PGL: Good morning all. So we face Boro today and with Chelsea winning yesterday and Villa only managing a draw it looks like 4th spot will be ours this season so these last few league games are about keeping momentum and keeping our players fit for the Champions League games. A clean sheet today would be a great way to respond to the criticism the defence have received since Tuesday but we are facing a Middlesbrough side that are fighting for survival. This week I’ve been back on in touch with Andy, Elle and Dave over at http://www.comeonboro.com/
PGL: Arsene Wenger recently said Adebayor’s ‘I’m staying, I’m going, I’m staying’ act at the start of the season disturbed our side, do you think Stuart Downing making similar noises affected Boro?
Andy: There was a lot of confusion surrounding the Downing transfer – with the papers saying he put in a request and the club saying he had merely talked to Southgate about it. I think it did unsettle the squad – the results in January demonstrated this – but mainly it unsettled the player. Downing was far from his best at the tail end of last year and his mind was clearly elsewhere. He has since become focused again and is now playing a lot better.
Elle: Stewart Downing putting in a transfer request definitely unsettled the dressing room and I think it had a massive effect on our transfer window because it became all about keeping Downing and shipping out Mido! However I do think that We have had plenty of time to get back on track since then and Downing’s commitment (if not always his form) since January has been good.
Dave: I think it definitely unsettled some of the other players. Downing is our biggest star and when the other top players see the star of the team wanting to move they suddenly feel that Boro is a club that isn’t going anywhere. He is commited to Boro until the end of the season, at least, and I he has got his head down and worked hard to try to get the side out of the predicement we are in.
PGL: You’ve got us, then Man U then local and survival rivals Newcastle, Villa and West Ham on the last day of the season. What’s are the fans feelings heading into a difficult run of games that will decide your fate?
Andy: A lot of fans are resigned to relegation but there are a few hardly souls who still believe. The point against Fulham was the death knell for some as we needed to pick up a maximum against them. However, we are unbeaten at home this year and have excellent records against Arsenal and United so there is still a belief we can claw our way out of it. The problem is it will take a monumental effort where all of the lessons that have failed to be learned thus far, will have to be learned and sharpish.
Elle: I think the majority of the fans were resigned to relegation prior to the Hull match, to score three goals for the first time this season gave us hope but it was extremely tenuous. Now it is all about the teams around us, and trying to pick up points in games where we are not fancied. We have a tough run but traditionally perform better against better opposition (Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United)We have already drawn against Arsenal, and beaten Aston Villa this season and Newcastle are in a sorry state at the moment too.
Dave: Most fans had given up hope after the defeats to Bolton and Stoke a few weeks ago. Even the most optimistic of Boro fans know it will be an uphill struggle staying in the Premier League. Realistically we need to beat Newcastle and Aston Villa and hope to pick up enough points away to Arsenal and home to Manchester United. Boro don’t have a bad record against the better sides and I believe that is one of the things that many of the Boro fans are hanging on to. After all we are unbeaten at the Emirates Stadium and a point this weekend would be most welcome. Bacially we are waiting to see how things look after the Arsenal and Manchester United games. If we are still hanging on in there then I believe we could do it. The Newcastle game will be a nervous occasion thats for sure.
PGL: If the unthinkable happens, would the fans want Southgate to stay on as Manager? What players can you see wanting to leave?
Andy: I think there is a splitting of opinion on this one. Some would like to see a young English manager succeeding whilst others think it was folly for Gibson to appoint him in the first place. Some would like to see Southgate prove his critics wrong and bring Boro back up next year whereas some believe he has shown to be a man who is afraid of a battle. The usual names will leave – the Internationals such as Tuncay, Digard, Aliadiere – and the likes of Downing too. I think they should all stay and help bring the club back up personally. I know it’s idealistic and unworkable but they are the ones who got us into this mess, they should be the ones to rectify it. The key is where the offers come from though. Alves may go if anyone is stupid enought to buy him and Wheater, despite his commitment to his local club, could go if the offer is right.
Elle: I think most fans think Southgate will be manager next season regardless of which division we are in, Do we want him to be? Hard to say, if we stay up he will have a huge battle to get the confidence of fans and players back, if we go down I don’t see him bringing us back up. Players wanting to leave? – the shorter list is who will definitely stay, I think with the exceptions of Matthew Bates, Josh Walker, Andrew Taylor and Brad Jones the players will all be ‘considering their options’.
Dave: Personaly I think Southgate will be hear next season and I believe one day he will be a good manager. Whether Boro survive or not alot of people expect a mass exodus as well as a clear out. Downing will lead the way, followed by Gary O’Neil no matter what happens. Although if we are relegated I expect Tuncay, Huth, Aliadiere, Alves and perhaps Wheater to be added to that list.
