Bournemouth supremacy demands Boro ultimatum

No Bamford in the squad was a surprise considering that we needed to score goals. Stuani in his place on the bench was fair enough I suppose but I couldn’t understand why Gestede was even on that same bench. It appeared to me that the deep psyche was that if we are losing throw everything including the kitchen sink into the box, great tactical masterplan!

Barragan selected wide right instead of Fabio? Well that just completely beggared belief especially with the stiff and returning Chambers behind him. SA did at least go with three at the back but it was evident from the off that the midfield was all at sea and the backline hadn’t a clue who was supposed to be where and picking up who. The opening seconds saw our right side unsurprisingly ripped apart and Bournemouth were firing crosses in for fun. The inevitable goal occurred in a matter of seconds. 1-0 down and we were simply awful.

Things didn’t improve and Bournemouth continued to play, tease and toy with us. This was the worst performance from any Boro side I have witnessed since Charlton last season. Considering the importance of the game, the organisation, levels of concentration and commitment just simply didn’t exist. It became more farcical when another dithering defensive display led to Bournemouth going two up, it wasn’t even comedic just simply tragic. Ramirez then managed to get himself booked for a dive that was ten minutes too late for a non-contact challenge. Minutes later with a Negredo pile driving effort sandwiched in between Gaston went into a ridiculous lunge near the opposition corner flag, second yellow and off he went with just twenty minutes registered on the clock (hopefully never to be seen in a Boro shirt again).

Just before that Agnew had been about to bring Traore on presumably for Chambers to try and have a go at the Bournemouth defence. Gaston’s removal instead saw Forshaw brought onto wide left with George dropping into LB with Barragan off and Downing switching to the right in a 441. Confused? I certainly was! On twenty nine minutes Negredo headed down to de Roon who took a long range volley which Boruc done well to tip past for a corner. Minutes later King then stamped on de Roon but the Ref seemingly didn’t see anything wrong and it looked to me that de Roon will be subject to a metatarsal x-ray but despite that he hobbled back on with Fabio told to sit back on the bench. Two minutes later de Roon eventually had to succumb and leave the field. Thirty six minutes gone, one sending off, two subs on and at this point Boro were playing with a back eight, still couldn’t get a tackle in, losing 2-0 yet Aggers puts a full back on! Heaven knows what Gibson and Bausor were thinking but I sincerely hope it was the same as me.

Gosling suddenly pulled up just before half time as Boro where about to take a throw in with an apparent existing injury because nobody was near him. As Cooke then came on for Gosling the Boro

fans broke into a chorus of “Ugo Ehiogu tra la la la la” which was by far the best Boro performance of the day. After a slip up by the aforementioned Cooke with a sliced clearance Chambers hit a twenty yard volley that probably ended up in Penzance. The half time whistle shortly followed much to Boro’s relief and there ended one of the worst performances I have witnessed in a long time. Tactically all over the place, disorganised and despite what the fitness and medical team thought Chambers looked rusty as heck and in my opinion should have made way instead of Barragan who at least was match fit.

The team performance was completely unrecognisable from Monday night but surprisingly as on Monday when Clayton gave away the fee kick for Arsenal’s opener he was at fault for both Bournemouth goals today. As determined, energetic and committed he undoubtedly is his poor decision making is costing us. That said the rest of the side Negredo apart were absolute tosh, garbage, brown smelly stuff stuck to the sole of your shoe.

The first half spoke volumes as to any future of Steve Agnew’s tenure as Boro Coach on a permanent basis. He now had forty five minutes to restore any shred of personal credibility and to save Boro’s season. Being honest at this stage it looked totally transparent that Aggers was finished in his hope of retaining the position as were Boro’s hopes of survival. My thoughts were that as gut wrenchingly painful as it was maybe it’s a good thing. Today was the footballing forty five minute equivalent of taking your 15 year old family Labrador to the Vets for the last time, heart-breaking, but at least the pain and suffering is over with. Little did I know what the second half had in store?

As the second half started unsurprisingly there were no Boro subs made, not that it would have made an iota of difference to the woeful proceedings. The second half started at a fairly lethargic pace in the South Coast sunshine with Boro getting a corner four minutes into it but Ayala headed well over. The next five minutes saw more of Boro being under the cosh with Negredo literally under the cosh or at least on the receiving end of Francis’s forearm smash as we tried to mount an attack. After some treatment Alvaro returned to the field of play to pick up a loose ball from a corner but smashed it well over the goal which seems to have been a Boro trademark all season.

On 56 minutes Afobe should have scored but Guzan got down to save Boro’s blushes and thankfully pushed the effort wide. Friend then picked up a yellow after fortunately avoiding one in the first half. A few minutes later George definitely should have picked up a second yellow for a full on challenge but the Ref at this point was clearly feeling sympathy at Boro’s spineless plight. The game then descended into attack and defend with Boro doing all the defending and none of the attacking as the possession stats showed.

Every pass in a yellow shirt went short, got stuck in feet or simply missed the intended target and then after another defensive series of farcical proportions Ayala was rounded by Pugh and 3-0 to the Cherries. After the restart Ayala took his frustration out on Pugh and chopped him down to pick up a yellow. Like their apt shirt colour Boro were now attracting Yellow cards at an alarming rate and just to rub salt into the wounds Swansea had registered their second against Stoke and ten man Hull had simultaneously taken the lead against Watford. News was filtering through that Hull had went 2-0 up just as Bournemouth worked a pantomime free kick to make it 4-0 as Clayton (or Forshaw) broke from the end of the wall, was dribbled around with ease to see the net bulge from 18 yards out. Then incredibly with fifteen minutes to go the Cherries missed their easiest chance of the afternoon as the ball rolled right across the Boro goal line from Stanislas with nobody to tap in.

Gestede was forlornly brought on for Negredo who had thanklessly ran himself ragged and we then just started to hump long balls up to him who won his headers but then Bournemouth just collected the ball and broke forward again. I have no idea what the logic was in bringing Gestede on but it was obvious there was no tactical intent, just simply hump it long and hope. Fortunately with two minutes left Bournemouth Sub Mousset blasted a shot over from 6 yards out when hitting the target would have been easier. The whistle went and with it Middlesbrough FC’s premiership nightmare was over.

We have conceded 4 goals only twice this season and that Steve Agnew was in charge for both of them along with the Charlton debacle last year tells me that despite some more entertaining football he is most definitely not the man to take Boro anywhere let alone forward. This Season the Boro fans have been nothing less than fantastic. It is a shame that the club have disrespected them in just about every way possible from kits to signings, management insults and the most boring embarrassing performances in football history. Nine points from safety and down without a fight and it feels right now that not once did we truly give it a go or in all honesty if that was ever the genuine intent. To end the Premiership season with a weaker team than the Championship side that got us here now needs answering.

Sun sets on Boro’s season as survival hopes head south

As Boro approach the twilight of their Premier League year – and head off to a less depressing footballing climate on the south coast for a sunset stroll along Bournemouth pier – they are no doubt starting to contemplate an early retirement in sheltered accommodation from the top flight.

As our creaking group of seasoned campaigners take up residence at the Premiership retirement home to rest their weary limbs and exchange fading memories of past glories, perhaps they’ll have their spirits raised by an occasional little sing-song as they reminisce… “we’ll win again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll win again some sunny day”.

OK, it’s never easy to make that decision about whether or not a loved one can continue to take care of themselves and despite trying to ignore the signs – such as that rather nasty fall down the table – action is now required. It seems obvious now, but we’ve long started to notice that when our ‘last-of-the-summer-wine’ midfield of Compo Clayton, Foggy de Roon and Cleggy Leadbitter cross the half-way line they appear to have seemingly forgot why they left their own half – then look rather quizzically at each other before giving the ball back to Victor ‘Meldrew’ Valdes – who simply can’t believe it has returned once more to him.

