Wigan 2 – 2 Boro

Wigan 2-2 Boro
Morsy (29)
Moukoudi (76 og)s/o Dunkley (62)
SHOTS (on target)
Wing (64, 68)

Wingless in Wigan

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s lacklustre draw against the Lactics…

Boro travelled across the wild, windy and wintry Pennines to the home of the famous Pier tonight in an effort to push Wigan nearer to League One football next season whilst taking a step in preserving our own Championship status. No new injury concerns for Woodgate but still too soon for Shotton or Friend to return to first team action. Both of these sides had lost at the weekend, Boro away to high flying Bretford and Wigan in a local derby against another Play Off chaser Preston who incidentally were the last side that Boro beat way back on January 1st. Ominously the Latics had secured back-to-back wins against Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United in their previous two league matches before Preston so tonight was going to be hard fought.

Boro team news indicated that Woodgate was going with a back four again with Spence still benched but Morrison coming in for Johnson and Britt starting in place of Tavernier. Moukoudi had understandably kept his place in the line-up after his performance on Saturday.

Wigan kicked off on an absolutely freezing night with the wind cutting the fans in two and the corner flags struggling to remain upright. Moukoudi was in the action early on clearing his lines from Moore in the opening minute. A long distance shot from Williams warmed Pears’ hands from distance winning a corner as Wigan clearly felt they could get something from this fixture. Lewis Wing cleared the corner but it came back into the box with Dunkley perhaps fortuitously adjudged to have fouled a despairing Pears as he came out for the cross. Boro had once again started slowly with little endeavour in the opening stages. A nervy mistake from Moukoudi had to be rescued by Fry on eight minutes as the home side settled first.

A corner to Boro just before the tenth minute after a few Morrison step overs was delivered in by McNair but it led to little of note and Kipre hoofed the danger clear for Wigan taking no chances in the wind which was clearly having an influence out on the pitch. A short free kick for Boro was delivered into the Wigan box by Coulson after receiving it from McNair but the Left Back followed that up by conceding a free kick to Wigan almost immediately.

Howson needed to be sharp to clear in the Boro six-yard box as suspect Coulson defending allowed a half chance for the home side. There was a frustrating sense of déjà vu as Wigan seemed to be having joy down the flanks just as Brentford had done on Saturday. A break from Howson however did see Boro take “the lead” via Fletcher but as it hit the underside of the net via the cross bar it was adjudged to have been offside. It looked very tight and Boro’s in-form marksman could consider himself unlucky.

The opening quarter of an hour had passed with Wigan looking the more likely to score but that Fletcher offside chance would hopefully create some doubt in the Wigan backline and boost the otherwise sterile Boro mentality. Howson again put a great ball in this time aimed for Assombalonga but his shot was blocked and Coulson’s snap follow up was blocked just as quickly. Just over twenty fine minutes played now and the resultant wind assisted corner from McNair swooped tantalisingly under the bar but some sort of infringement was seen by the Officials and Marshall in the Wigan goal was spared any blushes.

A cross from Wing on twenty-five minutes failed to beat the first Wigan defender going out for a corner to Boro which of course was delivered badly and the action immediately swung down the opposite end towards Aynsley Pears. Half an hour gone and it was certainly no classic, it looked exactly what it was, a game from the bottom half of the Championship. A poor Wigan clearance from Byrne was picked up by Wing but his ball was very wayward and Wigan once again attacked down the left wing. Moore played a ball into the Boro danger area to Jacobs who found Morsy on the edge of the Boro box who stroked a daisy cutter ball across a helpless Pears to put Wigan ahead on twenty-nine minutes.

Wigan streamed forward again after the restart as they now clearly had some belief as Boro on the other hand looked weak in midfield and indecisive at the back trying to clear their heads. A series of Boro throw ins on thirty-five minutes came to nothing as poor touches perhaps mischievously intercepted by the wind summed up the travelling army’s frustrations. Boro’s passing had lacked serious conviction and apart from the Fletcher offside attempt we hadn’t really tested Marshall in the Wigan goal. Having all the possession and passing it around without threatening or looking dangerous was playing into Paul Cooks game plan. Looking for positives I suppose the dipping corner that was blown for a foul could maybe have masqueraded as an effort on target. A wild cross from the by-line from Lewis Wing summed up the evening as his ball likely finished up with snow on it.

The Wigan youngsters William and Geldhart were impressively running around covering every blade of grass with Kiefer Moore putting himself about causing us problems. A bit of slick inter-passing on the edge of the Latics box from Boro saw a weak penalty claim that went out for a throw in and as the ball came back in Coulson hit another double effort responding to the first block with an effort which flew over the Wigan crossbar. Coulson worked a great ball in to Britt but he somehow stumbled over it. Boro then came back via a series of one twos and a shot that didn’t make the net bulge but it was at least a marked improvement.

A last-minute first half cross by Morrison saw Assombalonga totally misjudge the flight and the less said about it the better. The whistle went to end proceedings in what was another disjointed performance from Boro. We had plenty of the ball but done nothing of note with it and certainly not where it counted. Passing the ball about prettily is one thing but being totally ineffective with it was never going to seriously threaten Wigan. Howson and Coulson were providing width of sorts but any of our final balls into the box looked more speculative rather than intentional against an up until now resolute Latics defence

Once again for some reason there were a few Boro players who cruised through the first half looking anonymous. A massive shake up was required for the second half. Before tonight’s kick off we were seven points clear of Wigan in the relegation spots, a draw would maintain that, a win would make that a very healthy ten-point gap but a defeat as it stood meant a narrow and a very edgy four-point separation.

As the teams took to the pitch for the second half surely, we would now see a fired up Boro looking to get back into this. Britt so far wasn’t linking with Fletcher, Morrison was busy but it didn’t look like his team mates knew what to do with him and we lacked the balance and pace that Spence provides down the right but of course that would mean a back three or five and unlikely to happen. Our recent ability to fight back would need to be to the fore for the next forty-five minutes if we were to get something out of this game.

There were no changes for either side as Boro kicked off with temperatures dropping quickly. Coulson was “done” again defensively and as the ball came into the Boro box there were appeals for a hand ball against Saville from around the sparsely populated DW Stadium. If Boro had a rollicking or a change of intent at half time it certainly wasn’t evident based on those first five minutes. The most excitement in fact was a conversation between the Ref Oliver Langstone and Wigan Manager Paul Cook.

A Naismith cross that fizzed across the Boro goalmouth thankfully evaded everyone in Blue and thankfully those in Red shirts as well after Saturday’s unlucky Moukoudi deflection. Britt found Wing who tried to find Fletcher and Kipre then barged in unceremoniously on Wing ending rolling around on the freezing turf. The free kick was delivered in by Wing himself but Moukoudi couldn’t get anything on it as Boro still seemed unconvincingly laboured.

Kipre was involved again straining to cut out a Coulson cross and as the corner came in Ravel Morrison got something on it in what looked like a rare rehearsed set piece from Boro with everyone decoy running into the box but the outcome was a goal kick. Moukoudi brought Moore down as he ran through with our hearts in mouths as Ref Langstone reached for a Yellow in what might have been a Red depending on his interpretation of Fry’s potential speed of intervention in sweeping up. Naismith blasted the ball past the wall and the net rippled but fortunately it was the outside of Pears’ side netting. Nmecha then came on for the misfiring Britt which was an improvement in theory but still didn’t address the lack of pace when attacking and the ability to get the ball wide, stretch the defence and get crosses in.

Dunkley then earned a second Yellow for a challenge on Wing on sixty-three minutes. Another card was then immediately issued to Paul Cook on the touchline who had obviously disagreed with Ref Langstone’s opinions and earned himself a Yellow. Wing took the free kick, blasted a trademark Exocet and as it deflected off the wall Marshall was left helpless seeing the ball spin past him and the scores now level at 1-1. Balogun then came on for Wigan at the back as Geldhart was sacrificed by Cook. Ten men, the scores now level and Boro had a golden opportunity presented to them.

The atmosphere warmed up the evening with the home fans orchestrated by Cook’s antics convinced they had been robbed and cheated. Boro meanwhile settled back into their slippers and a sloppy back pass to Pears had clenched buttocks in the away end. Then as fate would decree Lewis Wing found space from twenty yards out, pulled the trigger and the ball dipped skidding viciously past the embarrassed Marshall. Naismith then entered Langstone’s book for rushing the restart and arguing with the Official with Red shirts still in the Wigan half. Morrison then made way for Tavernier, lingering his departure having put in an interesting shift giving some potential chinks of bright light deep within.

Saville then upped the growing card count with a challenge allowing Pilkington to emulate Wing except it was first half Lewis Wing and the ball sailed well wide and into the bleak nothingness of the night sky. Saville was then on the receiving end of a kick from Morsy earning a Boro free kick and a chance to delay things slightly with a quarter of an hour remaining. Just as Boro looked like returning to Teesside with all three points a cross from our left fizzed across the Boro goal mouth to see Moukoudi diving to connect and send it past Pears to make it 2-2. He met it brilliantly but unfortunately at the wrong end, that’s two games and two O.G.s for the loanee.

That unaddressed weakness on the flank was exploited again, even with ten men for the second game in succession. A Wigan corner saw Naismith unleash a shot on eighty minutes requiring Pears to get down to smother the threat. Tavernier then stepped up to earn a Yellow as he complained about a decision that went against him. That equaliser clearly had the effect of a huge discharge of hope on Boro. Looking dispirited enough Jamal Lowe was brought on by Cook for Pilkington in an effort to further stretch that suspect Boro back four.

Wing then played in Saville and tried to connect as it came back in going out for a Corner which was booted clear unceremoniously by the Wigan defence. Another Boro corner was taken short but overhit giving Nmecha no chance to meet it as hopes of a third faded. Jacobs then went off for

Wigan, bringing Massey on as Cook now sensing blood wasn’t remotely concerned about going down to ten men. Immediately Massey collected a weak Tavernier ball, passing Howson who took him down to earn another Yellow card. Up came the big lads from the back as Naismith sent it into the Boro box but Saville cleared and Naismith fortunately couldn’t capitalise on his follow up.

Saville found Wing in space who tried to get his hat trick but his eye was well off target and it went out. Spence now came on for a hobbling Fry with just a minute of the ninety remaining. Five minutes came up on the fourth Officials board to accommodate those cards, substitutions and some time wasting. Next it was the Wigan sub Massey entering Langstone’s book as the card count continued growing.

Nmecha was gifted a late opportunity but he failed to connect and back came Wigan earning a throw in in the Boro half. The throw-in bounced off Fletcher resulting in a late, late corner. Naismith over-delivered it but Nmecha sent it out for another corner on the opposite side where this time Fletcher headed it clear but back came Wigan and somewhere in the chaos a Yellow Flag went up to prevent an ominous late Wigan winner. The final whistle went to a chorus of boos and jeers directed at the Ref who the home fans clearly felt had been less than even handed with his card distribution.

So 2-2 it ended and the seven-point gap maintained between the two but it was another less than convincing Boro performance. Another dire first half and an improved but still not great second half and against ten men for a large part of the game. It was noticeable that despite having a man disadvantage Wigan still remained a threat and Boro never looked like taking advantage of their extra man. There were no real stand out performers from a poor Boro but the MOM can’t go to anyone other than Lewis Wing for his second half goals.

If you wish to leave a comment about Redcar Red’s match report please return to the Week 26-27 discussion page

Brentford 3 – 2 Boro

Brentford 3-2 Boro
Jeanvier (24)
Mbeumo (60)
Watkins (87)
SHOTS (on target)
Wing (57)
Fletcher (63)

Bee sting in the Tail

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s defeat at Brentford…

Brentford were looking to make it a hat trick of wins against Boro who previously were undefeated against their West London rivals for twelve games winning ten of those. A pre-game stat revealed that Boro had scored the fewest goals via set-pieces (eight) of any side in the Championship this season. That unwanted statistic won’t have surprised Boro fans who have watched some of the poorest free kick and corner routines known to man these last few months.

Thomas Frank’s injury news meant that Pontus Jansson would be missing along with key man Sergi Canos, Marcus Forss, and Nikos Karelis. Boro however would have new boys Moukoudi and Morrison both available for debuts depending upon how they performed in training during the week. The semi returned pair of Ryan Shotton and George Friend would still be deemed unavailable until their match fitness levels had improved. Long term absentees Ayala, Dijksteel and Roberts would all remain sidelined.

With Brentford in fifth and Boro languishing in eighteenth the Travelling Army would probably be expecting a fruitless trip or hopeful that the away day Boro who turned up at the Hawthorns and Deepdale do it again this afternoon at their last visit to Griffin Park. Harold Moukoudi was making his debut allowing Spence to be rested with Howson at RB and McNair in front pushed into midfield and Morrison on the bench.

Boro entered the pitch in their Inky black away shirt and white shorts and socks combo, a case of mix and match for the kit man with the winter sun shining on packed Griffin Park Brentford got the game underway with Dael Fry getting a boot to their inaugural probe. Boro had reverted to a back four pushing up the pitch and closing down quickly. The early tactics from Boro getting in amongst them quickly seemed to be having a positive effect in preventing Brentford getting their flowing football going.

A cross into the Boro box on seven minutes was partly cleared as Coulson slipped and a deflected shot went out for the first corner of the game. A couple of minutes later Moukoudi stood his ground in an unconvincing but effective manner from Benrahma. Dasilva then tried to find Benrahma again but Howson was alert to quickly see off the danger as Brentford now started to exert with a little bit of possession. Watkins was too quick off the mark approaching fifteen minutes and adjudged to be offside. As play restarted Coulson came close for Boro almost adding to his goal last week in our best opportunity in the opening quarter hour.

Dasilva tried his luck against Moukoudi again but the big loanee from St. Etienne was once again up to his task in clearing his lines in a somewhat agricultural but very effective and no-nonsense manner. Watkins was next to come up against Moukoudi from a free kick but like his team mates previously found that Harold was big, strong and impenetrable. On twenty minutes Boro had a heart stopping moment as the ball came off a beaten Pears’ upright from Dasilva but Fry was the first to react, stretching to head it off the goal line.

