What a difference six months makes. When Leicester last made the trip to the Riverside at the beginning of April the teams shared the points in a six-goal thriller.
This time around it was the same result, but minus the goals or any discernable entertainment. From that point of view, as Sven might say: “First half not so good, second half also not so good.”
These were two well-organised teams playing a disciplined game and they will be hard to break down over the course of the season. However, that season will be a long and tough one and without a spark of creativity to turn draws into wins Boro and Leicester may well be found wanting in the long run.
That said, for now, they’ll probably regard this as a good point. Boro’s unbeaten run continues and they’ve gained eight points from four games in September without conceding a goal while Leicester come away from the home of one of the early pace-setters still unbeaten on the road.
I always enjoy my trips to The Riverside. I used to live and work in Middlesbrough and my grandfather grew up there. (I once found his childhood home in South Bank, it now has grills over the windows and front door, which also has ‘F*** off Debbie’ sprayed across it. It was an emotional moment for me…) and, strangely, I find the town’s brutal industrial vista, which inspired Sir Ridley Scott’s vision of the future in Blade Runner, aesthetically pleasing.
However, The Riverside itself increasingly seems to me to be a metaphor for the club, perhaps even post-Sky TV football itself. Opened in 1995, it was the first of many identikit stadia which complied with the Taylor Report to spring up around the country. It was a statement of intent from a club that was going places and which would ultimately spend big money on players like Fabrizio Ravanelli.
Two cup finals came in the same season as relegation in 1997 and the club never managed to sustain its place in the top flight. Yo-yoing between the top two divisions and a League Cup seven years ago was as good as it got. These days are ones of harsh financial reality: the money’s gone and the club has to cut its cloth accordingly.
Look at the stadium now and it’s rusting, in April there was a bit of parcel tape – I kid you not – over a split in a board at the back of the away section. It’s gone now. Fixed? Fallen off? I don’t know, either way it speaks volumes for how all that early hope the brave new world of the Premier League promised for Boro, and so many teams like them, has disappeared.
If further confirmation were needed that money isn’t always the best way to get instant success, look at the game itself. Going into that meeting in April, Boro were 18th and Leicester 11th. This time around Boro were second while Leicester were still 11th and who spent all the money in the summer?
1. Kasper Schmeichel is immense
He has the potential to become one of the all-time great keepers. He dominates the area, is a great shot-stopper with good positional awareness, has no problems bollocking his own defenders and the distribution from his throws is excellent (though he could work on his kicks). In fact, he reminds me of another great keeper. Who is it now…? First name Peter, won the League and the European Cup… on the tip of my tongue… That’s it: Shilton, Peter Shilton.
2. Paul Konchesky isn’t that bad at all
When we signed him I was a little bit wary, essentially because he’d been drummed out of Anfield with the word ‘crap’ tattooed across his forehead but then the patient Scousers didn’t have any time for the manager of the year, Roy Hodgson either so what do you expect? (And King Kenny’s ‘revival’s going so well at the moment, isn’t it?) But I digress, Konchesky performs his key task well - little got past him - and he makes strong marauding runs up the wing, keeping the opposition full back occupied. He also delivers a mean dead ball. Maybe we just signed a different Paul Konchesky…
3. Darius Vassell has still got it
But, hey, he’s only 31, so why wouldn’t he? One of Sven’s bargain basement buys Vassell had dropped off the radar when he joined Leicester as a free agent a year ago after a spell in Turkey with Ankaragücü. Against Boro he was arguably City’s best attacking player proving, if proof were needed, that it’s not always necessary to spend big to get quality.
4. We have our owned tattooed fat man who likes to take his top off
It’s not just the Geordies who can pull that stunt. Now, it was a balmy summer’s night at the Riverside (despite the fact, as we all know, summer finishes at the end of August) so why not take you’re shirt off? (Note: I didn’t.) This guy had an impressive array of artwork, including Ali G and a Buddha, although that last one might have been a self portrait.
5. Boro’s band is extremely annoying.
Well, I say band but I mean drummer. Well, I say drummer but I mean man with a drum banging it tunelessly and incessantly. All football bands are annoying, be it Sheffield Wednesday’s or England’s but at least they, y’know, play tunes. This guy was just making noise with an instrument. My youngest daughter could do that. Before she could walk.
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