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It's now or never

Robbo Robson | 11:18 UK time, Monday, 11 May 2009

'Squeaky-bum time', Sir Alex Ferguson called it. I tell you, in the Blue Bell on Monday night it'll be a flaming concerto for backsides and bar-stools as we cheer on the Boro against Newcastle.

The tellies'll be on full blast in the Last Chance Saloon Bar, the No Turning Back Public Bar and even The Well Uncomfortable Snug. We will call on the greats that have strode before us: Mannion, Hardwick, Maddren, Boam, Juninho, hellfire even Danny 'Dark Satanic' Mills if it'll help.

Hull have done their bit. Ever since Phil Brown did that on-pitch team talk, the Tigers have lost their bite. Brown was a swaggering dandy early doors, but Hull have sunk almost as deep as their manager's tan.

They could nab a point at Bolton, although they are the natural forefathers of Stoke and they were pretty hopeless against them. I can't see them surviving now, but at least they have the chance to be patronised by the Champions on the last day of the season.
Gareth Southgate
The Boro'll be off to Upton Park by then, hoping to see more of the di Michele Shuffle (right, left, dive!) and a sneaky last-ditch winner. Mind, there's no point in looking at other teams' results anymore. It's what our boys do that counts.

And the road to St James' Park will be lined with itinerant peddlers of false nails, urging fans to save their own cuticles and gnaw on the fake replacements instead. Actually that could be a well lucrative business so if you're thinking of starting it up, I demand a cut.

Southgate and Shearer have made the usual banal statements: biggest game; time to step up; players know their responsibilities. Thing is, I don't think there's a man or child from the Tyne or the Tees who doesn't in their heart of hearts know that neither club deserves to scrape a finish above the drop. Both teams have been hopeless. But at least you Geordies have had four different bosses making the excuses all season.

I think Boro have gained and lost in the run-up to this fixture. Barton's absence will be a huge blow for us. It's going to be a tense game and having some empty-headed muppet flying into tackles for no good reason would have been a right boost for us.

Then again at least we've got Iain Dowie - Mr 'Bouncebackability'- and looking at his profile it seems he's been bounced back off a few hard surfaces in his time. It was a huge surprise when Shearer arrived, but it was probably even more alarming that he brought Dowie in with him 'cos he'd 'been there before'.

Yes, Al, he'd been there, he'd failed and he'd got the boot. Dowie's relentlessly positive, but if you're wading waist-deep through a main sewer, there's something a bit blinking tiring about the bloke who keeps saying "Come on lads! At least we're not walking on our hands, eh?"

Of course the Toon Army can feel confident, too. Owen is so overdue that he'll have to be induced (all right I nicked that one off Ian Wright) and Viduka and Martins should cause problems for the Boro defence. Mind you, at times this season, an infant with a new-found ability to stand upright could have made Pog and Wheater look a tad uncertain.

With Duff at left-back they lack touchline-huggers - Victoria Beckham's got more width - but the barcodes have another thing undoubtedly in their favour: Boro's front three. You can't criticize any of Aliadiere, King, Tuncay or Alves for lack of effort. They're four of the most trying players I've ever watched.

But as the children's song goes 'Oh the Big Miss Comes From the Aliadiere, the Aliadiere, the Aliadiere!'... and I know training this week has involved Afonso Alves popping down to the local dairy farm at milking time with a banjo in his hand. (Word is, not one of the cows left the barn smarting from the experience.)

We'll be hoping the Turk goes berserk, mind, 'cos a goal from the rest of them would be asking too much. Perhaps Stu or O'Neil could grab one for us.

A Toon fan who dares to live down our way tells me he can foresee a goalless draw as it's a battle between two misfiring attacks. On the other hand, the defences have been pretty ropey 'n' all so it could equally be 5-5. There'll be chances, that's for sure.
Steve McClaren
I have a feeling that the neutral is behind the Boro too. We're a pretty pessimistic bunch on the whole. When Smiler was in charge and we went on that unbelievable run to the Uefa Cup final, there were still loads of my mates who were quick to assure anyone who'd listen that it'd all come to a juddering halt.

The fact that a final had to be reached before that happened was of little compensation to some. (By the way, barcodes, a 'final' is like the last game in a knockout competition - they were very big in the 90s down your way.)

Your neutral fan is hoping that the Toon soldier will get a bit of perspective following relegation. That the cult of the Revolving Door Messiah and Divine Right to the Top-Flight might be replaced by a little more of the 'ho, hum let's see if we can't get into the play-offs for next season'.

Despite the rivalry, I like the Geordies being in the Prem. It's an ongoing saga that Eastenders script editors would blanch at, and I'd rather it carried on its topsy-turvy way than sank without a trace. Thing is, they'll have to go down for us to stay up, so that sort of compassion can go burn in hell for now. 'Cos I'm convinced that whoever wins it will escape.

Even if the Baggies appeared to have signed Lazarus on loan, I think it's a tad late for them and Liverpool aren't going to let up anyway.
So though my throat tightens with anxiety and the smooth leatherette of my pub perch moistens at the very thought of it, still I bark out these three agonizing, recklessly positive words. For where there's life, there's hope...
Up the Boro! (We'll win 2-1)


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