Chris Wilder looking to make a swift impact at Middlesbrough
Speaking about someone who he deeply respects in the game in Steve Gibson – the newly-appointed Middlesbrough manager referenced not just Boro getting to a UEFA Cup final during his chairmanship at his introductory press conference, but also his role in helping to save the club when the gates closed in 1986.
That period was a time when Wilder was making his way in the game as a young professional at Sheffield United – and he has memories of facing that feted Boro side of 86-89 which to many Teessiders will always stand at the top alongside Jack Charlton’s all-conquering side of 73-74.
It was a set of players who drew strength from adversity and went from nearly losing their livelihoods when the club were close to liquidation in the summer of 86 to the top-flight in two staggering seasons.
A team which included three future full English internationals in Gary Pallister, Colin Cooper and Stuart Ripley, who scored a hat-trick against the Blades in April 1988 en route to Boro’s promotion to the old Division One.
The hosts triumphed 6-0 at the old Ayresome Park on an afternoon Wilder has not forgotten.
That was a time when the connection between supporters and the team was tough-tight under the incomparable Bruce Rioch. Teesside was together.
Wilder recalls that team well and the words which he uses to describe what he wants from sides he manages – ‘aggression’, ‘competitive’ and ‘effective’ – certainly applied to that line-up.
His Blades side of 2016 to July 2020 were also certainly that. A front-foot, committed and fearless team who usually left the stadium by the front door and not the back – win, lose or draw.
Wilder said: “I played against a young Middlesbrough side of Pallister, Mowbray, Colin Cooper and Bernie Slaven and when you look back, it was a talented team which had a hunger and desire about it and was competitive. But it wanted to play as well.
“For me, that is an ideal way of playing. It wanted to play in the right way and be competitive as well and represent that badge in the right way.
“Back in those days under Bruce, it was always a tough game. We got smashed up at Ayresome Park...”
Back in the day, Ayresome was an intimidating arena. Across town, the Riverside Stadium may be palatial in comparison, but at its best – and if you forget about modern-day trappings – it was also a difficult place to go to.
Most definitely during the high-yield years of Bryan Robson, Steve McClaren and most recently, Aitor Karanka.
Unfortunately, the Riverside has lost a bit of its edge in recent years. It’s been easy for visitors.
That is reflected in the number of home league losses per season since Boro’s relegation from the top-flight in 2016-17. They read – in chronological order – six, seven, nine and eight. In eight Championship home games so far in 2021-22, Boro have already lost three times and are prone to regularly getting their pocket picked.
It is something Wilder, whose side gave out few free lunches during most of his time at Bramall Lane, is determined to change.
The Boro chief, whose first game in charge is against Millwall on Saturday week, continued: “It is not about turning it into ‘Galatasaray – Welcome to Hell’.
“The Riverside is a fabulous stadium. But I don’t want anybody coming in and rolling the ball around. They are going to have to go through the team and staff and more importantly, the passionate supporters.”
“It gives the players such a lift if the fans are onside. But the players have got to earn that trust and right.
“It is about players playing in the manner they can and being consistent right the way through and then we can expect some enjoyable times ahead.”
Wilder also knows enough about football in this particular part of England to realise the big part played by local talent over many years in the history of Boro – from Clough to Cooper and Maddren to Mowbray and most latterly in the likes of Stewart Downing, David Wheater and Ben Gibson.
It is something he wants to tap into – if the players meet to his demanding standards.
“The area has always produced talented footballers,” Wilder continued. “Pound for pound, when you look at the talent coming through the academy as well, players want to play for this football club. Local boys want to play for Middlesbrough, which I am delighted about and hopefully we can dominate our area.
“What we will be looking to connect back to the football club is the link to the academy. Young Josh (Coburn) has played recently and there’s Isaiah (Jones) and a couple of the other young guys who have had opportunities.
“When I spoke to the young men in the Under-23s on Sunday, there’s definitely a pathway to get in, but only if their attitude is right and they are good enough. Hopefully, there will be some gems that we can pick out of there.”