Boro v Millwall
Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
Eleven weeks after Boro’s deflating playoff defeat, we start again on Saturday at The Riverside against Millwall, kick-off 3pm.
With seven new recruits through the door plus the returning Payero, Hoppe, Coburn and Coulson, and six loanees back with their parent clubs (or worse, Luton) along with a couple released and couple sent out on loan, you could say that Boro have been busy over the summer. Yet there is a strong sense that the squad is far from complete.
The loss of Giles and sale of Bola have left Hayden Coulson as the club’s only recognised left back, for instance, and perhaps not an overly convincing one at that. Both right-backs Smith and Djiksteel are sidelined, as is 2022/23 talisman Chuba Akpom and evergreen Mr Reliable, Jonny Howson. There is no senior centre forward within the ranks.
What Boro have done is completely remodel their goalkeeping options whilst stocking up on inexpensive younger squad players. The potential and the bank balance must surely look as good as it has for some years but will that result in on-field success?
We must assume that quality in key areas – specifically left back and centre forward – will arrive before the transfer window closes on Friday 1st September. Otherwise, if Boro are to at least match last season’s output, a good two or three of the young recruits will have to shine immediately.
Goals look to be the main concern at this stage. Last season’s Boro were as free scoring as it gets but with Akpom injured, his prime partner Cameron Archer back with Aston Villa and our most potent assister, Ryan Giles, also no longer at the club, both the supply line and the finishing touch have taken a hit.
In pre-season, Morgan Rogers has had the most minutes up front but has so far failed to convince. That is somewhat harsh on the 20yr old former Man City youth player who has played most of his fledgling career to date in an attacking midfield role. He spent last season on loan at Blackpool where he made 22 appearances, only managing a single goal and it seems highly unlikely that he was signed with a view to becoming Boro’s first choice no. 9. You might have thought that Josh Coburn – another 20yr old – would stand more chance of selection having played the role regularly and netted 10 in 35 games in his loan at League One Bristol Rovers last term where he picked up their Young Player of the Year award. However, Coburn is another on the injury list and hasn’t managed a minute in pre-season.
Carrick’s options appear to be limited to Marcus Forss, who Carrick seems to prefer on the right, Matthew Hoppe – another who was loaned out last season and has made little impression so far - Rogers or perhaps giving Matt Crooks another crack a centre forward, where he filled in from time to time at the back end of last season.
In terms of creativity, Coulson does not possess the delivery of Giles but his energy in getting up and down the touchline certainly has its merits. There are question marks over his defensive quality but the same could be said of Giles. More worrying is his injury record, which, in part, has limited him to just 60 appearances over the last five seasons – only six of which have been at Championship level.
On a more positive note, Boro have retained the more robust and creative of the Haydens, Redcar’s own Hayden Hackney. A huge breakthrough season last time out saw him accumulate 35 appearances as he graduated from promising prospect to first team fixture and, though many young players can suffer from the dreaded “second season syndrome”, there’s little reason to expect that from Hackney. The playmaker showed a composure and maturity on the ball rarely witnessed from one so inexperienced and more of the burden of creativity is likely to fall to him this season.
Isaiah Jones will also be hoping to return to the level he demonstrated in his breakthrough season the year before. As a more direct running threat – a “vertical player” as Pep Guardiola terms them – Jones wasn’t always a natural fit in Carrick’s cultured midfield where filling the half-spaces and encouraging defenders into awkward areas was the game plan. Jones has since gone public with some personal issues he was dealing with last season that, thankfully, he now appears to have overcome.
Riley McGree will surely remain a key cog in Boro’s midfield. The Aussie stepped up as notably as anyone once Michael Carrick took over and his clever movement and sharp passing are the ideal skills for the manager’s style of play.
Dan Barlaser had a gentle introduction to Boro following his January signing from Rotherham. The 26yr old was unable to displace Hackney or Howson but showed glimpses of a quality range of passing in his 11 appearances. He seems most likely to profit from Howson’s injury but Martin Payero will also be monitored closely in training, I’m sure. The Argentine has had a difficult time at Boro thus far and was perhaps not expected to be amongst the Boro ranks this season but there is a suggestion of real quality there that has not yet been harnessed. Much of that is likely down to the player himself but if he wants to knuckle down, apply himself and make the breakthrough, now would be a good time with starting places very much up for grabs.