Then there’s that rather embarrassing problem about waking up the next morning to discover we can no longer rely on having a clean sheet – fingers have also been pointed at the cover but perhaps the problem at the back hasn’t been helped by all those bumps and strains constantly being picked up – plus it’s also been widely observed that old Barragan has had continued problems with his hand-eye co-ordination.

Deciding to move forward is never straight-forward and that is true of Boro as they are prone to amble rather indecisively towards their opponents goal. Whilst feeding a rather grumpy Negredo has never been an easy task, the problem of uncle Adama uncontrollably dribbling when he’s being spoon fed can’t be ignored for much longer.

So before we get caught napping it’s time to look at the possibility of rejuvenating our campaign this week as we head rather appropriately to the Vitality Stadium to play Bournemouth – before entertaining in midweek an even more doomed-looking Sunderland. Psychologically, Boro can take heart from the prospect of coming up against two teams that they have already beaten this season in Bournemouth and Sunderland – both of whom are still under the same management – unlike our recent encounters with the other teams we have beaten in Swansea and Hull who were under new improved regimes.

So first up is the trip to the south coast and in some ways the Cherries are a kind of Arsenal-lite opponents – they are the antithesis of Boro and are better going forward than defending. It’s possible the kind of team that just lost out to Arsenal could indeed claim a rare victory this weekend and set us up nicely to let our hair down for the brush with the Wearsiders – otherwise that local encounter will be more reminiscent of two bald men half-heartedly fighting over a comb.

Putting the comb to one side, Steve Agnew is still waiting to experience that expected new-boss bounce and has started to come under fire in some quarters as people cast doubt on whether he is best suited to the role. Though to be fair, his introduction and plans to make Boro a more potent force have been blighted by a defensive injury crisis that has forced him into making experimental formations to fit the available personnel.

In truth, I struggle to see how deploying a three-man defensive shield of essentially one-dimensional stoppers in conjunction with second and third choice full-backs, who are not predominantly gifted with attacking ability will lead to any substantial improvement. The only glimmer of hope is that Gaston is looking interested again and Downing is playing better than at any time in his second spell at Boro – plus Negredo does seem to know where the net is.

What Boro would also give now for the return of the early-season Adam Forshaw, who was at one point was being touted for an England call-up such was his all-round game. With a fading Leadbitter ruled out perhaps he’ll get a chance to impress once more. Though come this season’s post-mortem, questions will need to be asked about the overall quality of the squad, which appears to have been superficially bolstered with far too many projects and punts.

Defensively, it seems Fabio may actually be available again as his initial injury has now been deemed less severe – the question is whether he’ll get the nod and if so will he go to right-back and will Friend retain his left-back slot? Many would place them as our first-choice full-backs but a rather interesting observation by Dominic Shaw in the Gazette showed that they’ve only once started in a back four for Boro. I’d expect Gibson and Ayala to continue in the centre and they will be in front of Guzan again as Valdes still has sore ribs.

So I think we’ll see a similar shape to the Arsenal game with Forshaw replacing Leadbitter – though at least one of the three midfielders really needs to play more progressively. My main criticism with Agnew is that he lost his nerve after the Hull game and instead of tweaking his new two-man defensive midfield, he abandoned it altogether. OK, Boro made defensive errors in that match and Ben Gibson had a rare off-day – but Hull actually scored with four of their five shots on target so one game shouldn’t be the judge of a system. Though I think Agnew has now decided to only switch to a two-man midfield when chasing the game and prefers instead to start more cautiously – how quickly the first law of self-preservation takes hold when in the hot seat.

I suspect the no-longer guided missile of Adama will be launched at some point from the bench but he’s increasingly looking more like a NFL running-back making yardage with his head down until he’s brought down to give Boro a ‘first-down’ in a dangerous area. Whilst exciting as he is, I think if we get any kind of decent offer for him in the summer it would probably be wise to accept it as his awareness of his surroundings means he could be a very long-term project indeed.

Well it’s prediction time, though with 15 games without a win opting for a Boro/Corbyn victory at the bookies may earn you enough to actually buy your own personal retirement home. Anyway, as usual give your view on the score and scorers – plus how many yards will running-back Adama make?

So come the final whistle will the residents of the Premiership retirement home be having a long-awaited Mother Brown style ‘Knees-up’ round the bridge table or will they be tearfully singing ‘Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’ to Boro’s lingering top-flight hopes?

As I post this match preview the very sad news has just been announced that Ugo Ehiogu has died following his collapse at Tottenham’s training ground yesterday. His untimely death at only 44 has left those who knew him extremely shocked and all Boro fans who remembered him, not only as a great player but as great guy too, will I’m sure want to send their condolences to his family and friends.

Boro’s top-flight survival hopes shot down by Gunners

Ominously Arsenal had scored in 85% of their last 20 away games and also kept a clean sheet in 25% of those last 20 away games, Boro can’t score so on paper Boro were lambs to the slaughter. All the pre-game media hype was about Arsene and the Arsenal fall from grace. Board meetings coming up and decisions to be made about Henry returning and Arsene exiting along with a few of his playing personnel no doubt as a Summer overhaul is predicted.

Four away defeats on the trot, a fifth at the Riverside would set a record going back to December 1984 and Don Howe. Who would Arsene drop after their Palace no show and whether Koscielny would get the nod after a layoff. Would the away fans get another opportunity to boo Bellerin in between chanting Wenger out?

Would Boro keep it tight and frustrate relying on Traore’s pace and set pieces or would they get stuck into them and ruffle midfield feathers whose plumage has looked distinctly leucistic of late. Would Aggers throw Gestede in from the off giving the supposedly suspect Gunners CB’s something to worry about or rely on craft and guile to get in behind them which could mean a return for Ramirez should his head be in the right place. Surely he and his agent could see the fantastic shop window opportunity to turn it on in front of a global audience? There again maybe Aggers and Woody had had enough of his attitudinal challenges?

Come the team announcements and Boro fans felt that our line up perhaps was a little more conservative than hoped for albeit understandable given the talent opposing them whilst Arsene surprised us all probably by anticipating that we would go 3-5-2 so went with three at the back himself in a very unarsenelike formation. As it turned out Boro went with 4 at the back settling for an Ayala/Gibson combo with Fabio and Barragan to the right and left.  The big surprise was the absence of Valdes who had apparently hurt a rib in training. Fabio started well with a quick break forcing a lunge from Oxlade Chamberlain who received a yellow for his “professionalism” and the intent the home fans had wanted to see was in evidence.

In contrast we were then treated to a ridiculous headless Grant challenge in the middle of the park for a lost ball that was both late and reckless and ended up damaging himself in the process. I think it may have been a tweaked hamstring but it took a fair bit of stretching from the physio’s to get him up and running again (albeit I thought mainly on three cylinders for the rest of the game despite his big heart). Fortunately nothing came from the resulting free kick and his nonsensical yellow card. Unfortunately worse was to come when Fabio then went into a challenge and inexplicably went down and looking in some discomfort. Not sure I it was a leg injury but he looked dazed or at the very least disconsolate as he trudged off around the edge of the pitch as George entered the fray in his place. Hopes were that Fabio hadn’t had a relapse of his concussion from a few weeks back.

Friend looked a little rusty understandably with some glimpses of his old runs but some of his passes and runs seemed a little disconnected from his teammates with a few stray balls to go with his forays down the flanks as he linked up with Ramirez. Downing seemed pretty well occupied in defending in the first half, not surprisingly as with 3 at the back Arsenal had their wing-backs pushed high up the pitch. Barragan again had a decent game and whisper it quietly but he appears  a more complete player under Agnew.

