Promotion is a must this season for Boro
16:03 GMT, 14 August 2012
Middlesbrough returned from Bury unscathed at the weekend.
Still in the Capital One League Cup hat, incidentally, hoping to bring back the only piece of silverware won by a North East team for more than 40 years.
And no I’m not a Smoggie. Or a Geordie. Or a Mackem. For the record. And the last time.
Now football is back, and the Olympics still fresh in the mind, it will be fascinating to see how quickly Boro come out of the blocks this season!
And to quote the other major summer event, the return of The Stones Roses, 'This Is The One' for Middlesbrough.
Close call: Boro were in the top six for much of last season
They have to get back in the Premier League now.
So I’m looking forward to seeing how Tony Mowbray’s new signings perform, what system the Boro boss will adopt, where his players fit in, who grasps his passing philosophy, and, as I’ve mentioned previously, if the Teesside 'faithful' have it in their hearts and their wallets to back the efforts of one of their own.
Astute signings are Mowbray’s forte, and he appears to have cherry-picked from the market this summer, so we wait and see how his team selection develops. He will feel he is close to a fully equipped squad now.
Mowbray has also patiently chiselled away at the mess left by Gordon Strachan to mould a squad looking to build on the surprise flirtation with the play-offs last season.
In doing so he has identified the talent which was staring the Scot in the face before he blundered into the clubs in Scotland who, in serious hindsight, must have been delighted with Steve Gibson’s faith in Strachan’s eye for a player.
In fairness, Strachan could see Rhys Williams is a Premier League player but even I could. That was obvious from his debut four years ago in the 5-1 win over Yeovil in the Carling Cup and he always seems to put in effortless, mature performances in central defence or midfield.
Local lad: Tony Mowbray had made some astute signings
He’s only 24, on the verge of becoming a regular Australia international and a player who has attracted scouts to the Riverside in their droves. Name a club and he’s on the list. He could be that good.
Everyone at Middlesbrough has known it for a while, and Mowbray has not only insisted he is not for sale, but given him the captain’s armband.
As I say, Mowbray has proved he is astute in the transfer market, so…
Magpies' Greek odyssey
They haven’t even kicked a ball in Europe yet but already Newcastle United have discovered the harsh realities of the Europa Cup.
It is the competition all Premier League clubs outside the top four or five want to be in. It was Newcastle’s reward for their surprising and deserved fifth place, cementing their long-awaited and hard-earned return to European competition after a five year absence.
Yet once it comes around do they really want to be in it that much
Euro stars: Newcastle will compete on the continent this season
Newcastle’s play-off draw may have been reasonably favourable, and could have been considerably worse. They must play Atromitos, one of Athens’ lesser known teams, whose European experience stretches to a shortlived UEFA Cup run more than 10 years ago. But they were praying for a home draw.
Good old Atromitos have their own reasons for refusing to move next week’s tie to Newcastle. A home game for the second leg would be in their favour, so it is a strange decision, and clearly shifting it to a more convenient Tuesday or Wednesday to assist Newcastle was not an option either.
So next week Alan Pardew and his full squad must make a four-hour journey to Athens, play on Thursday night, get out of Greece as quickly as possible, and then prepare to face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge with little more than 24 hours to spare.
Last season’s visit to the current European champions was one of the most memorable in a memorable season. There was more to it than Papiss Cisse’s breathtaking goal. But what a goal.
Next Saturday, for the police and TV have decided it must be Saturday, and thanks to their success last season, it already promises to be one of the toughest tests of the season, and the Premier League will be just one game old.
In the first week of pre-season, Pardew said that his young fringe players will have their chance to shine in Europe. So presumably we can expect to see Haris Vuckic, Mehdi Abeid, Dan Gosling, Sammy Ameobi and Shane Ferguson in action.
Tough test: Pardew will have to try and replicate last season's success
All will have a point to prove, all desperate to achieve the result which will put Newcastle in the league phase of the Europa Cup. And then really put the whole squad to the test.
And for all the inconvenience in the months to come, Pardew will welcome that challenge, just as the supporters will relish the prospect of putting the black and white flag back on the European map.
Atromitos are ideal fodder for Newcastle under normal circumstances, but experience of other Premier League clubs at this phase of the competition proves nothing can be taken for granted.
