It can’t have been much fun being a Middlesbrough fan over the last few years. Last season the club finished in 11th position. Hardly catastrophic perhaps, but put yourself in the position of a ‘Boro fan. The last time you saw your club finish lower was when a final day win at home to Newcastle was just enough to see your boys avoid relegation to the third tier in the 1989/90 season. You’ve just watched your club sack a manager who (at the time) had taken your club to 4th in the league, just one point off top spot and averaging 1.77 points per game. You see him replaced by a new boss who builds on these foundations by winning 9 of your remaining 32 league matches at a rate of 1.19 points per game. This is form which, if it had been replicated over the whole season, would have seen you finish 16th. You spend the summer investing in new players, you’re one of the few teams in the division able to spend money. You head to your first home game full of opening day optimism. Your side takes the lead, those title odds don’t look so silly any more, the misery and years of decline at the club could be coming to an end…and then you lose 3-1.
So where do things need to improve for Strachan’s side? Perhaps more than anything else they need to improve in the big games. ‘Boro won just two of their 20 matches against Championship teams who finished above them last season. The side didn’t win a single game against the top six, taking just two points from a possible 36.
Its been a while since ‘Boro beat the Foxes too, eight years in fact, and even then Leicester had to do the work for the home side courtesy of a 35-yard own goal from Frank Sinclair. The Foxes were one of four teams to do the double over the Teessiders last season.
But Strachan can point to some good signs. His team won 27 points on the road in 2009/10, a very decent return. In addition his side can have few complaints with referees. ‘Boro won 10 penalties last season and conceded just 3. Only Reading (11) won more spot kicks last term.
On The Day – 14th August 1998
Frank Sinclair completed his move from Chelsea to Leicester for what was then a club record fee of £2.55m. Exactly one year later he would score for his former club in the dying seconds to deny City their second win of the 1999/00 season. It finished Leicester 2-2 Chelsea.