Opposition View: Boro Breakdown
Attention turns to the "bread and butter" with the Hatters making the 216 mile trip to the Riverside Stadium for a playoff-chasing battle against Middlesbrough. ORH spoke to Dana Malt, of The Boro Breakdown Podcast, to get the lowdown on Boro's season so far...
Tell us a bit about you and your Boro supporting background…
I first started supporting Boro when I was maybe seven or eight. Obviously as a kid you fall into many different phases, and I became obsessed with football. Different to a phase though, it just stuck. I remember going to my second ever Middlesbrough match which was an 8-1 win over Manchester City, and I think I got catfished into thinking it was like that every week! Of course it wasn’t, but I was engulfed by the frenzy of the game and once I had a taste of it I was so excited to go back. Given that I started supporting Boro in the shadow of their halcyon days, I witnessed the decline which saw a relegation in my first ever season as a season card holder. Most of the seasons since have been rank bad and riddled with apathy but I wouldn’t change it for the world. There’s nothing better than rocking up at the Riverside pre-match and then watching the team play.
After an average start to the season under Neil Warnock, Middlesbrough have strengthened and are in the midst of a race for the Championship playoffs. How happy are the Boro fanbase with the season so far?
Generally speaking I think Boro fans are content with how the season has gone and excited for what’s left of it. Play-off races are exciting anyway but the identity of the squad means it’s even more so. This slick, brave and fearless football is brilliant to watch evolve as the games tick on. Not every game are we brilliant, or sometimes even good, but every fan can appreciate that we’re taking the right steps with the right manager and the right structure in the club. So I’d say there’s a lot more trust in the direction we’re going in, which has blossomed into a really positive atmosphere from the stands.
It’s no secret that the change in fortunes this season coincides with the appointment of Chris Wilder, an appointment which caught the eye of many fans in the league. Just how important has Wilder been in his 16 league games in charge so far?
He’s been the centrepiece of it. His appointment has galvanised not only this side, but this football club. Coupled with the introduction of Kieran Scott as Head of Football, which is a role we’ve needed to fill for years, and you’ve got a very good mix of personnel there to move forward. Alan Knill cannot go without a mention either. Both he and Wilder are a successful duo and, crucially, we have them both. He’s got us winning - just 4 defeats in 19 games in all competitions - he’s got us playing some good stuff, and he’s brought back the feel good factor on Teesside. Before most games we have a player that speaks to the media, which wasn’t happening before. Chris Wilder introduced that because he felt it was important for the fans to hear from the players they watch every week. That sums him up, he just gets it. He’s arguably the best manager in the Championship and it’s good to say he’s at the Boro.
Despite a few eye-catching signings in January, the core of the Middlesbrough squad is similar to the one that visited Kenilworth Road back in November. Who would you highlight as the key players and “Ones to Watch” for this weekend’s game?
Isaiah Jones, Matt Crooks and Anfernee Dijksteel - our right side trio. I could probably close my eyes in the build up to a Boro goal and still know it’s probably come through one of them. Crooks is our top scorer on 9 and has undoubtedly been the signing of the season. He’s a big lad, but don’t mistake him for being a long-ball flick on merchant - his technical ability is too good to pigeonhole him into that mould. He’s energetic, creative, brilliant defensively and scores goals. He’s the most all-round Boro midfielder I’ve seen in a long time. Isaiah Jones has been a revelation this season, and was probably the only bright spark from that dismal defeat at Kenilworth Road back in November. He’s quick, tricky and exciting but he’s also very good defensively and has end product in the final third to boot. Sometimes, though, these moves down the right side aren’t complete without an onrushing Anfernee Dijksteel on the overlap or underlap. He may only have one assist to his name this season, but he’s the quietly pivotal part of those right side combinations. He’s also just a very astute defender too.
Boro had the better of the first half in the previous fixture, before they overwhelmed in a crazy five-minute spell by the Hatters, who ran out 3-1 victors. From the outside, what have you made of Luton this season?
That defeat was awful - a real low point of the season. I did think Luton were ones to watch before a ball was kicked, firstly because of the Nathan Jones factor but also because of the recruitment. You’ve built a really good squad down there, epitomised by Adebayo who was a real thorn in our side in the reverse fixture. We just couldn’t handle his physically, his link up play and his movement. We’d do well to keep him quiet this time round but I think we’re much more prepared (or at least I’d hope we are!).
Time for some predictions - who do you think will (i) get automatic promotion, (ii) make the playoffs, and (iii) get relegated.
Fulham and Bournemouth will get promoted automatically, although I wouldn’t be so confident in the latter given that Scott Parker is in charge and they have games in hand. I can definitely see a situation where the Cherries cave under pressure a little bit. For play-offs, this changes every week. For now I’ll go Sheffield United, Huddersfield, Boro and Nottingham Forest. Peterborough, Derby and Reading will be relegated.
Finally, give us your score prediction for Saturday’s game…
Our home form is incredibly strong, so I’ll go for a tight 1-0 Boro win.
With thanks to Dana Malt (@danamalt) of The Boro Breakdown Podcast. For more from Boro Breakdown you can find them at @Boro_Breakdown (Twitter), borobreakdown (Instagram), or visit www.theborobreakdown.com.