Whilst Arsenal undoubtedly had class Boro more than matched them with sheer hard work and graft and there was little to separate the two sides as half time approached. Unfortunately for Boro another reckless challenge from Clayton this time on Xhaka presented Sanchez with the exact opportunity Arsenal relish 20 yards out. After a lot of pushing and shoving in the Boro wall Sanchez got the ball up over the wall and under the crossbar leaving Guzan motionless.

1-0 to the Arsenal as the away fans reminded us. Boro however went straight back up the pitch and with Ramirez seemingly intent on providing his agent with some decent video clips we looked like we were still not out of it. Boro had adopted a tactic of launching balls into the Arsenal box from set pieces putting Ayala and Gibson up alongside Negredo and it appeared to be causing some consternation with the returning Koscielny and the relatively inexperienced Holding.

Almost from the restart after the Sanchez opener Boro won a free kick on the corner of the Arsenal 18 yard box. The big Boro lads piled forward from the back and Grant unleashed a Powderpuff, yep a Powderpuff!  He had ushered Ramirez away and we were expecting a Thunderbastard but nope. WTF was the united exclamation from the North stand as our disbelief at just how bad the free kick actually was sunk in. I’m pretty sure the South stand were equally perplexed as the kids in the East stand covered their ears and tartan rugs, sandwiches and flasks went flying in the West.

The half time whistle went and Boro trudged off disappointed to be a goal down after matching Arsenal in making a spirited game of it and also having a goal of their own struck off for offside. The general impression of the Officials throughout the game was one of being nervous of giving any contentious decisions against one of the Premierships glamour clubs with the world’s media in close observance looking for a story. Consequently any 50/50 decisions seemed very softly biased towards the yellow and grey shirted Gooners as frustrations and whistles grew from the home fans especially towards the assistant running the East touchline.

The second half commenced and apart from Friend for Fabio the line ups were as they were on 45. The Boro fans were giving plenty of vocal support despite the southerners in the corner suddenly finding their voices, amazing what a goal can do after their collective fears of a Boro upset looking distinctly possible until that free kick. Boro though had restarted focussed and determined and just five minutes into the second half Downing operating on the right was fed through by Barragan and delivered a brilliant curling cross into the box to tease the effervescent Negredo to wrong side his defender and squeeze an outstretched leg to toe poke it past Cech, 1-1 and the Riverside erupted!

It was well deserved and the Boro were now looking likely to add to Arsene’s woes especially when we broke out of defence with Ramirez finding himself running onto a cleared ball with two Arsenal defenders desperately chasing him. Tired legs seen Gaston caught and the chance was gone but the hope had lifted the decibels and a chorus of “Arsene Wenger, we want you to stay” reverberated from the back of the North stand. The leggy Gaston was shortly replaced by Traore who immediately went on a trademark run and pinged a cross in. Minutes later he drove into the Arsenal box leaving three or four yellow shirts in his wake but instead of unleashing a shot he frustratingly tried to take an extra touch creating the chance for it to be nicked off his foot and then forlornly fall to the ground hoping for the unlikeliest of penalties.

That unfortunately was pretty much it for Adama as he then ghosted around the pitch neither, closing, chasing or anticipating for the rest of the game. I’m at a loss as to whether he is the most talented but laziest player ever to wear a Boro shirt in my lifetime or just plain challenged in the IQ department. Either way it meant Barragan was more exposed as Stewy had switched over to the left to accommodate his arrival and Arsenal broke down our right with a ball played into the unmarked Ramsey who got in behind the encumbered looking Grant to chest the ball down for Ozil who had ran behind Ayala to slot home. 2-1 and try as we might, battle and scrap and go for it, it just wasn’t to be.

Gestede came on for de Roon who had worked tirelessly and almost immediately fed Negredo who shot from the edge of the box but without much power and Cech was able to get down and smother the attempt. With only ten minutes remaining, tired limbs and heavy hearts Boro kept going but it wasn’t to be and in fact we were lucky not to concede a third as Arsenal broke on the counter attack for Guzan to save our blushes. MOM was probably a toss between Ayala now looking back to his old self and Negredo who at times was winning his own knock downs and chasing, closing, running and tackling when out of possession. Someone needs to sit down with Adama and show the lad Alvaro’s work rate in the game tonight to show what is expected when out of possession.

Ironically there were some positives to take from the match were it not for the fact that games are fast running out and we are now back to relying on other teams to screw up to give us a chink of light. No doubt there will be many sharpening knives for Aggers but I’m not sure how much more he could achieve with the hand he has been dealt and the circumstances and time constraints in which to do it in. It’s not over just yet and each game seems to see an improving facet to Boro yet the returns just aren’t materialising. Had we been in November or December things would feel a lot more hopeful but all we can do now is face each game as if it were a cup tie and slug it out until the end. Swansea and Hull will also drop points and a result away to wobbly Bournemouth and a slip elsewhere could see our hopes elevated once again.

Time to resurrect season that’s been crucified by lack of goals

Boro it appears are now looking for a miracle to maintain their Premier League status as we contemplate at Easter our seemingly entombed position at the depths of the table – talk is about needing four or five wins but the doubting Thomas’s out there will point to the simple fact Boro have not managed a single top-flight victory since before Christmas.

The strikers have been stigmatised for their lack of goals – Boro have failed to score in more than half of their games this season – which has even resulted in being declared the second most boring team in the history of the Premier League. Aitor Karanka may have had his disciples among the faithful but his failure to avoid being tempted by the cautious ways of the Red Devil’s manger ultimately lead many to believe he was no longer the Messiah to keep Boro in the promised land.

Boro supporters are now contemplating a return to the wilderness of the Championship and after waiting seven long years to escape the last footballing famine it’s going to be a heavy cross to bear. OK it’s still not a forgone conclusion – and Saturday’s results have kept a flicker of hope alive – but among the hardened cynical old men of Teesside whistling ‘always look on the bright side of life’ is not usually a tune that is part of their Riverside repertoire.

Whilst results have continued to disappoint there has been somewhat of a fresh approach by Steve Agnew’s new coaching setup. As the anointed successor he has probably been handed something of a poison chalice by Steve Gibson, as he’s not only had to pick up the players, but has been hit with a defensive injury crisis at the very moment he’s been tasked with making the team more progressive.

Though what we have seen is that Agnew is not attached to a particular system and has been quite pragmatic with his tactics. In his four games he’s tried to shuffle his resources and despite two nil-nil’s, there definitely has been more attacking intent on display. He’s even managed to get an off-the-pace deemed Bamford looking close to his old self in a matter of a few weeks.

Though if Boro are going to have any chance to resurrect their season then they are going to need the key players to show their best form – and preferably at the same time. Negredo needs to play more like a striker – though getting onto to crosses has not been remotely a nailed-on scenario for him this season – he’s been for much of this term starved of service so that stoic fasting rather than a feast of goals has been the order of the day. Though he’s not blameless and has often been guilty of not getting into centre-forward positions after the opportunities to score fail to materialise – however, he did look dangerous when he came off the bench against Burnley.

So Boro welcome a rather porous Arsenal side to the Riverside who have lost their last four games on the road in the Premier League, conceding three goals in each of those defeats. Whether Boro can further upset an embattled Arsene Wenger, who continues to  contemplate his future, by making that five away defeats on the spin may pretty much decide both our fates. With two games in hand on Hull it would give the theoretic opportunity (as until the first win arrives I class multiple victories as nothing more than a mathematical exercise) to overhaul them on goal difference if three points at home to Sunderland can be also bagged.

