Big bullies batter Boro boys
The pre game intro piece about the dark skies and the dark blue shirts along with highlights of segments of the game felt pretty meaningless at 5.00pm so what follows is now curtailed, blunt short and sweet, mindful that sometimes less is more.
A daunting trip to one of football’s toughest, roughest football environs saw GM stick with the slick passing side that delivered against Ipswich last week. If it was questionable before KO the folly of playing thoroughbreds against agricultural beasts soon began to unravel after the opening quarter of an hour. Route one aggressive brutal football seemed to terrify at least four or five in red shirts. Even our talismanic terrier turned into Santa Claus nine days early by gifting presents complete with ribbons on a few occasions.
Braithwaite was feisty but ineffective; Assombalonga was surplus to our battling needs as he found himself off side when we needed street smart striker savvy. Bamford was pretty well anonymous after the first half. Howson seemed to be chasing and clattering but never in control. Christie like Randolph has lost his mojo after their Danish mauling. Ayala was as ungainly and awkward as has been his want of late, Ben alongside looked powerless to prevent his defence dissolving all around him. Fabio had gusto but lacked end product, overall a very poor showing from Boro.
Three shots on target compared to eight for Millwall tells a damning story. Millwall don’t play football they simply bury you, bombard you, they fight and scrap for everything leaving no mercy. Hoof the ball forward, play for corners and set pieces, close down and fight. It was like Dirty Harry versus the Sound of Music. Incredibly GM didn’t see fit to change things at half time as his pantomime ponies were trampled by the farmyard Clydesdales. Sending players out early does not come across as a management masterstroke with no change to address the obvious shortcomings at half time and in doing so totally wasted the opening moments of the second half as we needed to claw our way back into the game but it’s difficult to claw your way back into a scrappy affair with manicured nails.
When the changes came they were disconnected. Gestede came on yet we done nothing to address the requirement to provide service to him, a limited Footballer but one that can win balls in the air yet those balls never came until late on. Downing one of our better deliverers was covering for the departed Howson. That alone smacked of a confused knee jerk not fully thought out team tactic and simply highlighted the Managers inability to select tactics suitable for the occasion and failed further in being able to address those shortcomings mid game.
GM claimed in his after match interview that he had prepared his side all week for a very direct game yet his side looked more like they had prepared for a weekend of flower arranging. They were bullied and many of them bottled it yet there was nothing changed to address the Lions brash tactics. I do feel some sympathy towards GM for the shambolic defending but this afternoon is yet another tick in the charge list against him. Too many times, too many games and too many instances of shortcomings as that charge sheet builds. Those basic mistakes he referred to are without doubt a genuine complaint and the naivety he laid at his charges door are without doubt fair but who is responsible for organising them. Someone has to show leadership, define and enforce standards with consequences for bottlers. If you coach and train players all week prepared for an onslaught and your side look weak, soft and intimidated then you have clearly failed in your objective.
One player looked reasonable and again that was Downing, incredible that week in week out he keeps delivering consistently decent performances yet the rest of the squad are hit and miss.
Prior to KO I thought that today Monk would have brought in Clayts alongside Grant in view of the anticipated battle. Assombalonga has scored goals but in the last few games he hasn’t offered much else and in a scrap he doesn’t offer much at all, that said there were nine others out there on the pitch that collectively didn’t offer much either.
Results like this happen over a season but again it was the nature of the defeat. Disjointed and disorganised but in this case there was no fight, spirit or bottle, no plan B. Stewys spawny goal gave undeserved hope and highlighted the fact that it was down to incompetence of the opposition keeper rather than brilliant game management and a tactical masterclass from GM.
The better team “on paper” lost yet again but more alarmingly they didn’t look like they had anything in reserve or on the bench to change things. Once again another false dawn under this Manager has come and gone. The manner of his after match interview told me that he is now out of ideas and struggling to see where things are going wrong. GM said he feels like a broken record, maybe it’s time SG realises that if not broken the record is certainly very badly scratched and like as not beyond repair.
Monk sees the moment for momentum
Following the momentous victory over a team in the top half of the table last week, Garry Monk has called on his team to take the opportunity to move forward and build momentum. Although, his chosen metaphor sounded like the team is still lucky to be walking as he expressed his frustrations with “We’ve taken steps forward already this season, and then shot ourselves in the foot and taken a few steps backwards”. Personally, it doesn’t sound like a good idea to take step backwards after shooting yourself in the foot as you could easily fall badly – perhaps that is why Boro have put in some limp performances in this campaign.
In a week when Manchester City set a record of 15 consecutive victories in the Premier League, Boro head to Millwall looking to extend their own winning run – albeit to two. As football writers desperately seek a suitable metaphor for the literal act of entering the Lion’s Den, it only remain to say the visitors will be facing a difficult situation as they walk out in the hostile environment that is Millwall’s ground. I suspect none more so than Ayala who will be hoping he’s on first name terms with the Lions as he instead proves to be a thorn in their side as they come forward to attack – though whether he’ll manage to keep his paws off them in the penalty area is another matter and is indeed not in the script of the more famous book.
So as the Boro players head a little belatedly to London to undertake their Christmas shopping, they will first need to stop off in Millwall to carry out some contractually required obligations that is expected of them by their employers. In this season of goodwill to all men, Boro have have decided it is now time to be a little more mean spirited and stop parking their sleigh in front of their goal and offering gifts to many of those who ask questions of the defence. It’s possible that even Adam Clayton may be contemplating regrowing his impressively long beard in a bid to escape exile in his grotto and get in on the act by being the secret tattooed Santa at the centre of the exchanges by those less gifted.
