BBC BLOGS - Paul Fletcher
« Previous | Main | Next »

The wait goes on for Strachan and Cooper

Post categories:

Paul Fletcher | 20:50 UK time, Saturday, 28 November 2009

At London Road.

Peterborough manager Mark Cooper and Middlesbrough boss Gordon Strachan were united by a common purpose at London Road on Saturday as both men searched for their first victory since they took charge of their respective clubs.

The wait goes on after an entertaining 2-2 draw, but you suspect that the need is most urgent for Strachan.

Boro have collected just two points from his four games in charge at the club. He took over with them one point off top spot; and they are now 13 adrift. Rivals Newcastle occupy first place - and that cannot help.

Boro have picked up just two points under Strachan

Strachan's mandate is clear - to ensure that Boro's flirtation with the Championship ends in May. The fact that chairman Steve Gibson, normally so patient with his managers, sacked Gareth Southgate hours after a victory hints at the sense of urgency within the Boro boardroom.

The Scot himself arrived at the Riverside months after parting company with Celtic. He was at pains to stress that he didn't need the job; he had taken it because he wanted it.

At his first news conference Strachan described the Championship as an exciting division, yet prior to the match with Posh it had become "a hard, hard league, with nothing cosmic about the football".

With two defeats, one draw and one goal prior to Saturday, Strachan's learning curve had been steep and quick.

It looked for much of Saturday as though his team would collect three points. They were the better team, regularly testing Posh's excellent young keeper Joe Lewis, but also wasting some first-rate chances.

The worst of the lot was a weak header wide of goal from six yards by an unmarked Leroy Lita after another teasing and deadly accurate cross from Adam Johnson.

Strachan was bristling on the touchline for much of the match and admitted afterwards that poor finishing is one of the factors letting his side down.

Scoring goals is obviously an urgent problem for the manager, who has brought in Marcus Bent and David Kitson on loan. Only the other day Strachan said the teams with good goalscorers are the ones that will be promoted.

Kitson, who scored twice against Peterborough, played in the area behind Lita on Saturday and exploited the space with an intelligence that suggests he will be a good signing. Lita and Kitson played together at Reading and should have a ready-made understanding of each other's games.

Strachan is also concerned by what he calls his team's lack of awareness; the split-second decision making required to snuff out a dangerous situation before the opposition can exploit it.

He might also have mentioned set-piece defending as Boro looked vulnerable against corners and, particularly, the extraordinarily long throw-ins delivered by Posh debutant Exodus Geohaghon (rumour has it he can throw the ball from one side of the pitch to the other).

Perhaps the third ingredient Boro desperately need at the moment is a slice of luck. They were denied a cast-iron penalty late on when Aaron McLean clearly tripped Sean St. Ledger. Strachan alluded to as much when he talked about the footballing Gods being against his team.

Boro are not exactly up and running under Strachan but, as Cooper argued afterwards, once they notch their first win they have the quality to start eating up the ground between their current 10th place and the top reaches of the table.

Not that this is of much comfort to the belligerent and taciturn Strachan - the Scot describing the whole situation as "very frustrating". I suspect many supporters will share his analysis.

I asked Strachan whether he had noticed an improvement day-to-day on the training ground since he had taken over.

"Training doesn't matter, it's just preparation," he told me. "The reality is that you are judged by what happens on the football field."

In contrast, Cooper seemed relatively satisfied after he collected his first point as a Championship manager.

"I am happy with the effort but we just need a little more belief," he said. "But it is definitely encouraging."

The match was Cooper's second in charge since he leapt four divisions after leaving Blue Square Premier side Kettering for Posh.

His ascent has been so rapid that if he was a climber he would need oxygen but I think it refreshing to see a young manager from non-league football given an opportunity rather than a chairman plucking one of the same old names off the managerial merry-go-round.

In many ways his appointment is in complete contrast to Boro's decision to exchange a rookie manager in Southgate for a more experienced figure.

