In early March I sent a message to a Middlesbrough supporter to offer hope that come today both our respective sides would have guaranteed safety thus allowing us to spend the final game of the season having a lovely big group hug. Although that has duly come to fruition (hugging optional), at the time of sending that message I had not envisaged that it would be Rovers who would be leaving second tier security the latest.
The chief reason for this is of course Rovers’ inability to win a game; indeed we’ve not won one since that message and its now eleven games and just over two months since the second half destruction of Derby that had us all believing relegation was something for everyone else to fear. Instead safety has been secured with a much less joyous, but equally important run of three successive draws. Regardless of result at the Riverside the season for Rovers ended with a 10,000 person strong collective sweep of the brow at the Keepmoat last weekend. A line has been drawn, all eyes are already on August.
Despite their annus horriblis Middlesbrough could, with victory in this game, finish on the same points tally as they achieved last season. The turnaround affected by club icon Tony Mowbray has seen the Teesiders put in their most impressive form of the season in these last few weeks, with a current run of three successive victories culminating in the dashing of Cardiff City’s automatic promotion hopes (FA enquiries aside) in the Welsh Capital on Monday. Their season as a whole may not have rendered ‘Boro the toast of Teesside, but their 3-0 win at the start of the week means they have certainly never been more popular in Norfolk.
The major disappointment for Rovers coming into this the final game of the season is undoubtedly the unavailability of George Friend. Reborn at centre-half in the past few months the defender is set to miss this game with a hernia. Brian Stock has been reportedly suffering with an ankle injury for some time and as such with Rovers now safe he too is unlikely to feature.
Gary Woods, Shelton Martis, Adam Lockwood, James Chambers, Joseph Mills, Martin Woods and Paul Keegan all remain sidelined with long-term injuries; though we have a sneaking suspicion Billy Sharp will be involved in the squad to make one last cameo before the summer.
Middlesbrough will be without Julio Arca who has jetted off to Argentina to have a knee problem looked at, like we don’t have doctors here or anything. Striker Scott McDonald is expected to return to the ‘Boro squad according to the BBC after time out with a hamstring injury.
(4-2-3-1) Neil Sullivan; Mustapha Dumbuya, Wayne Thomas, Matt Kilgalllon, James O’Connor; Simon Gillett, John Oster; Jamie Coppinger, Ryan Mason, James Hayter; Jason Euell
Subs: Jonathan Maxstead, Sam Hird, Mark Wilson, Dean Shiels, Franck Moussa, Steve Brooker, Billy Sharp
Travelling to the Game
If you’re driving to the game you’ll be happy to hear directions are relatively simple, just follow the A66 from the A1 (passing Darlington’s White Elephant Stadium) into Middlesbrough. Just follow this road into the town centre and the Stadium is signposted from here, there are several car-parks near the ground for a fee, alternatively if you take the right off the A66 slip road rather than the signposted left you’ll be able to chance your arm with on street parking.
The excellent Football Ground Guide has directions from the station for those going up on the train. Coming out the station turn left and left again onto Albert Road to go under the railway. On the other side of the tracks turn right onto Bridge Street and then right onto Wynward Way at the stadium is along this road. There are few pubs near the ground so you may want to remain in the town centre for brunch. Rovers fans will be housed in the Riverside’s South Stand
As is the way with these lunchtime final day kick-offs for the third year in a row Viva Rovers will not be present at the season’s denouement. Our twitter feed will be in action, but alas only as a second hand source. To join us in exile follow @vivarovers or look out for the #drfc hashtag. For live match commentary you’ll need to invest in Rovers Player and enjoy the dulcet tones of press officer Chris Mortley, while major incidents will filter through on Radio Sheffield.
As it is the final round of Championship league games this season television is on hand to offer coverage in exchange for pricking about with match start times and the routines of those who travel to fixtures so as not impinge on lazy sofa dwellers enjoyment of cars going round and round. But don’t let that rant put you off following the BBC’s package of the final day, no let Garth Crooks do that instead. If you make it past the twenty minute mark still able to tolerate him you’re a better man than me.
For a look at what the fair-minded ‘Boro fan thinks about this game or indeed life in general you’d be advised to visit the excellent Smog Blog site. As thoughtful and well written a football site as you’re likely to come across.