Twenty-five minutes in and the Bees were applying serious pressure as Benrahma fired in a shot blocked by Saville going out for another Brentford corner. As the ball was delivered to the back post there was a scrambled melee which Boro seemingly cleared off the line but Ref Peter Banks blew, awarding a goal to the appealing home fans delight with Jenvier the Bees opening scorer. A very messy goal to concede by Boro but one that was seen coming. As the game got underway again Jensen very nearly doubled his tally as Boro were now looking punch drunk. The Brentford onslaught was now relentless with Boro struggling to cut out the supply and deal with the speed and finesse of the Brentford attack.

Jensen found Watkins and the omnipresent Moukoudi dealt with it but they came straight back at us earning a corner in the process. The corner was poorly delivered Boro style straight to Tav who cleared but we struggled to hang onto any possession and Brentford reasserted themselves courtesy of a goal kick. Thirty minutes elapsed and Boro were already looking to the half time whistle to get their act together. The four at the back may have been what Woodgate wanted but there seemed little to no threat on the wings allowing Brentford to punish us at will and we offered nothing in response or at least nothing that was coherent.

Johnson cut into the eighteen-yard box and played in Tav to test Raya in a limited response to what had been fifteen minutes of total oppression from the Bees who had been well and truly buzzing. The Brentford pressure had eased at this point as Boro tried to get back into the game, a McNair free kick was hit too high and hard, going out for a goal kick as that damning stat about Boro and set pieces was once again illustrated. Our middle of the park looked wayward and struggling to find fellow Boro shirts with no creativity.

The first Boro corner came with five minutes of the half remaining predictably wasted and allowing Brentford to break out with speed requiring Coulson to rescue our blushes but in doing so allowing a dangerous set piece to Brentford. Jensen sent it in which fortunately was poorly delivered but equally poorly cleared by Boro with the Bees coming straight back at us again with the shot fortuitously going high and wide of Pears’ goal. A short Brentford corner saw Benrahma send it out across the far side in a wasteful effort as the home side seemingly wanted to outdo the visitors in who could make a complete mess of their set pieces.

Dalsgaard caught Wing in possession setting up an attack as the pressure continued ending in another corner to the home side. One minute of the half remained as the ball was whipped in and Fletcher who up until that point had been anonymous in his isolated lone striker role cleared away the danger. A Boro free kick in the dying seconds saw McNair float the ball in which was frustratingly easily cleared as the whistle sounded for half time.

The opening ten minutes was to Boro’s credit but after that it was all one-way traffic. Our flat back four stifled the creative outlet usually offered by Spence and Coulson. The midfield of Wing, McNair and Saville had looked disconnected and offered nothing offensively. Tav was involved but nothing of serious note and Fletcher must have tested positive for the Coronavirus this week as none of his team mates wanted anything to do with him.

Once again, the set up of four at the back coincided with a poor Boro showing, allowing Brentford the freedom of the flanks. Going in only one goal behind on forty-five minutes was probably the biggest positive Woodgate could take from the half along with the performance of Harold Moukoudi. Surprisingly after an ineffective first half there were no changes in personnel from Boro as they strolled back onto the pitch. Those in the away end were hopeful that there would at least be tactical changes if not physical ones as Boro got the second half underway.

McNair tried to pierce the Brentford defence early on but ran out of ideas and into the Brentford defence of three red and white striped shirts. The early exchanges saw a bit of Boro possession but we were slow, predictable, laboured and then suddenly a curling cross from Johnson clipped off Raya’s crossbar and Wing’s follow up was cleared from which Brentford broke and won a corner at the opposite end. Then a second corner in quick succession was lofted to the back post but fortunately an unmarked Watkins couldn’t control it. Boro had been guilty of leaving an attacker unmarked at the far post in the first half and clearly not learnt from it

Another McNair free kick was wasted, ending up with Johnson who struggled to get something on it conceding a goal kick in the process. It was very poor fayre from Boro so far, marginally more assertive perhaps in the second half but looked like we lacked continuity. As the game approached the hour mark a Coulson break saw his cross put out for a corner. McNair sent it in but it was headed out by Dalsgaard to Lewis Wing whose shot was routinely collected by Raya. A quick throw in then caught Brentford sleeping as Lewis Wing delivered one of his long range strikes which bounced and flew into the net past a despairing Raya on fifty-eight minutes.

The Travelling Army jubilation didn’t last long. Brentford’s Mbeumo replicated Lewis Wing and fired in a fierce shot of his own from distance after a poor Fry clearance straight to him which deflected off Moukoudi wrong footing Pears to restore the home sides lead. Boro came straight back at Brentford winning a corner, Johnson came off for Britt Assombalonga before it was taken. Tav sent it into the box and Fletcher rose majestically as if spurred by the arrival of Britt glancing it past Raya from five yards out, 2-2 on sixty-three minutes!

On sixty-four minutes another Wing strike had hopes high in the away end as the game now resembled attack v defence, swinging manically from end to end. It looked like a conventional 442 set up for Boro since the substitution with Wing on the left, Tav right and Britt partnering Fletcher. In a Benrahma attempt to break free Tav blatantly pulled him back for the games first yellow. The free kick was delivered in, met by Howson and it was Howson who then broke trying to set Britt free but the play broke down with Coulson. After a bit of theatrics from Mbeuno was ignored unrequited retribution was sought on Paddy McNair for a free kick to Boro.

A brilliant opportunity arose as Britt beat his man but with Fletcher screaming in the middle the execution of Britt’s pass was shall we say “rusty”. Britt was involved again moments later, fouling Dalsgaard as he looked to be keen to make his mark in the game. Brentford then made a substitution with Marcondes coming on for Jensen as the game had now turned a bit loose and messy which suited Boro rather than the coiffured Brentford playing style.

Tav made way for Nmecha with Lewis Wing now swapping flanks and fifteen minutes remained. Wing then brought down Watkins allowing a dangerous set piece as Brentford piled bodies into the Boro box which when despatched evaded everyone with its pace. Nmecha then tried to set up a Boro attack as the game continued with its frenetic nature in total contrast to the controlled and measured first half from the Bees. Just ten minutes now remained, McNair got a cross in but Britt fluffed his lines when he should have scored with Fletcher desperately trying to connect behind him. Saville who had a steady and solid second half then rescued Coulson as he was exposed as the game continued toing and froing. A free kick awarded just outside the Boro box to the Bees was in the desired perfect free kick specialist position. Benrahma faced a double wall of striped shirts and the navy shirts of Boro but managed to clear both the Bees decoy wall and the Boro defensive one to go safely over.

A Bees attack down the flank with a clever series of interpassing found Benrahma who skied his shot once again. The game was now in a lively phase to say the least as Brentford went for it but leaving gaps behind for Boro to exploit. Boro’s last Substitution was troubling for its logic with Fletcher coming off the field of play for Gestede. A striker for a striker when you have a valuable point away from home against one of the division’s better sides? Not only that but a very limited striker with little to no pace and a very poor first touch with a record for not scoring? A defender maybe considering you already had two strikers on the pitch, a creative and tricky midfielder who might do something special or create some magic, but no, we brought on Gestede! I can only assume it was in hope that he may win a header at a set piece perhaps in the way that Fletcher had done earlier to actually score!

As the game restarted the Bees tore down their right wing (yet again) and after some nifty passing set up Ollie Watkins, arriving in timely anticipation into the box despatching his shot to score Brentford’s third of the afternoon, 3-2, game over and out.

Lewis Wing found Gestede whose tame effort was saved by Raya with less than two minutes remaining and Brentford now utilising delaying tactics. A late free kick was launched up to Gestede which was cleared, delivered back in by Coulson as the fourth official held up four minutes. Thomas Frank made a tactical sub with Mbeumo going off for Roerslev in a very muddled and delayed switch. When the game finally got back underway a cross to Britt was too close to Raya allowing the Bees to waste even more time. Late into added time a Boro free kick was overhit as was seemingly de rigueur all afternoon allowing Brentford another opportune moment to delay.

George Saville then took Watkins down conceding a free kick to order at the corner flag as once again Brentford took it short, recycling the ball, killing the game in the process. Seconds later another free kick to the Bees near the corner flag ended the game as Peter Banks blew for what will be Boro’s final game at Griffin Park.

A very poor first half tactically but much better in the second from Boro but without ever looking totally joined up and far from convincing. Stark contrast to the fluid organised Brentford attacking display. The Gestede substitution when we were holding on for a draw with two strikers already on the pitch was eccentric to say the least and not a tactic that I have witnessed very often in many years of watching football. Granted had we nicked it at the death instead of Brentford then a masterstroke would have been claimed but if we go down by one point at the end of the season then this will be the day.

In the second half we hustled our way back into it and may feel unlucky not to come away with the point but in fairness Brentford deserved their win and the positive for Boro was that Moukoudi looks a good acquisition with a MOM performance.

If you wish to leave a comment about Redcar Red’s match report please return to the Week 26-27 discussion page

Boro 1 – 1 Blackburn

Pos. 18th (36 pts) SATURDAY 1 FEBRUARY 2020 Pos. 10th (44 pts)
Boro 1-1 Blackburn
Coulson (75) 58%
SHOTS (on target)
Travis (57)

Clash of the in-laws

Redcar Red reports on yet another draw at the Riverside…

Boro fans could be forgiven for being confused this afternoon as to which team to cheer on. There seemed to be almost as many Boro lads on the Blackburn team coach as on the Boro bus. The connections were almost endless, Mogga, Venus, Downing, Smallwood, Leutwiler, Chapman and Graham not to mention Gestede with Boro. Granted it was unlikely that either Chapman or Smallwood would be involved but before today’s encounter Rovers had a few impressive results of late beating QPR 2-1 and before that walloping fellow Play Off contenders and another ex Boro Manager Sheffield Wednesday 5-0.

Sitting just four points off the Play Offs the visitors certainly looked the more likely to come away with something from this afternoon and no doubt after a “Typical Boro” Downing inspired display. Emotions aside the bigger picture showed that Blackburn were sitting second in the form table for away games with Boro second on home form so this afternoon would probably be a tight affair.

Mogga had a few injury problems to contend with however as top scorer Bradley Dack, Corry Evans and Joe Rothwell would all be absent. For Boro it had been reported earlier in the week that Shotton and Friend were both back in training but not yet match fit. There was some positive speculation but no confirmation that Dael Fry’s hamstring perhaps wasn’t as bad as first feared and may make the game and that even Britt could be back. Patrick Roberts would definitely miss this one as the newly arrived loanee would now be out for the next two months with a hamstring problem. Hopefully Hayden Coulson will have shaken off the virus that saw him miss the Birmingham drama.

Come two o’clock and the team news was that there was only one Boro change with Tav in for the unfortunate Roberts. Coulson made the bench but not the starting eleven as Marvin Johnson retained his place. Britt made the bench along with Gestede and O’Neil making it look a little attack heavy with three strikers sat there whilst Fletcher and Nmecha both started. Mogga gave 20 year old Joe Rankin-Costello his first league start for Rovers.

The early minutes were fairly uneventful with both side weighing up their opponents until Downing brought down Nmecha to concede a free kick to Boro just outside the Rovers box. Ideal Lewis Wing territory, his shot was low down, hard but wide. A few minutes later Boro won a second free kick which came to nothing in an enterprising start for the home side.

Blackburn started to clear their heads and Howson had to be sharp in cutting out a ball from Gallagher with the visitors now entering a phase of domination. Boro broke away from that attack, Tavernier playing in Fletcher who left Lenihan in his wake but he had his shot saved from a tight angle by Walton. Saville had a follow up shot blocked and then it was Johnson whose effort had Walton athletically tipping it wide. Boro’s resultant first corner of the game was taken short but it was floated in and easily collected by Walton.

It was Pears’ turn next to collect from a Gallagher cross after Nyambe fed him with Holtby in close attendance. A minute later Armstrong went close and had a quickfire second effort and as the pressure grew Holtby was next to test Pears from the edge of the box. On twenty-two minutes Blackburn won their first corner but it was as hopeless as Boro’s previously, training ground routines being in short supply. The game was then held up as Pears and youngster Rankin-Costello clashed with the Blackburn player in some discomfort. Fortunately, the magic sponge wiped away the blood, one new shirt and bandaged head saw the lad stagger to his feet to bravely continue.

With the game approaching thirty minutes Nmecha was next to go down in pain after being on the receiving end of some feisty challenges. With Britt warming up the fear of losing yet another loanee was cleared when he gave the signal to the physio he could carry on. Travis then had to be quick to get back for Rovers and block a Nmecha shot on the edge of the box as Boro had broke forward with pace.

Howson once again cleared at the near post as a Travis’ effort was scrambled clear. Lewis Holtby then went down needing some attention and tried to carry on but had to succumb to his fate two minutes later for Elliot Bennett to replace him with seven minutes of the first half remaining.

Johnson won a corner off Nyambe but this time the Boro short corner came to McNair whose shot come cross came off the woodwork livening up proceedings after the injury scares had seemingly dampened the early promise of the game. Adarabioyo was caught in two minds and Fletcher was alert and nearly nicked in had it not been for a poor first touch. Travis then dragged back Saville with some gusto and was fortunate to only receive a talking to by Ref Donaghy like Downing had in the opening minutes.

Six minutes then came up from the fourth officials board but at this stage the game was in a bit of a languid state. Boro seemed to be laboured in their build up play with Blackburn equally uninspiring. The half ended 0-0 with neither team looking inspirational and from a Boro perspective it was frustratingly crying out for the injured Patrick Roberts to unlock things with some magic. A game that had started with promise slowly fizzled out after the opening twenty-five minutes.

No changes at half time for either side with Rovers having already being forced into one change with Elliott on for Holtby. Saville tried to get an early Boro attack going but it spluttered out and Blackburn were then equally wasteful with Fry cleaning up for Boro as the second half continued in the same manner as the first half had drained away. A clever bit of play from Fletcher presented Nmecha with a half chance, Tavernier then continued the Boro momentum as he twisted and turned in testing Walton. This was much better from Boro but still the scores remained nil apiece.

