Aitor, We Need to Talk About Winning

by Dave Hearn

Sheffield Wednesday(2-3), Reading(0-1), Blackpool(1-1). If Boro are serious about winning promotion back to the Premier League this season then aren’t these the kind of games we need to be winning?

If your glass is half-full then the Boro are three points off the top of the table; a side unbeaten in five league games; a side that pushed a Liverpool team that cost over £100m to assemble as far as it was humanly possible to push them at Anfield; a side that kept the points total ticking along despite a poor performance against a spirited Blackpool on Tuesday night.

If your glass is half-empty, however, then the Boro have dropped daft points at home to teams we need to be beating if we want to go up, including the league’s bottom side in Blackpool; we are a side that expanded far too much energy on dragging Liverpool’s reserve team to penalties in a meaningless cup game; a side that is already teetering on the brink of ‘we can’t afford to lose any more games at home’ territory.

I’d say my glass with two-thirds(ish) full as things stand but then it always is. However, even I can see that if we are indeed serious about automatic promotion this season, and the summer transfer activity suggests that the chairman is as serious as he’s ever been in that respect, then we really do need to start winning home games on a much more regular basis than we have been since relegation in 2009.

We go into Saturday’s game against Fulham knowing that a win would send us into the forthcoming international break in incredibly healthy shape, though anything other than three points means a fortnight-long hangover full of questions about whether the season is already over. The team that starts against Fulham really does need to start with, and maintain, a high level of intensity if we are to really push ourselves on. If the team cannot maintain a high level of intensity over 90mins, then they have to show enough mental strength to grind out the results and turn draws into wins and defeats into draws despite not playing as well with the ball as they might.

Unfortunately, though, that hasn’t happened often enough at the Riverside in recent seasons and too many teams have departed Teesside with too many points, with any serious thoughts of winning promotion going with them. We need to transfer some consistently good away performances under Karanka into consistently good home ones if we are going to win the league this season(there, I’ve said it) and we need to do it soon.

With that in mind, here is Boro’s home record since relegation and how it compares to those sides who went on to win automatic promotion.

1 Newcastle P23 W18 D5 L0 F56 A13 +43 59
2 West Brom P23 W16 D3 L4 F50 A19 +31 51
11 Boro P23 W9 D8 L6 F26 A22 +4 35

Newcastle and West Brom dropped just 13pts between them when playing against sides that finished the season in the bottom-half of the table. Newcastle didn’t register a loss at home all season, dropping 6pts in draws against QPR(13th), Derby County(14th) and Ipswich Town(15th). West Brom lost at home to Crystal Palace(21st) and drew against QPR(13th) and Barnsley(18th).

Boro dropped 10pts at home, losing to Watford(16th) and Plymouth Argyle(23rd), and dropped 4pts in draws against Crystal Palace(21st) and Coventry City(19th). After beating Ipswich Town 3-1 on September 12th, Boro recorded just one home win(2-0 against Derby County) until the 3-0 victory over Scunthorpe United on Boxing Day, a run of one win from eight home games.

1 QPR P23 W14 D7 L2 F43 A15 +28 49
2 Norwich P23 W13 D6 L4 F47 A30 +17 45
12 Boro P23 W10 D7 L6 F37 A32 +5 37

QPR dropped just 7pts at home to sides that finished in the bottom-half, losing at home to Watford(14th) and recording draws against Bristol City(15th) and Derby County(19th). Norwich City managed to drop 13pts to bottom-half sides, with Watford(14th), Crystal Palace(20th) and Portsmouth(16th) all leaving Carrow Road with 3pts, with Doncaster Rovers(21st), Preston North End(22nd) and Coventry City(18th) all leaving with 1pt.

Boro recorded a slightly better home record than promoted Norwich City, surprisingly enough, dropping 12pts to the Canaries’ 13. Boro lost games against Ipswich Town(13th) and Bristol City(15th), whilst Preston North End(22nd), Portsmouth(22nd) and Barnsley(17th) all left Teesside with 1pt. The draw against Preston was the only time we dropped points against a side that finished in the bottom-six of the table and it is reasonable to suggest that if Tony Mowbray had arrived to replace Gordon Strachan sooner, or the season had lasted another month or so, then we could well have pinched a play-off place.

1 Reading P23 W14 D5 L4 F36 A18 +18 47
2 Southampton P23 W16 D4 L3 F49 A16 +33 52
7 Boro P23 W8 D10 L5 F22 A21 +1 34

Reading dropped just 7pts to sides that finished in the bottom-half of the league, losing against Barnsley(21st) and drawing against Millwall(16th) and Crystal Palace(17th). Southampton also dropped 7pts, with a defeat against Bristol City(20th) and draws against Ipswich Town(15th) and Portsmouth(22nd).

Boro, in stark contrast, managed to drop 22pts at home to sides that finished in the bottom-half and failed to win against any of the relegated sides at the Riverside. Burnley(13th) and Leeds United(14th) left the Riverside with 3pts apiece, whilst Doncaster Rovers(24th), Bristol City(20th), Crystal Palace(17th), Peterborough United(18th), Millwall(16th), Ipswich Town(15th), Coventry City(23rd) and Portsmouth(22nd) all left Teesside with 1pt.

Frustratingly, this is the closest we’ve been to a top-six finish since relegation, and yet we only won four home games before Christmas and four after, one of which was the final home game of the season against Southampton(2nd). If only we could’ve turned a few of those draws against the bottom-six sides into wins…

1 Cardiff P23 W15 D6 L2 F37 A15 +22 51
2 Hull City P23 W13 D4 L6 F35 A22 +13 43
16 Boro P23 W13 D3 L7 F38 A27 +11 42

Cardiff City dropped 7pts to sides that finished in the bottom-half, losing at home to Peterborough United(22nd) and drawing with Ipswich Town(14th) and Barnsley(21st). Over the course of the last five seasons, Hull City are the only side to win promotion after losing more than four home games. Bottom-half teams to leave Hull with maximum points were Peterborough United(22nd), Blackpool(15th) and Sheffield Wednesday(18th), whilst Bristol City(24th) claimed 1pt.

