Both Middlesbrough and Aston Villa have new managers this season, and both clubs are desperate to bring in new players by Thursday night.
And there the similarities end.
In Martin O’Neill, Aston Villa have an experienced manager who will know how to motivate players and after having managed Celtic, will also know how to get the most out of meagre resources (although Randy Lerner’s millions should ease the burden). Under O’Neill Aston Villa have made a positive start to the season, drawing Arsenal at Ashburton Grove before convincingly beating Reading and Newcastle at home.
As starts go, Villa could not have hoped for a better one. With two days to go, O’Neill has little time to make signings and at the most we will see two players, most likely just one Stilian Petrov from Celtic to shore up the midfield. Petrov could cost up to 8 mil, but Aston Villa will be hoping their early form and O’Neill presence will help them bring in more players before the transfer window closes. One such signing could be Saviola from Barcelona, and you would have to fancy Aston Villa’s chances this season for a top-8 finish if they can bring in Petrov and Saviola.
Middlesbrough, on the other hand, are in the hands of an inexperienced Gareth Southgate (who would surely have preferred to be playing rather than being on the sidelines on Monday) and the topsy-turvy nature of their first three matches suggests that Middlesbrough have a lot to do before they can summon the same consistency that saw them reach 7th place in 2004/2005. Their win against Chelsea suggests that this side ‘can’ mix it up with the best, but throwing away a 2 goal lead at Reading, plus a 4-0 thrashing at home by Portsmouth was also evidence that Middlesbrough need to bring in players.
Woodgate is due a medical today while Huth and Euell are also tipped to join. None of these players will strike in the hearts of the opposition but they will give Middlesbrough the defensive solidity and strength in numbers in midfield that they lacked.
The only thing working for Boro is that they can point to Southgate’s inexperience as an excuse for this season’s failings. Although you have to wonder – if Boro barely escape relegation this season, the pressure will be on the manager to deliver.
And Martin O’Neill? He’s looking to Europe, surely.