Johnson fired in a ball across Walton’s box but it evaded everyone going out for a Rovers throw in on the opposite side. As Bell lost possession Boro had Howson firing in a shot that went close but not close enough as frustration levels grew. Nmecha then hit a shot a minute later after Wing had found Saville but his shot was sliced wide. Blackburn then probed Boro’s defence with Downing and Armstrong and then Lewis Travis broke from the middle and finished a one two with Armstrong side footing it past Pears totally against the run of play. Boro had their chances but their finishing was woefully inept and now paid the price, one nil to Blackburn on fifty-seven minutes.

With annoyance to the fore Spence clattered into Bell and like the two Blackburn players earlier was fortunate to escape with just a firm lecture. Djed then fired in a cross to win a Boro corner with Tav departing the field for Assombalonga to return after his lay off. The corner was headed clear and Boro recycled the ball but the pace of it when finally played up had too much on it for Britt.

The sparse away following had suddenly found their voices as Boro started to show a lot more impetus trying to get back into the game with just over twenty-five minutes remaining. Wing went down in the Blackburn box but the Ref blew for a free kick to Lenihan. Mogga made a switch with Danny Graham coming on for the battered and bandaged Rankin-Costello. Johnson had to be strong to fend off Gallagher as Boro had again slumped back into neutral and in need of a spark from somewhere.

A long-range wayward Wing strike going wide brought an opportunity for Coulson to come on and Saville depart with twenty minutes remaining. Boro now switched to four at the back with Coulson operating more as an orthodox winger and McNair pushed into the middle. Coulson won a corner off Nyambe which McNair sent in from the left but it was low and easily headed clear in another example of a wasteful Boro set piece.

The breakthrough came when Nmecha found Lewis Wing and after a return ball from Britt his strike saw Walton parry it into the path of the advancing Coulson who drew Boro level at the far post, 1-1. As the cheers were still ringing around the Riverside, Rovers immediately went close to taking the lead immediately with Gallagher’s shot across Pears’ goal flying wide of the far post as the game suddenly erupted with a veritable frenzy of attacks. The game now looked like a real contest with both sides chasing a winner.

A cross from Coulson saw Fletcher come close for Boro and as the ball was delivered back in again from Nmecha Britt fired his shot over. Downing then went off to a round of applause from all four sides of the ground with Bradley Johnson coming on in his place. The frantic pace continued and a Rovers cross was defended by McNair requiring Johnson to hold off his namesake for the ball to go out for Boro and the opportunity for Gestede to come on for Nmecha with just under eight minutes remaining.

Travis then wiped out Coulson who had turned the game and earned a yellow card. The Free Kick came into the Blackburn box from Wing with Gestede going close but Rovers cleared. Coulson went down again with this time Lenihan taking a yellow for his troubles as Hayden tortured the Rovers defence since arriving. As the free Kick came in Gestede met it and his header was brilliantly saved by Walton for a corner. In it came in but cleared only as far as Wing who fired it back in to be met by Gestede who with the best chance of the game missed a sitter at the back post heading it wide.

Danny Graham then broke away and had Boro hearts in mouths as seconds literally remained of the ninety. Three minutes added time came up as Rovers had a free kick but they played it short and Howson cleared the impending danger. Britt then charged up the other end and as he played in McNair a toe from a despairing Travis stole Paddy’s big moment. A mistake by Spence almost allowed Armstrong to break in the dying seconds but the whistle sounded as the game ended all square.

Boro had their chances to win this with the best one falling to Gestede who done what has typified his time at Boro missing another sitter. That said as a side we haven’t been scoring enough goals all season and this was yet another game were the opportunities came but the finishing wasn’t clinical. The stats beforehand screamed a draw so we perhaps shouldn’t be too surprised or disappointed at today’s outcome as Boro now look destined to be halfway from somewhere and half way to nowhere which I guess is better than League One. For his brief cameo MOM was Coulson as he totally changed the game and was a real threat plus scoring the equaliser.

If you wish to leave a comment about Redcar Red’s match report please return to the Week 26-27 discussion page

Will Gibson show intent before January circus leaves town

Championship 2019-20: Weeks 26-27

Sat  1 Feb – 15:00: Boro v Blackburn
Sat  8 Feb – 15:00: Brentford v Boro
Tue 11 Feb – 19:45: Wigan v Boro

Werdermouth prepares for surprise arrivals and shock departures or neither…

As the January transfer window circus gets ready to head out of town, all that is left are the usual bunch of sad clowns kicking their heels in oversized shoes after failing to persuade desperate clubs that their client’s wage demands were reasonable and the elephant in the room is now wondering why he’s been going round in circles again. Reports that Boro are attempting some death-defying signings without the aid of the safety net that was parachute payments have probably made even the most daring of accountants unable to look.

Still, cries for the jugglers in the recruitment department to be sacked remain unheeded as the Riverside ringmaster tries to get in on the act by introducing his amazing escapologist nephew, who is attempting to free himself from the claret and blue chains that bind him to Sean Dyche. While very few onlookers are left holding their breath, the latest rumours suggest rather than signing our own Harry Houdini, Boro may be welcoming the French-born defender Harold Moukoudi instead – though from Saint-Etienne rather than from from the Cirque du Soleil. OK, it could still be the result of a Googling autocorrect error that got out of hand.

Talking of chains, apparently first-time buyers Boro are being held in one as they hope to gain the signature of Leicester’s Croatian £13m stopper Filip Benkovic, who can seemingly go out loan to get some game-time and test his dodgy knee that has restricted him to just a handful of appearances in the last 12 months – though the cunning Foxes first want to sign a replacement as cover. From a typical Boro perspective it looks like an accident waiting to happen or indeed repeated as news that one January signing has already been sidelined by injury for two months. The exciting and energetic Patrick Roberts looks unlikely to pull on a Boro shirt until April after doing his hamstring (to give it the full medical diagnosis) against Birmingham and will now have little impact on Boro’s fortunes this season.

It seems as the deadline approaches the ambulance chasers at the Boro recruitment ward are being linked with another injury prone player to replace Roberts. Jordan Jones of Rangers is being suggested he will imminently move to Teesside, where he would return to the club he supports and was released by the academy in 2006. A knee injury has restricted Jones to just five appearances this season and it seems the three-games-a-week Championship will more than test his recovery.

Another player now being heavily linked to join Boro is bad boy Ravel Morrison, who at 26 has already been at ten clubs but hasn’t really played that much football in the last five years with just 34 games at five different clubs – 18 of which were down Mexico way for a club in Guadalajara. As a youngster there was no doubting his talent but his attitude has seemingly not made him many friends. From Manchester to London, Birmingham to Wales, Italy to Mexico and Sweden to Sheffield, it seems next stop is Teesside if the players less than cryptic Tweet yesterday of the Boro badge is any indication.

It’s fair to say with all that travelling he comes with plenty of baggage, including some serious off-field problems in his late teens and early twenties, which show being convicted of witness intimidation, several charges of assault (which were later dropped) and being fined by the FA for posting homophobic threats on Twitter. Lazio’s footballing director said of Morrison: “He has undoubted quality and is world class, as well as being a little mad” – while Big Sam described him as “The biggest waste of talent he has worked with.” A career blighted by problems, attitude and injuries, which you could say will add insult to injury to the mix if he does indeed join Boro. Perhaps not the role model our young squad need but possibly a cautionary tale for those who think they have already made it.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Woodgate may be hoping he won’t need to contemplate looking for his old boots under the stairs as defensive options for February could involve variations of a back one and a rush goalie. Though there’s still no news on progress of the Billy Ashcroft style conversion of Rudy Gestede into that towering presence at the back. At least it sounds like Dael Fry has recovered and hopefully he will be sufficiently fit to withstand the busy schedule of 11 games in the next seven weeks.

The Championship it appears has been designed to literally test a squad to destruction and is one that seemingly ignores the pace and rigours of modern football. This is no longer a world dominated by goal poachers and agricultural defenders but now requires players to press, sprint, overlap and cover with high intensity until they have left everything on the pitch – including surely their prospects of a long career. With the season now punctuated by four two-week international breaks, where a significant number of second-tier players at all levels don’t even get a break, it’s meant the need to further squeeze the calendar to fit in 46 league fixtures and two cup competitions – that’s normally a minimum of 50 games for each club with only 35 weekends available. It’s a war of attrition and tiredness has become the great leveller as once again the better teams at the top with more internationals lose their edge as others randomly play catch up.

Whether Boro can still catch up is another matter, that fleeting moment of possibility appears to have passed after those Manager-of-the-Month performances of December have not quite been repeated in January. After not tasting victory since that New Year’s Day win at Preston, Woodgate will probably need to explain to his son Carter that he probably doesn’t need to find any more space on the top of his wardrobe for another one just yet. He could possibly take time to introduce him to the folklore and the curse that often accompanies the award – though that could lead to some nightmares when the young lad sees it emitting an eerie kryptonic green glow in his bedroom at night.

Sadly, a twelve-point gap to sixth place is now looking insurmountable in the remaining 17 games and all but the pathological optimists on Teesside have probably given up hope of reaching the play-offs. To put the task in context, it probably requires 40 points from the remaining 17 games and few teams have ever achieved that in the recent history of the Championship. In case any doubt the veracity of that claim, I’m contractually obliged to throw in a table to prove the point that shows the most points that clubs have achieved since Boro were relegated ten years ago – note: other arbitrary statistically interpretations are available.

Most points gained in the last 17 games since 2009/10
After 29 games After 46 games Points gained
Season Team Position Points Position Points last 17 games
2011/12 Reading 7 46 1 89 43
2015/16 Burnley 3 56 1 93 41
2009/10 Newcastle 1 62 1 102 40
2018/19 Norwich 2 54 1 94 40
2017/18 Fulham 6 48 3 88 40
2019/20 Boro ? 17 35 6 75 40
2014/15 Watford 6 50 2 89 39
2014/15 Norwich 7 47 3 86 39
2018/19 Sheff Utd 4 51 2 89 38
2015/16 Brighton 4 51 3 89 38
2013/14 Burnley 2 56 2 93 37

Boro have been added to the table not out of anticipation but for the simple purpose of demonstrating the contrast in points and position that the other teams had both at this stage and after 46 games. Woodgate’s team currently have 12 points fewer than any team that has managed such a total. Nevertheless, if we were to see Boro ever join that table for real and make around 40 points to reach the play-offs then they’re going to have to come from a very long way back to emulate just a handful of clubs. Teams who can achieve such a sustained run of form appear to be already in contention with a third of the season remaining and probably weren’t relying on makeshift defences or bedding in too many young players and loanees. It’s perhaps even more of a challenge for an injury hit squad that has to now play 11 games in seven weeks. OK, it’s not impossible to make that amount of points but highly improbable a team currently in 17th is going to shoot up the table.

There’s probably an obvious reason why Boro are not closer to the play-offs and that is down to inconsistency and not having the ability to win games when not playing well – or indeed even when playing well. It should be noted that Aston Villa overcame an 11 point deficit with just 12 games to go last season to make the play-offs. They won 10 on the spin of their last 12 games and only lost their final game against Champions Norwich after resting some key players like Jack Grealish once a top-six place was already secured. Boro have already used up all their space for bad runs and would need to win four of their next five games, repeat that twice more and then end with a win and a draw! I don’t think even Ray Winstone would have the nerve to offer any odds on that.

This is the puzzling backdrop to why Boro are keen on adding more high-profile loan signings to what should be geared towards preparing for a better start next season. Try before you buy deals would be a more sensible approach rather than giving pitch time to any players who are not likely to be available or affordable for Boro next term. OK, Woodgate will want to finish as high as possible this season but it shouldn’t be at the expense of limiting his resources to acquire better players in the summer.

At the moment the club are pondering whether they can afford to offer deals to players like Howson and Ayala – though Woodgate sounded confident the former would sign a new contract. Following Marcus Tavernier committing himself to Boro until June 2023, the head coach also seemed to indicate both Djed Spence and Aynsley Pears were also very close to following suit. With Hayden Coulson already on board, together with Dael Fry, Lewis Wing and Ashley Fletcher, it will give Woodgate a good young core of players to build his team around and it will be important that they all get as many games under their belt this season as possible.

Of course, attracting players to Teesside has never been easy and most targets that reach the media before they sign usually never end up happening. Boro have to almost operate in stealth mode to avoid getting gazumped or players hijacked on route to Hurworth. Perhaps the bid for Ben Gibson was the equivalent of the proverbial ‘dead cat on the table’ that is essentially a distraction so Boro can work on their real targets without too much media attention.

OK, avoiding the media pack’s gaze can be difficult and often requires those involved to operate covertly. Boro could possibly learn from the latest takeover at Newcastle, where Mike Ashley is said to be furious that news of the deal has leaked into the media before it has been agreed. It’s not yet clear how the media twigged that the consortium involved were planning on buying the famous black-and-white shirted club as the whole deal had operated under an impenetrable codename. OK, perhaps ‘Project Zebra’ was barely enough to fool some of the working-lunch tabloid journos but at least they opted against adding the word ‘Crossing’ at the end.

Nevertheless, now that the people behind takeover have been outed, there is unease that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is one of them. You may recall it was reported he was recently behind the murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi, whose body was then gruesomely chopped up and disposed of. Indeed, the charge sheet doesn’t stop there and you could easily add a whole list of crimes and human rights abuses from extra-judicial killings, financing a proxy war in Yemen, persecution of LGBT people in his own country and much more.

The prospect of such a person owning their club seems not to be an issue for most Newcastle supporters, with a poll showing 80 percent in favour – especially after the group indicated that they planned to make £200m available for transfers and possibly re-instate Rafa as manager. The Northern Echo reported that Michael Martin, from the Newcastle fanzine True Faith, said “The lure of a strengthened squad and the chance of a place in Europe means many fans would look beyond the issues surrounding human rights. If the Saudis took over at Newcastle, I seriously doubt there would be any local outcry… They would be welcomed not so much with open arms but with an unparalleled euphoria.” It’s also possible that the threat of the ‘bone saw’ may encourage the likes of Andy Carrol to stay fit.

