"...this is the most articulate and accurate piece written about the club for years!" - Tales from the Front, http://www.otib.co.uk/

Friday, 17 February 2012

The Scottish Invasion: A Boro view on McManus

Although the timing of his signing means many of you will have already seen Stephen McManus in a City shirt, 90 minutes can never prove too much about a new player, so Anthony Vickers, who writes the Untypical Boro blog on the Teesiders for the Middlesboro Evening Gazette, has been kind enough to provide this take on City's newest signing.

"BIG 'Mick' McManus will be missed at Boro but has been sacrificed as part of the usual on-going financial jiggling needed at this level.

He arrived from Celtic initially on loan as part of the great Strachanovite experiment with Jockification - an influx of experienced battlers/leaders who would sweep Boro to glory. Sadly many fell by the wayside or struggled to make the leap from a regime of one intense Old Firm game a month followed by a few easy outings to the relentless twice a week hurly-burly of an attritional Championship campaign.

McManus slotted in well though. Although he was a bit slow he was experienced, big, strong, imposing and very good in the air which was exactly what we didn't have after the exit of David Wheater and Robert Huth and exactly what we needed against direct sides who bombarded the box. And there are plenty of them in the Championship.

His most impressive and consistent spell came soon after Tony Mowbray took over and was looking for a way to prop up a demoralised and porous side that looked relegation bound. Mowbray switched to three at the back and Big Mick was fantastic at the heart of that shape. With nippy ball playing centre-backs alongside him like Matthew Bates and Seb Hines it worked, Boro stopped leaking goals (especially at set plays) and stopped losing games and that was the platform for a spectacular second half of last season amid a run of just one defeat in 21 going into the flying start this season.

McManus is also a nice bloke, quietly spoken but articulate, respectful of the club and complimentary about the area. He was very popular with supporters (unlike some of the other Scottish imports) and team-mates but events this season have conspired against him. Rhys Williams returned from long term injury and although he initially played in midfield the form of Nicky Bailey and Barry Robson forced him back into defence where he was a revelation. Then Mowbray changed tack tactically and played more often with a back four - and Williams and Bates, both mobile ball players, quickly became established as his first choice pairing with young Seb Hines in similar vein as back-up.

Sadly we are not big spending Boro anymore and we can't afford to have a reported £8-10k a week or whatever sat on the bench. With Big Mick not in the first team there was mounting financial pressure to move him on, a familiar story across the division I think. I don't think it is anything personal. In an ideal world Boro would keep him as cover and to have the option of playing three at the back against Millwall, Portsmouth or whoever but the harsh reality is that by moving him on we can fund a desperately needed speedy flanker and/or extra striker on loan."

If you asked most long-standing City fans what sort of player we needed at the back many would roll out the same line: "A Shaun Taylor-type player".  For McInnes this might read "an old-fashioned style ball-winning centre-half", someone to cut out the ball before it lands and wreaks havoc amongst the all-too-often frail back line.  From what you can read in Vic's account it seems this is exactly what we've got.  As well as Fontaine has led the line in the past few months, it feels as if a player in the mould of McManus could be the ideal foil. 

As much as Lewin Nyatanga has improved this season, he is too similar in style to Fonts and this feels like a better balanced partnership.  There's always a lot of foucs in football on the partnership a strike pairing have and how they play off each other - in many ways the way the pair of centre-halves fit together is far more critical to the success of a team.  Think Bruce & Pallister, Vidic & Ferdinand, Adams & Bould or Terry & Carvalho.  None of those great sides were/are as dominant when one of the essential partnership was missing. 

City arguably haven't had that sort of partnership in a long time, even during the most recent promotion season.  Indeed, 1997-98 when Louis Carey regularly partnered 'Big' Shaun Taylor is possibly the last time City have had a genuinely dominant pairing at the back.  Perhaps McManus is the man to help Fontaine create the soldity City desperately strive for.

Vic's blog can be found here: http://anthonyvickers.boroblogs.co.uk/

Follow me on Twitter: @TheExiledRobin

Friday, 3 February 2012

The Exiled Robin: Spreading my wings

I wanted to share some of my recent offerings on other websites. Hope you enjoy!
Firstly, a review of the big winners and losers of Transfer Deadline Day on @The72Football:

Next up are two previews of the home game against Leeds for two different sites; 'The Scratching Shed' and 'The Offside - Leeds':



Finally, just to act as Mr. Smarty Pants, my preview of the last week's Reading game for @TheTilehurstEnd, including an unfortunately accurate prediction of the impact the signing of @JasonRoberts30 would have on the outcome (and a pointer towards Peterborough's prospects that seem far more real after a heavy home defeat)...


Thanks all for reading, will have more next week, keep an eye out!

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