Middlesbrough have started reasonably well and have the exciting Massimo Maccarone up front as a cutting edge to the players that Steve McClaren has put together in his short time on Teeside. I have known Steve for many seasons since his time as the hard-working coach of Oxford United’s youth team under the management of Brian Horton. He has always been a student of the game and is now gaining the rewards his ability merits.
We have an opportunity to win our fourth consecutive home league match of the season today and I am sure that whatever the score Steve McClaren will handle the result in a sensible manner — that is his style.
This is my first opportunity to compliment Glenn and his staff on achieving the Manager of the Month award for the first games of the season. His lieutenants John Gorman and Chris Hughton, together with goalkeeping coach Hans Segers and fitness coach Kunle Odetoyinbo, have all assisted Glenn’s maximisation of the players available, particularly with our sustained run of injuries.
It is to the credit of the players that the squad that was suggested by the previous manager as being far too thin on the ground, with youngsters on the bench, has now emerged in such depth that the excellent ITV Premiership programme on Saturday night illustrated the quality of the Tottenham team that was not available to play at Manchester United.
Name that side! It could be: Sullivan, Carr, King, Perry, Taricco, Clemence, Anderton, Freund, Poyet, Ziege, Rebrov. Subs: Sherwood, Gardner, Thelwell.
Of this group, Steffen Freund and Sergei Rebrov both played at Nottingham Forest in the Reserves’ 1-1 draw last Monday evening.
It is also to the players’ credit that they went to Old Trafford and coped with the anticipated Manchester United revival and the known difficulties of playing in that difficult atmosphere. Last year was unique for United when they lost five home matches, unlikely to be repeated this season, but sadly the penalty kick was the decisive factor on our visit.
Unfortunately for me, although looking forward to seeing the game and particularly how the younger element coped — bearing in mind that we also had Ronnie Henry and Rohan Ricketts on the bench — I was disappointed to get stuck in some horrific M1 traffic just north of Luton and decided around 12.30pm to make my way to the nearest game which might have a significance for Tottenham.
As a result I watched Cardiff City play very efficiently at Notts County in a performance that could very easily have resulted in a four goal victory. They won 1-0 and will be competitive opponents this coming Tuesday.
In midfield they work the ball neatly and have capable players in Graham Kavanagh and Gareth Whalley, a strong centre back pairing in Spencer Prior and Danny Gabbidon and fast strikers Robert Earnshaw and Andy Campbell. Our supporters can look forward to an interesting game in our attempt to get back to Cardiff itself for the Worthington Cup Final.
The recent injuries have given opportunities in the Reserve side to several youngsters who were part of our successful Under-18 youth team last year. We have already loaned the likes of Steven Ferguson to Motherwell and John Jackson to Swindon Town. Several other clubs have asked about the availability of other players currently playing in our Reserve side while our injuries recover.
In two recent games against much more experienced players, a 2-1 win against Southampton and a 1-2 defeat by Derby, several players showed the watching scouts their potential.
The midfield of Rohan Ricketts, Diego Bortolozzo and Jonathan Blondel showed craft and footballing ability whilst up front Lee Barnard and John Sutton are getting opportunities to demonstrate that they may be deserving of future contracts. I do believe that in the centre back area we look well covered with young Henry, who must make his grandfather feel quite proud (Ron senior was, of course, a member of our 1961 Double side), Paul O’Donoghue and Stephen Kelly who are all coping well with their upgrading.
In recent weeks I have watched games of varying standards, ranging from the Champions League, Academy encounters, Nationwide games, Avon Reserve matches, Premiership games and also had five days in Argentina watching both reserve and senior matches. In doing so I came to one conclusion — the standard of refereeing at the pinnacle of our game in the Premiership is as high as it could possibly be.
Of course there are certain incidents in every game which bring much controversy. But overall supporters should take the odd disappointment in their stride.
Certainly the continual ‘knock the referee’ brigade, who flood the football phone-ins, should watch a cross-section of games before moaning. The guys who work their way to the top in refereeing circles are, for sure, the best of their profession.
Let us hope we have no cause for moaning today and our boys earn the right to a win without complaint. Enjoy the game.
This afternoon’s game sees us near to the completion of the first quarter of the season — time flies. We have already seen a picture emerging of clear progress at our Club.