GORDON STRACHAN has weighed into the debate regarding the lack of quality in the Championship this season by declaring it is better than when he played at the same level for Leeds United.
Strachan was the midfield playmaker in Howard Wilkinson’s team that stormed English football’s second tier in 1990 en route to becoming champions of the top flight two seasons later. But the Middlesbrough manager, whose team face bottom of the table Peterborough United this afternoon, denies accusations that the division has suffered a steady decline in recent years.
Players and managers in the Championship have defended the competition this season but the claim that this is the most competitive division in the world has been countered by supporters’ concerned with the quality of the fare on offer.
Strachan, however, refutes any suggestion that he played during a golden age for English football and is adamant that the game has improved since he hung up his boots.
“The game is quicker and better at all levels,” he said.
“The Premier League is the best in the world and the standard in the last 20 years at this level has got better. This is a much better division since I played in it. It is all better: the players are quicker, fitter, the stadia has improved, the lot.
“People say the standard (in the Championship) isn’t great but I disagree. It’s a hard, hard division. Teams play well and don’t get results. There are no pushovers, there’s nothing cosmic about the football but it’s good. The ones who have the goalscorers will get promoted.”
Middlesbrough’s failure to field a settled front-pairing to help spearhead their bid for promotion has been one of the recurrent themes of the current campaign. Marvin Emnes’ brace in the reserve team’s 4-1 victory against Grimsby in midweek reminded Strachan of the Dutchman’s goal potential but he does not consider him to be the answer to his quest for a reliable striker.
“Emnes and Jeremie (Aliadiere) played up front in the early part of the season but neither of them are strikers and they’ll tell you that themselves I spoke to them about it and they accept it’s not their best position.”
Asked if he was happy to see Leroy Lita score his third goal of the season last weekend, Strachan responded: “Yes, that’s one but we’d like to see more.
“ There is more the striking unit can do. There’s more than scoring one goal. It’s not just Leroy, there are various strikers at the club with varying strike rates. The club has struggled to get a unit that says ‘goals’. Fortunately we had Adam Johnson and others chipping in but that’s dried up and we need to get goals elsewhere.
“We’re looking for a system that gets us goals. A more rounded system. If you look at the stats this year Adam has scored nine and there’s a big drop after that. We have to be more rounded as a team and score from more positions in the team. There’s a lot of the team where you think ‘yes I like that’, but we need to get settled up front.”
Rhys Williams impressed the manager during his stint at right-back against Nottingham Forest, but the utility man misses out due to suspension.
Recently-appointed skipper Gary O’Neil has picked up a groin strain and is considered doubtful. After confirming that he wants former captain David Wheater to concentrate on “getting to grips with learning the game” the manager will ask Emanuel Pogatetz to wear the armband if O’Neil fails a fitness test.
“I thought it was better to have a captain who knows what I expect all round the pitch,” said the manager.
“David is a centre-half and they don’t come in to their prime until 25-28. Gary is at the hub. He knows everyone’s role. He is better placed at this club to know what I want from everyone.”