'They are still in the thick of the promotion battle' - Ex-City boss believes Boro can regain momentum

PUBLISHED: 15:56 30 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:56 30 March 2019

Bruce Rioch, front, and director of football Bryan Hamilton during his time in charge of Norwich City Picture: Archant library

Bruce Rioch, front, and director of football Bryan Hamilton during his time in charge of Norwich City Picture: Archant library

Ahead of Norwich City's match at the Riverside, former manager Bruce Rioch has been speaking about Boro's play-off hopes ahead of the meeting of two of his former clubs.

Joint majority shareholder Delia Smith at Carrow Road in 1998 with Bruce Rioch, centre, and Bryan Hamilton 
Photo: Bill SmithJoint majority shareholder Delia Smith at Carrow Road in 1998 with Bruce Rioch, centre, and Bryan Hamilton Photo: Bill Smith

Bruce Rioch has encouraged Middlesbrough fans not to give up on their promotion dream ahead of this evening’s meeting of two of his former clubs at the Riverside Stadium.

The 71-year-old former Norwich and Boro boss admits the hosts have no chance of joining the Canaries in the automatic promotion battle – sitting 20 points adrift in fifth place – but believes Tony Pulis’ side can regain momentum ahead of a play-off campaign.

They have lost three on the spin and sit just four points clear of Nottingham Forest in 11th place ahead of today’s game Rioch, who lives in Cornwall now, is staying positive.

“The team seems to have lost its way a little bit of late but they are still in the thick of the promotion battle so there’s still all to play for,” the former Arsenal manager said.

“I guess for Tony now the top two places are probably out of sight but they’ve got to stay in the hunt for the play-offs because anything can happen in the play-offs.

“And timing, not recent form, could be everything. In my managerial career when my teams were gunning for promotion or the play-offs towards the end of the season I’d just say to the team that ‘we need to be playing at our maximum’.

“I’d say, ‘we need to be putting in great performances’, because when you go into the play-offs, if your form is good then you’ve got a far better chance of sustaining momentum and winning them.

“If you limp across the finishing line for the play-offs having lost four or five games but you’ve just made it because of what happened several weeks before then you’re going to struggle.

Norwich City manager Bruce Rioch and Darren Eadie at a press conference to announce a new contract for the winger Picture: Archant libraryNorwich City manager Bruce Rioch and Darren Eadie at a press conference to announce a new contract for the winger Picture: Archant library

“If Tony can help his players click again and get their form back in the last games and are playing well going into what amounts to an end-of-season shoot-out then they’ve got as good a chance as anyone.”

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Rioch took charge on Teesside in February 1986 and after being unable to prevent a slide into the third tier, Rioch not only brought Boro straight back but secured back-to-back promotions into the top flight.

They came straight back down and Rioch left in March 1990 with the threat of relegation back to the third tier looming large, but he got back on track with Millwall and Bolton to get his chance at Arsenal, bringing players including Dennis Bergkamp to English football but only lasting one season.

The former Aston Villa and Scotland midfielder arrived at Norwich in 1998 and guided City to ninth in the second tier in 1998-99, when a strong start fell apart, winning just four games after Christmas.

He resigned in March 2000 with City 15th after one win in 11 games, citing a lack of resources after the sale of Darren Eadie to Leicester for £3m – with long-term injuries to Phil Mulryne and Craig Bellamy proving damaging.

Having not managed since a spell in Danish football over 10 years ago, Rioch is hoping Boro will keep faith with Pulis – even if the league leaders inflict a fourth consecutive defeat on the hosts this evening.

“Generally speaking, there is a bit less tolerance across the country to stay with managers these days and there are changes of manager happening sometimes three times in season,” he continued, speaking to the Teesside Gazette.

Bruce Rioch announcing his resignation at a Norwich City press conference in March 2000 Picture: Archant libraryBruce Rioch announcing his resignation at a Norwich City press conference in March 2000 Picture: Archant library

“Thankfully Boro have got a chairman in Steve Gibson who values loyalty and won’t panic which augurs well for the club.

“Now it’s important that the fans show their support for the club because they can be an invaluable asset to the manager as I found in my time with Boro.

“Wherever Tony has been he has taken his clubs into positions that they wouldn’t ordinarily reach.

“Boro should be in the top four or top six and he has taken Boro into that zone of the table so he’s still on target despite the downturn in recent fortunes.”

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