PGL: We’ve had a tough run of games recently, including that breathless 4-4 at Anfield, do you think Southgate will look at that as a positive going into the tie?
Andy: Every game is different. Liverpool hammered Villa 5-0 and scored 4 against you because these are sides they enjoy playing against due to the leaving of spaces on the park. Equally, the likes of Stoke, Liverpool struggle against. Arsenal have had a similar season in that respect. Boro can’t score and no amount of defensive lapses will really effect that. It’s Arshavin we have to be wary of – our defence is tripe and prone to standing still when it should be marking or tracking back and this is a scary prospect.
Elle; Southgate will be hoping you guys have some tired legs but is probably clinging on to his unbeaten record as manager against Arsenal.
Dave: Southgate will be hoping for more of the same defending especially considering Boro rarely find the back of the net. I’m sure he will be hoping that Arsenal are slight more nervous at the back following the four goals that they conceded. He will also be hoping that the amount of games that the Gunners are currently facing may count in Middlesbrough’s favour as Arsene Wenger rests players.
PGL: Where do you see the key battles being?
Andy: Boro haven’t really been battlers so it’s an intriguing question. If we can nullify your atta ck we will have a chance but with a defence as lazy as ours, it is a major concern.
Elle: I would say that depends on who Wenger starts and where, but it doesn’t really due to the quality and quantity of your players. Aliadiere usually has an excellent game against his former club and often carries the team along with him, Digard has returned to fitness and was my man of the match in the corresponding fixture this season so we may have renewed strength in midfield and, Gary O’Neil returns from suspension,I think Arsenal’s style of play actually suits Boro because it is how we aspire to play but I think the midfield will be very important to us in our remaining games.
Dave: I think David Whater and Robert Huth will have their work cut out against Adebayor and Arshavin and defending is abolutely key for us on Sunday. Downing will no doubt be up against Bacary Sagna and Boro will be relying on getting those crosses into the box a much as possible. Another interesting battle could be whether Tuncay plays ‘in the hole’ or not. If Southgate does play him in that position I see him coming up against Alex Song. If Tuncay can win that particular battle then the hope is that he can create chances for himself or his teammates.
PGL: Our Russian Pele, Arshavin bagged 4 on Tuesday how will Southgate try to control him?
Andy: This season, part of the problem has been playing defenders out of position. If this happens again then Arshavin will murder us. I imagine Southgate is going to try and man-mark him but again, if our defence is lazy, then I doubt it will work. The best bet may be to try and cut the service to him by putting 5 in field to nullify it.
Elle: I think Southgate will be worried about Arshavin but we need to attack not try to smother certain players – we aren’t good enough to do that. Although I suspect Robert Huth might be sticking fairly close to Arshavin…
Dave: Southgate will probably be hoping Arshavin is rested for Arsenal’s upcoming Champions League semi final with Manchester United. If he does play I would expect Huth to stick to him as much as he can. If Arshavin is in the whole it might be up to Matthew Bates to keep a close eye on him. Either way Boro’s best way of keeping him out of the game is to retain possession and not get caught on the counter attack as Liverpool did on Tuesday evening.
PGL: 3 points today would be massive for your side. Will you go out to win or not to lose?
Andy: We have played a conservative game this season and this has cost us dearly. By sitting back, we have often conceded late goals so the best thing to do is to go out and attack. This is particularly the case against The Big Four. If we take the game to them, we are often successful against them. I fear we will go for a 4-5-1 formation though.
Elle: We generally go out not to lose but we can’t do that at this stage of the season. I think Southgate will throw everyone forward and go for it, he pretty much has too!
Dave: Three points a re a must at this stage of the season. However I think Southgate will set the side up to be as defensive as possible. A point could be a precious one come the end of the season.
PGL: And finally, what’s your prediction for the game?
Andy: I’m going for 1-1, with Aliadiere’s obligatory goal. We’d take a draw at the Emirates.
Elle: I’m going and I’m obviously hoping we win, tough call, it could be another 1-1 draw like at the Riverside if we are on our game and surprise everyone but I’d like a high scoring draw to help us with our awful goal difference. I can’t quite believe we can beat Arsenal with Walcott and
Arshavin in particular in such electric form, then again it made no sense for us to beat Liverpool in the manner we did.
Dave: I cannot see Boro pulling off a win although a shock point is not
beyond us. I’m hoping for Arsenal not to exert themselves to much as they have a big European night just 3 days later. I’m going for 1-1.
PGL: So that’s the view from the Riverside. Fingers crossed for no injuries! And as I said a clean sheet would be nice. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few regulars start on the bench, Cesc included. Whatever side start, lets hope the game is a little less stressful than Tuesdays… my heart can’t take it! I’m going for a hard fought 2-0.