All of which tells us that in the world of football today it’s only money that talks and nothing else seems to matter. Newcastle fans merely see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as their lottery ticket to becoming the next Manchester City. As to how he will pass the Premier League’s ‘Fit and Proper Person’ test will be interesting. I can imagine the meeting where the suits weigh up the evidence… “OK, on the downside he’s responsible for the murder of quite a few people, oppressed the population and is financing a brutal war – though on the plus side he’s got a personal fortune of $17bn and his extended family is worth over $2 trillion. Sounds like just the kind of man we’re looking to attract.” You may as well abolish the test if this deal goes through as what would somebody have to do to fail?

Owning a football club has become a way for very rich dubious people to add a veneer of respectability to their image. 15 of the 20 clubs in the Premier League are already owned by billionaires, even half-a-dozen of the Championship clubs are owned by billionaires. Steve Gibson with his personal fortune estimated at $263m is now one of the ‘poorest’ owners in the top two divisions – with only Millwall’s owners listed as worth less. I suspect the pressure to water down FFP rules will grow as the power of the wealthy usually exceeds the will of those who regulate.

Anyway, back to the actual football and Boro resume their business on the pitch this Saturday as they welcome a couple of local heroes back to Teesside with former manager Tony Mowbray and the head coach’s brother-in-law Stewart Downing. Downing claimed this week that him moving was the best for everyone and especially his friend Jonathan Woodgate. Though while he says he loving life at Blackburn under Mogga, he announced that he won’t celebrate if he scores – well I’m not sure given his less than prolific strike-rate (average of two goals per season at Boro and just one so far at Blackburn) he should spurn the opportunity to do a knee slide towards the Red Faction and turn his back and point to his name. Still, I hope he doesn’t include OGs in that statement as he will surely get to hear “there’s only one Stewy Downing” if he does. After winning their last two games, including 5-0 against Garry Monk’s Owls, Rovers are now just 4 points off the play-offs in tenth place. Woodgate will be hoping that only one of the Teesside-born former-central-defender-turned-gaffer is left smiling come five-o-clock – and preferably the current one.

The following weekend sees Boro make the trip to Brentford to take on a Thomas Frank’s side that are currently occupying a play-off place in fifth spot. Their 1-0 defeat at the hands of Forest ended a run of six-successive victories at Griffin Park, including wins over Fulham and Swansea – plus that 7-0 thrashing of Luton. It will not be an easy task for Boro to come away with three points as not only have the Bees conceded the fewest number of goals in the Championship, they are also the fourth highest scorers and subsequently have the best goal-difference.

Next up is the first midweek game of the month as Boro are once again on their travels as they head to Wigan. Paul Cook’s side are currently in the relegation zone. Their win over Birmingham on New Year’s Day ended a run of 13 games without victory and they picked up another three points last time out against Sheffield Wednesday. The Lactics are currently nine points behind Boro and four from safety and it’s a game Woodgate will want to win to put an even healthier distance between the clubs. The reverse fixture back in August saw Woodgate achieve his first win as Boro head coach with a narrow 1-0 victory thanks to a first-half headed goal from Britt Assombalonga – perhaps the DR Congo striker will hope to repeat the task if he’s back from injury.

So as rumours come and go and targets become no longer of interest, it’s difficult to predict how the squad will look come 23:00 on Friday evening. If past experiences are anything to go by then probably not much different as last-minute hitches and changes of mind mean business wasn’t able to be completed. As I type this sentence, there’s still no sign of Ben Gibson, Harold Moukoudi is still heading to Teesside to be toughen up, Ravel Morrison hasn’t as yet unravelled, Leicester have signed a replacement to unblock Filip Benkovic, Jordan Jones is possibly still on his Jack, the lad from Shrewsbury who looked good on TV against Liverpool is still being linked with everyone and apparently Boro are in for 20-year old wonder-kid from Argentina. Still no offers for Gestede and Villa have yet to panic and offer £10m for Britt…

Fulham 1 – 0 Boro

Fulham 2-1 Boro
Knockaert (6) 61%
SHOTS (on target)

Fed up in Fulham

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s defeat at Craven Cottage…

The matches seem to be coming thick and fast at the minute as Boro stayed down in London and headed across the City to Craven Cottage this evening in the Championship under the Sky cameras. It looked like everyone came through the midweek cup replay against Spurs uninjured so no fresh concerns for Woodgate in terms of available personnel apart from Randolph departing which while disappointing wasn’t a huge shock. Fulham on the other hand would be missing their talismanic Striker and of course ex-Boro target Aleksandar Mitrovic.

It could be argued that Boro without Assombalonga added up to pretty much the same thing or at least that what we were hoping Scott Parker would be seeking solace in. Reality was that whilst Fulham had an unhealthy overdependence on Mitrovic the same certainly couldn’t be said about Boro and Britt or even Boro and goals in this season’s Championship so far.

Arguably an entire first choice Boro defensive unit was missing with Shotton, Ayala, Friend and Dijksteel all injured. Parker had a few other concerns himself with midfielder Harrison Reed out with a calf problem and Mitrovic’s possible replacement Aboubakar Kamara struggling with an ankle injury. Boro hadn’t come out victorious against Fulham since February 2016 although Fulham hadn’t actually beaten Boro at the Cottage since April 2015.

There were six changes in the Boro line up from the midweek Cup game with the most notable absentees being Wing and Fletcher. Mejias, Johnson, Liddle and Nmecha all dropped out with Gestede, Saville, Coulson, Roberts, Pears and Tavernier all starting. Reid was starting as the main Striker for Fulham with Cavaleiro and Knockaert providing the threat down the flanks.

Ref David Webb blew for Fulham to kick off and almost immediately putting the ball out of play. Fulham were spraying the ball around with confidence and aplomb but were forced back into their own half before regrouping and getting back up the pitch. Despite all the flair and endeavour when the final ball came it ended up being comfortably collected at waist height by Pears. Fulham swiftly came back again, this time with Knockaert being closed down by Coulson before shooting well over.

A Tav cross in the fourth minute was headed by Hector clear and over Gestede but Spence arrived deep on the far side but hit his shot well wide of Rodak’s goal. On seven minutes a devilishly simple low cross from Bryan on the left was delivered in and met by Knockaert for a simple tap in having lost his marker Coulson. For the second time in a week in London Boro found themselves a goal down in the opening minutes. In fairness Fulham were good value for their goal and not to put too fine a point on it had looked by far the sharper side. Too many white shirts were finding acres of space with Boro slow to identify, pick up, close down, mark and allowing them far too much time to build up momentum.

Onomah had a shot outside the Boro eighteen-yard box which to our relief went wide with Boro now reduced to literally chasing shadows, being pulled all over, losing shape and with it their own game plan, second and sometimes even third to every loose ball. Fast, high tempo, slick passing and energy and movement off the ball meant that Fulham were ripping Boro open with ease as once again Onomah should have put the Home side further ahead the fourteenth minute. Thankfully his shot was low and weak allowing Pears time to get down and smother it. Boro were sitting far too deep, unable to mount any offensive with their attackers isolated yet again while the Cottagers swarmed forward with impunity.

Despite Boro sitting deep, camped in the last twenty yards of the pitch, Fulham looked like they had twice as many players as they were finding space everywhere and anywhere they wanted to play it. Those fleeting seconds that we did have on the ball we took far too long and had no movement off it and with twenty minutes gone Fulham had the opportunities to have been three up.

Tavernier, Roberts and Gestede had been anonymous at this stage with Fulham simply bypassing them. It was like watching a boxer with a six inch longer reach than his opponent, picking them off with ease. A corner won by Knockaert off Coulson on twenty minutes was delivered to the far post where Onomah stood completely unmarked and should have hit the target. Next a ridiculous looped clearance from Pears handed Fulham the initiative and as Reid was about to blast it past the unprotected Pears, Howson somehow got a block in to put it out for a corner. Whatever the Form table might have said beforehand on this showing Boro looked relegation fodder and Fulham every inch promotion candidates with just twenty-five minutes expired.

Roberts eventually worked a break all by himself winning a corner for Boro to ease the ongoing relentless pressure. It was delivered in by McNair but Fry got underneath it, looping it back off his head back into the six-yard box but went out via Gestede’s head aimlessly for a goal kick. As well as the front three Clayton and Saville had been anonymous in the game. Even a free kick in the twenty seventh minute was woefully executed with a lumped ball up to Fry in the Fulham box from which Fulham immediately attacked with Cairney and Cavaleiro breaking and the Fulham Captain testing Pears. Shocking that we could actually turn an attack into being ripped apart with ease yet again so quickly.

On twenty-nine minutes Tav fed Coulson out wide who chipped in a cross that was deflected and Rodak was nearly caught out as the ball spun out for a corner. The corner came in and Tav met it at chest height with his left boot raised when it needed a diving header and as a consequence went out harmlessly for another Fulham goal kick. Gestede chased down a weak back pass as Boro finally started to show some intent with the home side looking tired from their high tempo start with thirteen minutes of the first half remaining.

Our wing-backs had been starved of both service and of protection, Saville and Clayton’s roles seemed completely detached from what was going on around them. Then it was the up until then camouflaged Saville who cut out a crossfield ball on the half way line, advance and managed a shot that went out for a corner. The corner was half punched clear by Rodak with Reid back defending clearing the disappointing set play. A break involving Tav, found him getting a cross in to the far side of the six-yard box to Gestede, stretching, he headed it back into the box but there was zero support and it was cleared with embarrassing ease.

A badly skewed cross from Spence in the fortieth minute summed up Boro’s lack of composure throughout the first half. Then a free kick from the half way line from McNair blatantly lumped upfield was a perfect illustration of how agricultural we had become playing Gestede up front on his own. His lack of movement meant we couldn’t play slick, fast paced balls up front and the immobility of the Benin striker was just one of several reasons why our tactics were failing miserably. Howson, Fry and McNair done what they could but they were woefully exposed by ineffective wing backs, soporific midfielders and a non-existing attacking threat. The half ended with more comedic stand-off hesitant defending which eventually Pears got down to once again smother the threat with help from Howson covering his keeper.

Woodgate’s half time team talk seriously required a major rethink and reshuffle. Nothing was working and how the scoreline had remained the solitary goal was down to poor finishing and incredible luck. As a half of football, that was right up there with the worst of them this season. I suspect it was only the tiredness with Fulham after their blazing start that had allowed Boro to have a few efforts rather than as a result of anything we were doing. Gestede is an impact Striker at best or played or as part of a front two. Playing him as a lone Striker wasted what skills he does have and failed to offer any threat whatsoever. The midfield was less than dynamic and the two youngsters playing at wing-back we were struggling up against Knockaert and Cavleiro with Clayton and Saville both ominous by their absence.

The second half got under way with Boro attacking the travelling army. Boro had a few attempted attacks but they lacked any real belief, zeal or serious damage. We looked to be playing with a back four now with Spence pushed further up. Still we endured hoofed balls out from an over worked Boro defence and simply didn’t look to be going to able trouble this Fulham side. A rare run from Roberts in the fifty-first minute ended with Saville tackling McDonald in the Fulham box to concede a free kick. In the second half Saville was seeing more of the ball but to no great effect whilst Gestede and Clayton were passengers. Ten minutes gone in the half and Woodgate needed to change something quickly. Watching Boro players trying to find a red shirt was painful to bear, the only consolation was that Fulham were being infected with the same disease now. Tav was starting to become more involved and instrumental in any Boro forays. Spence was then hacked down by McDonald taking one for his team. Bizarrely Woodgate then brought off Tav for Wing as the free kick was being readied. How he left Clayton, Saville and Gestede on the pitch and took Tav off was baffling.

A break from midfield by Roberts on sixty-one minutes was played out wide to Coulson winning a corner in the process. When it came in it glanced off Gestede and went out for a goal kick in another wasted set piece. That substitution was having no effect at all on proceedings with Wing sitting too deep. A weak handball shout from Gestede setting up Spence was waved away by the Ref. A Boro corner was overhit with Roberts alert to picking up the loose ball but then dribbled his way into trouble in the “D” and allowed Fulham to break with numbers before Spence and Wing managed to combine to thwart the danger. Sixty-six minutes gone and another free kick was wasted by McNair as it was poorly placed to Fry who couldn’t reach it and was easily blocked off. So far, all our set pieces had been extremely poor but at least Fulham had slowed things down a bit and we looked like we might be lucky and nick something if we could just move the ball around quickly instead of playing balls that were already read in last week’s zimmer frame digest.

Bryan then had an effort after cutting inside from Spence but Pears got down to his near post as there wasn’t much pace on it. A Coulson cross was then deflected up into the arms of Rodak on seventy minutes. As the ball was played out of their defence, Fulham passed their way up the pitch quickly and it was Knockaert who had a cheeky twenty-five-yard shot which went wide. McNair was then booked for ripping the shirt off Cavaleiro’s back and it was Cavaleiro who took the free kick himself. A cleverly worked, curved ball dropping into the box for Odoi to head home only for the slow-motion linesman to flag offside by what must have been an elbow. A very fortunate let off for Boro. Seconds later Fulham carved Boro open again and a cross went across invitingly Pears’ six-yard box but it went out without any white shirt sliding in.

Seventy-five minutes had elapsed and Boro were hanging on as Fulham rejuvenated turned the screw and upped the ante once more. The same failed long hoofed hopeful balls were returned with interest as Boro’s frailties hadn’t been addressed either by tactics or by personnel. Reid won a corner off Spence after the youngster was caught ball watching. The resultant corner saw penalty appeals by the Home fans firstly for an alleged hand ball and then a Coulson foul on Knockaert on the edge of the box saw a theatrical dive just the right side of the white line. The free kick incredibly found an unmarked Onomah again but as previously his finishing was poor. A double sub from Boro then saw the two dead legs in midfield leave for Fletcher and Nmecha in a last-ditch attempt to rescue a very undeserved point.

