Middlesbrough favourites but are beatable, says Leeds United '˜old boy'
WITH promotions at both Leeds United and Middlesbrough on his curriculum vitae, John Hendrie will be caught in the middle at Elland Road this weekend.
The forward achieved promotion to English football’s top tier with both clubs – twice at Boro – and knows the Championship table has the Riversiders best-placed of the duo to achieve that goal in 2018.
Hendrie, though, has offered strong hope to United, insisting there is more to Boro’s recent three straight wins than meets the eye and that the Riversiders have still not “clicked” under former Whites boss Garry Monk.
The Scot also believes United will quickly re-ignite their own promotion charge if learning to “win ugly” as well as in “flamboyant” style.
Hendrie has just one season on his CV at Leeds but a memorable one in helping the Whites win the old second division under Howard Wilkinson in 1990.
By the time United were crowned champions of England two seasons later, the forward was in his second season at Boro whom he helped achieve two promotions to the country’s top flight during six years in the north-east.
The 54-year-old will now see two of his former loves lock horns at Elland Road on Sunday with Middlesbrough arriving on the back of three straight wins which have taken the Riversiders fifth.
On the flip side, seven league losses from their last nine games and three defeats in succession at Elland Road have threatened to derail United’s promotion bid.
Yet Hendrie remains confident that United could soon turn a corner and says anyone believing Boro are now the finished article based on their recent three straight wins would be getting the wrong idea.
“If you’d have asked Boro fans a few weeks ago, there were a lot of grumblings going on,” Hendrie told the YEP.
“They weren’t happy at the football and not getting results. They came back twice against Brentford but they could easily have lost that game and they could have lost at home against Preston which was 0-0 when Preston were the better team.
“It’s not as if Boro are flying and, for me, they have still not clicked. It’s still not clicked up there.
“They got good results at Reading and Hull City and when they went to Reading and got a goal you could see that they shut up shop.
“And that was very much the same in the Sunderland game. They scored early doors but the supporters are thinking ‘okay, Sunderland are bottom of the league, let’s go and try and get a second or third goal’.
“But they didn’t. It was as if they scored the first goal and said ‘we are just going to hang on to this win and by hook or by crook get three points’.
“Boro are not a team who are striking fear into other clubs, certainly not at this moment in time. It’s very much a work in progress and there is still room for improvement. Bear in mind they have spent over £40m and they have just come down from the Premier League, Boro probably thought that they would be in a higher position than fifth.”
Hendrie looked on from the Elland Road stands as United moved into the best position of all, first, by beating Birmingham City on the second Tuesday in September. Seven defeats in nine have followed but chairman Andrea Radrizzani has kept the faith with head coach Thomas Christiansen despite a slide down the table to tenth.
But Hendrie was particularly impressed with United’s 5-0 thrashing of Burton Albion in September and believes the Whites will quickly restore order to their promotion charge if learning how to grind out results.
“Leeds know they have got the flair players, some terrific players,” said the Scot. “They have just got to start winning ugly.
“With all due respect, the games they have been winning, they have been winning them in a flamboyant and cavalier manner. But they have got to scrape results too.
“They are not scraping victories and for you to be a good team you have got to do that. You can’t always play well but you have got to find ways to win games.”
More often than not, Hendrie and his side were able to do just that during the 1989-90 season at Leeds and the passion the Scot feels for the Whites – and Boro – is clear. These days the former forward coaches for Leeds-based football academy RIASA but his playing days at Leeds and Boro live long in the memory.
Hendrie recalled: “Obviously I was involved in promotions with both clubs and firstly with Leeds into the top flight.
“To get them back up there brings back fantastic memories. That was a great season alongside Gordon Strachan, David Batty, Vinnie Jones and Gary Speed, God bless him. We had a fantastic team spirit and we had Mel Sterland who I still see at games now. We had a brilliant team spirit. And likewise up at Boro as well. Even though I played up there for five seasons, I always travelled up and it was a good 120-mile round trip as I always lived here. I’ve nothing but fond memories from my time at both sides.”
That, though, could make for some awkward moments this weekend. Asked where his loyalties will lie on Sunday afternoon, Hendrie laughed: “I’ve got to be hiding in the corner somewhere. No matter what, I cannot win.”