Saturday, 12 September 2015

Boro Are Looking Stronger Than Ever... But A Little More Magic Wouldn't Go Amiss

As the final whistle blew at Hillsborough nearly a fortnight ago, ending a hoodoo stretching back six years, my attention turned to the man-of-the-match performance of Aitor Karanka's Mr. Reliable, Daniel Ayala.

Towards the end of last season he brought a tear to the eye for both good and bad reasons – against the same opponents. Directly after a Carrow Road victory that would do more harm than good in the long run, it was impossible not to admire Ayala's progress under Karanka.

Once upon a time, he had been erratic, inconsistent and temperamental. Now he was a tower of strength, an indisputable force. (So too, incidentally, was Fernando Amorebieta in his brief substitute appearance, which is why Karanka's re-signing of him pleases me. Although I don't know what that means for Dael Fry. Maybe AK still wants him under the radar?)

That was just one of a series of consistently excellent performances from Ayala in 2014-15. Unfortunately, one tends not to be remembered for the quantity disappointing showings, no shows or mistakes, but the quality. When Ayala slipped up, it just happened to be in the play-off final at Wembley, and the one time he was beaten in the air at Derby this season, it led to an equaliser from the home side.

It's possible that AK couldn't turn on his protege, so he turned on Albert Adomah: one of many things that led to Albertgate. Although hopefully that's all water under the bridge now Adomah's back in training this week. We'll have to wait and see.

But any fears that Albertgate might wear the team down against Sheffield Wednesday were unfounded. UTB, aka Up The Boro, became UBK, aka United Behind Karanka, as Boro pulled together and produced the away performance of the season so far.

Naturally, there were pre-match grumblings. Why Adam Reach? Why is Muzzy Carayol being sent out on loan again? Why can't AK and Albert just work out their differences? Why is Christian Stuani playing on the right wing (even though he has played there for Uruguay)? Why Emilio Nsue, not Tomas Kalas? And so on.

But those issues shouldn't have mattered, and ultimately didn't. What mattered was that the players Karanka put out on the pitch had a job to do, and they went out there and did it well. Kike, Reach, Stuani, Diego Fabbrini, Stewart Downing, David Nugent and every other red shirted player on the pitch all stood up to be counted, exhibiting a strength in depth that was amplified with another cracking cameo from Adam Forshaw.

Ah yes. Adam Forshaw. I'm sure many will be hoping that Karanka “comes to his senses” and starts him in place of either Grant Leadbitter or Adam Clayton in the next game. And I personally admit that it would be good to see him given a start against MK Dons. But I'm also aware that many were clamouring for Reach to be given more games under Tony Mowbray when virtually all we knew him for were those Reachy Rockets. We may want to see more of the Frys and Forshaws at the expense of more established players, but AK will be all too aware of the danger of getting ahead of ourselves.

He'll also be aware that we have hardly had the most consistent opening to this campaign, despite a record that pretty much mirrors that of 1997-98's first five league matches: two wins, two draws, one defeat and seven goals, with the defeat at home to an unheralded side (for Bristol City today, read Stoke City back then).

Then again, it is arguable that consistency can be over-rated in some ways.

As Len Masterman has said on Untypical Boro, fear of failure, or making mistakes, is damaging to creativity. Over-emphasis on control and the right result at all costs runs the risk of nullifying spontaneity, mystery and imagination.

Take the record-breaking Wayne Rooney. He may have been scoring goals regularly for years, and may continue to score them regularly. But what happened to those eye-popping runs, jaw dropping finishes and game-changing moments that briefly had numerous punters and pundits believing they'd seen the English Pele?

We will always welcome consistency (there's that word again) and teamwork, yet it is football's unpredictabilities, even its frustrating imperfections, that make the sport, those who play it and the clubs we follow what they are. It's what separates the Adam Claytons of this world from the Diego Fabbrinis and Lee Tomlins: we will always admire the former, but with the latter, there will always be the chance that you'll see something you won't quite believe.

This is why I wholeheartedly applaud the arrival of Carlos De Pena.

He looks like a genuine "wild card", the relatively unknown joker in the pack who might just turn a game or amaze us all with a pass, turn, shot, dummy or cross. Or maybe all five.

He's given us another reason to look forward to Saturday: the possibility that there might be a little more magic on the pitch.

And for that, I am exceptionally grateful.

Up The Boro!

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