It is also worth adding that Hull City are one of just three teams to achieve promotion with fewer than 80pts since Aston Villa(78pts) in 1987/88(Boro also recorded 78pts and went on to win promotion with a play-off victory over Chelsea – and that season there were 44 league games played as opposed to 46). The other sides to win promotion with fewer than 80pts are Stoke City(79 pts – 2007/08) and Derby County(79pts – 1995/96), whilst in 1994/95 Reading also achieved 79pts but had to settle for a play-off place as the Premier League was being reduced from 22 teams to 20, meaning only Boro went up automatically.

Going back to 2012/13 for a moment, well Boro actually recorded their most productive season in terms of home form since relegation and still only managed to finish in 16th place, the lowest we’ve finished since coming down. Boro lost against Bristol City(24th), Barnsley(21st) and Millwall(20th) as a highly-promising season descended into post-Christmas chaos, whilst Peterborough United(22nd) left Teesside with a draw.

1 Leicester P23 W17 D4 L2 F46 A22 +24 55
2 Burnley P23 W15 D6 L2 F37 A14 +23 51
12 Boro P23 W10 D9 L4 F35 A19 +16 39

Leicester City didn’t lose a single game to a bottom-half side on their own patch last season as they took charge of the division and only dropped points by way of draws against Leeds United(15th), Watford(13th) and Yeovil Town(24th). Burnley were similarly ruthless at Turf Moor, remaining unbeaten against bottom-half sides whilst only dropping home points in draws with Bolton Wanderers(14th), Watford(13th) and Sheffield Wednesday(16th).

Yet again it was a case of too many draws at the Riverside for Boro, with Blackpool(20th), Sheffield Wednesday(16th), Huddersfield Town(17th), Watford(13th) and Leeds United(15th) all taking a point away from Teesside, though only Millwall(19th) managed to beat us on our own turf.

Again, as with the 2011/12 campaign, too many points were dropped through drawn games at the Riverside and, ultimately, it cost us. You cast your mind back to lethargic draws against Blackpool and Sheffield Wednesday under Mogga, the turgid 1-1 with Huddersfield, the time we battered Leeds but just couldn’t score, Curtis Main’s sitter at the fag end of a 0-0 with Wigan Athletic, Darius Henderson picking the ball up and hurling it past Dimi Konstantopoulos in the 1-1 with Forest and you wonder how things might’ve been different.

If we look at Boro’s most recent promotion campaigns, the benchmark for this Karanka team to aim at would probably be Lennie Lawrence’s 1991/92 team, certainly in terms of where we are as a club, as the finances on offer to Bryan Robson were greater than those afforded to both Lennie and Karanka(which isn’t to say that Lennie’s team and the current one aren’t/weren’t well-funded, just that the Robson era signalled a radical change in approach from the club in terms of spending money on players).

P23 W15 D6 L2 F35 A13 +22 51

Boro didn’t lose a single game at Ayresome Park until April 4th 1992, when Watford beat us 2-1. We then lost the next home game against Barnsley before winning the remaining four, with said defeat to Barnsley(16th) being the only time Boro dropped points to a team that finished outside of the top-half of the table over the course of the whole season.

It is also worth remembering that Boro made the semi-finals of the League Cup and the fifth round of the FA Cup, which added an extra twelve games onto a forty-six game league season, making the consistent home record and subsequent promotion to the Premier League all the more impressive.

P23 W14 D5 L4 F40 A19 +21 47

Boro lost just once to sides that finished in the bottom-half of the league courtesy of a 2-1 reverse against Southend United(13th), whilst Sunderland(20th) and Oldham Athletic(14th) left Ayresome Park with a point apiece, meaning Boro dropped just 7pts to lower-half teams over the course of the home campaign.

P23 W17 D4 L2 F51 A12 +39 55

The Boro team of 1997/98 should really have won the league title when you consider how much it cost to assemble, though a superb run to the League Cup final softens the blow of ‘only’ finishing second. We lost just two games at the Riverside all season, with Stoke City(23rd) beating a team that contained Ravanelli and Merson 1-0 in the second home match of the campaign and Sheffield United(6th) also leaving Teesside with maximum points(incidentally, the combined attendance of those two fixtures was 60,112). We then went the rest of the season unbeaten at home, with the next home defeat coming against Liverpool in the Premier League on Boxing Day 1998.

If Boro are to achieve automatic promotion this season then we can’t really afford to lose many more games at home, with recent history suggesting that four home defeats is most likely the limit. The away form is generally very good under this manager, it has to be said, but it would be made even more pleasing if we could start to find some real consistency at the Riverside Stadium, on our own patch, and echo the great Lawrence and Robson promotion-winning teams of the relatively recent past.

And, just for good measure, this is Karanka’s record at the Riverside since talking over:

P20 W10 D5 L5 F27 A18 +14 35

Karanka’s team have lost once to teams who ended the season outside of the top-half of the table, losing 2-1 at home to Millwall(19th). Leeds United(15th) are the only other bottom-half team to take a point away from the Riverside during Karanka’s tenure though, obviously, his tenure only covers roughly two-thirds of last season and a season that is currently in progress.

Record since relegation prior to this season:

P115 W50 D37 L28 F158 A121 +37 187

187pts from 345 available.

Including this season:

P120 W52 D38 L30 F167 A126 +41 194

194pts from 360 available.