Bamford blasts the blues away
Perhaps this afternoon’s game should have been played at high noon to compliment the pre match build up over the last week. For many home fans it was do or die for our Manager after some pretty disappointing results of late. Just about everything was dissected, from selections, tactics, omissions, confidence, and belief right through to potential changing room trouble makers stirring the pot. Regardless of who had or hadn’t done what and when this afternoon was going to be about 90 minutes of football that for many felt would decide GM’s Boro fate rightly or wrongly.
In a game with so much at stake the amateur psychoanalysts amongst us would be dissecting GM’s team selection first and formation second to get a clue of what goes on inside Garry Monks mind. Old tried and tested with Grant and Clayts in the engine room or perhaps three at the back to cover for the wing backs that had been badly exposed lately. Downing left or left out, Traore on the right or on the bench? The eagerly awaited team sheet at 2.00 declared that Grant was indeed restored but partnered with Howson but the biggest change was Bamford starting with Traore dropping to the bench.
The atmosphere was very subdued not helped by the cold and the seemingly growing expanse of Red Plastic with the home crowd now slipping to 22,500. Boro started off bright and lively which was just as well as anything other than a win and a convincing one at that was the order of the day. Paddy was in the hole behind Britt with Stewy on the right and Braithwaite on the left. Within the first ten minutes it was very clear that words had been said about passing it out from the back and passing sideways. The inclusion of Bamford was more than an appeasement or act of contrition from a Manager trying to avoid the sack for the second time in his career on the same day. Paddy was quick, mobile, running into space, looking for the ball and creating, playing clever intelligent passes linking up Britt with the middle of the park and integrating with both Braithwaite and Downing.
Tension filled the Riverside as Ipswich stood firm, frustrating Boro and obviously under instruction to keep their heads, keep Boro quiet and the home fans would do the rest. Celina on loan from Man City had cut through the Boro defence only for Ayala to clear the danger. After 15 minutes the tempo like the temperature dipped a little and the Riverside resembled a still pond. The lack of noise from the stands was deafening, pressure was building but not on the pitch. A roll out from Randolph saw Christie and Ayala closed down quickly and one of those self-inflicted wounds seen so commonly of late avoided as the North Stand vented their spleen at the return of bad habits creeping in. It was exactly this type of slow monotonous passing about at the back build up that has seen us adrift of the play offs let alone automatic promotion.
Downing was looking lively and trying to create while Fabio was a bundle of energy winning a succession of headers as high balls were played out to his flank in an orchestrated attempt to gain a height advantage. Mick’s game plan wasn’t working as the diminutive Brazilian out leapt everyone in a blue shirt timing his headers to perfection. Grant was dominating the midfield and was a true Captain and leader flying into tackles, breaking up play but encouragingly setting up Bamford, Braithwaite and Downing to do their thing. Howson was trying to keep the forward momentum going with a few speculative balls that were being played into space that just weren’t coming off. It was the right approach but a brave one given the quiet nature of the church like Riverside.
A free kick from Stewy fell to Ben who sliced his attempt goal wards only to see Bialkowski get down to save. A quick break out from Ipswich saw Spence their RB surge forward leaving Boro stranded up field and Grant having to takeone for the Team as he simply took the lad out thereby ending any threat. Clearly the Players knew that if Ipswich went a goal to the good the flat atmosphere could quickly turn toxic. You could almost sense 21,000 Boro fans mentally saying to their side “go on then, prove it”.
Just before the half hour mark Downing in a crowded area spotted Fabio free and pinged a brilliant 35 yard cross field ball to the on rushing wing back who hit the ball on the volley only to see it go just wide. At this stage it would have been just reward for Boro as they totally dominated the game and more importantly were showing zest and zeal and looked up for the fight. For the first time in weeks they looked like they wanted it more than the opposition and prepared to put a shift in, none more so than Braithwaite put in a show worthy of the famous battery brand. He was running, chasing, closing down, setting up attacks and shooting himself.
Waghorn was a bit of a pain, moaning constantly and proving a handful and so the inevitable yellow for Ayala came as he clattered through him upending the mouthy Geordie striker. There was definitely more urgency and the intent was much improved but both Grant and Dani had now collected Yellows and after Christie, Randolphs and Ayala’s passing faux pas the home fans were sensing a “Typical Boro” moment. Against Derby we were excellent in the opening 13 minutes until going behind and imploding. Would the Tractor men do the same and kill off the nervy hopes that we all had watching from the stands, too anxious to sing, too desperate to get excited about the more positive slicker Boro, watching in relative silence interspersed with the odd moan about the Ref who seemed to see the game somewhat different from the majority in Red.
