...to the Riverside
Cliche fans should have their loins girded - its FA Cup 3rd round weekend. Boro have a chance to end a winless run thats approaching two months against a Barrow side struggling themselves. The Cumbrian side are just outside the Blue Square Premier relegation zone while co-manager Dave Bayliss threatened to replace the majority of the team within a fortnight after defeat at Forest Green Rovers. Its not just the home team looking forward to a break from league troubles. Win, lose or draw, a crowd bolstered by almost 7,000 Barrovians is a timely financial boost for the non-league side.
Gareth Southgate is expected to name a strong side and has confirmed Josh Walker will make a full debut in midfield. With Mohammed Shawky, Gary O'Neil and Julio Arca all unavailable, the welcome return of Didier Digard alongside Walker seems likely. Southgate has also confirmed Brad Jones will get a rare outing at the expense of Ross Turnbull. Tony McMahon is available again. Unsurprisingly, Mido (groin) isn't.
Despite the gulf in league places between the teams, it could well prove a difficult afternoon. While a hefty beating is a possibility, its far from a certainty. Boro's recent record against non-league opposition hardly inspires confidence. It was Southgate himself who conceded a late penalty at Nuneaton Borough three years ago allowing Gez Murphy to force a replay.
In 1997, there was also a real scare in a 4th round tie with Hednesford Town, switched to the Riverside. Joe O'Connor made a name for himself by scoring twice and giving Hednesford an early lead. A Boro side containing luminaries such as Juninho, Ravanelli and Alan Moore belatedly went in front when Jan Aage Fjorfoft scored with four minutes to go and were grateful for a 3-2 win.
Prediction Boro 2 Barrow AFC 0
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If Boro are the big boys tomorrow, the opening of the transfer window has shown our position in the Premier League pecking order. The club seem to have decided against letting Stewart Downing move on at this moment. Nonetheless, Southgate's words do create the suspicion the sale has been vetoed on the grounds of timing rather than principle.
Its been made clear that the transfer window fund is at best next to nothing. Yet the press seem to have exaggerated the club's willingness to sell over the next month. With Portsmouth and West Ham looking likely to be forced into multiple sales, holding our nerve for this window could be crucial in staving off relegation.
There will still almost certainly be some departures. Mido seems the most likely to go and few would mourn the loss of a talented but infuriatingly unreliable player. The suggestion remains that Gary O'Neil still hasn't settled on Teesside so a return to Pompey can't be ruled out. Yet if either or both of these players do go, its possible that some careful re-investment or loan signings could leave the squad in a stronger shape.
Its much harder to make that argument about selling Downing or Tuncay. Whatever the fee on offer, there is little value in letting the major assets go.