NINE MONTHS ON TEESSIDE
Since Middlesbrough’s famous UEFA Cup run of 2006, relegation in 2009, and the departure of goal scorers Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Mark Viduka and Yakubu, Boro fans haven’t had much to cheer about in the striking department in recent years.
For five seasons, it had been an exercise in frustration watching players like Lukas Jutkiewicz, Kei Kamara, Marvin Emnes, Ishmael Miller, Scott McDonald and Kris Boyd, etc. regularly failing to score, or not performing to the standard required. Boro fans had been starved of a quality goal scorer for far too long.
The arrival of Aitor Karanka, (the ex-Real Madrid player and coach during Jose Mourinho’s time at the Bernabeu) inspired a fresh optimism that began blowing through the corridors of the Riverside Stadium and training pitches of Rockliffe Park.
AND THE STORY OF BORO'S 2014/15 SEASON...
During the summer of 2014, Boro again called on Mourinho’s Chelsea for players in the loan market, following in the footsteps in recent seasons of Josh McEachran, Nathan C halobah and Kenneth Omeruo. This time, it was the much sought after young striker Patrick Bamford who would make the move North, to help with Middlesbrough’s promotion push.
IN THE BEGINNING...
Born in Grantham on 5th September 1993, Bamford was raised in Norwell, a village near Newark-on-Trent in central Nottinghamshire. Growing up a proud Nottingham Forest fan and season ticket holder with his father, Bamford signed for the club’s academy as an eight year old, after being spotted playing junior football with local club Muskham Cougars.
He was also a successful Rugby player in his time at Nottingham high school, where he attained five A*s, three As and two Bs at GCSE, going on to study French, History, Biology at A-Level. So desperate to achieve his dream of becoming a professional footballer, Bamford, (now slightly infamously), turned down a scholarship from Harvard University.
By February 2012, after making only two appearances for Nottingham Forest, 18 year old Patrick Bamford signed for Chelsea for £1.5m, after an opening bid of £1m was turned down. Bamford had first impressed the West London giants as a 16 year-old in an FA Youth cup tie in 2010, later going on to score a hat-trick against them in a friendly.
After successful spells in the Chelsea reserves and Under-21, Bamford was loaned to MK Dons in November 2012, managed by Karl Robinson – who turned out to be a big influence on the youngster and even recruited Robbie Fowler, for some words of wisdom. Bamford said “I would tell most youngsters to play every week if they can. At my age you need to play.”
“I’d advise every young player to go out on loan rather than stay and play in the Under-21 development league”.
“Part of the education is learning to mix it against gnarled old defenders, developing the physical edge, the “nastiness” Diego Costa has, and Mourinho appears to want in his players. I think I have that now”.
“It does come with experience. If you play for managers like Karl Robinson, it’s about your development, but there are times when you have to stick up for yourself and let defenders know you are around when nobody is looking.
The tempo in the Under-21 league is a lot slower, it is very technical and there is none of that nastiness; that is something you have to learn from playing in league games.”
Between November 2012 and January 2014, Bamford scored 21 goals in 44 games for league one’s MK Dons, including an impressive seven-game run where he netted eight times. He also won the Football League’s Young Player of the Month award for December 2013.
It was agreed that Bamford needed to make the step up from league one to the championship, so he signed for Steve McClaren’s Derby County in January 2014 for the remainder of the season. He went on to make 21 appearances, scoring 8 goals. While not always playing in his favoured Central striker role, Bamford was often deployed out wide behind a lone frontman. Bamford finished the 2013-14 season at Wembley, coming off the bench in injury time for Derby County in their 0-1 play-off final defeat against QPR.
After discussions with parent club Chelsea and manager Jose Mourinho, Patrick Bamford signed for Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough on 29th August 2014. The transfer seemed to drag on all summer, after more than ten other clubs were chasing the youngster's signature - who signed on loan until January 1st, 2015.
Wearing the number 23 shirt, Bamford made his debut for Middlesbrough, on 30th August 2014. In what was by then Boro’s 5th league game of the season, coming on as sub for Lee Tomlin on 60 minutes, in a 0-1 home defeat by Reading.
