Given recent events, I think we’ve all had time to sit back and think of England. I don’t mean that in the weird euphemistic sense that people use it these days – no, I really thought of England.
So much football is based around high-earning clubs in London, Manchester and Liverpool. But with London evidently being a law unto itself and Liverpool a self-declared republic at this point in time, it’s easy to forget about the footballing strongholds in both the midlands and the north-east.
And, no matter how well Steve Bruce is doing at Newcastle, I won’t take it seriously. But these are the pockets of devotion that creep up all over the island – the unspoken commitment and passion.
I found myself wanting to further embrace these cultural hubs. But then I checked the Sky Guide and saw they were showing Middlesbrough and Stoke on telly Friday night and I immediately took it all back.
Sometimes you need to bet narratives because they seem inevitable. It might seem like a bit of a bettor’s fallacy, but no – if you really think about it, how many times have you known what’s going to happen going into a match because it’s the worst-case scenario?
Let me spell it out to you. Middlesbrough are one of the worst sides in the Championship, with a manager who’s only one really bad home result away from the boot. Yes, those two wins in the last five games gave him some time, but the inconsistency compiled with a poor start is what will be on his managerial epitaph.
It’s Friday night in Middlesbrough – people are angry enough for their existence, let alone their football club’s woes. Stoke hit Boro for three and Woodgate finally gets the sack. This is truly the perfect storm and sometimes these previews write themselves.
Verdict: Stoke to win to nil @ 16/5
If there’s any player in world football more suited to a club than James McClean is to Stoke City, I haven’t heard of them.
But on top of that, if there’s a player more suited a manager than McClean is to Mick O’Neill, I’d be gobsmacked.
As a fan of the Republic of Ireland national side, I am telling you now there’s zero bias in this bet selection, because I’m absolutely one of the many thousand who feel he should be out of that side, but a Friday night in Middlesbrough is very much McClean’s aesthetic.
Verdict: James McClean to Score Anytime @ 4/1
I felt I went a bit conservative with the first two selections and opted to throw in a bigger price for those who merely want a passing interest. And to be fair, if anyone wants more than a passing interest in this match, you should probably be given a season ticket rather than a bet-slip.
It feels like Stoke score early doors, before Boro kick up a storm but concede against just before half-time – with them sealing it in the dying moments when Jonathan Woodgate sends his goalkeeper up for a corner to try and save his job.
Verdict: Stoke to Win 3-0 @ 25/1
*Prices correct at time of publishing