Ten minutes remained and the best we could muster was Wing hoofing long balls that were impossible to reach. Arter had a good shot blocked by Howson after another fast, slick, break down their right. A long ball on the turf out of defence from Wing saw Nmecha give chase but he ran straight into Hector who stood his ground. Five minutes now remained and we looked a disjointed anomaly of parts and not all of which seemed to fit. McNair went down rather easily on the touchline from Knockaert’s attentions and as he swung in his own free kick Rodak got his fingertips onto what suspiciously looked like another miss-hit far post ball. The subsequent incoming corner which resulted was predictably overhit to nobody and easily cleared. A half-hearted penalty claim after Hector collided with Fletcher in the box was ignored as Fletcher seemed to be going down before the challenge came in.

Five minutes came up on the fourth Officials board as Spence frustratingly claimed a throw in that went the other way near the Fulham corner flag. Mawson then came on for Knockaert who had terrorised us all evening with a suspicious looking hamstring suddenly flaring up as he limped off the pitch eating up seconds. A long throw from Coulson down the touchline up to Gestede saw the big Striker control it with all the athleticism and finesse of Bella Emberg, putting it out for a Fulham throw in.

A late, well worked piece of play saw Spence hit a cross headed out by Hector that was delivered to, yep you guessed it, the far post again but it did at least go out for another corner which Pears advanced up the pitch for but the delivery was predictably hopeful rather than creative. Fulham won a throw and as they once again penetrated the Boro box with haste the whistle went to end a miserable week in the capital. MOM was Howson but tactically overall it was a throwback to September/October. That was rank bad with no redeeming features other than we battled more in the second half but never remotely looked like scoring.

If you wish to leave a comment about Redcar Red’s match report please return to the Week 24-25 discussion page

Climate on Teesside warming after the Boro gong show

Championship 2019-20: Weeks 24-25

Fri 17 Jan – 19:45: Fulham v Boro
Tue 21 Jan – 19:45: Boro v Birmingham

Werdermouth looks towards Boro basking in the winter sunshine…

As the climate on Teesside continues to show signs of unseasonal warming there are worries that the ancient north-east ice shelf of pessimism may be at risk of total collapse with a danger of severe floods of optimism engulfing the local landscape. While it’s not quite yet an emergency that requires an intervention from Greta Thunberg, it’s still a concern that the future of Teesside’s children could be blighted by overheated aspirations. OK, it’s still only mid January so there’s still time to experience the traditional pleasure of cold reality but thankfully Boro supporters only have five more days to negotiate the risk of disappointment this month. Indeed, it’s time to prepare for two football-free weekends of tending to prematurely awakened globally-warmed gardens while contemplating a suitable morally outraged position on Megxit to fill the void that exists in a post-Brexit world.

Despite no win in the last three games (surely just an anomaly caused by the distorting ripples created by the gravity of the manager of the month award), it’s seems Boro have finally found that winning mentality they lacked earlier in the seson. The club’s change in fortunes saw Jonathan Woodgate collect the prestigious footballing equivalent of the salesman of the month for his team topping the form table for December. After a Ricky Gevais equivalent handed him the expensively cast iconic sculpture, the almost emotional Boro head coach declared in his acceptance speech that “I’m proud, but I’m nothing without my staff…” before quickly adding “…and then of course, the players. It’s always about the players.” Indeed, the players have deserved that acknowledgement but surprisingly there was no mention of the ‘Me Too’ movement that many had expected at such occasions, though that particular movement on Teesside represented those supporters who had agreed among themselves that they wouldn’t return to the Riverside while Woodgate was still in charge.

Though while we were informed that the award is set to take pride of place on top of his son’s wardrobe (no higher praise other than glueing it to the ceiling perhaps), the award has also helped to vindicate Steve Gibson in appointing another young head coach. OK, it won’t necessarily prove to be decisive moment in his managerial career but it does at least mark a change in attitude on Teesside for many who had feared the club were going nowhere fast under the inexperienced gaffer. However, Woodgate is unlikely to dwell on the award and is conscious that he needs to continue winning if he is to keep ahead of the game: “Alright, I’m Manager of the Month now. But that can quickly change” – indeed it often does and no doubt will. If that wasn’t enough, Ashley Fletcher also bagged the ‘Goal of the Month’ award for December for his superb 30-yard volley at the Baggies and Djed Spence made it a hat-trick with the Young Player of the Month award.

More vindication for Steve Gibson arrived on Thursday as Derby County (aka Rooney’s Rams) were charged by the EFL of being in breach of their Financial Fair Play rules. Although, it should be noted that was for the period ending 30th June 2018 – so while the decision will be welcomed by the Boro chairman, it does appear that an 18 month delay in being held to account means it probably won’t deter clubs from gambling on promotion. Gibson’s argument has been that Boro missed out on making the play-offs to Derby in the following season by just one point and they had gained an unfair advantage by overspending beyond what was permitted. Mel Morris had sought to give the appearance of staying within the spending rules by selling the club’s stadium to what was listed as “companies under common ownership” or in layman’s terms simply himself. The stadium sale was rather luckily made just two days before that end of June accounting period and registered a profit of £39.9m to turn a potential three-year loss of £48m into just an £8m one with EFL rules permitting just a loss of £39m – still at least the accountants added 900 grand to the stadium profit to avoid it looking like they were taking the proverbial by picking that controversial figure.

Whether Derby will ultimately face a points deduction this season may depend on when the matter is resolved – The East Midlands club are contesting that they haven’t actually done something against the letter of the rules and it’s likely to be a semantic legal argument over the legitimacy of what constitutes an allowable entity to which something can be sold or whether indeed the price was fair or inflated. Whatever the outcome, it would either seem unfair if it was imposed with less than ten games remaining or of no consequence if it simply placed them lower in mid-table. Philip Cocu’s side are currently like Boro ten points clear of the drop zone with just an outside chance of bridging the 8-point gap to the play-offs. The precedent of Birmingham receiving a nine point deduction may make it uncomfortably close for Rams supporters to contemplate the possibility of relegation. However, sympathy on Teesside will unlikely to be in evidence with that memory of Boro’s relegation caused by our own three-point deduction for faxing a dodgy sick note.

Strangely, there was no sign of Steve Gibson and Mel Morris sharing pleasantries in the directors box at the recent Riverside encounter and perhaps it was just as well given that injury-time strike by Duane Octavious Holmes, which stole a fifth-successive victory from Woodgate’s men. I suspect the Boro chairman would have struggled to avoid the Rebecca Long-Bailey-esque stock countenance of appearing to be forcing a smile while simultaneously sucking a lemon as he shook hands with the Derby owner. Note: other Labour leadership contender facial expressions are available in the event of needing to portray indifference, surprise or even vague understanding in the event of losing – though unlike most of those it seems Boro still have momentum on their side. Incidentally, it appears the main criteria for a new Labour leader is to possess a suitable name that fits in with the famous White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” tune that is used to chant “Oh Jeremy Corbyn!” and on that basis it’s looking good for “Oh Rebecca Long-Bailey!” as the other are either a few syllables short or in Emily Thornberry’s case will probably need to marry Kier Starmer to reduce it to the right number.

Though the pressing issue at the moment is the cost of restoring Big Ben’s clapper before the end of the month in order to ring in the changes. Yes there are further rumours that Ben Gibson may be restored to Boro’s defence before the January transfer window ends – though many on Teesside are concerned that he may be all clapped out after disappearing in Lancashire under Sean Dyche and would prove to be nothing more than an expensive sentimental signing – indeed some on social media are even not bothering with the ‘senti’ bit. Still, Boro surely need to sign at least one central defender in the next few weeks to avoid seeing a back three of central midfielders. Apparently, Shotton is close to fitness but Ayala’s is set to be missing for the next four weeks, which is a minimum of another five games.

At least Boro have signed another keeper after Darren Randolph finally limped out of Hurworth and signed for West Ham. The delay to the least surprising Boro exit for sometime was it seems down to David Moyes having a thing about injured goalkeepers – apparently to lose one is unfortunate, two is careless but three would demonstrate something pathological that lies hiden behind that stare. Still, at least he would probably have got the gig for the next ‘Injury Lawyers for You’ advert… “Have you ever accidentally signed an injured keeper that wasn’t your fault?” Nevertheless, Boro have been quick to replace Randolph with the arrival of a massive six-foot-five Macedonian in the form of Dejan Stojanovic, who the the faithful on the terraces are probably going to need more than just a complimentary free pint to be able to chant his name to that White Stripes classic – though too many and inevitable slurring could cause some to be whisked away by St John’s ambulance staff as possible stroke victims. We can only hope for the sake of the hard-pressed A&E at James Cook that Aynsley Pears continues to show good form between the sticks. Sadly Tomás Mejías will probably be kicking himself for blowing his chances of getting his hands on the number one shirt after his second-minute howler in the Tottenham replay – though it’s possible kicking is not his strongest attribute and he should leave it to others.

Last Tuesday, Boro supporters had what’s often known slightly patronisingly as “a good day out” in the country’s swankiest most expensive stadium that the Spurs board are hoping won’t become ‘White Elephant Lane’ rather than the previous ‘Hart’. It perhaps sums up the hyped nature of football that the team managed by the world’s most successful coach in a billion pound stadium struggled to see off Woodgate’s cobbled together team of those who couldn’t be rested. On another day perhaps Boro could have sneaked into the fourth round but in the end nobody seemed overly keen on risking the chance of three points at Craven Cottage over the increasingly tarnished distraction of the FA Cup. It won’t go down as a particularly memorable encounter but Boro basically did enough over both games to leave their new-found confidence intact and allow themselves to both euphemistically and literally concentrate on the league.

Boro opted to remain in London this week to minimise travelling and have been training at Palace. So it’s a short trip to Fulham for another televised encounter and the opportunity to close the gap on the top six. All Boro can do is try to win every game and see where it takes them but while that notion would have been ridiculed only a few weeks ago, Woodgate’s team now look like they have a chance at beating nearly any team in the Championship. The arrival of Roberts on loan from Man City has added yet another lively direct player to the team, which with the rise of Coulson, Spence, Tavernier and Fletcher has transformed blunt Boro into a dangerous-looking outfit – especially if the promising Nmecha improves his match fitness. Scott Parker’s side are currently sitting in fourth spot and looking at making a swift return to the Premier League. While they recently beat Leeds at Craven Cottage, they have also lost two of their last four at home, including last time out against in-form Reading and also against the Robins. The other plus for Woodgate is that Fulham will be without their main man Mitrović up front as he damaged his ankle last time out – the Serb is the Championship’s leading scorer with 18 goals in 26 appearances. The Boro head coach now has difficult selection issues as up until recently the team has basically selected itself by availability.

Finally, Tuesday sees the rearranged home fixture against Birmingham, which was originally due to take place during the FA Cup fourth round fixtures. Pep Clotet still remains in charge of the Blues but his team have dropped down the table and are now below Boro in 18th place. Last week they recorded only their second victory since the beginning of November after beating bottom club Luton 2-1 – with the other one being surprisingly at in-form team Reading. Boro will be looking for revenge for the 2-1 defeat in the reverse fixture where Woodgate’s team faced 26 attempts on goal from the Blues and only mustered five chances themselves. In fact, Boro almost came away with a point after an 87th minute equaliser from Ayala but sadly conceded a Birmingham winner two minutes later. That was back in early October when the head coach was still persisting with 4-3-3 but Coulson and Friend were injured and Shotton was playing left-back. Clotet will face a much more dynamic Boro team this time and hopefully it will be the team in red peppering the opposition goal.

So that brings the action on the pitch to an end for January but it’s possible it will continue off the pitch as Woodgate looks to reshape his Boro squad before the transfer window closes. The head coach has indicated that he also expects the young first team graduates of Tavernier, Coulson, Spence and Pears all to sign new deals in the coming weeks, which he claims will be like new signings. Clearly there are still some gaps to be filled and there’s still the issue of whether the club will look to cash in Assombalonga to raise more cash for the summer. There’s also the matter of whether Howson and Ayala will sign new deals and it’s also possible clubs will test Boro’s resolve with someone like McNair. While reaching the play-offs may require maintaining the December run all the way to the end of the season, the nucleus of a team capable of promotion is now within Woodgate’s sight and the future is now looking bright rather than the gloomy one anticipated.

Spurs 2 – 1 Boro

Tottenham 2-1 Boro
Lo Celso (2)
Lamela (15)
SHOTS (on target)
Saville (83)

Spurs take two!

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s FA Cup replay at the Tottenham Stadium…

A busy schedule in the smoke this week for Boro commenced this evening with Spurs in the Cup. A 1-1 draw at the Riverside just over a week ago saw the two sides lock horns again after Lucas Moura had headed home an equaliser for the Premiership side. As is typical for this time of year and indeed almost fashionable both sides had a long list of the injured and walking wounded. Mourinho announced that Hugo Lloris (elbow), Ben Davies (ankle), Tanguy Ndombele (hip), Moussa Sissoko (knee) and Harry Kane (hamstring) would all be absent for tonight’s event. His limited options he alleged were at bare bones level, declaring that only Toby Alderweireld could be rested from his first team squad.

Previously Mourinho had comically asked if Boro would consider playing their reserve team for tonight’s game. He was clearly unaware that the players selected and those who had made the Boro bench last time out were in fact the Academy side with a remaining handful of fit first teamers. Woodgate did have slim hopes that Britt Assombalonga might have been fit enough to travel but unfortunately unlike limbo victim Darren Randolph he remained at Rockliffe to linger just a little longer. Positively, neither side had any fresh injury concerns, Spurs after their Home defeat to runway Champions elect Liverpool and Boro to Rooney’s raiding Rams at the weekend.

Spurs were last beaten at home by a lower league side in the FA Cup in 1975 (by Forest) so the omens pre kick off were not exactly on Boro’s side for this replay. On the positive they had kept just one clean sheet since Mourinho took over so Boro would be hopeful of registering a few shots on target at least. Despite Randolph travelling Woodgate had already announced that Mejias would be between the sticks again for Boro so perhaps he would be a lucky charm after his previous cup exploits with Boro.