There is good news on the injury front as Friend’s sacred calf has at last been healed and Fabio’s three-game concussion break has finally been knocked on the head. With Ayala looking better with every game it gives the prospect of a return to a more solid and mobile back line. Also Gaston Ramirez has shaken off his ankle injury so in theory will be contemplating putting in a long-awaited performance for any scouts accidentally sitting in front of  the TV.

There has been talk of continuing with a 3-5-2 formation as the way forward – personally, I don’t think Boro have the midfield players to make that formation work effectively as it essentially means three centre-backs matched with three defensive midfielders – admittedly Boro looked more solid and did try to get forward but actually created very little real attacking threat until the substitutions came on against Burnley. So if Boro decide against a back four, I think 3-4-3 may be a better option (or variations of) in order to have more attack-minded players on the pitch. Perhaps a front three of Gaston, Negredo and Adama would worry the Gunners defence more than other permutations would.

OK time to put all your chocolate eggs in one basket and contemplate your predictions – will Monday be the start of an Easter rising up the table? or will Boro freeze like an Easter bunny caught in the headlights of expectation? As usual give your thoughts on the score and scorers – plus will Arsene Wenger’s failing eyesight fail to see a Boro nailed-on penalty along with the Ref.

 

 

 

A satirical re-boot of some ‘highlights’ in Karanka’s reign

As Boro’s post-Karanka plight continues to take on a rather gloomy tone, I was reminded by Craig Hignett’s recent interview on his departure of a few satirical posts that I wrote on Untypical Boro that gave an alternative view of some of the more bizarre moments of Aitor Karanka’s reign – including Karanka’s ‘apology’ after being dismissed against Blackburn, the post-Charlton-gate statement and Leo’s tussle on the sidelines against Preston.

 

Higgygate

Higgy-gate

After Craig Hignett recently spoke publicly for the first time about his sudden departure from Boro as assistant to Aitor Karanka – he explained : “I only had one fallout with Aitor but with him there’s no coming back from it. If you fall out with him, that’s it. It can never be repaired.”

Hignett added: “He was difficult to work with at times. The way he works is very intense. He’s a perfectionist. Sometimes that can be a good thing, but on the other hand, I think there is a time and a place to enjoy what you’re doing. At times you couldn’t do that. Aitor just wanted to micro-manage everything, and I struggled with that at times, if I am honest.”

Hignett’s tenure at Boro came to an end in December 2014 a few days after Aitor Karanka was banished to the stand following Blackburn’s late equaliser in a 1-1 draw at the Riverside (incidently scored by Rudy Gestede) and was subsequently charged with improper conduct by the Football Association.

“It was my first sending off,” said Aitor. “Again I want to apologise because I know I made a mistake.

Though Karanka didn’t actually make the apology himself as he went on to explain “After the game a member of my staff apologised to the fourth official and the referee also.”

It was subsequently announced a few days later that Karanka had decided to part company with his first team assistant Craig Hignett with immediate effect – even though earlier that Saturday on the BBC’s Football Focus the Boro boss had praised Hignett saying: “I didn’t know a lot of things and he is the person who helps me with these kind of things. He helps with training sessions and he is very, very important for me.”

Anyway here is a video link of the Karanka interview where he gives his take on these matters after they had occurred.

All of which lead me to give this satirical view of how the departure of Craig Hignett may have come to pass (posted on Untypical Boro on 6 December 2014)

Before we move on to Millwall, I opened a bottle of Merlot earlier and listened to the latest installment of the Tripe Supper to see what the latest take on Higgygate was but I was left feeling that the tipping point moment still hasn’t yet been pinned down.

I was also surprised that nobody made reference to the latest snippet to come from Karanka that following the Blackburn game he sent one of his members of staff to the apologise to the officials for his conduct. Am I the only one who finds that a bit unusual? And perhaps the identity of the member of staff involved in this proxy apology may shed more light on Higgygate – I think the scenario may have unfolded something like this…

[Shortly after the game finished the coaching team arrive in their room and the mood is one of anger – Karanka is clearly animated and speaking Spanish loudly – Higgy looks on and tries to show some empathy in the absence of knowing what is being said]

AK: ‘Unbelievable, the ref has clearly missed an obvious foul, how can this guy send me off to the stands for simply questioning the decision’

LP: ‘I think he thought you may have pushed the fourth official’

AK: ‘Nonsense, I didn’t push him – I was only trying to demonstrate the push on Dimi’

LP: ‘Still you could be in big trouble, so you better apologise before he writes his report’

AK: ‘if I personally go and apologise it’s going to look too obvious – maybe you should do it for me and explain it was a misunderstanding.

LP: ‘No way, we Latin types are too Macho to do that apologising nonsense

CC: ‘What about the English guy? they’re always saying sorry – if you stand on their foot accidentally they will tell you sorry and it even looks like they mean it’

AK: ‘Good Idea Carlos!’

[The conversation switches to English]

AK: ‘Craig, as my most important assistant I would like you to tell the officials that we are sorry for the way we behaved earlier’

CH: ‘We? I didn’t do anything’

AK: ‘It will be better coming from a native English speaker – one of us could easily say the wrong thing and make it worse’

CH: ‘OK, but you owe me one’

[Higgy leaves the room and goes to speak with the officials and returns a few minutes later]

AK: ‘How did it go Craig?’

CH: ‘Not too bad – I basically said you were sorry you pushed him and he wrote it in his notebook’

AK: ‘You said what? but you were supposed to explain that I didn’t push him! – That’s it, they’re definitely going to ban me now – OK from now on Leo is in charge of the cones!’

CH: ‘Take it back boss, the cones are a red line for me’

AK: ‘Sorry Craig, but I’ve made this decision for the good of the club’

Charlton-gate

Karanka Charlton-gate

When Aitor Karanka did not take charge of the Sunday match against Charlton after his walk-out from the training ground two days earlier on Friday following an argument at a team meeting it seemed Boro’s promotion campaign had been derailed.

His future at the club looked to be uncertain after walking out and rumours were reported in the press that he had told friends that he was finding Stewart Downing ‘difficult’ and that he wasn’t his signing.

In a statement, the club said: “Middlesbrough can confirm that Aitor Karanka did not take training on Saturday morning and he will not be in the dugout on Sunday and instead assistant head coach Steve Agnew will take charge of the team for fixture at Charlton Athletic.”

They added “We appreciate supporters will want to know further details, but at this time the club cannot make any further comment and is solely focused on Sunday’s game at The Valley.”

The game was subsequently lost 2-0 as Boro failed to perform against second-bottom Charlton and it was announced a few days later following talks at the club with Steve Gibson that Aitor Karanka would continue as head coach.

In his first interview after Charlton-gate (shown in this video link), Aitor Karanka seemed to dismiss the whole episode – it was as if nothing had ever happened

It was this attempt to brush the whole episode under a rather large spun red rug that prompted me to post this satirical club statement on Untypical Boro…

We wish to acknowledge that today’s interview with Aitor Karanka has cleared up the misunderstanding that there was indeed a misunderstanding between him and anybody at the club – there was no confusion about him staying at the club by either him or the club.

In order to avoid further confusion he was simply told to stay away from the club until any misunderstanding or confusion had been cleared up by Steve Gibson by meeting personally with all parties to clarify that there was definitely no misunderstanding.

We wish to thank Steve Agnew for helping the club avoid any further confusion by helping to deal with the misunderstanding that there was a misunderstanding.

