Support and report #2: Middlesbrough and Notts County

For the second of the Support and Report series, it’s time to take a look at two clubs who have recently dispensed with the services of their managers. Gordon Strachan departed Middlesbrough ahead of their trip to Norwich City and Craig Short left his post at League One newcomers Notts County after Saturday’s home defeat at the hands of Colchester United.

Middlesbrough fan Mark Forster made the long journey to Carrow Road, while the Notts County view comes from regular blogger Stuart Brothers. Stuart has kindly allowed his latest report to be re-published from its usual home on his excellent Welly Pie blog.

Many thanks to them both. If you would like your brief weekend report to be included in the future, please email it to 72blog by the Sunday afternoon following the day of the match.

Keep an eye on Welly Pie for Stuart’s full reaction to the sacking of Craig Short.

Norwich City 1 Middlesbrough 0
Mark Forster at Carrow Road

It’s been a hectic week at Middlesbrough Football Club. A 2-1 defeat to Leeds, a 1-0 loss to Nottingham Forest and going down 1-0 to Norwich rounded off an awful seven days as a Boro fan. It also left us in our worst league position for over 20 years. And, sandwiched in between this horrible run of results, we found time to lose our manager.

Whether Gordon Strachan actually resigned or he was pushed into resignation is still unknown, but fair play to the “wee ginger one” as he rebuked any compensation owed to him. Instead, merely leaving us with some sort of Old Firm reserve team.

Norwich away is one of those fixtures that put off Boro fans, not due to our abysmal away form this season but simply as it’s so difficult to get to. Six hours and three changes later we arrived at Carrow Road, the home of the best food in the Football League.

Optimism wasn’t high amongst the travelling supporters. Many, including myself, had already written off accruing any points until we appoint a new manager. Especially sickening was, when a goal down, we heard that Marvin ‘Project’ Emnes had rattled one in on his debut for Swansea and been involved in a second.

This was the player that we paid £3.5million for and that Gordon Strachan only thought worthy of one half of football throughout his reign. The Norwich goal, which turned out to be the winner, was a result of some comical schoolboy defending. Remember the scene in Fever Pitch when Colin Firth teaches the kids the Arsenal offside trap?

Rumours are rife in Middlesbrough about who the next manager will be. I’ve had texts from people adamant that an ex-England international was seen in a local strip club and that Jose Mourinho has been spotted trying to get on a bus for a half fare. My personal favourite involved a perma-tanned ex-manager being forcefully removed from the local tanning salon for trying to use expired sunbed minutes.

Joking aside, after another away day defeat it’s vital that Steve Gibson makes the right decision when appointing the next manager. If he goes with the fans at Norwich and appoints the ‘local hero of 1986’ in Tony Mowbray, then it may be time to break out the peroxide and a shirt I last wore when I was three.

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Notts County 1 Colchester United 2
Stuart Brothers at Meadow Lane

So in the end it really had become an all too regular occurrence, even for the people who matter the most.

That familiar (read: boring) tale of much possession, several created opportunities, and nothing to show for it. Quite often we can take away the positive that our performance was good for a large period, but this performance was to be the straw that broke the camel’s back as Craig Short (and assistant Dave Kevan) were today released from their Meadow Lane employment.

Even by our own recent standards, rarely do even Notts County get to see such positive starts begin to sour so quickly.

Notts controlled the very early possession and found themselves with a 1-0 lead on eight minutes thanks to Craig Westcarr finishing after a sublime through ball from Karl Hawley. The goal was soured though by the injury picked up by Westy in the process.

County’s top scorer for the season so far managed to play through the pain for a further four minutes but was to be placed by Kevin Smith.

The switch did little to knock the players off their stride as they continued to press, creating several good chances along the way. That the players for once had the early lead would’ve surely erased any self-doubt following recent away performances.

Colchester though to their credit were to wise up to County’s plan of attack and began to force their way back into the game, thanks in part to the introduction of Kayode Odejayi. Fortunately for Notts though they were still to hold their slim one goal lead through to half time.

As has become the norm though, Notts’ best had been and gone and it was inevitably backs to the wall for the second half.

Lee Hughes, undoubtedly buoyed by the news this week that he wouldn’t require surgery for his problematic hip, was proving to be ineffective. Smith, the earlier replacement for Westcarr was to be substituted himself for Jake Jervis. Little or no impact was to come of the switch.

And indeed, the up and down nature of Lee Hughes’ season was to continue as he picked up a yellow card. Why? Who knows. Reports to this point are hardly the clearest. What is crystal clear is that it is Hughes’ fifth booking of the season so far and he now has to sit out the visit of Southampton next Saturday.

Colchester were to find their deserved equaliser through substitute Odejayi when he found himself unmarked to head in from six yards with just a quarter of an hour remaining.

County had once against thrown away a lead and a strong first half now meant very little. There were 15 minutes remaining and Notts had to hold on tight for the rest of the ride.

They didn’t. Unsurprisingly Notts weren’t to learn their lesson so it was to be no great shock that man Odejayi was to find the winner on 83 minutes.

So the woeful away form continues having squandered another fantastic position, and the time has come where even good performances aren’t enough to mask the disappointment of three points dropped.

This is the fourth game already this season where we’ve robbed ourselves of the points. Those 12 points would see us currently sitting joint top of League One. Such a fine margin has proven to be Short and Kevan’s downfall, rightly or wrongly.

Next Saturday, Southampton visit the Lane themselves desperate to find some stability to their season. Notts already find themselves managerless and probably missing Luke Rodgers, Neal Bishop and Westcarr through injury, so the loss of Hughes piles even more pressure on an already fully stretched, underachieving side.

Who is left to take the game by the scruff? Alan Judge will make his return from suspension, Ben Davies will of course be looking to get back on the goal trail, whilst Karl Hawley will again need to prove himself as a goalscorer as he has failed to do all season long so far.

It’s a time for heroes, make no mistake.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

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