Boro had a few surprises in the team and a shock start for Ben Liddle with Woodgate clearly deciding that Friday nights upcoming game with Fulham was of greater importance. Mejias was in for Pears and Nmecha for Tavernier. Johnson came in at Left Wing Back for Coulson. Mourinho had made five changes himself

Boro won the toss and changed ends leaving Spurs to Kick off. The game started off with Spurs teasing and Boro sitting deep looking for breaks. A simple back pass to Mejias to clear saw the stand in Keeper caught in two minds inviting trouble and instead of booting it clear he passed it weakly to Johnson and invitingly into the path of Lo Celso who slipped it past the errant Keeper. Less than two minutes gone and Boro were one down due to their own failings. Those leaking pre match reports that the Randolph to the Hammers deal off was suddenly looking like it could be good news on reflection.

Boro kept their cool, clearing heads, keeping it tight and sitting off their opponents, trying to put their opening nightmare behind them. Spence chased forward closing down Winks on the edge of the Spurs box in what was the most spirited Boro offering in the opening eight minutes. A Clayton chipped lob chased by Fletcher saw Sanchez head back to Gazzaniga in an anxious moment for the Spurs defence on ten minutes.

A well worked ball by Spence, advancing, taking on three defenders after a sloppy Sanchez ball was slotted through for Nmecha who forced Gazzaniga to get down low to save and keep the slender margin for the home side intact. Psychologically it was a big boost to Boro and a nervy warning to Spurs that they could be undone. On fifteen minutes however a poor clearance compounded by a poorly controlled ball by Howson allowed Lamela to dribble through the centre of our defence and slot it past Mejias with consummate ease, making it two nil.

The game now took on a damage limitation feel to it. Poor ball control on both occasions was the cause of our downfall for the goals. Maybe it was nerves in a busy stadium that got to Boro but with the game approaching twenty minutes there was little to see in terms of us staging a comeback. A well spotted long ball to Fletcher from Nmecha was misjudged by Sanchez but also Fletcher who had given up on it before realising there was still something left of the move thanks to the defender’s generosity. Lamela then went close again for Spurs after some more very hesitant Boro defending. Boro were dropping deeper defending but nobody was picking up the rampant White shirts and therefore allowing them space, time and movement to attack down the middle almost at will.

Twenty-five minutes in and we had a virtual back seven with Nmecha and Fletcher up front 50 yards away making it very difficult to ease the pressure by finding a Red shirt that wasn’t crowded out. Mejias dived across the face of his goal to tip a Sessegnon shot wide for Spurs’ first corner. Two minutes later and Tanganga ran through in acres of space with Johnson out of position to shoot just wide. A theatrical dive from Lo Celsa straight out of Dele Alli’s greatest dives volume 12 was waved away, dismissed as no penalty with the first half reaching thirty minutes. Wing brought down Eriksen on the edge of the “D”, Lamela and Eriksen lined it up and it was the Dane that hit a daisy cutter that Mejias got down for with relative ease much to the relief of those who had travelled down from the North East.

A ridiculous ball from Clayton in the Spurs half to Fry turning attack into chaos was made worse by Fry’s lack of control setting Spurs away on yet another attack from which we were fortunate not to go three behind. A well planned corner from McNair was cleared out, collected by Howson on the edge of the Spurs box and the ex-Leeds man dribbled through and side stepped a series of challenges and threaded a ball through to the unmarked McNair on the edge of the six yard box and with the goal in his sights Paddy hit a shot that probably hit Big Ben. A quick counter attack again caused by Boro players failing to control the first ball saw Spurs carve us open down the centre of the pitch with Luca Moura’s shot going just wide on forty minutes.

Boro continued to occupy a ten-yard band with eight crowded players outside their own eighteen-yard box creating their own problems. Tanganga then barged Johnson off the ball near the Spurs corner flag which Johnson took himself, putting the ball into the Spurs box were Fletcher centrally got his head to it but it went wide in a rare Boro effort on goal. The first half came to a close with Boro in a rare spell of possession but going absolutely nowhere. Despite the inexperience of the Boro side and the dominance of Spurs, that Mejias howler completely destroyed any plan, hope or belief that Woodgate, Keane and Percovich may have instilled before kick-off. Perhaps spending years sat on benches or playing in the Cypriot league isn’t ideal preparation for a live televised FA Cup tie in a large modern Stadium.

At half time I would guess that thoughts could understandably have been more on Friday and Fulham than the second half in a game that we had thrown away in seconds before looking second best for almost the entire forty-five minutes. The team talk must have centred around “a nothing to lose mind set” except dignity itself.

No changes at half time for either side. A free kick awarded for a foul was launched ineffectively by Clayton down the right wing but Spurs came straight back at Boro. In fairness those with Red shirts now looked to be stationed higher up the pitch. In a tussle Vertonghen headed the back of Fletcher’s head leaving them both seeing stars a minute into the half. Spence was then adjudged to have been fouled out on the right wing for the free kick to be sent in by Johnson which was headed out and Spurs once again broke with pace. A familiar pattern was repeating itself. A series of fast, slick interpassing moves from Spurs for over a minute ended with Tanganga slotting a dangerous and teasing ball across the face of the Boro goal with Sessegnon unmarked meeting it but thankfully blasting it well over for a Boro let off.

Nmecha won a free kick twenty yards out which Wing fizzed over a ducking pseudo Boro wall to have Gazzaniga diving at full length to sting his palms. A half-hearted Penalty shout followed when Nmecha fell clumsily in the box after an equally clumsy defensive challenge. This was better from Boro but still far from convincing. On fifty-six minutes George Saville came on for Ben Liddle presumably as part damage limitation on the youngster and a forlorn optimistic hope that he just might nick one back for us against a former Boss. Two minutes later a straightforward cross from Johnson was sliced out by the liability that was Sanchez but the resultant corner was easily caught by Gazzaniga before he launched it up Field with Mejias causing another worrying indecisive moment in not dealing with it.

With thirty minutes left Son then came on for Lucas Moura which wasn’t exactly a sight Boro fans wanted to see. A two-minute purple patch from Boro saw Gazzaniga come out to foil Nmecha and then Spence overhit a follow up cross which was as good as it got up until that point bt at least Boro looked to be trying to get something back. On sixty-five Tanganga brought down Johnson giving Boro another free kick out on our left which was floated in by McNair’s right foot which Vertonghen promptly headed out for a corner. Johnson sent it in but it was cleared and immediately Spurs burst clear again and almost punished Boro but the danger finally eased with conceding a corner which in the end was simply hoofed up to Gazzaniga.

Spurs were back to passing the ball around, probing, trying to draw Boro out with Boro standing off them and dropping deep but I doing so giving them far too much space and time. Son twisted and turned beating three Red shirts cutting into the box but fortunately he slipped at a crucial moment conceding a goal kick. The ball was launched up to Nmecha who won his duel and allowed Spence to get down the wing and win a corner off the covering Vertonghen. Nmecha met the corner but Sanchez done enough this time to prevent him getting a clean header and it sailed over.

A seventy second minute Spurs corner saw a few bodies go down in the Boro box but it went harmlessly out for a Spurs throw in on the opposite side of the pitch. Seventy-three minutes and Tav then came on for Djed Spence with Woodgate rotating his squad, saving the young Right Backs energy reserves for Friday. Tavs first bit of involvement was a stuttering, unconvincing run which in the end was easily read and cleared by Spurs. His next effort was far better, well worked, catching a ball down the wing and cutting it back then playing a cross field ball to Saville who shot outside the box winning a corner in the process.

Gestede then came on for the tiring Nmecha before the corner was actually taken on seventy-seven minutes. After all the drama of the substitution Paddy McNair sent it in perfectly for Gazzaniga to collect it with ease. Seeing it late, Mejias then partially redeemed his credibility with a low reflex save after Eriksen had sent in a shot come deflected cross that evaded everyone in a crowded Boro box. Johnson then sent a cross in on eighty minutes finding Gestede but he got underneath his header and the scores remained the same.

A minute later long ball out of the Boro defence was knocked on by Gestede to Saville who strolled through the Spurs defence almost in slow motion and stroked an eighteen-yard ball inside the upright just evading Gazzaniga to bring Boro back in it with eight minutes left. With Spurs rattled, Boro immediately won a corner two minutes later which Gestede got another connection with but his header went over. Mourinho responded by bring Dier off for Dele Alli to see out the last five minutes. A blocking foul by Howson on Son was delayed as Clayts struggled with cramp which may have been real or tactical to take the momentum away from Spurs. The delay clearly affected Eriksen as he blasted it well over Meias’ goal to probably land on the roof of St. Pauls Cathedral.

Three minutes from the fourth Official went up for added time as Tanganga skinned Johnson leaving him in his wake and put in a cross that saw Mejias momentarily knock Howson out cold as the ball somehow evaded two advancing white shirts. Next up it was Johnson to send in a late cross met by Gestede but agonisingly flashed wide with Fletcher closing in just too late. Alli broke free in the dying seconds, centrally and with only Mejias to beat he managed to fluff his lines and the game ended with the score 2-1 to Spurs and with it also ending Boro’s cup exploits for another season.

A disastrous start and an unconvincing performance which was severely punished but it ended with a much better second half of the second half from Boro. There were no outstanding MOM performances from Boro, Johnson done well in parts but was equally exposed, Howson as ever done well apart from his aberration in not dealing with the ball that led to the second Spurs goal. Overall Djed Spence was the one that caught the eye and stood out in Red. On to Friday night now at the Cottage and the much more important business of ensuring Championship survival or just maybe chasing the Play Offs with a much stronger Boro side!

If you wish to leave a comment about Redcar Red’s match report please return to the Week 22-23 discussion page

Boro 2 – 2 Derby

Pos. 16th (34 pts) SATURDAY 11 DECEMBER 2019 Pos. 17th (34 pts)
Boro 2-2 Derby
Wing (16)
McNair (67 pen)
SHOTS (on target)
Knight (54)
Holmes (90+1)

Late leveller rescues Rams

Redcar Red reports on almost another victory at the Riverside…

This afternoon saw the arrival of Wayne Rooney’s Derby County at a very blustery Riverside. Both sides had recently returned to form and had an almost identical record in the Championship with Boro just marginally shading it by conceding two less goals. Derby were unbeaten in their previous four matches in all competitions and like Boro sat just eight points off the play-off places. They hadn’t won away from home for eleven games prior to kick off but recent back-to-back wins over Charlton, Barnsley and Crystal Palace in the FA Cup had eased pressure on Phillip Cocu.

It’s not just the League placings that show a parallel similarity between the clubs. Just like Boro, Derby also had similar injury problems with George Evans, George Thorne, Mason Bennett, Graeme Shinnie, Jack Marriott and Ikechi Anya all out injured. For Boro it was a case of as you were for injuries with the usual suspects still absent including Dani Ayala. Team news for Boro saw just two changes after the draw against Spurs with Aynsley Pears and Lewis Wing replacing Tomas Mejias and Adam Clayton. Patrick Roberts retained his starting role and made his Boro Championship bow.

Cocu had made seven changes to the side that beat Palace in the FA Cup last week. In came keeper Ben Hamer, defenders Max Lowe and Matt Clarke, and Jason Knight, Max Bird, Duane Holmes and Martyn Waghorn replaced Kelle Roos, Scott Malone, Craig Forsyth, Tom Huddlestone, Morgan Whittaker, Louie Sibley and cup goal scorer Chris Martin.

Boro kicked off with an immediate long ball from McNair to Spence who won the first corner of the game in the opening seconds. Roberts took it and a tantalising Wing header went just wide in what should have been the games opener and a huge let off for Derby.

Coulson and Spence were looking lively for Boro along with Wing and Roberts, lots of pressing causing Derby serious worries. Spence “done” Rooney and left him in his wake as he literally barged him out of the way with little to no respect for the ageing, elder ex-International allowing Fletcher to let fly at Hamer’s goal. Five minutes gone and it was all Boro with Derby looking slow and inhibited by comparison. A McNair slip allowed Waghorn in at the other end but Coulson was alert and quickly swept up as the game approached the nine-minute mark and that was Derby’s first real bit of intent.

A comical Rooney back pass had Rams Keeper Hamer flapping and as he hurriedly cleared it out Howson returned it with interest and with a little more composure could have made it count. Derby were sitting really deep, struggling to get the ball out with any believability while Boro were full value for their enterprise, moving the ball around crisply. Roberts forced an error in the Derby defence winning a throw in on thirteen minutes. It was taken by Coulson but the Man City Loanee then lost possession after a good opportunity to test that nervy Derby defence again.

A misplaced ball from Fletcher after Howson had lost his marker was another wasted opportunity for Boro as the game approached fifteen minutes. Then it happened, the inevitable, a brilliantly worked ball to Roberts with Spence dragging the defence apart allowed Tav to take the ball and back heel to Lewis Wing on the edge of the box to fire in a perfect accurately hit shot leaving Ben Hamer no chance and it was 1-0 to the Boro.

The next five minutes saw Boro continue stretching the Derby defence, their midfield bypassed with Rooney a virtual spectator. On twenty minutes Howson cut out a Rooney pass to ironic cheers from the Riverside faithful. Fletcher nearly added to his recent tally with a fantastic Coulson delivery in which went out for a corner. The far post corner was met by Fry and as a scramble ensued the Ref blew for an infringement or more likely out of sympathy for the beleaguered visitors.

A minute later Coulson and Roberts linked up, carving the Rams back line open once again. Cocu was out and shouting in his technical area as he desperately tried to galvanise his side that at this point had looked porous and an accident waiting to happen. A rare Derby attack started when Saville was caught dwelling, giving the ball away cheaply but Fry was on hand for Boro to extinguish the imminent danger. Half an hour gone and apart from a few forays that were handled with ease it was all Boro and Pears looked very cold and lonely in the North Stand goal. Derby launched a ball via Rooney into the Boro danger area but Spence cleared in a no-nonsense fashion. The Rams looked to be waking from their slumber as Pears had to be quick to get down to prevent Waghorn threatening after Holmes had slid him through.

Coulson then evaded two tackles down the left flank but the last one connected earning a free kick off Bogle. Roberts lined up the kick just outside of the box and delivered it cleverly and surprisingly to McNair rather than launching it into the box, Paddy unleashed his shot but it sailed well wide. Roberts cut in from the right and on the edge of the box rolled it for Tav to hit a shot just wide as Boro continued to push Derby back again after their brief respite. Cocu was screaming at his charges to get up the pitch realising that they were leaving themselves open to conceding a second.

