GEORGE FRIEND took a tour of Teesside as Middlesbrough launched their season ticket campaign yesterday - and is hopeful that those who renew will be watching Premier League football in August.
Boro froze the price of a season ticket as well as extending its offer of a free drink to all fans on matchdays, and full-back Friend took part in a mini-tour of the club’s catchment area as he attempted to persuade four fans - one from each stand at the Riverside Stadium - to renew their season cards for 2014-15.
And the defender has refused to give up on the Championship play-offs, despite Boro sitting in 14th, 12 points off the play-offs and with 13 games left this season.
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“I’d never rule out the play-offs,” said Friend.” All you need in this league is to go on a run, and time is running out.
“We’re running out of games but I’m confident that we can still do it. I’d never give up on that as long as there is a chance.”
To do that, Middlesbrough need to start scoring goals. Aitor Karanka’s side have not scored a goal for 11 hours and 44 minutes, but Friend believes that a lot is made of the drought outside of the club, and that the players are working hard to bring it to an end.
“We managed to score against Sheffield Wednesday and that would have made things different,” said Friend, referring to Jacob Butterfield’s shot past Chris Kirkland which was ruled out by referee Andy D’Urso during Boro’s 1-0 defeat in South Yorkshire.
“I think a lot is made of this run without a goal, a lot of pressure is built up by the media. It’s not as if we’re not creating chances.
“In training, people are scoring goals for fun.
“If we weren’t creating chances I’d be a lot more concerned.
“While we couldn’t explain it earlier in the season with conceding goals, it’s the same going forward, it’s just one of those things. I’m sure it will happen.
“Our defending has been excellent since before Christmas. The only thing that has let us down is in scoring goals. It’s not just the strikers though, we all should be scoring. I scored two earlier this season and that’s a lot for me, I’d like to get some more, so we should all be chipping in.”
Boro have struggled to fill the Riverside since their relegation from the Premier League in 2009, but cut-price deals have brought the attendances above 20,000 at various points, and the club have worked hard to attract new fans to the stadium with a new family zone and attractive prices for youngsters.
The latest scheme, with Friend canvassing on fans’ doorsteps, was also an opportunity for supporters to provide the popular defender with feedback.
“It’s good as a player to appreciate what the club are trying to do for the fans,” said Friend, of the season ticket offer. “The club is really all about the fans. Hopefully a lot more people take season cards for next season and get the Riverside rocking again.
“There have been hard times for everyone so attendances are down everywhere outside the Premier League. What the club have done with the stadium and moving the away fans has helped the atmosphere.
“It’s a stadium that needs a lot of fans. We’re really grateful for the fans that do come here, hopefully there’ll be a few more and those who bought a season ticket last year will renew theirs.
“As a professional you have to perform whether it’s front of 20,000 or ten people. It does make a difference. I spoke to one of the fans who said it made a difference to them, that they enjoy the game more when it has more people in it. It helps all round, it helps the club of course too.”
Craig Hignett completed his second day in his new role of assistant head coach at Rockliffe yesterday, and Friend felt he was a popular choice to assist Karanka.
“Higgy has been great over the last couple of days,” said Friend. “He’s well known to a lot of the Boro players having coached here and also has an affinity with the fans.
“I’ve always got on well with Higgy. He’ll be a good link between the players and the manager which can only be a good thing.”