Newcastle and their manager want to be in the Europa League. And they will travel to Greece somewhat riled by events since the draw, which makes them very dangerous opponents for Atromitos.
Westwood gets his chance
When Keiren Westwood joined up with the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad, he didn’t go as Shay Given’s understudy. He wanted to be Ireland’s No 1.
The Sunderland keeper was unhappy with his first season in the Barclays Premier League. He played nine games and hated every minute of his isolation from first team action since a bug had ruled him out of the dramatic New Year win over his first club Manchester City.
The efficient and reliable Simon Mignolet kept him out of the team, and between them they have seen off Craig Gordon. The competition is one of the more pleasing aspect Martin O’Neill has to contend with in his fragile squad.
No 1: Westwood will get his chance for Ireland following Given's retirement
Poland offered the opportunity for Westwood to make a point to O’Neill, and prove he could play on the highest stage. He wanted to put Given under pressure to start in the opening game against Croatia, and trained accordingly in the heat of Italy and Poland, often with Given unable to go through the same rigorous sessions with coach Alan Kelly.
And here came the drawback of Westwood’s curtailed Premier League season, which started as Mignolet’s understudy because the Belgian had been Steve Bruce’s choice after pre-season.
He played nine games. He may have set the standard with a superb performance at Old Trafford, and he is a keeper who brims with confidence when he is playing well. Player of the season awards at Carlisle and Coventry are testament to his popularity, as well as the match-saving contributions. But he played nine Premier League games. Given has played for more than nine seasons.
Trapattoni’s loyalty, which is questionable on so many other levels, deemed that Given played, despite his own self-doubts about his full fitness. After a 10-year wait for a finals stage, he had also earned the right to represent his country.
I consider myself privileged to have seen Shay Given prove the undoubted potential he showed at such a young age over a decade with Newcastle and Ireland. He is the sort of keeper team-mates, and journalists, dream about.
He lived his boyhood dream and set high standards for Ireland for 16 years. Sadly, Euro 2012 were not at those standards. Given knew it, we all did, and he is still feeling it. At 36, when those aches and strains start to kick in, he has decided something has to give to continue meeting his standards, injury-free, for Aston Villa.
Top performer: Given has had an outstanding career
More from Colin Young…
Northern Exposure: European adventure always welcome at St James' Park… and it is still St James' Park
Northern Exposure: O'Neill delves into his Clough memories in bid to lift Sunderland
Northern Exposure: All quiet in the north east… but things are about to get busy
Northern Exposure: The north east team of the 2011-12 season
Northern Exposure: Trapattoni can help Sunderland winger McClean be a Euro star
Northern Exposure: North East duo hold key to Manchester's title race
Northern Exposure: Middlesbrough have 90 minutes to keep Premier League dream alive… or face the consequences
Northern Exposure: Newcastle and Sunderland face battle to keep hold of their best players
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It must have been such a heart-wrenching decision for a proud Irishman who simply loves playing for his country and has always embraced every single moment of it. Poland was a painful experience, not pleasurable, and like many of his age and experience, he feels it is time to let the next generation try to get Ireland in Brazil.
But he will be sorely missed. And I’m so glad he left the door open to return for emergencies.
His decision to step down after three bad games in 125 leaves Westwood as Ireland’s obvious No 1, with untried competition coming from Millwall’s David Forde and Motherwell’s Darron Randolph.
He will play his 11th game for his country in Serbia on Wednesday, and unless Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane return, the squad will be the 23-and-a-bit, who will start the World Cup 2014 campaign in Kazakhstan next month.
With Germany, Sweden, Austria and the Faroe Islands also in their group, Giovanni Trapattoni will have his work cut out justifying his 2million-a-year salary as the coach of a cash-strapped FA and his stubborn decision to stay on after the Euros debacle.
Any campaign without Shay Given would be difficult for Ireland, such is his presence from the moment the squad descends on Dublin and Trapattoni needs a goalkeeper who is performing regularly at the top level to be ready for the road to Rio.
Which brings us back to Keiren Westwood and Sunderland, Martin O’Neill, Simon Mignolet and the team sheet which Lee Cattermole hands over in the referee’s room at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Like Westwood, Mignolet, who returns from international duty with Belgium, will be expecting the nod.
Which is a fascinating one for O’Neill to handle, with so many other issues to ponder after a lousy summer.
Who does he choose How does he announce it And when