There were some really clever enjoyable passages of play namely between Bamford, Braithwaite and Britt but nothing bringing any ultimate joy. Stewy had a wild effort as did Britt as chances were limited and despite playing most of the game in the Blue half no desperately needed nerve breaking opener would come. Someone behind me remarked about what does Downing bring to the team and just at that moment he stopped the ball from going out of play, twisted and turned the Ipswich defender in front of him leaving him unceremoniously on his backside crossing for Britt through a packed 6 yard box, the ball bobbled about before breaking back across to Braithwaite on the edge of the 6 yard box and lashed in a close range right footed shot to lance the boil that had been ready to burst all afternoon. The Riverside was relieved rather than erupted and with only a minute until half time cool heads were required to see the half out.
The second half saw a change for Ipswich as Huws came off and Garner came on but the Ref also retired himself much to the pleasure of those around me with the 4th official taking charge for the second 45 minutes. The half started with Boro still dominant but with a bit more intent from McCarthy’s men with Garner now providing more attacking threat. Five minutes had passed and Christie slid a ball through to Paddy just ahead of Downing and danced his way as only Bamford can towards the 18 yard box. Braithwaite made an opening to receive the ball to Paddy’s left and Britt was running through on goal anticipating the pass but Paddy had other ideas and hit a low shot with the ball going past the stranded Bialkowski hitting the bottom of the upright rebounding into the net. That was the moment the Riverside relieved itself literally with joyous celebrations, going two up, easing the anxiety but most of all to see Paddy celebrate. All afternoon he had been the catalyst which enabled faster more pacier movement and passages of play and the goal was a well-earned and just reward. Moments later Paddy put the ball through for Britt who was just blocked by Knudsen getting back in a last desperate block. Boro were now in charge of the game with Grant bossing the middle, Howson covering when Christie went up field and clattering into challenges showing grit and determination. Celina pulled Grant back to go into the Ref’s book as frustration started building in the Ipswich ranks as they saw their frustrate and niggle policy founder.
Big Mick made a double substitution but the game looked well beyond them at this stage as Christie, Fabio, Downing, Bamford and Braithwaite were running the show with Grant still impeccably pulling the strings. Randolph had become a virtual spectator and GM decided to put on some fresh legs and take a few of his heroes off. Johnson came on for Downing and shortly after Gestede for Bamford. The logic was understandable but once those two went off the impetus was handed back to the Tractor men. Johnson didn’t quite get up to speed and wasn’t as effective as Downing and whilst Gestede won headers and knock downs for Britt they were nearer the half way line than Bialkowski ‘s goal line. Had Ipswich scored the consequences could have been horrific, as it was we held on for those last few minutes and ran the clock down with Forshaw coming on for Grant. All three of those substituted richly deserved their standing ovations. The game ended 2-0 to Boro in what was a really surreal afternoon. A much needed win for the Manager, far more positivity from Boro actually “passing forwards” but it remains to be seen if it is too little too late despite it being only December.
MOM for me was Bamford; his languid grace was the main difference in this Boro side adding intelligence, pace and movement. Special recognition however goes to Downing, Leadbitter, Braithwaite and Fabio who were worthy nominees.
Monk hopes not to come a cropper
As Boro spent the week preparing for the arrival of the Tractor Boys, Garry Monk has perhaps been left to plough a lone furrow as he searches for a combination that will harvest the three points for Boro this weekend. The question for many supporters though is whether the Boro manager has reaped what he has sown after scattering seeds of doubt among the faithful as the team’s performances have wilted under the heat of the promotion challenge. Others have argued that the current crop of players, which were unearthed in the summer transfer window, have been rotated accordingly but have still been unable to flourish – leaving the managerial prospects of the new boss looking more than a tinge blighted in the process.
Whatever the reasons for the failure of Boro’s team to grow as the season has progressed, one thing is pretty much certain on Saturday, defeat is not an option for Garry Monk. Not only is it not an option but it will most likely leave him facing having to dress up in a red suit and donning a fake white beard if he is to be gainfully employed this Christmas – though he’d probably make good use of the sack for that particular job. Though having said that it’s perhaps not the right job for a man who cancelled Christmas this week – yes, spare a thought for the poor children of the unfortunate Boro players who face the prospect of empty designer Gucci stockings after the long-planned collective Crimbo shopping trip in the bright lights of London was unplugged after the team displayed a somewhat festering spirit against the unfestive Robins.
Apparently it was alarm bells rather than slay bells that started ringing for Garry and he panicked when the players said they’re going to shop until they drop – one thing is failing to gain promotion but talk of a relegation battle was surely a step too far! OK it’s another thing for Steve Gibson to let his managers shop until they drop but the players have already been gift-wrapping presents for the opposition in recent weeks. Though as promotion now seems half a world away, perhaps Steve Gibson will be inspired by the John Lewis man on the moon advert from a couple of years back and start contemplating looking through his telescope to see if he can find a rather thrifty Mogga once the parachute payments run out.
