off their hands at the moment. He will no doubt have a good time there until someone points out that it was LAST season’s league table that they had shown him. In the meantime rumour has it that they will bring in the out of favour Bojan from Stoke as a replacement.

Another who may be on his way is ex-Hammer Stewart Downing. It was alleged that crowd-favourite Downing was at the centre of the storm that saw manager Karnaka take an unscheduled weekend off last season. The full circumstances are not clear but following a team meeting on the Friday the team travelled south to an away fixture at Charlton sans manager. Having lost 2-1 at the Valley a crisis meeting was held between manager and Chairman at which point Kaenaka was put back in charge.

Whatever the relationship between Downing and his boss the player has not been a regular starter this season – being on the pitch at the start of only half of their games. Even the simple way out of sending the player out on loan seems to have become complicated though.

Allardyces’s ears pricked up at the player’s possible availability for a move to Selhurst Park, a move that one would have thought would have been right up Downing’s street. However, Karanka threw in a “…but you can only go to a Championship club” clause into the deal. Since presumably everyone wants the deal to go through this season rather than next the additional clause would appear to have killed off the potential move at birth. Still Stewart, at least you won’t have to spend any time in Croydon.

Elsewhere in the world of football I see that, about 20 years too late, The FA are to consider retrospective bans for diving. Liverpool and Manchester City are said to be getting their lawyers on the case as we speak. Personally I would prefer points deductions to player bans. That would hit the clubs where it hurts. Some clubs are known to drill their players in such “dark arts” or blatant cheating as we should call it.

I still recall the depressing sight of a youth team player from one of this country’s top clubs being slated by his coach for failing to go down in the box in a youth team match against our kids a few years back. When the player, not unreasonably, pointed out that nobody had touched him the coach reminded him that that was irrelevant and he had been brought up to go down whether or not there had been a foul. “Then it’s for the referee to decide”. Just suspending players might actually prove popular amongst some of them – Zabaletta is probably even now thinking of how much extra beach time his exploits will be able to earn him from suspensions.

Which brings us on to us. Well as I’m sure you will have read elsewhere the events of the last week or so appeared to unite players and crowd alike. Bilic found his name being sung from early on in the match – something that must have irked his predecessor quite a bit as I don’t recall his name being sung in the four years or so he was at the helm – well not without the previous two words being “**** off” anyway.

Now we are well used to Allardyce’s ability to rewrite history instantly in his post-match musings. However the suggestion that the three goals we scored were “gifted” can’t go unchallenged. Goal one owed much to a sublime pass. Yeah Hennessy came rushing out but frankly he was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t. The third goal was a breakout while his side were trying to undo 80 minutes of not conceding too many (rather than trying to score). And as for that second. Gifted? Yeah right. That goal was simply magnificent and to comment that your team “gave it away” would prompt me to ask which part of Churl it is you actually hail from.

It wasn’t all sweetness of course. The first 45 were a bit nervy and, had the second half in any way shape or form resembled the first my 0-0 prediction would have earned me the easiest money I have ever gotten out of Winstone’s The Turf Accountants.As it was Slav saw that in typical Allardyce fashion, the visitors had failed to smell the blood that had been let over the preceding week or so and, Tomkins’ miss notwithstanding, had clearly come to suck the oxygen out of the place in an attempt to get a point – with the extra two coming as a bonus if they could snatch something on the break. This resulted in something of a midfield stalemate in the first 45 as Carroll held the ball up well but was far too isolated.

The switch to a flat back four was key to the change of fortunes. With Antonio a willing foil, Carroll could afford to come deeper and bring the midfield into the game more. Yes it took us a while to break through but the main point is that we did so. The goal brought confidence flooding back and the final score was justified. In that respect we can be thankful that Palace were thrown up for this particular weekend by the good people at Atos. A team managed by any other manager might have looked at the turmoil and wondered exactly how they could go about making it worse for us. Thankfully the Allardyce preoccupation with starting off with a point makes it difficult to get out of that headspace and when you do have to react it can often be difficult to push up a gear. Good.

Incidentally the next time a Palace supporter bangs on at you about how wonderful their so-called "ultras" are, ask them where all but 7,149 of them were the other night when they played Bolton in the Cup. Yup they found something better to do. On a Tuesday night. In Croydon.

We are down to four on the sicklist. Sakho is listed as 4 March at the moment whilst Masuaku, Tore and, er, Arbeola are all shown as no return date. At least Arbeola has been given the dignity of being given a proper injury next to his listing. Up to now he has been shown as having that “knock” that players seem to pick up all the time now. He’s been upgraded to “calf injury” which presumably refers to his leg rather than to any young cattle that he may be looking after at present while he’s not playing for us.

Payet? Well that smoke you can smell comes from the bridges that he has burnt over the last week or so. Marseilles have possibly dropped a clanger here you know. Years ago we’d have been had over a barrel as our usual lack of funds that everyone knew about would have found us selling the player for less than his proper value. Now we have a figure in mind and we don’t actually NEED to sell. So coming in with a second bid of £1m more than the first was probably not the wisest of moves. I mean at least go up in £5m increments guys if you don’t want to annoy us. I suggested that Payet’s departure might bring Lanzini out of his shell and, though it’s early days, the signs from Saturday were encouraging.

So prediction then. Team spirit is good as is confidence in the camp after a decent win last weekend. This is not an unwinnable match but we need to keep our feet on the ground a bit. They’ve had trouble scoring this season – only 17 in the league - and they are without a win in a month. I was going to go for a draw but since this paragraph started I have talked myself into throwing caution to the wind and going for an away win like the wild-eyed, devil-may-care life-on-the-edge sort of chap that I am. So the £2.50 that I was going to spend on a taxi to the Eurostar Terminal for Payet will, instead, be placed on a forecast wager of a 2-1 away win down at Winstone’s The Turf Accountants – and to hell with the consequences!

Enjoy the game!

When Last We Met At Not The Ayresome Park: Won 2-0 (Championship November 2011) An early goal from Piquionne and a late one from Carlton Cole saw us home despite the handicap of playing against Mike Dean.

Referee: Martin Atkinson. For the last couple of years they have thrown this referee at us like we were some sort of dumping ground. Then we had him at Palace when he managed to send off Cresswell for two non-existent yellows. Had we been able to appeal yellows that would have been another red chalked off against us. After that someone appeared to notice that we had had him more than twice than any other ref in recent seasons so they inflicted him on someone else. Now he’s back…

Danger Man Alvaro Negredo – Top scorer in a side that doesn’t seem to have too much in the way of goal threat.

Percy’s Poser: Last week we asked how bad a dive had to be before a ref will issue the caution one deserves. Congratulations to Mrs Dymphna Fine-Fare for her correct answer which was “ if you are wearing a Man City Shirt the question would appear to be irrelevant – the referee will award a penalty anyway”. Mrs Fine-Fare wins a leg of lamb supplied by Dicks The Master Butchers. Well done Dymphna.

For this week’s poser we look at the Teeside area and ask: If we assume that Chris Rea still lives on Teesside, and that he drives home for Christmas, what time will he have to leave to ensure that he arrives home on Christmas Eve and how bloody early will he be if he starts driving the day they first play that bloody song on the radio every year.

First correct answer out of the digital hat will wear a set of earplugs for use the next time that song comes on the radio.

Good luck!

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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