Although the sleeping Lions lie down in 17th spot, three-quarter of their points have come from home games – with five victories, including wins over Sheffield United, Leeds and Norwich. They’ve actually only conceded one more goal than Boro this season but have scored five fewer – so although they trail Garry Monk’s men by nine points, their performances appear not too far behind on paper. Indeed, Millwall have only conceded two goals in their last four home games at the Den so Boro will need to be on the front foot from the start – as well as avoiding shooting at it!
|Neil Harris||Garry Monk|
|P21 – W5 – D8 – L8 – F22 – A21||P21 – W9 – D5 – L7 – F27 – A20|
Points per game
Points per game
|Last 6 Games
Aston Villa (A)
Sheff Utd (H)
0:0 (0:0) D
3:1 (1:1) W
0:1 (0:1) L
0:0 (0:0) D
2:2 (2:1) D
0:1 (0:0) L
|Last 6 Games
Bristol City (A)
2:0 (1:0) W
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
Following victory over Ipswich last week there was an expectation that it wouldn’t be long before we would start to hear proclamations from some in the Boro camp that the season was back on track. Thankfully we haven’t been disappointed, after keeping a clean sheet at the Riverside Ben Gibson has declared the team have ‘rediscovered their defensive resilience’ and has now set a target of keeping 23 clean sheets this season to spark a promotion challenge, before further announcing (gulp) that Boro can ‘go all the way’ – though he added it may ultimately not be this season. Whilst it’s possible Boro defended better it should be viewed in the context that Mick McCarthy’s men were not the most adventurous visitors we’ve seen and the Tractor Boys never really got out of second gear as they sat back on their own land, rarely threatening the goal of the townies of Teesside.
Though this recent declaration shouldn’t be confused with a similar one made by the manager just over a month ago in the international break when he claimed Boro had “struck the right balance” following three successive victories over Reading, Hull and Sunderland. Garry Monk had admitted in previous games his side “were not paying enough attention to their defensive responsibilities”. Whether everyone then felt that was job done and the problem was sorted and our promotion challenge was back on track was not eluded to, but after the break that defensive problem returned in spades with three defeats in four games after some quite frankly laughable defending produced a whole series of comedy of errors that left few on Teesside smiling. Still it’s reassuring to know that this time the team are convinced that our defensive resilience is back.
Just in case you were wondering why the defensive side of Boro’s game had been neglected, though I’m sure you’ve already guessed, Monk pleaded guilty to something that many had long suspected was happening by saying “we’ve been focusing on the offensive a bit too much”. Yes all those goals and chances had come at a price (other than the £50m of course) – that free-flowing football that had kept many supporters out of their seats from August to October as they cursed Monk’s Keeganesque approach that was being played out in front of them instead of the solid Karanka wooly comfort blanket they deep down craved. The new Boro manager was still trying to find the right balance and many will be puzzled that in his head he’d been seemingly imagining the sideways and backward passing in our own half was all just a bit too gung ho.
It appears that following the crisis defeat at Bristol City, enough was enough – Boro needed to be more solid and if that meant passing the ball forwards then so be it. Tricking the opposition into thinking Boro were not attacking by windscreen-wiper passing was now off the agenda. Boro’s forwards, particularly Braithwaite, had also been told not to try and set up Darren Randolph with goal assists. In a desperate attempt to shore up a team leaking goals, Patrick Bamford has been recalled to run away from the Boro goal and try and kick it towards the opposition – or failing that to another team-mate in front of him. OK, it will probably lead to less goalmouth action – especially in out own half – but something needed to change if Boro were to make a promotion challenge.
Whilst Man City’s timely winning run has been ably assisted by Jesus – that’s the one pronounced Jay-Zuss by football commentators (presumably in case they inadvertently upset viewers who may think they are cursing when they suddenly shout out his name) – many Boro supporter’s prayers have been answered with the return of St Patrick, who last week was instrumental in the more proactive approach and even managed to snake his way through the Ipswich defence to seal victory. For those who have been following the Boro star, he is now part of a promising trio up front where the three wise heads of Downing, Bamford and Braithwaite all have good control of the ball that are capable of linking up intelligently together if they are allowed game-time to develop.
Though this week Garry Monk was dealt a major blow when it emerged that one of his multi-million pound midfielders has been sidelined for the foreseeable future – Yes, never-present former lad from Watford, Guedioura, has Tweeted from Qatar to reveal he has been ruled out with a hamstring tear. Obviously, treatment is probably not available in the rather cold climate of Teesside at this time of year and it’s still not clear if this untimely injury, which has reduced the manager’s options on who to have on the bench for the development squad, will rule him out from the January sales too.
As for which team Monk will opt for, well it’s probably a good bet that we’ll see an unchanged team given that there are no other injury worries. The key to last week was playing with a number ten who appeared to know how to actually play the role and Patrick Bamford was able to both pass the ball, hold it up, run with it and even score – probably not since Gaston Ramirez have we seen someone in a Boro shirt look effective in that position. It was his first start in over ten weeks and Monk has challenged him to remain in the team – though perhaps the challenge should be the other way round as he was previously dropped when playing some of his best football – maybe the challenge is actually for his manager to recognise the difference he brings to the team.
So will Garry Monk get a step closer to equalling his Boro record of winning three games in a row? Or will the Lions hunger be greater than that of his slightly peckish promotion-seeking players? As usual your predictions on score, scorers and team selection – plus will a red-nosed Rudy come on to shine and leave Millwall with red faces?