Three games later on September 20th, he scored his first goal in a Boro shirt, a header in the 4-0 demolition of Brentford in front of 15,484 supporters at the Riverside Stadium.
Bamford again played his part in the 3rd round of the League Cup away to Liverpool three days later, coming on for captain Grant Leadbitter. Bamford earned and scored a penalty in extra-time making it 2-2 taking the game to penalties. An astonishing shoot-out unfolded with Bamford missing and scoring one in a thrilling 14-13 win on penalties for Liverpool.
Between November 1st and December 13th, Bamford went on to score six goals in seven games, including one against former club Derby at the Riverside - where he also won a penalty which was converted by Grant Leadbitter in a 2-0 win. On December 31 Patrick Bamford's loan with Boro was extended until the end of the season after a commanding seven goals.
After failing to hit the net over Christmas and New Year, Bamford scored once again for Boro, on 20th January 2015 in a 2-1 midweek home win over Cardiff City.
This was followed by a thrilling FA Cup fourth round win away to Champions Manchester City, where Boro comfortably ran out 2-0 winners.
Bamford impressed all game, cleverly sliding into an empty net, to open the scoring on 53 minutes, with Kike scoring the second on 90mins.
A tough fifth round tie away to Arsenal proved too much for Boro, who went down 2-0 at the Emirates in February.
Bamford was also the scorer of a magnificent team goal against Millwall in a 3-0 victory on 3rd March. The move started on the halfway line with some neat, intricate passing which Bamford finished off from 12 yards, left-footed, following a dummy by Kike.
By the time Boro headed to face Bamford’s boyhood club Nottingham Forest on March 7th, the talented forward had bagged 11 goals, helping shoot Boro within a chance of automatic promotion.
With the versatile youngster sometimes playing wide in a three behind a central striker to accommodate Karanka’s tactics, his goal ratio seems even more impressive.
A 2-1 defeat at The City ground didn’t stop Bamford’s run of form, scoring two goals in an impressive 4-1 win at home to Ipswich the following week, admitting after the game that he should have scored four.
THE WEEK OF DESTINY...
The Ipswich game on the 14th of March was the start of what Boro fans had been calling the week of Destiny, or Death… depending on who you listened to.
This was followed by a midweek visit to promotion rivals Derby County, which was Boro’s biggest game of the season to date, with the result having some significance on the season’s outcome for both teams. Then came a trip to Eddie Howe’s high flying, free scoring Bournemouth the following weekend.
The Derby County game happened to fall on St. Patrick’s Day, (which couldn’t have worked out better for the headline writers) as Patrick Bamford came back to haunt his old club. With Boro taking all three points in a 1-0 win, he scored the only goal on 64 minutes in an extremely close, high tempo game. A number of Boro players, including Bamford, succumbed to cramp in the dying stages.
It seemed Patrick was also subjected to some rough tactics on his return to Pride Park after some Derby defenders were boasting they had a “surprise in store” to take care of their former teammate. The surprise he admitted afterward, was that he was greeted with some nasty kicks to the ankles and some late challenges from behind, to try to stop the Boro’s in form front man.
The ecstasy and belief cultivated from the magnificent team performance at the atmospheric and hostile Pride Park soon turned to agony as Boro limped off to a 3-0 defeat away to Bournemouth on Saturday 21st March. An impressive six points from nine, in the week of death, had kept the automatic promotion dream alive for Patrick Bamford and Middlesbrough fans.
An important Easter weekend was to follow with red-hot Bamford scoring again on Good Friday, in a 1-0 victory over relegation threatened Wigan Athletic, sending Boro to the top of the Championship. A tough away trip to promotion rivals Watford was to come on Easter Monday, which the Hornets won fairly comfortably in the end, taking all three points in a 2-0 win at Vicarage Road.
Watford had taken a big psychological advantage with the decisive home win. The result was a big blow for Boro’s automatic promotion hopes after the week of death and the Wigan victory.
