Thursday, 1 August 2013

Season 2013-14 Preview: Panic Ye Not...

Despite a couple of gaps in the squad, there's no need to worry just yet. Si's Insights illustrates how Boro can still be a force this season



It is the nature of the Boro Beast that we cannot be sure whether or not we will strike it lucky, or unlucky, at the top, middle or bottom of the Championship table in 2013-14. And I am sure that the more rational Boro fans among us would laugh at the absurdity of any kind of promotion challenge following the awful freefall of 2012-13 that left a once untouchable Tony Mowbray in pieces.

Yet, in general, we, as football fans, let our rationality go out the window. I had more modest expectations once upon a time. But years of following this not always beautiful game of ours has firmly established the truism, in my mind anyway, that "it ain't over 'til it's over". I am not saying that we will be anywhere near the top of the table by even Christmas, let alone the end of the season. All I am saying is that we might be... and we can be. Judging by the way we finished last season, it is highly unlikely. But it is not impossible.

It's very much, as it almost always is, an England Expects scenario; that is to say, more about hope than expectation, and more likely to end in tears than with a party. A look at our current squad and our attendances, not to mention Mogga's managerial record at the top, suggests that Boro would be a laughing stock were they to reach today's Premier League. Then again, if Mogga’s key men – who he has been fortunate enough to keep mostly intact this summer – can rise to the challenge, who knows?

The Gaffer


Tony Mowbray's halo slipped a long time ago; the broken man who appeared in front of the  press after an embarrassingly weak showing at Hillsborough was as far away as you could possibly imagine from the towering 2011, where it seemed he could do no wrong. For the first time, our local hero – and I once said that if I had the choice, I would not want anyone else managing our club – has had countless holes picked in his regime by fans weaned on a decade of loadsamoney Premier League football, the sort that we once took for granted. Things have gotten so bad that some have begged for foreign investment to "help" us back up – even if it were to rob the club of its soul. Still, it is possible that the lack of expectations and belief in the club may work in his favour. They will need to. He's on borrowed time in far too many people's eyes.

Team Talk

One of Boro's greatest managers, Jack Charlton, was, for all the accusations of old school long-ball football aimed at him, a bit of a pioneer. He emphasised the importance of not only pressurising the opposition, but utilising the full-backs' attacking ability. Were we to merge this philosophy with the Teesside Tiki Taka we enjoyed playing at our best last season, then anything is possible. To play the fast-paced attacking game of an Arsenal or the German national team would be too dangerous; once said teams are prevented from getting into their groove, they can be easily turned over. Furthermore, we do not have the players to risk such a game.


What we do have are attacking full-backs, at least three of them, that can complement a midfield that does not always need to play a running game. And here is a potential Boro strength. Assuming the goalkeeper and back four speak for themselves; Jason Steele, with Justin Hoyte, Jonathan Woodgate, Rhys Williams and George Friend in front of them, you have at least two or three "starting formations" to choose from.

In the pre-season friendly win against Bordeaux, Mogga chose a traditional 4-4-2 with Jozsef Varga – a defensive midfielder – playing on the right-side of midfield. That was understandable, as our right-sided options beyond the full-back area are extremely limited, but there are other ways of utilising Varga besides the right flank.

Mogga could consider, perhaps, using Varga to shield the back four with former Sunderland teammates Grant Leadbitter and Dean Whitehead both anchoring and playmaking in front of him. This leaves room for two "wing-forwards", say, Marvin Emnes on the right and Mustapha Carayol on the left, to potentially thrive either side of Lukas Jutkiewicz while we can capitalise on the deliveries of Hoyte, Friend or Andy Halliday. I've always seen Jutkiewicz as Boro's Peter Crouch – a tall, skilful and surprisingly mobile forward who seems to work best as a solitary striker. With Scott McDonald out of the way, he couldn't possibly have a better chance to prove himself, if he ever needed it.


Lest this line-up appear too narrow or defensive, there are more penetrative options in reserve. We have pace, youth and width in Adam Reach and Cameron Park, but as Martin Jol once said, there is no need to use such players from the start. If Mogga finds it more prudent to start with the Bordeaux formation against Leicester – Varga, Leadbitter, Whitehead and Carayol behind Emnes and Jutkiewicz – Luke Williams can enter the fray if Emnes is having an off day. The pace, positional sense and magical right foot of the other Williams could prove a vital weapon. Another alternative would be to move Leadbitter out wide and bring on Faris Haroun, Emmanuel Ledesma or Richie Smallwood for Varga, to add more drive, vitality and creativity in the centre. They're certainly no worse than the ultimately disappointing Josh McEachran was last season. And if "Juke" is misfiring, Boro's Chicharito, Curtis Main, can enter the fray with both physical presence and powerful shooting.

It's also possible, of course, to play a "diamond formation" in the centre, with Varga the holding midfielder and Ledesma the attacking midfielder behind Emnes and Jutkiewicz, but that may be gambling unduly. A more pressing worry, perhaps, is that the "attacking full-backs" ploy is dependent on Hoyte's staying fit, as I do not believe Stuart Parnaby has the legs to pull the role off. Furthermore, the fitness of Woodgate and Rhys Williams is always cause for concern, and with Seb Hines on the treatment table until September, is Ben Gibson really ready to step up to the plate, no matter how good his pre-season has been?

It may yet make more sense to stick to the 4-4-2 that served us so well against Bordeaux and see what happens.

Keys To Boro's Success


Steele, Leadbitter and Carayol maintaining their good form, Jutkiewicz's shooting boots, good service from the flanks, and a solid defensive partnership.

Must Do Better

Haroun & Ledesma (far too enigmatic), Emnes (vanishes for long spells), Rhys Williams (when he returned from injury last season, he was unrecognisable), Friend (Fundamental to Boro's pre-Christmas promotion charge of 2012-13 before horribly losing his way).

If They Don't Break Through By Now...

Luke Williams, Park, Reach, Main and Smallwood. All in their twenties now, it is time to stop saying that they are “about” to come good.

BORO SQUAD FOR 2013-14

Goalkeepers: 1  Jason Steele, 31 Connor Ripley, 32 Jayson Leutwiler

Defenders: 2 Justin Hoyte, 3 George Friend, 4 Rhys Williams (captain), 15 Seb Hines, 16 Andy Halliday, 21 Stuart Parnaby, 22 Ben Gibson, 39 Jonathan Woodgate

Midfielders: 7 Grant Leadbitter, 8 Jozsef Varga, 11 Emmanuel Ledesma, 17 Cameron Park, 18 Dean Whitehead, 19 Mustapha Carayol, 20 Adam Reach, 33 Richie Smallwood, 38 Faris Haroun

Forwards: 9 Lukas Jutkiewicz, 10 Marvin Emnes, 14 Luke Williams, 23 Curtis Main

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