Of course, nobody seems to know why Cooper's predecessor Darren Ferguson left London Road. I heard some unprintable theories on Saturday but I suppose rumours are inevitable if the club fail to adequately explain the Scot's departure.

Owner Darragh MacAnthony talked of a new era in his programme notes on Saturday. As part of the interview process he had given interview candidates 16 tapes of Posh games to study overnight.

Cooper, unlike many others, went through the lot of them, impressing with his detailed analysis.

darragh_blog.jpgPeterborough owner Darragh MacAnthony was impressed by new boss Mark Cooper's knowledge of Posh

Whether this means he is the right man to drag Peterborough up the table remains to be seen but he does not seem to lack enthusiasm and his team played with plenty of spirit on Saturday after twice falling behind.

Substitute Shaun Batt scored a sensational goal to secure a point and afterwards explained some of the things Cooper has been working on in training. Posh played with adventurous full-backs under Ferguson but Cooper is apparently insisting they concentrate on their defensive duties and leave the attacking to the forwards.

It seems like a good starting point to me. Posh have been far too porous this season, with only Scunthorpe conceding more. Cooper needs to ensure they become hard to beat and must address the fact that the side have trailed at half-time in 12 of their 18 Championship fixtures.

Success for Cooper this season will mean keeping rock-bottom Posh in the Championship. I think that would be an excellent and welcome achievement - especially given Peterborough have not won since 24 October.

Peterborough's old-fashioned ground, with meagre facilities but plenty of character, is a pleasant antidote to the increasing number of number of ever so slightly soulless modern stadiums.

Walking away from it towards the station on Saturday I saw a young lad in a Boro shirt stood outside a bookies.

I wonder what odds he would get on Middlesbrough winning promotion and Peterborough staying up?


  • Comment number 1.

    You have to wonder what Steve Gibson's motivation was for sacking a manager when his team were one point off the top of the league?

    Did he see some corporate moneymaking advantage to plummeting the club into a mid-table position, which the rest of us less-shrewd individuals have missed?

    If not, his lunacy has cost the club dear.

  • Comment number 2.

    What on earth was Manish doing presenting the championship table like a weatherman?!

  • Comment number 3.

    Doesn't matter if GS was still in charge or not. The dodgy form would still have continued. We weren't exactly amazing up until the point of Southgate's departure. People make out as if was two thirds through the season and we had an unassailable lead into the promotion spots.

    Our problem is trying to stop the complete mental lapses. The amount of points we have thrown away in the last 15 minutes of a match has cost us too much. We would probably be much higher up if we knew how to defend for the full 90 minutes.

    I think we need someone with a bit of experience and some leadership qualities in the centre of midfield. Someone like a Gary Speed type figure, just to give us some extra mental steel and consistency that we have been lacking of late.

  • Comment number 4.

    Aarfy - Fair point about mental lapses. Boro definitely seem to switch off at set pieces as well as in open play and I think Strachan also agrees with you - hence his line about "awareness". Do you think he is finding it tougher than he thought when he walked into the job? Where do you see Boro finishing?

  • Comment number 5.

    2. At 00:45am on 29 Nov 2009, reddevilsadvocate09 wrote:
    What on earth was Manish doing presenting the championship table like a weatherman?!

    Where have you been the last two months? We've been commenting on this ever since the Football League Show started. It looks ridiculous and is totally unnecessary, especially since Manish gives no information on how results affected the table - he just tells us what we can see on the screen. Not to mention, halving the amount of screen that the table can use in order to make room for him means the writing is smaller. A total fail that needs to be addressed ASAP.

    Also, no more Jacqui Oatley please, she is so miserably. Love Lizzie Greenwood-Hughes, though.

  • Comment number 6.

