Saturday, 23 November 2013

So Here We Are, There's Work To Do...

"Now Woody. Next week, I want you to learn how to defend..."
(Photo: Graham Bell, MFC)
Boro may have gone continental, but otherwise, some things never change.

The twenty-first century trend of disappointing debuts for Boro managers continues.

2001: Steve McClaren and the late, late collapse against future double winners Arsenal following Ugo Ehiogu's sending off.

2006: Gareth Southgate's realisation that management wasn't so easy after all when his team threw away a two goal lead and lost at newly promoted Reading.

2009: Adam Johnson's missed penalty in a gutless team performance against Plymouth, one that offered the first hint of the damage Gordon Strachan's jockification would cause.

2010: Our Lunar Leader is initially left on the launchpad (thanks for that title, Anthony Vickers) after a 2-1 home reverse to Bristol City.

Now, we find that Aitor Karanka hasn't been able to blaze away all our troubles with a wave of his Spanish magic wand.

But otherwise, the game had pretty much everything you'd expect from a dramatic yet ultimately lacklustre afternoon at the office for Boro; a goal from a one-time Boro target (Ross McCormack), a sending off which forced a premature reshuffle, a glimmer of hope provided by a star winger (for Adam Johnson in 2009, read Muzzy Carayol and/or Albert Adomah in 2013) and the concession of the opposition winner from a set-piece.

Early hindsight suggests that Karanka may have been wrong to withdraw Marvin Emnes, even if he was having one of his bad days. A half-time team talk may well have galvanised his confidence in the second half, and he can't have been worse than Frazer Richardson or George Friend, whose defensive duties, or neglect of them, led to Jason Pearce's winner. Then again, considering we'd conceded twenty-four goals in fifteen games before the match began, you cannot blame Karanka for wanting as many defenders on the pitch as possible, particularly when we had scored twenty-five league goals prior to kick off.

It was only in the spell after Pearce's goal that the worries sank in. Despite being only a solitary goal down, we managed just one real shot on goal - from the maligned Lukas Jutkiewicz - and the decision to play four at the back all the time ensured that Kei Kamara (playing on the left side of midfield), Albert Adomah (playing in the centre) and later Curtis Main (playing on the right) had to withdraw from the very front of the line to win possession and create chances for Jutkiewicz once he came on for Smallwood. With three of our single minded attacking players - Main, Kamara and Adomah - arguably deployed deeper than they could have been, the team's penetrative effectiveness was limited.

Perhaps, if Carayol had to be substituted, it might have been better to subtitute Kamara for Jutkiewicz instead of Smallwood, switching Adomah onto the right flank and Friend on to the left? That way, we would have had an extra option up front in addition to Jutkiewicz: Main. The 3-4-2 might have been the winning formula required during the last ten minutes.

Of course, it's only a might. We know that Karanka still has a lot to learn about this frustrating team of ours. And while I'm not expecting miracles, I'm hoping he learns it pretty quickly...

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