Thanks to everyone for their understanding in clearing up this matter

[That was a clarification statement issued on behalf of the Campaign for Plain English after being translated using Google from the original Spanish text entitled The Reign From Spain Falls Mainly Short of Plain]

Boro-hemian Rhapsody

Leo throw-in

In April 2016, during a hard-fought 1-0 victory against Preston at the Riverside an unseemly squabble on the touchline broke out after Leo Percovich grabbed a dead ball and refused to return it for the Preston throw-in.

The discovery that Leo’s name was in fact short for ‘Galileo Galilei’ provoked me into thinking of the whole episode with Queen’s operatic Bohemian Rhapsody played as the backing track and it inspired the following post on Untypical Boro…

Rather interestingly, Leo’s full name is Galileo Galilei Percovich Lopes (note the Leo derives from the end of Galileo) – it may be significant in explaining the ‘throw in’ incident…

Perhaps from the corner of his eye he caught a little silhouette of a man from the Preston bench going for the ball and decided to take on the role of Scaramouch (which literally translates as ‘the little skirmisher’ and was a 16th century clown from Italian improvised comedy theatre).

He certainly seemed to lead the Preston bench a merry dance as they tried to get hold of the ball – but whether some Boro supporters had chanted to ask whether he can also do the Fandango, is not clear.

With Leo having a face like thunder and with lightening reactions he grabbed the ball and the situation appeared very very frightening.

He thought he heard the supporters chanting his name

Gallileo, Gallileo,
Gallileo, Gallileo,

Then Karanka tried to diffuse the situation by explaining that Leo was just a poor boy from a poor family and he should spare him from this monstrosity

[But the Preston bench were having none of it and shouted]

Easy! come on! easy! will you let it go

[But Leo’s passion got the better of him and grasped the ball even tighter as the skirmish ensued]

Bismillah! No I will not let it go – let it go
Bismillah! No I will not let it go – let it go
Bismillah! No I will not let it go – let it go
Will not let it go let it go (never)
Never let it go let it go
Never let it go ooo
No, no, no, no, no, no, no

[At this point the fourth official intervened and Preston finally got to take their throw in]

Ref ruins run in as Boro’s winless run continues

Bright Spring sunshine bathed the Riverside with a warm glow at least for those of us in the North, South and East Stands. The atmosphere was building nicely beforehand with both sets of fans finding their voices no doubt aided by some liquid refreshment to quell the heat stress. Boro as suspected went with three at the back perhaps as a deliberate tactic or the fact that it was barrel bottom scraping time when it came to defenders.

In fairness the three at the back put in a display that was unrecognisable from the showing on Wednesday night. They contained the twin Burnley strike threat of Gray and Barnes comfortably and rarely looked too stretched. Ayala in particular looked to be getting back into his stride, it was just as well because Barnes clearly had instructions to rough him up and the two of them were constantly “embracing” in the first half with the Ref Martin Atkinson eventually having to speak to the pair.

The tempo in the first half was mostly from Boro with Barragan and Downing pushed up high in a midfield five with Grant, Clayts and Forshaw central. With those three policing the centre of the pitch Burnley struggled to make any impression in the middle ground and Stewy and Barragan were under clear instructions to get down the flanks and ping crosses in for Gestede presumably with the hope that Stuani would pick up the stray balls. I picked the word “stray” deliberately as while Gestede would rise majestically and beat Keane in the air there was very little that came from the second phase immediately afterwards. Stuani like the entire Boro side put in a battling performance, chasing, closing down, looking for opportunities, full of running and willing to get in blocks and tackles but nothing where it counted.

In all honesty there wasn’t a solitary bad performance from anyone in Red and there was a lot of endeavour, energy and determination on display, Barragan had probably his best game. Clayts and Grant bossed and snarled determined to not go down with a whimper. Forshaw was a little quieter first half but put a shift in. Boro’s new formation looked as though it had Dyche on the back foot for much of the first half as Boro constantly thrust forwards but the quality at the sharp end in finishing was where we fizzled out. In fairness Burnley are well drilled and disciplined and breaking them down was never going to be easy but we did just lack that spark, an individual bit of magic.

There were decent chances, a ball from Stewy flashed across the six yard box but there was no red sock to toe poke home when we needed it. Boyd had a chance but missed the target fortuitously whilst a free kick looked to me to be finger tipped by a diving Valdes onto the crossbar but the Ref seen it as a miss and so a corner was avoided. Speaking of corners there was an altercation which consisted of Ward trying to barge into Valdes protected by Barragan who pushed and jostled back and then a right arm flew out from Ward leaving Barragan prostrate with Martin Atkinson giving a foul to Boro meaning he clearly seen something but decided to bottle giving a red card for the first time this afternoon.

Despite overwhelming possession and balls fizzing into the Burnley box with regular aplomb the first half finished 0-0. I remarked at half time that whilst our endeavours were certainly heartening the Sun would eventually take its toll in the final 20 minutes unless we had something to hang on to. If there was a criticism it was that we sometimes laboured in possession instead of springing out quickly but after Wednesday night the cautious trio in the middle could be forgiven.

The second half started with Boro again going for it but the lack of an outlet and creativity was starting to become glaringly obvious plus the exertion and heat was starting to take effect as predicted. Negredo came on around 60 minutes for Stuani who hadn’t had many chances but let Burnley know they were in a game.

Whilst understandable and Negredo’s intent almost getting himself booked within a few minutes of entering the fray the lack of a “spark” seemed the greater need. Ten minutes later, on seventy minutes (and probably ten or fifteen minutes too late) Traore came on for the tiring Gestede. Finally we had a bit of spark with Adama playing centrally and a burst  through the Burnley defence shortly after leaving three in his wake seen him set up Clayton with a chance for glory and rip the net open but he disappointingly chipped it neatly into the arms of Heaton. Stewy got around the back of their defence worked a cross in and Negredo’s acrobatic overhead kick saw Heaton pull off the save of the day.

Another ball in the box saw an Ayala header cleared off the line for it to fall to Negredo who put the ball in the back of the net but Atkinson had ruled for a free kick in favour of Burnley who had Barton laid out cold after Ayala’s innocuous challenge about thirty seconds previously. It looked to me like the Officials bottled awarding the goal as a player was laid out in the six yard box who then miraculously after magic sponge intervention rose from the dead.

Grant had been clattered into with a two footed lunge but jumped up immediately saving the offending Burnley player a straight Red in sharp contrast to the actions of Barton. The last throw of the dice seen Bamford come on and almost immediately latch onto a through ball to be upended by last man Keane for a straight Red yet remarkably a free kick was awarded along with a yellow. Downing then had his effort curling into the top corner cleared off the line by Lowton, another day and an entirely different ending. Bamford again broke clean through but this time a last ditch sliding tackle saved Burnley’s blushes from their former reject’s revenge.

MOM undoubtedly were the Boro supporters who were loud and loyal throughout, on the pitch there were signs of optimism albeit probably too late to save us now. On the pitch Grant probably just edged it with his graft and never say die spirit. 0-0 and another blank sheet but a far better performance which maybe just needed some injection a little earlier but all in all something that at least showed the players still care. Just a shame that the Ref was more concerned about Dyche’s after match responses than following the laws of the game.

Boro look to rebuild belief as Dyche arrives with Fat Lady

Hot on the caustic heels of the Flamingo Land dance into oblivion comes a chances to pick up the pieces with the Legoland encounter with Sean Dyche’s Burnley. Whilst The Clarets have been quaffing the points on their own turf down at the moor they’ve been unable to construct a single victory away along the Lego-brick road. Though should Boro go in search of the fabled wizard it won’t be a quest for a heart or courage, as that is something that the team is not evidently lacking – though perhaps a new brain is needed at the club that can be picked at over the summer in order to find a new way forward.