The first booking came for Matt Clarke when he took Fletcher out with the home fans baying for a Red. McNair took this one and floated it to the back post before going out for a corner to Boro. McNair readied himself and took Boro’s third corner catching Ben Hamer in two minds just clearing it and Wing testing Hamer again but it deflected out for yet another Boro corner. Just before that Coulson had been rubbing the back of his thigh as concerns were raised that he had maybe overstretched himself and done himself some lasting damage.

Waghorn clattered McNair as a little bit of niggle started to creep into the Derby game and collected the games second Yellow for the offence of berating Referee Tim Robinson. There was another quick coming together between the two just afterwards as frustration bubbled over with the Rams just before the half time whistle. Coulson and Roberts once again danced their way through finding Fletcher as Derby were defending in numbers, with mere seconds remaining the ball went out for a Boro throw but Tim Robinson blew his whistle to end a very entertaining and exciting half of football form a Boro perspective. The only negative was that we should have been at least three ahead as the players walked off to a rare Riverside standing ovation.

No changes at the restart for either side which must have concerned the Derby fans. The Rams however started lively with an immediate assault towards the South Stand clearly fired up with Rooney pushed further up from his anonymous first half role. The first Derby corner of the half followed, taken short then delivered to the back post but wastefully recycled back to Rooney. It eventually went out for a long throw from Holmes requiring Fry to head clear before coming back in fiercely with Waghorn sliding dangerously in. It was Boro’s turn next, cleared out with Roberts chasing it forcing Hamer into conceding a Boro corner.

Early signs of the half were that Derby had entirely changed their mindset, now pushing up and pressuring Boro. The opening five minutes of the half was all Rams, Boro needed to hold firm and work their way back into the game. Saville done well holding his own to win a throw in out on the left back spot and simultaneously trying to gee up his pressurised defence. It was all Derby with Boro now camped in their own box and as Knight out wide on their right, unopposed, put a cross into the box it looped into the corner of Pears’ net in a freak goal but one that could be seen coming since the second half had started. All those missed first half chances now coming back to haunt us.

Ten minutes into the half and the away fans now found their voices after being mute all afternoon. A Rooney inspired attack saw them break towards Pears with Aynsley having to make a save to prevent the worst possible scenario of a quick second for the visitors. The game was now starting to open up with both sides showing intent, leaving gaps, organisation, shape and discipline all starting to fade. Jonny Howson burst forward finding Spence who sent it across to Wing whose effort was cleared as Boro desperately needed to get back in front. A rash or rather necessary Howson challenge on Lawrence just outside the box provided Rooney the chance to try and beat the Boro wall with a free kick which he managed but he also cleared Aynsley Pears’ crossbar.

Twenty-five minutes remained with both Managers now sensing the opportunity for three points. Fletcher sent Roberts away who tried to slide it back to Fletcher resulting in weak calls for a Boro penalty. Seconds later Fletcher held off Rams defenders laying it off to Coulson who played in Saville but it went out as Boro were now moving it about once more. Roberts then drove into the Derby box from the right evading a challenge then Matt Clarke brought him down for an undisputed penalty this time. Paddy McNair despatched it into the side of Ben Hamer’s net to restore Boro’s lead on sixty-seven minutes. Paddy’s assured approach to taking a penalty is light years away from those early season Assombalonga efforts.

A chorus of “the finest team the world has ever seen” was dusted down and brought off the Riverside South and North stand shelves as the home fans celebrated taking the lead once again. Twenty minutes remained which was plenty of time for this game to still have twists and turns. From a free kick Coulson rounded Bogle and was cynically brought down earning another Boro free kick. Roberts left the kick to McNair which was cleared away with ease after a disappointing delivery, just as well he got the important one right just minutes previously. Roberts once again collected the ball and danced away from his opponents, playing in Tavernier, to Coulson, to Wing but he fired his shot over, failing to deliver after the initial excitement the build-up had deserved.

Woodgate wanted to make his first change with Nmecha readied to come on but the Ref waved to get on with things. A Spence conceded corner was poorly cleared but Pears then claimed the ball falling to the ground, eating a few seconds up and taking the sting out of things. Coulson then clattered Waghorn picking up a Yellow for his misdemeanour, simultaneously the lively but tiring and game short Roberts went off for Nmecha.

Fletcher dropped a little deeper and almost immediately earned a free kick in his new role. Fifteen minutes remained as Cocu had Chris Martin coming on for Knight. Derby were now going for it in the final minutes. Wing blocked a Rooney shot and as the ball spun out Martin was looking to get involved but Boro cleared and Nmecha was blown for being marginally offside over the halfway line trying to get Boro back on the offensive.

Coulson drove forward passing Holmes and earning a throw in easing some pressure as Derby then brought Whittaker on for Lawrence as Cocu added a third striker signalling blatant route one intent. Howson won a launched ball from Hamer and set up Nmecha and Boro were off attacking via Spence whose low cross came off a Rams defender for a corner. The McNair delivered corner saw Hamer getting the benefit of the Ref who decided he was impeded.

Pears then had to come out, punching clear a cross whilst under pressure from Waghorn with the Ref balancing up the goalkeeping protection levels and blowing for a foul. Fletcher then departed for Gestede as Boro now mimicked Cocu’s tactics in going route one. Into four minutes added time now, Derby attacked, Nmecha closed down Bogle but as the crossed ball was cleared out by a header from Fry it came back straight back in with a vengeance from Holmes in a similar spot to where Lewis Wing had been in the first half striking a volley that left Pears no chance to level the scores. Holmes was just outside the box with Boro failing to react quickly enough by throwing bodies on the line to close him down and paid the price.

Two minutes now remained of added time as dejected Boro tried to pick themselves up with Coulson breaking yet again but Davies intercepted setting up Bogle and the ball flew down the other end. In the dying embers Nmecha got a header in on goal which Hamer saved with the whistle sounding to end proceedings.

2-2 was a bitter pill for Boro to swallow after such an enterprising first half and will no doubt rue those missed chances. We lost a little bit of magic when Roberts went off but we failed to keep our heads in those dying moments and for both goals we allowed delivery unopposed. The away fans will have been relieved and the neutrals treated to a great game of football but it was a draw that felt like a loss after coming so close. MOM for me could have been Coulson, Spence, Howson or Roberts but Coulson was the one that kept going and stood out for the full ninety but Patrick Roberts looks like he is going to have a big influence on Boro this season.

If you wish to leave a comment about Redcar Red’s match report please return to the Week 20-21 discussion page

Boro 1 – 1 Spurs

Boro 1-1 Tottenham
Fletcher (50) 29%
SHOTS (on target)
Lucas Moura (61)

Battling Boro earn Replay

Redcar Red reports on Boro’s Cup draw against a full-strength Spurs…

Injury ravaged Boro took on Mourinho’s injury ravaged Spurs side at the Riverside in the FA Cup third round at the Riverside. Boro would be missing the usual suspects, Randolph, Shotton, Assombalonga, Friend, Dijksteel and also worryingly this seasons captain Dani Ayala after he limped off the pitch at Deepdale. Loan arrivals Lukas Nmecha and Patrick Roberts would be available and thought likely to feature at some point.

Spurs have their own growing list of absentees with talismanic striker Harry Kane hobbling off in their last game against Southampton and added to that they would be without Captain Hugo Lloris, left back Ben Davies, Danny Rose, perma-crock Tanguy Ndombele, meanwhile Eric Dier and Kyle Walker-Peters were expected to be fit to return for this afternoon along with Son Heung-min. It was thought that likely departee Christian Eriksen could be possibly making one of his last Spurs appearances before departing the club for Inter Milan later this month.

Patrick Roberts made his Boro debut in place of Marvin Johnson, McNair at CB for Ayala and Mejias in goal for the rested Pears. Spurs won the toss and decided to swap ends, playing towards their sizeable following in the South East corner. Consequently, Boro kicked off earning an early throw in leading to a McNair dribble ending with Spence winning a corner. Headed clear from the near post Coulson chested it down outside the Spurs box and hit a volley over Gazzinga’s crossbar as the first minute barely ticked over.

A claim for a handball and penalty was dismissed from another Coulson effort which went out for Boro’s second corner with the third following immediately. It was weakly cleared out by the Spurs defence and Clayts headed it back into the path of Roberts whose dinked shot-come-cross went over Gazzinga’s goal with the clock showing just over six minutes. As Spurs mounted their first serious attack a well worked cut-back from Son to Ericksen and instinctive shot from the edge of the Boro box had Mejias blocking and as the ball flew out Fletcher being dragged down by Dier as Boro tried to break quickly.

Under pressure a cheeky and confident series of passes in the Boro box involving Howson, Mejias and Saville was well received by the home fans as Boro attempted to play their way out of trouble rather than hoof it Pulis style. Spurs once again came back at Boro and Mejias had to be off his line quickly to block another effort. Spurs had now settled, passing the ball around comfortably and keeping possession, Boro were sitting back and conceded the away sides first corner in the twelfth minute. The optimists amongst us took comfort in the stats that of late Boro have conceded possession in most of their games but came out on top, albeit perhaps not against last season’s Champions League Finalists.

Howson stepped out and intercepted brilliantly on the edge of his own box and moved forward but with Fletcher out wide left he played it harmlessly straight down the middle for Spurs to simply collect and go on the offensive again. All the hard and clever work done but scrappily conceding possession after a momentary lapse.

The second Spurs corner in the sixteenth minute was “recycled” back to the middle of the park and eventually went out for a Boro throw after it came off Winks in a move that had the away fans uttering a few North London expletives in questioning the objectivity of it all. Dael Fry cut out a dangerous cross but it came straight back in for this time McNair to put it out for a corner. Fry then took his turn to meet it to add to the rapidly growing Spurs corner count, which when delivered was blown by Ref Stuart Atwell for a punched effort from Moura easing the pressure on Boro.

Winks fouled Saville thirty yards out and MacNair’s resultant floated free kick to the far post was headed goalwards by Fry with Gazzaniga saving then having to save again with his feet after a muddled scramble in the Spurs box before eventually being cleared by Sessegnon. Another fee kick from the opposite flank was headed out for a Boro corner which was cleared but redeemed by a sublime bit of McNair skill in his own half with twenty-five minutes expired and Boro in fairness credibly holding their own whilst still looking credibly dangerous. A Spurs corner in the twenty-sixth minute was blasted over by Sessegnon with the Spurs threat growing but Boro resolutely holding them at bay. Fry headed out another cross in the twenty-eighth minute conceding Spurs sixth corner and a seventh immediately followed but was headed clear and then eventually in a no nonsense display hoofed clear by Coulson.

A good Boro break involving Howson and Spence with a clever one two was eventually wasted when Spence over-hit his final dinked ball to Fletcher running behind the Spurs defence. As Spurs countered, Roberts clipped the heels of Vertonghen conceding a soft free kick, which was only bettered by the terrible delivery, softly sent in to Mejias’ near post unopposed not that many of us complained!

Fletcher then had a good run working his way to the edge of the Spurs box but Sessegnon crept in blind side to rob him and Fletcher’s last despairing touch conceded a goal kick to Spurs. An Aurier cross across the face of the Boro six-yard box to Sessegnon was blocked by the attentions of Spence doing just enough to put off his youthful counterpart. A break by Spurs was blocked off by McNair but Dele Alli as if detonated by a land mine leapt through the air twisting and turning in pure Quentin Tarantino angst receiving a yellow card for his now infamous precious theatrics. The irony was that it was a foul by McNair without any necessity for the drama and as a consequence Mejias launched the Boro-awarded free kick up field and as Saville tackled to prevent a Spurs counter attack, Stuart Attwell’s whistle went for half time with scores at 0-0.

Despite the chasm in comparative resources Boro had accounted for themselves very well with the most interesting duel being between Sessegnon and Spence which was about 50/50, praise indeed for Spence after only a handful of first team appearances. McNair and Fry had been solid and dependable, Fletcher working hard in the lone role up front. Saville and Clayts had been busy running, chasing and closing down doing the dirty often unappreciated work. Spurs had of course looked by far the more likely to get something out of the game but it was Boro who had come closest with Fry and then Saville in that double strike mid-way through the first half. Roberts looked a little short of match practice, which was to be expected and probably the most likely to be subbed at some future point.

Boro came out unchanged with the same back three and wing-backs, midfield and Fletcher up front. Spurs returned, somewhat delayed presumably after a Mourinho moan in the away dressing room. Spurs eventually kicked off with Boro attacking the South Stand. An early Spence interception prevented a Spurs attack, setting up Roberts who cutting in from the wing, unleashed a left footed shot but it was blocked. In the next phase of play Roberts then cut across Winks on forty-eight minutes with the England International blatantly fouling, conceding a free kick. It was floated in and a knock down from Fry to Saville saw George go down in the box with howls for a penalty but Atwell ruled play on and fifteen seconds later it was Saville himself winning a midfield ball, lobbing it over the Spurs defence from the halfway line and Fletcher just onside ran through one on one against Gazzaniga and placed it in the middle of the Spurs net to put Boro ahead. Fifty minutes gone and Boro deserved the opening goal having come out for the second half showing far more intent.

A brilliant collect and through ball from Roberts set Saville away but with Gazzinga coming off his line and a defender bearing down on him it was antagonisingly inches too far ahead. Spurs best response was a distanced cross come shot from twenty yards out from Eriksen sailing wide on fifty-five minutes. In a knee jerk double substitution Winks and Sessegnon both went off for Lamella and Celso coming on as Mourinho realised that he now had a game on his hands if he was to deliver silverware to Tottenham this season.

On sixty minutes a text book ball down the Boro left flank saw Aurier deliver a perfect far post cross which saw Moura use his head this time to head home unopposed having lost his marker Spence and Howson caught in between. One apiece now and game back on with Spurs significantly raising their game since that Boro opener. Aurier was becoming increasingly instrumental in launching Spurs attacks down their right and our left-hand side. Fletcher had done well to hold the ball up and Howson advanced as Boro got a cross in across the danger area but it was cleared and as it went out for a throw in Woodgate signalled a change as Johnson came on for Coulson in an effort to address the growing menace of Aurier.