    Paul - think we will get in the play-offs (just) and if we go up via a Wembley Win in the PO final that will be a truly wonderful memory and great day out ... but .... There will need to be some changes in January and that means spending money ... Steve Gibson's hand doesnt seem to be going into his pocket as much these days. He seems to be running the club on a "balance the books" basis. That is fair enough as it is his money. But we will struggle to get in the Prem that way and certainly won't stay there.
    Come on Boro.

  • Comment number 7.

    Guys, using GS as a shorthand when referring to Boro managers doesn't help, you could be talking about Strachan or Southgate..

    I think the playoffs for Boro, god knows if they'll win them or not, it's too unpredictable. I mean, look at Burnley!

  • Comment number 8.

    What a great article this is - well done Paul

  • Comment number 9.

    I made the short trek yesterday to see my beloved Boro,and quite honestly I can't say I was overly impressed,there was a lack of urgency,there are no leaders on the pitch, ideally we want a player from the lower divisions who is prepared to graft and roll their sleeves up and get stuck in.

    Looking at the fixures, we may not get a win until January,what do you think Fletch?

  • Comment number 10.

    The_Ridger - great GS point. Maybe we could insert the words 'old' and 'new' or 'former' and 'present' in front of the appropriate GS.

    The fears of the Boro fans are fully understandable - you only have to look at individual mistakes and the failure of the team to close out games to understand that.

    In contrast, Newcastle and WBA have been the most consistent teams in the division and thus occupy the top two places.

    What I would say is that once Boro notch a couple of wins and the confidence and self-belief surges back we could be looking at a very different proposition. New GS just needs to get them up and running quickly because anxiety will creep in the longer he has to wait.

  • Comment number 11.

    I believe that once we get our first win under Strachan then we will go on a run. It's QPR on Saturday at Loftus Road. We've never ever won there in League or Cup in 19 attempts. It's a nailed on 3 points!
    As regards the GS comments. The agreed abbreviation on messageboards and the local media for Strachan appears to have become GS2.

  • Comment number 12.

    Strachan will do what he always does, he will make middlesbrough a good team and have them performing well. He will then allow his team to completely implode, it is what he did at Coventry, Southampton and Celtic.

  • Comment number 13.

    It'll be interesting to see how Peterborough do too, Mark Cooper is a highly rated young manager but is this a job too soon for him? Were Peterborough right to bring him in? Personally, I still don't agree with the decision to sack Darren Ferguson, especially considering where the Posh were 2 years ago. He should have been given the whole season to try keep them up, and then a decision should be made ie: Will he get us back up again, and will he build a squad to keep us up this time? Again, I would have kept him in charge. Yes, this season would be a write-off, but it's a learning curve for club as well as manager. Just by being in the Championship Peterborough are punching above their weight.

  • Comment number 14.

    Never replacing Cattermole was always the start of the downfall.. Im not saying he was a one man team but he was important..

    Hopefully Wee GS will do Celtic a favour and take some of underachievers down south.. Boro fans just pray Gary Caldwell isnt one of them..

  • Comment number 15.

    12. At 11:52am on 30 Nov 2009, tomefccam wrote:
    Strachan will do what he always does, he will make middlesbrough a good team and have them performing well. He will then allow his team to completely implode, it is what he did at Coventry, Southampton and Celtic.

    Tom - right now I think I would settle for that :-)

  • Comment number 16.

    We (Boro) are where we should be - mid table. We don't have a team good enough to be any higher. The only reason we had such a good start is because the teams we played thought we should beat them since we had just been relegated and we had Huth. Losing him cost us stability at the back and teams have since found us out. Goalscoring was our main issue last season coupled with a lack of creativity in central midfield and a lack of experience all over the pitch. This has not been fully addressed although we do finally have more options in attack.
    Appointing a manager whose main achievement has been the dismantling of a decent Celtic team to the point where it could not win the Scottish PL against an average Rangers side was not the way forward in my opinion.

  • Comment number 17.

    Also not replacing Cattermole was never really the issue as he was hardly a player who was certain of his place in the starting line up. Not replacing Boateng was much more of a factor in our demise.

