Reviewing Middlesbrough’s season from the press box with one thing particularly notable: Craig Johns

Such was the rollercoaster ride that Middlesbrough’s 2021-22 season was, summing it up isn’t easy. There have been ups and downs, there have been great memories and there have also been times of real disappointment and frustration.

But even after the season came to an end in such dire straits at the Preston North End, one word stood out more than any other to me from the press box at Deepdale as over 5,000 injured fans still showed their incredible pride in his football team. That word is Progress.

That is ultimately the word that comes to mind when I try to assess the last 12 months and where Boro started to be where it is now, with the last six months under Chris Wilder, coupled with intriguing changes, bringing a genuine hope that Middlesbrough Football Club is heading in the right direction once again.

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All that said, it should not be ignored that there was also hope last summer. With more high earners out of the payroll, the hope was that veteran promo specialist Neil Warnock could cobble together a merry band of misfits and revive former glories one last time to bring Boro back in style.

However, what happened was a shattered summer transfer window with powers at the club ultimately pulling the man in charge in a different direction, which, in hindsight, probably meant giving Warnock another season was the wrong thing to do. . It’s easy to say that in hindsight, of course, with the thought at the time that Warnock could prove to be the trusted and experienced pair of hands to guide the club through the transition period and perhaps bring out the best in the talents the club sought to bring the club.

However, with such a fractured structure and ultimately a split recruitment model, it was no surprise when Boro ended Warnock’s reign on Boro after just three months into the season. Inconsistency plagued Boro to that point, and when Warnock began making demands for January against the backdrop of disappointing results, he always felt like a split was looming and needed.

My respect for Neil is no secret and that particular period of the season was difficult. While the decision to part ways would ultimately turn out to be the right one, I still think he deserves credit for leading the team through a transition period on the field and a difficult one off it. In the previous season with no fans on the grounds, Warnock’s character and showbiz appeal kept so many fans interested.

Fast-forward to the end of the season and in many ways there is a frustration and sense of missed opportunity for Boro to miss out on the play-offs. Such a conclusion seemed inevitable in November. The appointment of Chris Wilder brought with it such a reversal of fortune that, after a thrilling late win at Blackpool, Boro were in the play-offs in 14th place when the change in management took place.

A difficult January window followed, and while Wilder and Boro ultimately tried to fill in the gaps and weaknesses in their squad as best they could, they ultimately didn’t have the resources or market availability to do so. A new goalkeeper was needed, but very few were available at the right price. Scorers were needed, but only two loan-outs with no Premier League experience could be found. They did their work early in the hope that it would help establish them, but their lack of football in the previous months and experience in general was revealing, with Wilder later admitting that in an ideal world at least one of the two strikers would have been a lot. plus. seasoned pro than the pair they finally got.

What followed was a run to the end of the season with too many frustrating days. On their best days, it’s been a joy to see them with Wilder. Football has been a breath of fresh air, although the squad was not fully prepared for it. They embarked on an exciting FA Cup run with nights like Old Trafford and Tottenham sure to live on in the memory. They also hit an incredible home run as Riverside, for a brief period, became the fearsome destination for the opposition that Wilder wants it to be.

But among all the many high points, the team’s weaknesses were also on display as they lost silly points along the way. Thanks to positive home wins against Derby and West Brom, they lost away to Bristol City and Barnsley. One step forward, another quickly back. The loss to Hull was also particularly damaging and, more than any other, highlighted the two main flaws in Boro’s team. Controlling the game throughout, they simply couldn’t finish the game at one end, before a Joe Lumley error at the other handed Hull all three points.

And so, despite a spirited final effort to pick up six points from six in their last two home games and take them into the final game of the season, Boro once again ended in disappointment. An almost season for a coach who will absolutely despise being almost men. With a great summer ahead of him, he knows that his task now is to build a team that will not be next season.

And there is hope. Summer transfer windows are the markets for rebuilds. With a hiring team now working in tandem with the management team, there is better potential for the window ahead to be more successful than the last. The signing of Riley McGree in January is the epitome of what Boro will look to do and, despite the frustrating start he had to his life at Boro, he has shown plenty of glimpses of his true potential thus far. The style of play has also been wonderful to watch at times and with a team better prepared and more balanced for it, and better versed in it thanks to a full pre-season working on it, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t get together. .

As for 2021-22, though, he just didn’t come together enough, at least on the field. And as I reflect on last season, there will be one overriding memory for me: the Middlesbrough supporters. This season was the season that fans across the country returned to games after the soulless enterprise of 2020-21.

That was my first season covering the club for The Gazette. The privilege and honor of watching football live at such a time was never lost on me, but it was not the beautiful game at the time. When the fans returned to Riverside for Bristol City’s win, I got my first taste of a local Boro crowd. I was really impressed. Drumming inside stadiums is mocked and mocked by many across the country. At the Riverside, in that fantastic Red Faction South Stand, the drummer plays its part week after week in creating one of the best home atmospheres I have had the privilege of witnessing. It’s unique, it’s passionate and it’s so appropriately Boro.

The Riverside atmosphere really blew me away, it was that impressive. Attending home games has been exciting this season. The worst thing about contracting Covid at Christmas was not being confined to the house and missing out on seeing a wider family. In fact, it turned out to be a nice and rare period where my partner and I were able to relax and spend time with our son Ryan. Rather, the worst part of contracting Covid was missing the Boxing Day game against Nottingham Forest, which sounded like the best ever. What a day it seemed!

As for the road, no place was too far and no journey too inconvenient. Packaged Boro ends up up and down the country, whatever the destination and whatever the time. The red sea at Preston is a sight I won’t quickly forget, nor the sound of Boro fans roaring ‘You Are My Boro’ just seconds after falling 4-1 behind. Absolutely incredible.

It has been an absolute privilege to be on that journey with you: experiencing the ups and downs, and feeling them too. That’s what makes soccer the amazing sport that it is. Hopefully next season there will be a lot more ups and downs because I can only dream of experiencing how amazing a Riverside prom will be. I live with hope, and I’m sure we all do.

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