Thursday, 14 February 2008

Blades drawn for Robbo

Robbo in happier times (looking surprisingly like Gareth Barry too)

Its FA Cup time again this weekend. Nearly 6,000 Boro fans will be making the short trip to Bramall Lane on Sunday, hopefully bereft of balloons. With at least 3 lower league teams guaranteed to be in the draw for the quarter-finals, dreams of a first trip to Wembley are growing.

It seems like aeons since our last trip to Sheffield United, in the bleak early weeks of Gareth Southgate's tenure. It was just 18 months ago but so many players in key roles have already been consigned to Boro history - Woodgate, Yakubu, Viduka, even Gaizka Mendieta managed 10 minutes in that game.

Your trusty correspondent was suffering very painful six-a-side related knee knack at the time so even Yakubu's equaliser was not so much a moment of joy as a desperate struggle to remain upright. Phil Jagielka sealed the Blades' first Premier League win with a thumping injury time strike and a long winter seemed ahead. Since then, things have got a lot better before getting worse then better again.

Poor old Bryan Robson. Things just seem to keep getting worse for him. The much maligned former Boro boss has been dismissed, a sop to the mutinous Bramall Lane crowd. If the abuse Robson receives for his work at Boro and, to a lesser extent, West Brom is a little harsh, its hard to dispute Blades fans' grievances over a dismal season. Promotion was expected but United languish 16th in the Championship. In their last home game, bottom-of-the-table Scunthorpe played all but the opening ten minutes a man down but still emerged with a point from a goalless draw.

This all makes it hard to judge how the mood will be on Sunday. Its hard to know if the brooding discontent of the home fans will be erased by removing Robson or to judge how well ex-assistant and former Leeds boss Kevin Blackwell will be received. This all suggests that scoring the opening goal could be the killer blow, puncturing fragile self-belief.

This could be easier said than done, with more pressure on the increasingly impressive Jeremie Aliadiere. Tuncay Sanli is still a week or two from fitness while Mido is a month and several pounds from such a state. It seems like Afonso Alves' introduction to the English game will continue to be gradual. That leaves Lee Dong Gook. Bugger.

Still, with solid away form intact and no defeat since New Year's Day, Boro should have the confidence and ability to pass this test.

Prediction: Sheff Utd 0 Boro 1

It seems the Boro taste for ludicrous Uefa Cup performances lives on in northern Scotland. On-loan midfielder Josh Walker scored against Bayern Munich, and Aberdeen held on for 2-2 having led twice!

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