As the 2016-17 season enters its final straight across Europe, as cup finals are contested and league titles taken to the wire, as clubs everywhere enjoy and endure drama upon drama, spare a thought for fans of Middlesbrough – the continent’s dullest club.
Boro are dropping out of the Premier League with little more than a muffled squeal. A cast-off in space. Their return to the English top flight has barely registered a flicker on football’s seismograph. This has been a campaign that might just as well never have taken place at all.
The club couldn’t expect all that much after their promotion through the Championship play-offs but, with an organised defence and a regimental coach in the shape of Aitor Karanka, methodical survival would have been an understandable pre-requisite. Maybe a run in the League Cup. The odd upset of a top-six side here and there.
In reality, the fixture card has been as arid as they come.
Karanka departed last month with Boro already lurching fiercely downwards and unable, it seemed, to do anything about it. Those supporters who remain at the Riverside, and attendances have dropped a little of late, must make the fortnightly pilgrimage with some sense of morbid curiosity.
Their team has only scored 22 times in the league this season, after all, with just 13 coming in 14 matches at home. The phrase ‘they couldn’t buy a goal’ seems oh so appropriate. In fact, given matchday ticket prices at Boro this term, fans have flogged out around £37.70 for each occasion they’ve got to celebrate the net bulging.
It’s desperately, desperately dull.
No one has managed fewer home wins or fewer away wins. Not even Sunderland. And everyone knows the state the Black Cats have been dragged into under David Moyes.
But it gets worse.
Middlesbrough don’t even get their supporters to the edge of their seats, let alone lifting them off them entirely. They’ve racked up just 288 shots in total in the Premier League this season and just 78 have hit the target. They’ve failed to score in 15 of their 31 matches. They’ve netted fewer times than Romelu Lukaku. A frontline including Alvaro Negredo (with eight goals, the club’s top scorer) has fed off scraps. No, that’d be unfair on scraps.
When you become reliant on Adama Traore to create chances – a winger guided solely by the R1 sprint function on FIFA – then you know you’re in a bit of a pickle.
Yet, it’s not as if Middlesbrough have been leaking goals at the other end. Their defence, led by the coveted Ben Gibson, is fairly solid. They have only conceded more than two goals in a game on five occasions this term. But put them in the opposition half and they suffer from serious stage fright. Boro’s matches in the league average 1,9 goals. The trouble is, they only account for .9 of them.
Karanka paid the price and Steve Agnew hasn’t been able to get the sputtering, stuttering, stammering engine firing since.
The Championship beckons once again. Maybe it will provide some blessed relief. There can’t be many fans quite as bored as those at the Riverside.