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KARANKA NOW HAS THE MIDDLESBROUGH SQUAD HE WANTED
9th September 2014

It's five weeks since the start of the season yet the Huddersfield game seems like the opening day all over again; the only problem is that we're not starting all square with all the other teams in this manic division as we've given a fair few of them a decent points start on us.

It would be very unfair to criticise anyone at the Riverside, more the fault of the crazy transfer window that leaves us all in limbo until the first five games are gone. Add to that the annoying role of some agents who treat players like meat trying to get the best deal for their client and also for themselves.

In the After Dinner Speaking world I have to, out of necessity, sometimes deal with agents and some leave a lot to be desired, more interested in themselves than the people they are supposed to be representing.

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At least we appear to have finally got there and Aitor Karanka finally has the squad he wanted, now comes his biggest test and hopefully the last two weeks on the training ground have taught him his best team and best tactics.

Good luck to him because no doubt like many other Boro supporters I am clueless as to who will line up on Saturday. I cannot believe with three strikers on the books he will persist with one man upfront. The 2.00pm team sheet exchange will enlighten us all.

One thing is for certain - we have to start back after the international break with consistency and produce winning performances. One thing for sure is that the away end at the John Smiths Stadium will be full; hope springs eternal!!

I, like many Boro fans were saddened to see Jason Steele leave on loan. Perhaps it was his wages as much as anything that saw him jettisoned as the budget was utilised to cover the other various additions. Who knows, he might come back and force his way back into the manager's plans in the future. I for one certainly hope so; he was often the scapegoat as a youngster playing behind a very dodgy defence.

It would be good also to see more home grown Academy players in the squad in the future. We still have an Academy that is held in the highest esteem and there seems to be a feeling that producing rounded professionals that enjoy good careers in the game is what it's all about. When we look at the state of our national team this perhaps highlights the reasons. Youngsters being forced down the divisions to get first team experience as foreign players arrive by the plane load in the thirst for instant success.

Sadly Boro have had to go down that route as under the financial fair play rules we have to get promoted now rather than later. Steve Gibson deserves that success as a reward for his continued financial commitment to the club and as long as the team gets us promotion then the fans won't be too bothered if it's with loanees and foreign imports.

Boro face a couple of very difficult away games in the next week that will severely test their diminishing promotion credentials. I'm sure that Adam Clayton will receive a very "warm" welcome on his return to Huddersfield and Jacob Butterfield is odds on to score in time honoured tradition for a former player to score against the Boro.

The second away game leaves me fuming - Cardiff away on a Tuesday night!!! Not a thought for the travelling supporters. These two away fixtures should be reversed, a relatively short midweek journey to West Yorkshire and the long trip to South Wales on a Saturday would have made so much more sense!

You have to applaud the support that Steve Gibson has given Aitor Karanka in assembling a squad that hopefully is strong enough to get us back into the Premier League. It does though leave me scratching my head as to the Academy systems not only at Hurworth but also across the country. Young players from Chelsea and now Spurs are fighting for the chance to get into Boro's first team whilst our own youngsters are being shipped out to get experience at Hartlepool and other first and second division clubs.

Whilst I appreciate they need first team experience, does that not also suggest that in the main they are not good enough for us? We see many of our young academy graduates enjoy successful careers at a lower level when they eventually move on permanently and perhaps that supports the fact that our own academy continues to produce young men capable of enjoying a career in the professional game but surely it would be better all round if those careers were at the Boro!

We sat back with pride when a first team eleven of home grown players was selected for the Boro a few years ago on the final day of the Premier League season at Fulham, I don't think that we are likely to see that happen again at Boro or for that point any other club in the top two divisions.

I recently went to the Bradford City v Leeds United Capital One Cup tie and the hosts had Gary Liddle, Jason Kennedy and Matty Dolan on the pitch supporting the fact that we continue to produce good footballers capable of competing but not at the Riverside. They were certainly good enough on that night to do something that we recently couldn't do, namely defeat Leeds United!!!

As much as the players it was the home crowd that had a significant affect on the result of that particular game. The hosts fell behind to a sucker punch with only eight minutes to go but they were in front within four minutes as the electric atmosphere spurred the players on. It had been like that from the start of the game though and sadly that left me feeling envious and frustrated.

In fairness to the bosses at the Riverside they have done their best to improve the match day atmosphere by moving the fans around the ground and no one can criticise the efforts of the Red Faction and Twelfth Man in their attempts to bring colour and passion to the game.

But sadly, especially when the players aren't performing on the pitch that isn't enough. Away from home it's a different story, our fans are as loud and vociferous as any travelling supporters, but the Riverside in the main resembles a morgue!!

Many years ago when I was on the radio with Terry Cochrane and also in one of the first articles I wrote for the Gazette I pleaded for the Boro support to find and adapt a popular catchy tune that could be a terrace anthem that got everyone in the ground on their feet. We're still waiting.

Most clubs have various anthems, many stealing the original tunes and adding their own words. I can live with that as long as it helps the match day experience and in turn the team. Honestly I've seen more audience participation at the Darlington Civic watching a musical than at the Riverside. It costs a lot of money to watch football so why don't the fans at least try and enjoy themselves?

I bumped into another Bantam with Boro connections, Andrew Davies who sadly missed the game after breaking his arm the week before the cup-tie. He said that their fans are like that every week and it really helps the players.

Crystal Palace aren't exactly the best team in the land but their supporters create a tremendous atmosphere wherever they go, but especially at home. At the Reading game I was guest in Jim Platt's lounge and spoke to Boro supporters who are passionate and loyal but in the main they just sit and watch the game. Maybe that's what they want from the match day experience but it doesn't help make the ground an intimidating place where visiting teams fear to come.

To the contrary, it has over recent seasons become easy pickings for travelling sides. The silent masses do though continue to make a noise on some occasions and the pathetic and sarcastic cheers that continue to meet every ball safely collected by Boro's under fire goalkeeper does absolutely nothing to help the situation.

I know my strong words will offend many, you pay your money and you have the right to an opinion, but why not keep it till the pub or the end of the game. Surely everyone can see the sense in getting to their feet and in the absence of any other song, belting out "Come on Boro" to try and lift our underperforming team.

Correct me if I'm wrong but I'm sure that is what the dictionary definition of support really means. Away from home it happens every game, we came back from behind at Bolton inspired by the fans would just would not accept defeat. Please, please let's see and more importantly hear more of the same at the Riverside.

I've got to applaud the Red Faction lads once more for their banner at the Reading game, "Being poor is not entertainment" the only problem was that if anyone wasn't aware that it was a dig at the southern based TV companies continued desire to rubbish our area this time with their programme Benefits Street. They might well have thought it was with reference to out last two home games!!

The League is obviously our priority but our forthcoming Capital One Cup tie has really caught the Boro fans' imagination and I'm sure that we will sell out our ticket allocation.

Liverpool are likely to field a team from their squad and rest several first team regulars as the game comes slap bang in the middle of Champions League group games and important domestic fixtures.

On our last visit to Anfield Steve McClaren did likewise with his team selection and we relinquished our hold on the League Cup. I appreciate that we have this season used the competition to utilise our squad but in respect to the travelling fans and to give us a realistic chance I hope that changes are kept to the very minimum and that we field our strongest available starting eleven as we head to the north west and try and make progress in a competition that will always be very close to the hearts of all Boro supporters.





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