Though guest of honour on Saturday will no doubt be the much maligned presence of the infamous Fat Lady as she becomes increasingly confident of getting the gig at the Riverside. The only question now seems to be which song she’ll opt for – “Going down with the Mackems” is perhaps not one of Verdi’s most well known arias, so she may instead possibly opt for something more pertinent like ‘Time to say Goodbye’ or even La Traviata – which also translates as ‘the one who goes astray’ – since somehow, other than the passes from midfield, plenty has gone astray in our debut season given the club spent seven years fighting to get here.

But it’s not over just now as she hasn’t even got to the mic yet – though I suspect there will be little chance of wrestling that off Mark Page – god knows many have tried – however, she may just be able to throw her weight around to grasp it off him, but given the volume setting of his PA I fear every window in Teesside will be shattered along with our hearts should she succeed in hitting those high notes.

Still even for the most optimistic it’s hard to envisage where Boro go from here – Agnew was initially confident that he knew what was needed to turn the season around. He believed that a shift in emphasis to a more attacking game-plan was going to pay dividends – but a slightly crest-fallen head coach declared his side were ‘naive’ after the Tigers clawed their way out of the bottom three at Boro’s expense – and admitted they didn’t get the balance right between attack and defence.

Though what that balance exactly is appears to be somewhat of a conundrum amongst the ever increasing resigned Boro faithful. Does it mean a return to three defensive midfielders following our boys shipping four goals on the Humber? If so, where does that leave our attacking intent and will that once again leave Boro with an ineffective isolated centre-forward?

If you lose your nerve after one failed attempt of trying to take the game to the opposition then surely the whole basis of your methodology is then almost worthless. What we actually witnessed against Hull was a poor defensive display by probably our weakest back-four line-up for several years given that Ayala is barely match-fit, Barragan is low on quality and Husband made his PL debut. Karanka managed adequately with two defensive midfielders for the vast majority of his tenure – indeed he probably played 4-4-1-1 in nearly half his games given that Boro played with dedicated wingers and a number ten and centre-forward. We shouldn’t think three defensive midfielders has been the rock on which Boro previously succeeded – that system has actually delivered us very few points indeed.

Perhaps a return to the tried and tested Clayton-Leadbitter axis would make more sense to start games with as they work together – plus Grant has more range in his passing that is required by at least one of the midfield duo. OK perhaps he’s not got the legs for the PL but he should be able to still see us through to the last half-hour.

It’s not going to be easy for Agnew against Burnley as he’s basically got the same defensive selection dilemma to deal with – Friend and Chambers still not fit and Fabio still serving his seven-day concussion break. Husband looked a bit shell-shocked when he came off and Downing spent most of the first half covering for him – as did Adama for a lacklustre Barragan – so would the Boro boss go again with this selection? not if he’s watched the match video at least once I suspect.

I’m almost wondering if he will be forced to plump for a back three – and personally I’d play my biggest three against Burnley – so Ayala, Fry and Gibson it would be for me. But perhaps 3-4-3 may be the best way to play a back three for Boro with Downing on the left and someone really good on the right (who’s name escapes me). That would leave a front three of Negredo (left), Gestede and Adama. Though it’s highly unlikely Agnew will play his fourth formation in four games as he may leave himself open to the accusation of managing on the hoof if it goes wrong.

So despite Sean Dyche denying he’s playing mind games by declaring “Every team we play will all be thinking, ‘we don’t want to be the side they beat’. They know people will be reminding them of the fact we haven’t won away” – he most definitely is. But Boro really have no choice in trying to win the game and Agnew won’t want to be too cautious in what is now more of a ‘must win’ game than the last two ‘must win’ games. At least the new Boro boss is good with numbers as he has concluded “I’m confident, three points can bring you closer to the rest” – personally I’m almost convinced four straight wins will bring us very close indeed – perhaps too close!

So will Boro send Sean Dyche back to Legoland in pieces after building a winning platform? or will the cracks start to show in a hastily constructed Boro team as they fall apart and leave the supporters bricking it over our slim survival chances. As usual it’s time make your predictions – will Boro finally win a game and if so what will be the score and who will the scorers be (yes we can now suggest more than one goal is possible even if one should have been disallowed) – plus any suggestion for what the Fat lady should sing if she ends up taking centre-stage?

 

Boro’s survival hopes now at last chance saloon

Boro may have been quick on the draw this season but it’s now time to start winning games as that well known gambler Slim Chance just rode into town and doesn’t like the way we are looking at him. Our situation is certainly looking dicey as we approach the last throws of our Premiership survival prospects and Boro’s gunslingers have spent most of the year in the corner of the Saloon shooting craps (or something similar).

After returning home from the far west at the weekend the new boss has been patching up his boys and may be ready to trust them with live ammunition instead of allowing them to continue to fire blanks. As part of target practice, I imagine Big Rudy has been rounding up the cattle at the Hurworth Ranch with his banjo and will be desperate to avoid being branded as a misfiring hand.

The main problem (in addition to the obvious main one) for Boro is in defence – we may have one of the meanest in the league but it’s now one of the most thread-bare. The Doc has rightly signed off a concussed Fabio, who needs to be kept out of the fray this week for his own welfare – no doubt a trick a few supporters may be contemplating if things go badly this evening. George may be ‘in a good place’ according to Agnew but that place is not in the team just yet.

Also Chambers has only just started light jogging (or walking as Adama would call it), which just leaves Barragan as the only fit (in the physical sense) regular full-back – apparently he did throw his hat into the ring as an option for left-back – but sadly it was ruled an illegal throw. Incidentally, when I look at Adama’s leg-like arms, am I the only one who thinks he could probably throw a ball out of the ground?

So there now seems a possibility that Boro’s estranged Husband might get a chance to play away from home today – he’s waited two years for his opportunity and given we’ve got no other options there is now every chance that he’ll finally be given a ‘vote of confidence’ – which will no doubt come as a relief to Downing who’s ageing legs probably need to be employed further up the pitch.

There’s also a possibility that a lame Gaston Ramirez will have shrugged off his ankle problems and be ready to put in another limp performance for the cause. Then there’s Negredo, who for me has started to look like he wants to play as an attacking midfielder rather than an out-and-out striker – perhaps the Spanish left-footer should be deployed on the wings instead?

As it stands following Tuesday’s games, Leicester have rattled up their fifth successive win and are now disappearing over the horizon and riding into the sunset – as are Burnley who just chalked up their tenth home win against a surely doomed Sunderland – the only good news is that The Clarets have yet to win on the road (I know what many of you are thinking but don’t even go there).

So realistically it’s looking like two from three to join not so slap-happy David ‘women are girls and should know their place’ Moyes and his not-so-lucky Black Cats – hopefully Swansea won’t show Spurs something they kept from revealing to us at the weekend.

So take a deep breath and get ready to make your predictions – though in case you are getting all optimistic and have been allowed access to combustible foam hands it’s probably better to do a Bill Clinton and not inhale. The one nagging stat (other than the three goals in three months and no wins) is that new Hull boss, Marco Silva, has never lost a home game in his four years as a manager – probably exemplified by his last game when finding his team one down against the Hammers switched to 4-2-4 for the second half – almost a UEFA McClarenesque strategy – he’s still available I believe…

So will our brave bunch of desperados start shooting from the hip with all guns blazing in an attempt to see off their rival gang and live to fight another day? or will our patched up bunch of cowpokes receive a tactical bum steer as Boro’s survival hopes finally bite the dust. As usual predict you line-up, score and scorers – also will Adama be under instructions to block-tackle Barragan as he attempts to fetch the ball for a last-minute throw-in?