A minute later and Gestede then came on for Roberts who was now blowing out of his derriere. After Spence had advanced and won the initial challenge deep in the Spurs half an immediate back flick from Gestede with his first touch into the path of Fletcher was saved. Seventy minutes now gone and the game looked finely balanced despite Spurs possession stats.

A Johnson headed clearance saw a free kick awarded to Boro after Lamella attempted an overhead kick in close proximity on the recently arrived Boro left wing-back. It was now attack versus defence as Spurs probed and probed whilst Boro had Gestede and Fletcher to lump the ball up to as plan “A”. A long-range Lamella strike saw Mejias diving low to tip it wide conceding a corner. As the Corner was cleared Aurier delivered in another quality cross headed clear by McNair for an additional notch on the Spurs corner count which was thankfully overhit, going out for a throw in to Boro on seventy-five minutes. Nmecha then came on for Fletcher who had literally run himself into the ground.

Moura then single handedly slalomed his way through some pretty weak Boro challenges winning a corner on seventy-seven minutes which was headed clear by Gestede. Ten minutes remained and Boro were now camped in their own half with Gestede isolated and Nmecha at the tip of the Boro defensive wall. Moura again cut in on his right foot this time unleashing a shot which had Mejias diving across his goal tipping it wide. Seeing the ball out safely for a goal kick a minute later saw Mejias go down awkwardly but recover after a few painful looking stretches of his right shoulder. It was just as well as he had to sprint out of his box seconds later to clear another relentless Spurs attack. Saville was in trouble for a cynical lunge which swiftly ended the next Spurs offensive with Lamella openly showing his displeasure at Stuart Attwell’s yellow card for George Saville and earning one for himself for dissent. The resulting free kick was sent straight through and aimlessly out for a Boro goal kick.

Four minutes remained and a rare Boro foray ended with a throw in on the right but Spence out dribbled himself giving away a goal kick by slipping and falling on his backside. Three minutes now left and Lamella drove through the middle of the Boro defence finding the advancing Aurier who skied his effort Assombalonga style much to the relief of the North Stand. Back in defence Tavernier headed away a cross for a late Spurs corner on eighty-eight minutes. As the ninetieth ticked over Lamella skipped past a series of Boro challenges but Mejias smothered the low cross with confident ease.

Four minutes of added time came up with Boro still sitting deep and by now holding on. After another embarrassing Spurs dive in the Boro box Nmecha carried the ball out from the middle of the pitch, advancing deep into Spurs territory while attracting the attentions of Eriksen, clipping his legs. McNair delivered the free kick but it was straight into the arms of Gazzaniga. A late run by Alli to chase a wasteful ball went out for Mejias to steadily take the goal kick and as it entered play crossing the half way line Stuart Attwell blew his whistle to signal a replay at the newest stadium in the Country, which is White Hart Lane except it’s no longer called White Hart Lane since its rebuild and is now called the Tottenham Stadium or as some may ponder “the unsponsored Premiership ground waiting for a multimillion offer Stadium”.

A defiant and proud display from a patched up Boro side against a team that were Champions League Finalists at the end of last season and who have regularly finished in the Premiership top four was an effort that incredibly took those recent West Brom and Preston performances to a different level. MOM was another difficult one between McNair, Howson and Fry. There were others who had done very well including Clayts and Saville and at the opposite end of the pitch the goal machine that is now Ashley Fletcher for his running and never say die endeavours. After a nervy and rusty start Mejias had also done extremely well and pulled off two great saves negating the need for any January spend on another back-up Keeper. Overall, I think McNair edged it along with captain for the day Jonny Howson coming a very close runner up.

If you wish to leave a comment about Redcar Red’s match report please return to the Week 22-23 discussion page

Joy and relief after Boro return to winning ways

Championship 2019-20: Weeks 22-23

Sun  5 Jan – 14:01: Boro v Spurs (FA Cup)
Sat 11 Jan – 15:00: Boro v Derby
Tue 14 Jan – 20:05: Spurs v Boro (FA Cup Replay)

Werdermouth looks ahead to Boro continuing their good form…

Nothing probably epitomised the change in fortune of Boro’s season than the sight of Rudy Gestede’s face after scoring his first goal in a Boro shirt for nearly two years – plus the joy of his team-mates who must have known what it meant to him. Indeed, Dael Fry almost looked quite emotional as they celebrated, with Ashley Fletcher also having something of a proud look on his face and the effervescent Marcus Tavernier simply ecstatic with joy for the big Benin striker, whose time at the club has been blighted by injuries and failure. Clearly the team spirit amongst the players is evident and that is an important ingredient for any team hoping to achieve something.

Another factor in Boro’s revival is that Jonathan Woodgate and his coaching team appear to be starting to get the best out of what players they have at their disposal in a limited strength squad. Whether it be young players suddenly finding themselves in the first team picture in Djed Spence, Hayden Coulson or Aynsley Pears, those who have lacked form and confidence like Ashley Fletcher or George Saville and even the older players who had lost their places such as Adam Clayton and now Rudy Gestede. Perhaps Woodgate has been underestimated as a man-manager and it’s clear that the players are prepared to give him their all on the pitch.

Of course, the major factor for any successful team is self-belief and confidence, which began to return with every successive victory that was chalked up – indeed, the upturn may have come sooner if it hadn’t been for some crucial sending-offs that scuppered promising displays. Ten games ago, Boro were two-nil up and cruising against Hull until Marvin Johnson saw red eight minutes before half time – the ten men were eventually pegged back and were lucky to escape with a point. It was the same at Swansea, after Marcus Tavernier had equalised just before the hour mark and it looked like only one team was going to go onto win – and it wasn’t the Welsh one in white. However, a few minutes after that goal Browne’s stupid lunging tackle on the halfway line saw him sent to the stands and he was followed not long after by McNair for another less than clever challenge in front of the dugouts – the Swans then struck twice to send Boro home with nothing. Unbelievably, if Boro had have won those two and picked up those five extra points, Jonathan Woodgate’s team would now be only three points outside the play-offs with 20 games remaining!

Nevertheless, that festive bonanza of twelve points to end the bleak mid winter have totally reshaped the landscape of what was looking like it would be a long toil in the even bleaker valleys of the drop zone. Instead, Boro have now almost scrambled onto the higher planes of mid-table and the foothills of the play-offs are now almost in reach. It’s certainly been some journey this season and I’m not sure whether anyone associated with the club were overly keen on taking such a scenic route to a possible play-off place. OK, we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves as there’s still a long way to go before that becomes a serious proposition. Still, the renewed optimism is palpable and it may be that we’ll start to see evidence of FOMO on Teesside. FOMO, in case you’ve missed out on that particular acronym, is the latest social media induced anxiety, which rather appropriately is pronounced ‘foamo’ and stands for ‘Fear of missing out.’

Although, for the football world, FOMO has been the driving force behind the inflationary transfer window for many a year and we are once again preparing to peer though another one in a serious Playschool manner. Boro have wasted little time (and thankfully little money) in getting their first January signings with the capture of Manchester City’s young winger Patrick Roberts – OK, the 22-year old has only ever had one appearance off the bench for the Sky Blues following a £12m transfer from Fulham and had spent most of his last three years out on loan. He had a successful spell at Celtic, scoring 15 goals in 55 appearances but hasn’t done anything of note in the last 18 months with unsuccessful loan spells at Girona in Spain and just three appearances for Norwich this season.

If Woodgate and Keane can get him back on track then he may be a good signing but he’s probably another player who is looking to reboot his career to rediscover some form and match fitness. Also just hot off the press arriving from City on loan is the six-foot-one German-born young forward Lukas Nmecha – he spent last season on loan at Preston, scoring 4 goals in 38 appearances and has spent this season at Wolfsburg but got few opportunities to play. The 21-year old is described as a pacy two-footed forward with a good first touch, who can either play as a centre-forward or out wide and likes to run at defenders – though it’s possible that paragraph on Wikipedia was written by his agent . Interestingly, he scored for England U20s against Germany in 2018 but switched sides in 2019 when he came on as sub for Germany’s U21s when they beat England 2-1. He sounds like a favourite for the Anglo-Germanic dual-nationals out there – albeit a confusing one!

January could be an important transfer window for Boro and it’s possible we’ll see a few strategic exits that could raise funds to help the bolstering of a rather thin squad that looks like it can’t take many more injuries or suspensions. I’d expect the club to make some defensive signings now Ayala has joined the injured, and with no sign of either Shotton or Friend returning, Woodgate is only one more injury or suspension short of a centre-back crisis. Whether we’ll see any experienced players arriving is another matter but that may depend on sales. The latest news on Randolph is that Boro have rejected West Ham’s opening bid as too low, but with Aston Villa also now in the market for a keeper after losing Tom Heaton for the season with a knee injury, it at least could start a bidding war for his services. A thoughtful Woodgate sounded somewhat vague on the future of both Randolph and Britt after simply saying “I’d like to think that they’ll both stay.”

With head of recruitment, Adrian Bevington, leaving the club last month it could mean a change in direction or possibly there was simply no real role for him given Boro’s lack of funds. Whether Boro are looking to target a different profile of player after the summer arrivals have so far failed to make the grade is uncertain – perhaps they could take inspiration for their recruitment policy from the latest planned advertisement from those who now run the country. Dominic Cummins has published in his blog that he aims to encourage “weirdos and misfits with odd skills” to apply for jobs in government – though many on Teesside could be forgiven for thinking that was Boro’s policy of the last few years for recruiting their players. The Downing Street strategist also added that he didn’t want to employ “confident public school bluffers” – not sure who he had in mind but presumably they were already over-represented in that department in the senior positions.

Moving quickly along from the world of politics that has often been unkindly (though possibly accurately) described as “show business for ugly people.” Anyway, it’s Boro who are now sitting much prettier in the Championship after that hectic but handsomely productive festive programme. However, January suddenly becomes a lot more languid with just a Cup tie and three league fixtures to fill out the month with not a midweek game in sight to punctuate the winter weekends.

Sunday sees Boro join the third round of the FA Cup with a high-profile televised home tie against a top Premier League team. Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham (as they’ve obligatorily been renamed) arrive on Teesside to waft a bit a glamour around the Riverside that neither Barnsley, Stoke or Huddersfield simply had the smell of. Most will be expecting that many of the big names will be rested for this game and no doubt Spurs will also make changes too. Although, with so few games in January for Boro, they may as well give it good go and maybe impress a few armchair neutrals. The real danger will be attracting unwanted attention from the January shoppers looking to boost their squads – maybe we could get a few extra millions by selecting Randolph or Britt but equally we could lose a few millions if they fluff their lines. A Gestede hat-trick will no doubt be followed with club statements saying he’s not for sale at any price before reluctantly relenting after a £5m bid from Villa to resign their former player.

When the third round draw was made, there were probably very few compos mentis Boro supporters that would contemplate their club would be in the fourth round hat. Now I suspect after the last four wins and news that Harry Kane is injured and the distinct possibility of others being rested for Spurs next game against Liverpool, Boro may fancy an upset. Indeed, you may be surprised to hear that Boro have won as many league games as Tottenham this season, with both clubs registering eight a piece. Spurs have been looking shaky in defence of late and have conceded first in their last four games, of which only one was won.

Mourinho’s latest squeeze are not at their best and in truth the Special One hasn’t looked that special in recent years with his odd bullying behaviour no longer seen as charming or effective after getting sacked by Chelsea for losing 9 of his opening 16 games. It was also marked by that infamous incident with the club’s female doctor, who he demoted for running onto the pitch to treat a prostrate Eden Hazard. The BBC reported that Eva Carneiro had claimed at a tribunal that Mourinho had shouted at her in Portugese “filha da puta” which translates as “daughter of a whore” – Dr Carneiro eventually settled with the club for constructive dismissal after turning down their original offer of £1.2m compensation. Mourinho then became Man Utd manager after seemingly being Sir Alex’s chosen one but he failed to revive their fortunes with the fans upset by the dour football he served up. He was sacked shortly before Christmas in 2018 after winning just 7 of his opening 17 games with him and his staff received just under £20m for their inconvenience.

Boro will hopefully try to continue in the Championship where they left off as they welcome Derby to the Riverside six days after their Cup exploits – although their opponents will presumably now be known as Wayne Rooney’s Rams after he somehow agreed to join Frank Lampard’s former club to inspire them to avoid relegation to League One – though I suspect the original deal was sold to him as firing the club to promotion to the Premier League when it was agreed back in August. Rooney has joined as player-coach on an 18 month contract – though I’m not sure if Mel Morris now plans to sell the training ground back to himself to fund his wages.

Derby, you may recall, lost out to Villa in the play-off final last season and after Frank Lampard departed for Chelsea appointed the former Dutch international Phillip Cocu as manager. Cocu played 101 times for The Netherlands and went on to become assistant manager for his country before leaving to take charge as caretaker manager at PSV. He subsequently stepped back to an under-19 role at the club before returning as first-team manager, which saw him lift the Eredivisie title in 2015 and defend it the following year.

However, Cocu has so far failed to inspire his new club to Championship success and a 2-1 Rooney-inspired win over Barnsley saw them join Boro on 33 points. It was the Ram’s second win in a week after also beating Charlton by the same score – though they’d failed to win any of their previous seven games in a run that had seen them slide down the table towards the relegation zone. Boro will hope it was a temporary return to form and that the presence of Wazza won’t prove to be the driving force for those around him at the Riverside.

So as the Boro faithful enter January in an uncharacteristic positive mood and start projecting a collective spirit of all pulling in the same direction, the question for many supporters now out of their cynical comfort zone, is how long it will last? For the moment most are feeling pleasantly surprised after the festive cheer and are still humming the Wizzard chorus of “I wish it could be Christmas every day” – while simultaneously getting twitchy as they prepare to pack away the decorations and inwardly anticipate the inevitable slump!