Opposition view – Middlesbrough

We catch up with Robert Nicols from fmttm.com ahead of the Swans’ trip to the Riverside this weekend…

How’s your season been so far?

Very up and down. You meet us at the end of a real downer of a week. We were more than disappointing in defeat at Southampton on Sunday and then hammered at home 3-0 by Liverpool on Wednesday, our worst defeat of the season by some distance.
A real set back week after we had rocketed up into the dizzy heights of midtable following a win against Hull City. We thought we were finding our feet in the top flight at that point. We had accounted ourselves so well against Arsenal, Man City, Leicester and run Chelsea very close.
It is now all about surviving.

A quick word on last season. what was it like to return to the top flight after a 7 year absence?

Absolutely fantastic. We were storming it then went off the rails after Christmas and the manager walked out only to return to steer us to a storming finish. What a season, to go right down to the final match a head to head between us an Brighton. We made it a cup final but a cup final at home. The atmosphere contributed no small amount to the result.. promotion back to the Premier at long last.

Were you happy with your transfer business during the summer?

Delighted to be honest. We did most of our business very early and signed a good mixture of potential and experience. There were also players with Premier track record like Fabio and Calum Chambers as back up or pressing for first team starts. Viktor Fischer came full of great reports from Ajax, Marten de Roon a player of the year at Atalanta and in Victor Valdez and Alvarro Negredo we had big names as keeper and striker. Maybe the most exciting was signing on a permanent deal Gaston Ramirez who played such a big part in our promotion whilst on loan last season.
It took longer than expected for them to gel sadly.

Who have been your star performers and who needs to up their game?

Two players already at the club have been our star performers. Adam Forshaw had been on the bench for much of the past two seasons but has seized his chance to such an extent he has starred as our creative livewire in midfield. Chairman’s son Ben Gibson has been a rock at the heart of our defence. He has stepped up to meet the Premier challenge. So much so that he is being heavily tipped for an England squad call up. After a shaky start Viktor Valdez is now really showing his class. The other player to emerge is the speedster Traore. But perhaps we have become over reliant on the winger’s pace.
We need far more from our shot and goal shy front men. Is it the personnel or the system is the big debate. Negredo is too often isolated upfront. Gaston Ramirez has been too in and out of fitness as well as form. Players like Downing and Rhodes given precious few opportunities to get on the pitch to influence things. In their absence Negredo has only scored 3 times in easily the most goal shy team in the Premier and beyond. That is our big concern.

With Middlesbrough and Swansea only 1 place apart in the table how big is this game to your club?

It is massive. Especially after the week we have just had. We need to quickly bounce back from that heavy Liverpool defeat. Players and fans need an injection of confidence. Just as with Hull City, a couple of weeks ago we need to create some daylight between ourselves and the relegation zone. This feels like it could have a really big bearing on where we finish this season.

What do you make of Swansea and which players if any do you fear?

Am disappointed to see what has happened at Swansea. I have always admired the Swansea story, the fan involvement, playing passing football with a philosophy. From the outside that all appeared to have been blown away in the last couple of months. Very sad to see.
I obviously fear Gylfi Sigurdsson, what a class act he is, a match winner with the World Cup experience now as well. Fernando Llorente looks very dangerous to me and Barrow can have a sprint challenge against Traore.

Predict the score and where both teams will finish…

Am really hoping for a 2-0 Boro win. I would rather avoid all the dramatics you had against Palace or the knife edge we had in the end v Hull and hope we can have a more comfortable finish. But a win at all costs is what we need.
Am hoping we can finish one place or more above the bottom three. I hate to say it but maybe that means you will have to finish in those bottom 3 places. One of my favourite away destinations Swansea. I would love it if we could both survive.

Robert will be selling issue 571 of the boro fanzine fmttm this weekend outside the Riverside stadium, be sure to keep a look out for him.