 

 

Soporific Swansea stalemate

The bright South Wales sunshine brought a small chink of hope when we found out Llorente was injured and wouldn’t make the game. For Boro it was pretty much a fairly predictable line up with no surprise returns for Ayala or even a Husband or a Bamford. Barragan was on the right, Fabio left with Bernardo and Ben in the middle of the backline. The main difference to an AK side was the inclusion of Downing in the central No.10 role leaving just two DM’s in Clayts and de Roon. Negredo was up front supported by Traore right and Gaston left.

The game started with a fairly steady if uninspiring pace with neither side exactly “going for it” from the off although there were at least a few early robust challenges. Boro started the brighter and Negredo had a half heated hand ball claim against Mawson in the penalty box. Traore looked lively and ran at them causing mayhem but after 20 minutes or so things eased off and Swansea dominated possession with Narsingh giving Fabio a tough time, eventually leading to a yellow card for our potential player of the season. Nerves were clearly to the fore as neither side wanted to do anything sloppy and as such it was far from a classic. Traore played a peach of a ball over the top through to a marginally onside Negredo who uncharacteristically failed to bring it down, the ball spun away and the clean through chance was gone.

Swansea’s possession stat was growing but it was against a Boro side well drilled in the art of soaking up pressure. Valdes pulled off one good save but other than that and a fumbled punch and re-grasp (as the ball came off the back of Bernardo) we rarely looked threatened. Ramirez was fairly quiet in the game and an innocuous looking challenge lead to him being grounded clasping his right ankle only to pull up two minutes later to leave the pitch for Gestede to enter the fray, Agnew switching to a more straightforward 442 with Downing switching from central to the left flank. The half time whistle came and apart from the one Valdes save there was very little for either Keeper to do in the opening 45.

The second half started with the same nervy tempo with the up till then relatively quiet Sigurdsson testing Valdes from distance with a weak speculative effort. Without Llorente Swansea were fizzling out in the final third despite Olsson and Narsingh offering pace down the flanks their final ball wasn’t ideal for Ayew. On 52 minutes Boro worked a ball up to Gestede who laid it off to Negredo who dummied it and let in run for Traore who cut into the box and saw his shot pass Fabianski but just past the wrong side of the far post.

That Traore effort seemed to spark Swansea into life and they upped the pressure but 5 minutes later Traore again burst out of defence leaving a despairing Mawson lunge which earned him yellow for his troubles as had Fer in the first half for a similar attempt on stopping him. A serious looking injury to Fabio had us all worried as he landed badly looking dazed and concussed. As if our defensive injury crisis wasn’t bad enough whilst down to 10 men Sigurdsson had a brilliant strike and an equal save from Valdes. Forshaw entered the fray on 64 minutes for the Ayatollah impersonating Fabio with Downing dropping into the LB slot, changing position now for the third time in the game.

A drop ball saw Barragan nick the ball from the two nominated players contending the drop ball much to the chagrin of Clement and the home fans. His cheek continued further up the pitch when he was consequently fouled and then wound up the Swansea fans further when he pinched a yard (or two) on the free kick. Whether it was brewing or because off or perhaps the need for points but the game became a little tetchier afterwards as the home fans suddenly found their voices. Unfortunately for Boro with Forshaw arriving and the default 3 DM’s by accident rather than design we lost some of our creativity.

Barragan played Traore through on 78 minutes with Negredo waiting in the box but Fabianski got down to the cross. The subsequent break from Swansea saw Gestede pick up a fortunate yellow for a two footed tackle. Ten minutes to go and Swansea were forcing the game with Boro relying on our stalwart defence and Traore’s pace in the hope of finding Negredo or Gestede. A drag back from Bernardo gave away a stupid free kick just on the edge of our 18 yard box and we sat with hearts in our mouths as Sigurdsson took aim. Fortunately Sigurdsson’s attempt was well wide courtesy of a Forshaw “deflection” and after an ensuing series of calamitous desperate defending Gestede again launched a desperate lunge and lucky not to see red.

With two minutes to go Fer broke free and charged down the middle of the pitch with the Boro defence left in his wake but fortunately Downing chasing back done enough to put him off and push him wide. We had an opportunity one minute into injury time with a throw in 10 yards from the Swansea corner flag and Barragan frustratingly produced yet another foul throw. Seconds later Negredo put in a brilliant cross for Gestede who rose but headed the wrong side of the post in what was probably our best opportunity. Hitting the target would have been easier than missing but that’s what happens when you are down in the bottom three. Then Negredo was played through by Traore with seconds remaining but was pushed wide and the chance faded for a goal kick. 0-0 it ended, a result which done neither side a great deal of good but better than a defeat and in nine games time who knows we may be grateful for that point and let’s face it when have Boro ever done it the easy way?

SOS (Save Our Season): All old Boro hands on deck

There’s been a new dawn at Boro with a new crew in charge and a few familiar faces back on board as the club embark upon a journey this week that will hopefully keep our season afloat. These next three fixtures potentially offer the team a safe passage out of the bottom three but it won’t be by any means plain sailing. The supporters have been in the Doldrums for many weeks now but following Karanka’s mutual decision to walk the plank it is hoped by many that it’s now all hands on deck and we can avoid that sinking feeling.

It’s now two week since Aitor Karanka left the building and it appears the club have moved on quite rapidly. Perhaps it’s just the way of football but many of the appointees of Karanka have pretty smartly followed him out of the door and a new regime is already starting to take shape.

It appears the club is undergoing a de-Spanification with the departures of First Team Fitness Coach Carlos Cachada – Senior analyst and assistant coach Juanjo Vila, assistant analyst Guillermo Alonso Salinas and interim goalkeeping coach Marcos Abad.

Presumably, these departures must have been at least partly the decision of Steve Agnew as no doubt he will have preferred to appoint his own people instead. Which to me indicates that there has been a decision that a new approach was needed, though perhaps more accurately that a change in emphasis is required.

Carlos Cachada had the title of fitness coach but his role was wider – coincidentally, Jonathan Woodgate revealed to the Gazette earlier this year that Cachada took care of much of the defensive coaching at Rockliffe Park, though it was normally Karanka that devised the drills. So does that mean we’ll be seeing a different approach at the back and will the appointment of Stewart Downing’s brother-in-law as a first team coach be as Cachada’s replacement?

On the face of it, Woodgate doesn’t have a particularly strong background in coaching and has only just achieved his badges – indeed the 37 year-old’s previous employment after leaving Boro was as a scout in Spain for Liverpool – So why has he been brought to the party?

I think he is probably going to take on the role of conduit between the players and Agnew – as a former Boro squad member, he not only knows the players but was a popular figure and commands their respect. There is a suggestion that Woody will perhaps be able to encourage that vital extra few percent out of the players because of the currency and bond he still retains – particularly as Agnew will probably need to distance himself personally now he is the main man picking the team.

Another Middlesbrough lad, under-23s coach Paul Jenkins has now made the step up to assist Steve Agnew with first team duties. In an interview on the MFC website he spoke about how he has known Steve for around 15 years from their time working together at the Boro academy, in which they have developed and shared a footballing philosophy. His role will be to devise with Agnew training sessions in co-ordination with Adam Kerr, who is head of fitness, to help achieve the changes on the pitch that they want to make. He also revealed that the players were enjoying these intense sessions and there was a good atmosphere in the camp with the players raring to go.

In Addition, Stephen Gent has stepped up from his role as opposition analyst to Head of Match analysis to replace the outgoing Spanish analysts – so despite the departures it appears that there should be some continuity in the level of match preparations.

