Thursday, 5 January 2012

Spoiling The Party?

It's ironic that I was trumpeting our "end product" on New Year's Eve. For as we enter 2012, we appear to have completely lost it. Both the second half against Peterborough and the entirety of the Blackpool match have been a reminder that we're not as good as we think we are. Again.

Fans will argue with me that there is no cause for alarm, as we've had wake up calls like this before. (I'll talk about one of those at a later date.) But there are hints that this may be more than just a simple "wake up call". 

Anthony Vickers has reassuringly proclaimed that, of the top four teams in the division, we are the "form team". Thinking about both Southampton and West Ham's recent slip-ups, and glancing quickly at the top two "form sides", should be enough reason for us to smile.

Boro - Won 4, Drawn 1, Lost 1. Points 13.
Cardiff - Won 3, Drawn 2, Lost 1. Points 11.

But look closer. Take away the last two games, and what do you get?

Boro - Won 4, Drawn 0, Lost 0. Points 12.
Cardiff - Won 1, Drawn 2, Lost 1. Points 5.

Quite a gap has been made up by the Bluebirds, hasn't it?

How I wish that was the whole story. Alas, it isn't.

A look at the last three games will tell you that for one and a half of those games, we had conceded no goals, however well or poorly we had played. In the next game and a half, we conceded four goals - and it will be very difficult for you to convince me that this wasn't due to the loss of Nicky Bailey half way through the Posh game.

Described by our own Jeff Winter last year as a "poor man's Phil Stamp" - oh, how he must be eating those words now! - Bailey has been transformed under Tony Mowbray, to the point where we can call him Boro's Roy Keane. Someone who rarely does anything wrong and, along with Barry Robson, inspires Boro to play above themselves.

As Big Jack said back in 1993, you can cope with most team situations, but when you start tinkering with the engine of a side, you're into potential trouble. Worse still, it's not a short-term injury - it's damage to his ligaments, one of football's most serious injuries. It may be up to two months before we see our midfield lynchpin again. And even then, will he be able to recapture the form that has helped us rise to such lofty heights?

If that were all, it'd be enough. Alas, Kevin Thomson's nagging injuries aren't leaving him alone. Arca and Zemmama have joined him on the treatment table. And to top it all off, Barry Robson has gone and got himself suspended for the next two matches, leaving us with a real crisis in midfield. To think that not too long ago, I was smiling at how much depth we had there - now we're having to recall Richie Smallwood and Adam Reach. And can we really expect them to show the kind of form they showed at the end of last season, when we were playing under no pressure?

The next few weeks - or months - are going to be a real test. And we haven't even contemplated the effects of the transfer window yet. It's time to bite our nails again.

Or is it? I have faith that Mogga will see us through this rough patch, even though it could well be the toughest test of his Boro reign to date.

Because we've already bounced back from the Southampton thrashing, the West Ham defeat, and losing Emnes, haven't we? Of course, losing an entire midfield is another matter, but we must remember that Mogga has already given us much to be proud of, beyond our wildest expectations. And if we keep the faith, then much, much more will follow.


Mike said...

Good stuff - how cool would it be if January became the making of Richie Smallwood (which is the dream scenario)?

Anonymous said...

I would love that too, Mike! I remember when, towards the end of last season, he slowly felt his way into the team, topping it all off by scoring against Cardiff. And this was after another Bailey injury too. Unfortunately, the circumstances are very different today. Can he cope with it? Can *we* cope with it? More questions than answers...

Mark said...

Another great piece Simon - despite the last result, I still feel we are a hard side to break down.

I hope Smallwood fulfils his potential, appears to have all the attributes to become an established professional but I would still be looking closely at who may be available loans wise as a midfield general who can sit in front of the back four when required.

Last thought though is to our goalscoring - I still await the emergence of an academy player who can score goals - we have produced premiership players in every other position apart from striker (and I'm not including Danny Graham as he joined the club late) - would be lovely to someday welcome a youth product into the number 9 or 10 shirt and who scores goals for fun.

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,

Great points re: both Smallwood and our strikers. As highly as I rate the former, he could do with a more experienced head to help lift some of the weight off his shoulders at this moment in time.

Also, I know we signed him from Darlington, but surely now's a good time for Curtis Main to get his big chance?

Mark said...

I tend to agree, he's scored regularly for the reserves this season but then so has Halliday who hasn't been able to make the step up.

I'd give Curtis a chance though, tomorrow would be ideal not sure if he's playing in the North Riding Cup or not for the Reserves.

Alex Nimely hasn't worked out how I would have hoped but that wouldn't put me off going for another young prospect from the prem. Ryan Noble is scoring a bagful for Sunderland reserves and a loan until the end of the season to a Championship club may be an option for the likes of him. He could well start for Sunderland tomorrow in the cup as well.