Patrick Bamford was back on target to score his 18th goal of the season, on 11th April in front of 19,537 supporters, in a 2-0 home win against Rotherham. Lee Tomlin scored the first on 50 mins, then set Bamford up to slot home in front of the North Stand from 12 yards out.
Bamford also missed a stoppage time penalty, after there was some confusion whether Kike, who originally won the penalty or Bamford the designated penalty taker, would take the spot kick.
With the two strikers arguing, it was Bamford who eventually took the kick and missed, allegedly later apologising to his team mates.
The following Tuesday saw play-off chasing Wolves the visitors to the Riverside Stadium, with Jelle Vossen opening the scoring after just three minutes.
Bamford scored his 19th goal of the season, after fellow Chelsea loanee Tomas Kalas, set up the second, with a neat short pass across the face of goal.
The number 23 smashed it into the bottom right-hand corner on the turn as Boro continued to dominate.
Wolves scored a consolation, but it was Boro who ran out 2-1 winners, with Bamford hitting the bar with a neat chip from the edge of the box in the dying minutes.
With just nine points left to play for, Boro travelled to promotion chasers Norwich City for the televised friday night encounter, who were looking for their sixth win in a row. Boro started the highly charged game, brightly scoring from a Leadbitter corner after just eight minutes. Vossan and Adomah both tried claiming the goal, only for it to be eventually awarded to Norwich defender Tettey, who made it 1-0.
Again, Bamford who needed treatment after going down early in the first half, was on the end of some overzealous defending with the striker’s ankles targeted, in attempts to slow him down. He pulled up again a few minutes later, much to the annoyance of the hostile home crowd and Norwich bench.
The on-loan striker showed much courage and determination playing until the 84th minute, in what was a superb team performance with Boro eventually winning 1-0 after soaking up long periods of pressure. Bamford could have made it 2-0, narrowly knocking it wide after hitting Norwich on the break in the second half. Boro were top again, if only for 24 hours.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR...
It was also around this time that Patrick Bamford was named Championship Player of the Year, at the Football League awards ceremony in London on Sunday 19th April.
He beat Ipswich Town’s Daryl Murphy and Watford’s Troy Deeney to claim the prize, which was voted for by the football league club’s 72 managers. He was also nominated for Young Championship Player of the Year.
The following Saturday saw Aitor Karanka’s side travel to Fulham on 25th April, for their final away game of the season. Bamford, still carrying a knock, was deemed fit enough to start in what was another must-win game for Boro. With over five thousand traveling supporters standing behind the goal in the West London sunshine, the second half proved to be one of the most hectic and frantic 45 minutes in recent memory.
After a disappointing first half, Boro went in 1-0 down only for Fulham to make it 2-0 on 55 minutes, following a Ross McCormick penalty after a push by Daniel Ayala. A triple substitution by Aitor Karanka on the hour saw the introduction of Adam Reach, Adam Forshaw, and Kike – who had an immediate impact. After only three minutes, Tomlin combined with Forshaw setting up Adam Reach to score from a powerful drive on the edge of the box to get Boro back into the game.
Boro’s comeback was dented just four minutes later, after George Friend was sent off for a foul inside the Boro box. One time Boro target Ross McCormick scored his second from the penalty spot to make it 3-1 to Fulham on 67 minutes. Boro, roared on by the red and white army behind the goal, pushed forward with Ayala scoring a header on 73 minutes to make it 3-2, and the ever-dangerous Bamford volleying wide soon after.
Boro forward Kike made it 3-3 on 88 minutes, with the away bench urging goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos to go up for a late corner, in front of the travelling supporters. After hitting Boro on the break, Ross McCormick raced to the opposite end to complete his hat-trick, making it 4-3 to Fulham. Boro’s automatic hopes had taken a huge hit, and looked like they were destined for the play-offs. The fans behind the goal sang “Que Sera Sera”, and applauded the gallant Boro team off the Craven Cottage pitch.