Joe Jordan completes the coaching team and has 30 years experience both as a manager and as an assistant – notably to Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth, Spurs and QPR, where he’s hopefully picked up the key points on how to avoid relegation. Redknapp said of Jordan as a coach that “You could put your life on him…He’s quiet, but when he says something, it is worth listening to.” – whilst The Herald described Jordan the coach of having ‘presence and natural authority’. The only caveat is that he admittedly didn’t expect to have another job in football so perhaps he’s not looking at Boro as a move to enhance his career.

Oh, and just in case any more characters in the coaching staff were needed, we have Leo back on duty as goalkeeping coach – it’s quite interesting that he has remained at the club given the other departures and his close association as possibly the de facto number two under Karanka. Perhaps he and Agnew got on well, he certainly wears his heart on his sleeve – though sometimes he looks like he is in the mood to wear other people’s hearts on his sleeve too.

Overall, I think the primary purpose of the coaching team is simply to galvanise the Boro players to get them in the right frame of mind for the task ahead – I suspect whilst many were on board with Karanka, no doubt there were several players who no longer bought into his methods and had lost the desire and motivation necessary at this level. The tactical role of the new team appears to be about changing the emphasis from stopping the opposition to empowering the players to take control of their own destiny.

A team will function best when everyone is pulling in the same direction and it was almost inevitable that once results entered a downward spiral, especially the prolonged goal drought, the cohesive fabric of the whole team would start to wear thin. I’ve already covered the potential pitfalls of Karanka’s methodolgy (A big club methodology for a small town in Europe) and the reality of any manager is that football is primarily a results-based occupation.

There can’t be many occupations where you can never reach a certain level or comfort zone – rather it expects year-on-year improvement to display that you are still capable of doing your job – in fact logic demands that your chances of managing that are pretty slim and at some point you will hit the wall. The problem is often one of belief from those under your control and from those above you who are assessing your performance – not to mention the thousands of observers and media pundits who will scrutinise your performance and make their opinions known.

The hope now is that Boro get that famous new manager bounce – it’s not guaranteed but it has become expected by supporters – I suspect you are probably more likely to get that bounce when you remove the point of tension and lift the pressure. Though for Boro, the real point of pressure was not Karanka but it is achieving that first victory and ending our horrendous run. I’m of the view that the players probably didn’t need a new figurehead coming in who would try to impose a radical change of tactics – they probably didn’t need the prospect of embarking on new set of instructions that some may fail to grasp or execute and feel under pressure to impress. They most likely need to feel confident that what they are being asked to do personally is something that is within their capability and will work for them – the time for heavy duty tactical drills and methodologies is pre-season once the players have been refreshed by a break.

Boro now have three crucial games in six days and realistically there will be little time on the training pitch in-between games. A methodology based on stopping the opposition will have little opportunity to be honed tactically, so worrying about opposition first could possibly lead to indecision and paralysis on the pitch. Personally, I believe a better strategy for these games will be to give the opposition something to keep them occupied in their own half – the problem that Boro have had this year was that the opposition knew we would be playing with only one man isolated up front and would slowly build from the back, allowing them time to get into position.

The trip to Swansea is up first and they have labelled this a crucial game for their survival hopes – Boro know what they now have to do, it’s catch-up time, but the teams above us now have something to hold on to and that in some ways it puts the pressure on them. In addition, they now don’t know what to expect from Boro – will it be business as usual or will it be something completely unexpected? Boro have the opportunity to catch Swansea on the back foot, their weakness is clearly in defence and it’s not that long since they normally shipped three goals a game and having lost their last two games they will be a little less sure.

Other teams above us have already had their bounce after their change of managers – the football laws of gravity determine that at some point they will start to fall again after the initial energy starts to dissipate. Perhaps the depth and velocity of Boro’s fall will allow us an even greater bounce?

Boro should treat the Swansea game as a must win – whilst one point is not a bad result given Swansea are a team we want to overhaul – three would give us that momentum that is urgently needed and give vindication to the new setup that would suddenly make the trip to Hull eagerly anticipated. With Burnley at home next Saturday, there would be a real prospect of finding ourselves out of the bottom three – or at the very least with escape within our grasp.

The team for Swansea will be interesting, though perhaps the line-up will contain few surprises. The defence has been bolstered by the return of Ayala to training but it appears George and Chambers are still quite a bit away from returning. It would normally mean Fabio playing left-back but I wonder if Husband will get his chance – options are limited at full-back so it’s likely to be Barragan. I’m still hoping that the three defensive midfielders has been scratched from the play book as we really need to get our attacking players on the pitch if Boro are going to start winning games. There has been many calls for 4-4-2 or probably 4-4-1-1, with Negredo supported by Gestede – that would probably mean Downing on the left and Gaston on the right.

OK, time to give your thoughts for the week ahead – will Boro be swanning around after the game on Sunday showing off their three points? or will Boro be rehearsing their Premiership swansong after yet another defeat? As usual make your team predictions, score and scorers – plus will Harry Redknapp be spotted in the crowd with his dog in a Boro scarf?

Exmil Challenge Part II

Just a reminder that entries for the second part of the challenge should be submitted before 3pm on Saturday. You can find a link to the interactive entry form by clicking on the blue Exmil Challenge banner at the top of the right column


Entry Form Part 2 Banner

Week of Destiny

As a special match preview bonus ahead of the week of destiny, Redcar Red has been casting his eye over the fixtures that involve our relegation rivals.

Looking ahead to the week of destiny obviously we are well aware of our own fixtures for these three games but there are some other interesting ties that will also shape our fortune not least of all on the second weekend when we host Burnley at the Riverside.

The day before we go down to South Wales, Palace will have had to negotiate Chelsea at the Bridge so highly likely they will return empty handed. Hull are at home to the Hammers and that could go either way I suppose but what are the odds of Snoddy hitting the winner after a disappointing spell in East London.

Leicester I suspect will continue to pull clear as they seem to have rediscovered their form of last season but they are at home to Stoke and Hughes’s men seem capable of grinding out results and with Champions League distractions who knows how their season will pan out. Sunderland are away to Watford where I think they will in all likelihood lose but could sneak a point, being honest if we have to start worrying about the Makems then we may as well give up now.

Midweek sees Leicester and Sunderland go head to head, not sure how I want that one to pan out. If Leicester are going to keep pulling away then we may as well see Sunderland tonked but with nerves jangling who knows. Palace are away to the Saints so lets pray for a home win. Spurs travel to Swansea and have plenty still to play for. Then on Wednesday Boro are away to Hull, we know only too well what is at stake down on the Humber that night!

It’s the following weekend though that could see us really restore hope and belief assuming we get a bit of luck during the previous two schedules. Travel sick Burnley will come to a fired up Riverside cauldron complete with bad boy Barton. Hull are away at Man City, Swansea away to the Hammers while Leicester are hopefully choking on the Toffees. Sunderland “entertain” Mourinho’s United while Palace face the Arsenal. There is a good chance that some of our mini league competitors could lose ground whilst we could make up three points.

If in worse case we finish the week of destiny two points adrift of safety there is always that home game against Sunderland but it would be nice to put a few of our fellow strugglers to the sword and push on ourselves. Two wins and a draw, I can dream can’t I? I suppose three straight wins would be being greedy and unrealistic considering we have only won four all season but its now or never!

This Weekend

Chelsea v Palace
Hull v West Ham
Leicester v Stoke
Watford v Sunderland
Swansea v Middlesbrough

Midweek

Leicester v Sunderland
Hull v Middlesbrough
Southampton v Palace
Swansea v Spurs

Next Weekend

Man City v Hull
Middlesbrough v Burnley
West Ham v Swansea
Everton v Leicester
Sunderland v Man Utd
Palace v Arsenal