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Worthington Cup, 13/10/99
"Captain Fantastic"
By Matt Rowson

One of the great dependables at the start of every season in the early eighties was Bryan Robson's ghostwritten article in Shoot! asserting that "we at Old Trafford really believe that this could be our year". The nation's schoolkids issue a collective "yeah, right"... and when eight-year-olds are sussing you, you know you've got a problem.

The other outstanding memory of Robson's playing career (apart from seeing him hobble disconsolately from the Morocco match in Mexico clutching his shoulder) is of "Captain Fantastic", all-action, all guns blazing midfielder, taking plaudits from left, right and centre as he inspirationally put the boot into some hapless opponent's shins. And then bleating to any referee who dare pull him up that, yes, he is Bryan Robson and he's allowed to get away with things like that, being England Captain 'n' all.

Some things don't change, I guess.

So all things considered, the make up of the team in his charge isn't entirely surprising, moulded as it is in his image. In particular, the glaring predominance of weary old cloggers shouldn't come as a shock, and really doesn't make for sexy football, Brazilian or no Brazilian. Not without self-interest has Robson been strongly advocating the introduction of sin-bins as an alternative to the yellow cards that are already looking like costing his team dear. You'd credit him with some intelligence... if he weren't so clearly a complete idiot.

Boro's season is in danger of seriously crumbling. Watford's run of one win in six in the Premiership, albeit against some of the toughest teams in the division, is hardly something to boast about... that Boro, burdened with loftier expectations than ourselves, match that record is serious cause for concern. That the side has displayed as much creativity and imagination as whichever idiot that decided that reciting verb conjugations was the right way to learn a foreign language can hardly be encouraging for the Boro faithful either.

In goal for Boro will be the eminently flappable Australian Mark Schwarzer, beginning to look out of his depth in the Premiership. Ben Roberts will provide cover, in the absence of injury victim Marlon Beresford.

Boro's defence is the main reason the side still sits in a vaguely respectable mid-table position. Colin Cooper, notwithstanding a recent howler against Leeds, is a very solid defender, as is Gianluca "Uncle" Festa, who cemented himself onto the right side of the support by staying in the north east when Boro were relegated two years ago.

Gary Pallister, an old mate of Robson's from Old Trafford, is doubtful for Wednesday having been inadvertently knocked out by Schwarzer in the early stages of the recent game at Newcastle. If absent, his place at the back is likely to go to former Tranmere man Steve Vickers, who is making a name for himself through his relentless failure to be in the right place at the right time.

Left-wing back will be Christian Ziege, a German international whose career nose-dived with a loss of form when he left Germany for Milan. His impressive form so far has been tampered by occasional fits of indifference, the like of which the Worthington Cup inspires in so many of us. Dean Gordon, another candidate on the left-hand side, may miss the remainder of the season through injury.

On the right-hand side, a three way tussle between youngster Robbie Stockdale, Irish international Curtis Fleming, and the portly Phil Stamp. Fleming's performances have improved this season, but there's a suspicion that he's not best suited to the wingback role. Stamp, an aptly-named brutal footballer, may have recovered from a hamstring injury in time for Wednesday.

Boro's midfield is dominated by drones... Mustoe, Summerbell, Maddison and Ince are similar types of player, the latter now carrying an injury that a hernia operation is likely to address imminently. Keith O'Neill offers slightly more imagination, but always seems to look like he's spent the entire week on the beers. With his manager, probably.

The unignorable Paul Gascoigne will be suspended for Wednesday's tie having been sent off against Chelsea. In apparent response to this red card, Gazza has expressed his "concern" at the state of referees in this country, conveniently ignoring the fact that any sane person would have sent him off merely for the goatee. Gazza has been a disappointment since his arrival at Boro; in the words of one Riverside Reds pundit: "If he were a horse he'd have been shot to make glue months ago... and would still not be able to hold anything together".

Then there's that Brazilian bloke, with his peculiar attachment to Middlesbrough, who instantly won his way back into the nation's heart by nutmegging Chris Sutton on his (second) Boro debut. Juninho picked up an ankle injury against Newcastle, but should be back for Wednesday's game.

Up front, the Ricard/Deane partnership has appeared ponderous to say the least. The Colombian, having played football without a summer break for three years now, has been ordered to rest by the club. This probably means he won't play on Wednesday although some might say he hasn't been exerting himself too much on the pitch recently in any case. Other options are Andy Campbell, wanted by several first division clubs including Huddersfield, and Alun Armstrong, who looked seriously off the pace against Leeds following a long injury layoff.

Robson is rumoured to be looking at adding to his forward line by making a move for PSV striker Ruud van Niestelrooij. One can't help feeling that if this guy arrives and is any good, that his success will be more down to luck than Robson's judgement.

Boro will consider this a relatively easy tie, but following our recent run of league games we shouldn't be intimidated by Boro's challenge either.

As long as we don't perform at the same level as we did at Wigan, we'll be fine....