Bottom At Christmas | Season 2: Middlesbrough

Big Sam Allardyce confirmed his legendary status as a survival specialist as his rather hazardous January spending kept Norwich City in the Premier League in 2021/22. But now he had to do it all over again!

Season 2 of our new Football Manager Experiment saw us resign from Norwich, sim the virtual world ahead to Christmas Day 2022 and see who was bottom of the Premier League.

Bottom At Christmas Season 2

The team bottom of the Premier League at Christmas, surprisingly, was not Norwich. Instead, it was Middlesbrough, who had a woeful tally of 9 points from 16 games. Just like last season, that meant a six-point deficit to Wolves, who had a game in hand.

It was immediately obvious why Middlesbrough were bottom of the league. Their squad was so bad that Big Sam was shocked they’d managed to get 9 points! Indeed, the best player at the club is Dael Fry, who’s the only player considered a “decent” Premier League player. They also only had 3 players considered to be better than a “good” Championship player, while only 7 players are considered better than League One standard. How did they even get promoted?!

Big Sam felt there was no option but to go with a super-defensive 3-5-2 formation for the games between Christmas and the new year, when they’d have £21 million to work with.

That approach worked a treat as an Uche Ikpeazu – who, for the record, is considered a “leading” League One player! – goal nicked a 1-0 win at Southampton, largely thanks to player of the match Joe Lumley making 7 saves. That lifted them off the bottom above… Norwich! But the defensive approach was less effective in a 2-0 home defeat to Wolves.

Strengthening Middlesbrough

Big Sam’s first move was to try and move on a mass of absolute dross at the club. The biggest was selling dreadful midfielder Ronaldo to Zorya for £4.2 million, which was about £4.2 million too much.

Honestly, it wouldn’t have taken much to strengthen this team, but Allardyce did bring in some much-needed reinforcements. The biggest one was loaning in centre-back Anel Ahmedhodzic from City for the rest of the season.

Much needed passing ability arrived in midfielder Joey Veerman for £1.5 million from Heerenveen and, in true Big Sam style, a big presence up top as Kieffer Moore came in from Cardiff for an initial £650k. They also brought in a slightly better goalkeeper in Dani Martín for £350k from Betis and a better right-back in Gino Peruzzi from San Lorenzo for £1 million.

They completed a loan deal for Troy Parrott from Spurs then, on transfer deadline day, wrapped up a loan deal for Inter Milan attacker Alexis Sánchez, who is technically still fairly decent.

Can a slightly less terrible squad survive?

A couple of weeks working with Big Sam worked wonders as Middlesbrough claimed another 1-0 win on Ahmedhodzic’s debut. This time a Chris Mepham injury-time goal nicked three points at home to Watford, who wasted 18 shots to the hosts’ 8.

However, they then lost 3-0 at Sheffield United before three home games in a week, which started with Moore scoring on his debut in a 1-1 draw with Leicester. Next was a huge relegation battle with 18th-place Brentford and Moore scored again to nick a 1-0 win – the third in six matches under Big Sam. However, 3-0 losses to Arsenal and Liverpool left them six points off survival.

Potentially the worst match of all time saw Boro nick a point at Fulham then they nicked a 2-2 draw at home to Newcastle, as Matt Crooks’ (who is nowhere Premier League quality) 93rd-minute equaliser delighted the fans.

Big Sam decided hard work was the only solution to his player’s crapness, so he implemented a rigorous training routine with triple sessions every day. And that seemed to have some effect. They somehow only lost 1-0 at home to Man UFC, then got another 1-0 win of their own as Parrot’s first goal for the club nicked it in the last minute at West Ham.

A narrow 2-1 defeat at Villa was followed by their best performance yet to win 2-0 at home to Leeds, through Anel and Sánchez finally getting his first for the club. That was their first non-1-0 win under Big Sam. And it teed up a huge clash with bottom of the league Norwich, in which neither side showed much quality and ended in a 1-1 draw.

Some tough games followed and they only lost 1-0 at Spurs, despite having 2 shots to 19, then 3-0 at Man City. That left Boro in the midst of a tight relegation scrap, trailing Watford by 2 points, Wolves by 3 and Fulham by 5 with 5 games to go. However, Watford had an easy run-in against bottom 8 sides, and Boro’s last 2 games looked very tasty.

A rare Moore goal nicked a point at home to Everton before a tight 1-0 defeat to 2nd-place Chelsea. That left them 2 points off safety, making the next 3 games absolutely massive.

First, they entertained mid-table Southampton, which turned out to be a crazy game. Boro led with a penalty only for Adam Armstrong to bag a first-half hat-trick. But the hosts fought back with Sánchez and Moore goals in the last 20 minutes to nick an unlikely point.

The final two games took Boro to fellow strugglers Wolves, who’d lost 6 in a row and won 1 in 14, and Watford, whose only win in the last 9 was against Wolves. However, Sánchez broke his hip in training and was recalled by Inter!

They started well against Wolves, racing into a 3-goal lead inside 34 minutes thanks to a Moore double. But they conceded just before the break then threw it away to draw 3-3 again!

That teed up a tense season finale at 16th-place Watford, who were 2 points clear of Boro. While Wolves were 1 point clear of Boro with a 3 better goal difference, as they’d conceded 2 fewer and both teams had scored 32. But Wolves played at home to Liverpool, who had a chance of the title. However, Boro had star striker Moore suspended, which meant they had to start with Andraz Sporar and Parrott up top.

It didn’t start well for Boro as Ismaila Sarr scored in the first minute but Mepham headed home an equaliser in first-half injury-time. However, elsewhere Liverpool scored twice in a minute to lead Wolves 2-0 at the break. Nothing happened in the Boro game as eyes were mostly on Molineux, where Salah scored four minutes after the break and, as it stood, Boro were miraculously safe. And both games stayed that way through to the end.

So somehow Middlesbrough stayed in the Premier League! Both Boro and Wolves finished on 32 points and -29 goal difference, but Boro stayed up as a result of scoring 1 more goal than Wolves. Absolutely bonkers! The main man behind survival was Moore, who scored an impressive 8 in 16, while Ahmedhodzic was excellent at the back.

So, 2 seasons and 2 survivals… just! This was a pretty miraculous effort, picking up 22 points from the final 20 games of the season and somehow just about surviving by the skin of their teeth with a terrible team.

Join us next time to see if Big Sam can repeat the feat for a third season in which, let’s face it, he’s almost guaranteed to be taking charge of Middlesbrough again!


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