After the euphoria of our magnificent second half performance against Palace last week, we head to the North-East to face what I believe to be one of the most uninteresting teams in the Premier League, Middlesbrough. They certainly do not seem to play in games where there are many goals, and they are the only team in the League where the average goals per game (for both sides playing) is less than 2. With just 39 goals scored by them and their opponents combined in 21 games, I guess (although I haven’t checked), that they usually feature later on Match of the Day than we do.
They have scored a paltry 17 goals in 21 games, the least in the league, with only one goal in their last four games. Southampton are the next lowest on 19. Defensively, though, they are one of the top teams in the division, having conceded only 22 goals, a figure bettered by only Tottenham, Chelsea, and Manchester United. So on past performance this season we shouldn’t expect a lot of goals in the game.
They currently sit in 16th place in the table, just four points above the relegation zone, and will no doubt be hoping that their excellent defensive record will keep them out of the bottom three. They will certainly hope that they are clear of the drop zone as the season nears the end, as in four of their final six matches they face Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool.
In the season to date they are the draw specialists of the Premier League, having drawn eight of the 21 games (they have won four and lost nine). Their draws included a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture at the London Stadium at the beginning of October, when a wonderful individual effort from a French international player who doesn’t want to play for us anymore rescued a point. The four teams they have beaten are their North-East neighbours, Sunderland, plus Bournemouth, Hull and Swansea. Of course we have beaten the same four teams plus Burnley and Palace (twice).
One player we need to watch out for is Middlesbrough’s leading scorer, Negredo, who is on a season-long loan from Valencia, having previously been at Manchester City in recent times. Negredo has only scored (I believe) 14 goals in all the time he has spent in England, but five of them have come against West Ham! Another one of the opposition who we know well is Stewart Downing, although he appears to have fallen out of favour in recent times. They paid a lot of money to buy Jordan Rhodes from Blackburn on transfer deadline day a year ago (the fee was undisclosed, although Blackburn had previously rejected an offer of £10 million for him), but he barely gets a look in and hasn’t scored in his rare appearances this season. On 18 January they completed the transfer of Patrick Bamford from Chelsea for £6million. When he was on loan there previously in 2014-15 he scored 19 goals in 44 appearances, so he has been bought to improve their poor scoring record. I wonder if he will be in the team?
Changing the subject, I have another statistic for those people who are interested in the effect on our results of our move to the London Stadium. So far this season we have played 11 games at home in the league and have accrued 17 points. Last season we had one of our best ever seasons in recent years, and our highest points total ever achieved in the Premier League era. So how many points do you think that we picked up at “fortress” Upton Park in the first 11 games there in that last record breaking season? Yes, you are right – 17!
Our failing this season has really come away from home. Last season we collected 16 points in our first 10 away games of the season, whereas this time around we have only picked up 8 from the same number of games. The difference in points accrued for the season to date can be accounted for solely by our away form; our home form (in terms of points picked up, if not level of performance) is identical.
The transfer window continues to let in a draught, if not any players, at the time of writing. Are we waiting on Payet’s potential exit to free up money to buy players and pay salaries within the Financial Fair Play limits? I’m afraid that the Profitability and Sustainability rules within Financial Fair Play leave me cold, and I fail to understand how they work. At first glance they appear to be totally in favour of helping big clubs get bigger, and making it virtually impossible for other clubs to close the gap. But what do I know?
I keep reading about Hogan, Snodgrass, Defoe and others but I guess we’ll have to keep on waiting until the window is about to slam shut to see if anything happens. Our position in the table is looking more comfortable now, and I hope we don’t just throw good money after short-term fixes to appease the fans who are desperate to see new players. Of course we need a right back and a goalscorer, but let’s hope that any incoming players are ones that can actually improve the team as opposed to the squad. Geoff summed up the situation well in his article Sliding Through The Transfer Window on January 18, so I’ll add no more here.
Back to the game, I would guess that there won’t be too many goals, but I am hoping for us to continue where we left off against Palace and record our third away win of the season. I’ll go for 2-1.
As I write this at 9pm on the eve of the game I note that Fonte has finally put pen to paper. No news yet re Hogan, or any other signings, and conflicting reports regarding the exit of Payet. Fonte is a surprise signing in some respects, although having seen some Southampton games, I am convinced that he is a signing that will add to the quality of the actual team, as opposed to just the squad. He is obviously not a long term acquisition, but I guess fewer and fewer players are these days. Is it me, or are our transfer dealings more protracted than those of other clubs?