After a good start to the season that left them in second spot, Ipswich went on a run that saw them lose 7 games in the next 10 as they plunged down the table. However, Mick McCarthy’s men seemed to have regained their composure of late and have lost just one of their last six to put them three points ahead of Boro in seventh spot. Defeat for Boro could see the notion of promotion slip out the consciousness for many supporters as it could leave the club as much as 9 points off the play-off pack. Indeed many may start looking over their shoulders as Garry Monk’s team is only three points above 15th place and 4 defeats in 5 would start to look like something more terminal.
|Garry Monk||Mick McCarthy|
|P20 – W8 – D5 – L7 – F25 – A20||P20 – W10 – D2 – L8 – F35 – A30|
Points per game
Points per game
|Last 6 Games
Bristol City (A)
1:2 (0:0) L
0:3 (0:1) L
2:0 (2:0) W
1:2 (0:1) L
1:0 (1:0) W
3:1 (2:0) W
|Last 6 Games
Nottm Forest (H)
Aston Villa (A)
Sheff Wed (H)
4:2 (2:2) W
1:0 (1:0) W
0:2 (0:1) L
2:2 (0:0) D
2:2 (1:1) D
3:0 (1:0) W
Whilst many supporters have been vocal in their lack of confidence in Garry Monk, others are seemingly waiting in silence for a change in direction to materialise one way or the other. This pregnant pause in proceedings, following the Bristol debacle, means everyone is now holding their breath in anticipation of what will happen against Ipswich – though I imagine Steve Gibson is surely reluctant to dismiss his third manager within nine months despite this promotion campaign proving to be a difficult birth. Having thrown out the baby with the the bañera-aqua at the end of last season, many Boro followers are beginning to think that there is still much work to do on the discarding side.
What has become clearer, or indeed less clear, as each game has been witnessed and dissected is what is it that Boro are trying to achieve on the pitch. Is it back to the solid less adventurous model that brought Karanka his promotion success? or will we see at any point the supposedly planned expansive game materialise that the chairman sanctioned the spending of all those millions in the summer. The reality is that Garry Monk doesn’t appear to be on message on either of those scenarios – he’s not a manager who looks to organise his team and execute a meticulous game plan – nor is he particularly driven to put out a team that delivers free-flowing attacking football. At the moment we just have a manager looking to just somehow win each game by picking a safe combination of players who just don’t make a costly error.
It’s this almost frozen by fear of failure approach that has left many of the players looking ponderous on the pitch and uncertain of whether to stick or twist when they receive the ball. The free kick just outside the box in the dying seconds at Ashton Gate perhaps summed up the entire season – Nobody wanted the responsibility of taking the risk that the right ball could be delivered into the box that could earn Boro an unlikely point. Instead a meaningless short sideways kick passed the responsibility to someone else and the opportunity was gone in that instance.
At this moment in time I feel almost that I couldn’t tell you what XI should be picked to play for any particular game – there appears to be nobody screaming pick me and I’ll show you what the team are missing. Confidence has left the building and it’s now unclear what it’s going to take to rebuild it other than a string of victories – it’s that Catch 22 situation that leaves the outcome of successful season relying on success manifesting on the pitch. If the players don’t believe in themselves and each other or the manager then this is the stuff that bad runs are made of.
Though for some players, perhaps they are prone to getting carried away after a few good results against limited opposition and forget that there is no right for Boro to win games by just turning up with their multi-million pound teamsheet acting as some kind of Championship top trump card. This kind of talk was for me summed up by an article from early November, which had initially passed me by at the time but a link appeared at the bottom of one about the Bristol inquest in the Northern Echo. Stuart Downing announced ‘Martin Braithwaite is showing he’s too good for the Championship’ adding that he wants ‘everyone connected with Boro to help Braithwaite reach the Premier League’. This is a dangerous thought to have and it’s the kind of mindset that leads to complacency – a couple of good personal performances doesn’t make you into a Premier League player, for that you need to perform consistently well week in week out and take your chances when the team is not playing well. Besides Premier League forwards occasionally attempt to score goals from their own half like Wayne Rooney did last week – not attempt an ill-judged back-pass to their own keeper from within the opposition half.
There is a feeling that it’s possible many players arrived at Boro believing the pre-season hype that they were the Championship supergroup getting ready to go on tour and soak up the adulation and envy of other clubs. Whether the out-of-tune band needs breaking up and some being left to pursue a solo career in self-promotion elsewhere is not certain – but we urgently need a team not a collection of individuals looking for a better gig more suitable for their imagined talents.
So will Garry Monk be able to avoid becoming the next Boro manager to pick up his golden trowel and head off to Middlesbrough Garden City? Or will all the money ploughed into the summer recruitment finally start showing some green shoots of recovery against the Tractor Boys? As usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will Steve Gibson be able to spot where his investment on the pitch is hiding with his new telescope?