  • Comment number 18.

    15. At 12:59pm on 30 Nov 2009, followingborohurts wrote:

    Tom - right now I think I would settle for that :-)

    anyone is an improvement on southgate surely? There is no way with the players you have had over the last 2 years you should be in the championship???

  • Comment number 19.

    We can't defend, we don't score enough, we're inconstant, we have no leader on the pitch, we've lost our best players.

    We're where we belong, make no mistake about it.

  • Comment number 20.

    I'm very much taking it from the reaction here that most Boro fans are not expecting their team to win promotion?

  • Comment number 21.

    Even if we do start winning we will have a hell of a job catching Newc and West Brom, Best we can hope for is the luck of playoffs and you never know how that will turn out. We are struggling to score exactly the reason we got relegated last year. Yet the other 2 are popping 4 or 5 past teams in this so called 'tough' league

  • Comment number 22.

    Paul - Boro fans have an innate sense of impending doom and we're able to take negatives out of any situation, it's one of our unique gifts, so I wouldn't read too much into it.

    As for our promotion hopes I would point to the fact that despite our rather unspectacular start to the season we are still only two points away from a play-off position. That gives me hope that if GS2 can get the team playing even halfway decent we should rapidly move up the table.

    For me, our current form is a direct result of the mismanagement of both Southgate and the administration of the club. Gibson and co have certainly made numerous mistakes in recent times and should take their fair share of the responsibility but I just cannot fathom how people can say that Southgate was sacked prematurely. Since the day he took over until the day he was sacked there were the same problems on the pitch, week after week. That he seemingly was able to identify the same problems that everybody else could and yet utterly fail to put in place any kind of solution when given three years to do so is, perhaps, an indicator of why he had to go.

    The mental weakness and wastefulness in-front of goal were cast-iron trademarks of the Southgate era and I suspect that it will be a little while yet before they can be separated from the team and banished along with Southgate.

  • Comment number 23.

    I think you'll find the accepted abbreviation for Gordon is WGS (W=Wee) so that would make Gareth BGS.

    I think Boro have fallen too far behind the top 2 to have a realistic chance of automatic promotion, but agree that if they can get their act together they should still be capable of making the play offs.

  • Comment number 24.

    Paul - looking at the table its still too close to call - top tow look sorted, 'til one of them bottles it. A win for England's mightiest team that play in red on Saturday could get a bit of optimism back. Play offs for us ... and a Wembley win!!! :-)

  • Comment number 25.

    Alex - u pointed out the mental weakness ... spot on ... best us fans can do is blidnly support the team!!! UTB!!!!!

  • Comment number 26.


    Great article again. Was a pleasure to meet you on Saturday - and your more than right to state that the rumours I mentioned are unprintable!

    Keep up the great work.

    James. (Posh Club Shop Assistant)

  • Comment number 27.

    Some smart comments and responses to Paul's article here, and like a lot of you guys, I believe that Boro's inability to concentrate for a full 95 minutes (it seems so many games run that long these days) lets them down so many times. Boro are a club that only a few seasons ago were being touted as a top 5 club, a great run in europe and so on. My big fear is that we end up like another Leeds Utd and find it impossible to deal with the frustration of our status in the football league and we continue to spiral and carry on down this route.

    If you look at the table however, there are some good things to consider, we are actually only a few points from a play off spot. And I think that if Mr. Strachan looks at that can guide the team to making it to that position, whether he needs the job or not!

    I watched the game from Sunday here in a bar in Victoria BC Canada, and was actually impressed with our spirit, and we have more than enough chances to walk away with a point. Albeit, we need to get a goalkeeper who can take the occassional risk and actually attempt to jump for a ball, defensively we need to improve, and if we can, then I think we can make the playoffs and then who knows?

    We have to have the will to succeed otherwise we could be playing Hartlepool or Darlington in the not too distant future.


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.