The last game of the season was scheduled to be Brighton Hove Albion at home, which was near sell out from expectant Boro fans, who were earlier hoping to see automatic promotion achieved. Patrick Bamford sat out the game due to his troublesome ankle injury, with Aitor Karanka preferring to rest him for the upcoming play-offs. Following a less than thrilling 0-0 draw, it looked as if Karanka’s men were saving themselves for the arduous play-offs to come.
After finishing fourth in the Championship, 4 points behind an automatic promotion spot with inferior goal difference, it was champions Bournemouth and second placed Watford, who would gain automatic promotion to the Premier League.
Boro would face Brentford in the play-off semi-finals over two legs, with the winner meeting either Norwich City or Ipswich Town.
With Patrick Bamford somehow passed fit following a week of rest, Boro again headed to West London to face Brentford at Griffin Park, with the match being watched by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.
Bamford clearly not 100% fit, played his part well in another magnificent team performance, as Boro finished 2-1 winners, with goals from Vossan and a spectacular injury time winner from Fernando Amorebieta. Again the courageous Bamford took stick from Brentford defenders with kicks and late challenges, and was replaced on 89 minutes to applause from the Boro travelling support.
The second leg at the Riverside Stadium was a near sell-out with 33,266 Boro fans there to witness Boro record a comfortable 3-0 win, with Bamford sitting on the bench for the entirety of the game. The night will forever be remembered for the pitch invasion following the final whistle, after Boro had won 5-1 on aggregate to reach the play-off final, against Norwich City at Wembley on 25th May.
With Bamford declared fit the morning of the game, Boro headed to Wembley, where they walked out to a sea of red, white, yellow and green in front of 85,656 vocal supporters. A strong and lively Norwich side were soon off the mark scoring on 12 and 15 mins to make it 2-0 which made Boro’s task even tougher. Bamford worked tirelessly, holding off defenders, fighting for every ball, and went close on a couple of occasions with shots that troubled Ruddy.
Boro eventually went down 2-0, and Bamford walked around the Wembley pitch applauding the Boro fans, knowing that it would probably be his last appearance in a Middlesbrough shirt.
TO THE FUTURE...
Nothing is assured in football and nobody knows what the future holds, but by what we have seen so far and the plaudits he has received, Patrick Bamford could one day be playing and scoring at the highest level.
Parts of Bamford's game are reminiscent of a young Fernando Torres, with his fantastic movement and clever decision making, with shades of Gary Lineker and his cool, clinical finishing in the 18-yard box. Along with traits of Wayne Rooney's strength, fighting spirit and determination, Bamford could one day fit into Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea or another top European side.
After the past few seasons watching Emnes, Jutkiewicz, McDonald, Kamara, (and others) play up front for Middlesbrough, it was refreshing to see a young and hungry, emerging talent entertain and score consistently.
Along with the rest of the team, Bamford helped make watching Boro an exciting experience again, knowing we had an honest, hard working striker capable of doing damage to the opposition.
As a loanee with thoughts of the under 21 European Championships in the summer, (which he would eventually miss through injury), it's a credit to him the selflessness and determination to play through the pain barrier - with the sole purpose to get Middlesbrough FC promoted.
He also put to shame some of the performances of some ex-players on big money contracts in the past few seasons who failed to deliver.
For a 21 year old player to arrive at the end of August with no pre-season training alongside his new teammates, slot right into the first team of a promotion chasing side, and top the goal charts is an formidable feat.
Bamford also missed the first five games, appearing 44 times and scoring 19 goals in all competitions, 17 coming from 32 starts in the league.
Finishing top scorer for Middlesbrough, reaching the play-off final, and picking up Championship Player of the Year award, Bamford won’t be forgotten on Teesside in a hurry. Wherever he ends up, Patrick Bamford will give his all and score goals, it's just a shame promotion couldn't be achieved in the hope of seeing him in a Middlesbrough shirt for longer.
To Patrick Bamford: Thank you for your goals, efforts and some great memories. Good luck in the future.
Middlesbrough FC: 2014/15