Of the new attacking recruits, 22yr old Australian Sammy Silvera is perhaps the closest to nailing down a starting spot. The tricky winger was part of the Australian A League Champions, Central Coast Mariners, last season where he scored 8 goals in 29 appearances. Another who appears more direct than the likes of Aaron Ramsey or Riley McGree, the left-sided Silvera will add pace and an ability to beat his full back, much like Jones offers on the right.
At the back, 28yr old Seny Dieng appears to have won the race to replace Zack Steffen between the sticks. Dieng’s shot stopping, ability on the ball and Championship experience make him a solid signing from QPR where he made over 100 appearances.
It’s fair to say that none of Boro’s signings have arrived to much fanfare but the closest is perhaps 6ft 3in 19yr old defender Rav van den Berg. The Dutchman, who made his debut for PEC Zwolle aged just 16, was said to be being pursued by a number of Europe’s elite including AS Roma, Bayern Munich and AC Milan, but opted for Boro in a bid to secure more first team action. Whether or not that will be the case, initially at least, remains to be seen but it certainly appears that the club have landed a highly thought of prospect.
All in all, it feels as if we’re going into the season with a little more uncertainty than usual. Championship squads are rarely polished at this stage of proceedings but Boro have signed just one senior player in Dieng whilst suffering from a spate of unfortunate injuries. My best guess at the moment is that McNair will fill in at right back as he did in the final pre-season game, Coulson at left back with Barlaser and Hackney in central midfield behind McGree, Crooks and Jones with Forss up front. It’s a workable XI but one that falls quite a way short of our best of last season. The summer recruitment so far looks to have added more quantity than good-to-go quality with only Dieng more or less certain to start.
If the story of Boro’s summer has been losing loanees but retaining key contracted players, the same may be said of Saturday’s visitors, Millwall.
Gary Rowett’s men were themselves in the playoff mix right up until the final game of last season – a crazy 3-4 defeat to Blackburn Rovers ultimately denying them a spot in the top six.
Like Boro, Millwall have lost regular starters Charlie Cresswell and Jamie Shackleton over the summer who both returned to parent club Leeds, but have retained key men Tom Bradshaw and Zian Flemming, who bagged 32 goals between them last term.
Unlike Boro, the Lions have added some experienced players to their ranks in attacking left back Joe Bryan from Fulham (free) and Scottish International forward Kevin Nisbet from Hibs (£2m+), both of whom you’d have to think would walk into Boro’s team at present. Rowett has also splashed the cash on 26yr old Belgian defensive midfielder / fullback, Caspar de Norre (£2.5m). No, me neither.
All three started their final pre-season friendly, a 1-2 defeat to Dutch Eredivisie side Fortuna Sittard, alongside former Boro players George Saville and Duncan Watmore.
As ever, its incredibly difficult to predict how the game will go but Millwall showed themselves to be an above average Championship side last season and with minimal disruption to the squad over the summer plus a few handy, experienced additions, we can expect a tough encounter on Saturday afternoon.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
Andy, thank you for your superb opening starter for the upcoming season. Well written, as always and some added information regarding the Millwall squad.
I have just sent in my predictions to Powmill, which will be viewed as possibly negative with regards to the Boro. However as pointed out by Andy, the basis of the squad choice for Saturday is very limited to say the least. There are obvious weaknesses all around the probable team, with "goals from" being the most prominent.
We stopped scoring goals at the wrong time into the run in and play offs. We continued to leak goals and we are seriously worse off now, than that last game against Coventry.
BORO nil MILLWALL 2
Thanks Andy for your comprehensive and enjoyable opener for our 2023/2024 campaign.
Your intro has covered all the bases and in particular the incomings and outgoings during the pre-season.
Dieng apart, the rest of the recruits are very much work in progress and it remains to be seen how many, if any, do progress and who else can be acquired before the window closes.
I concur with what the club are trying to do but without some quality replacements for those loanees we have lost, then it could be a long and torturous season.
Millwall are a tough nut to crack every season and seem to have traded well during pre-season. I am always wary of the old boy factor and with potentially two coming back to the Riverside (Saville & Watmore) I am fearing the worst given our defence, to my mind, is weaker as is our attacking threat.
I would go with the team you have suggested but fear that MC may stick with the one that started last Saturday with Forss out wide and Rogers upfront.
We will do well to get a point but I would not be surprised to see Millwall snatch all three.
I hope I am wrong but the team, as it stands at the moment, is no better than a mid table side. 😎
Thanks for getting this season off to a start in Diasboro Andy. I am (not so) secretly happy that you will still be writing at least a handful of openers for us again. The quality of your writing shines.
I have to agree with KP that you have squarely covered all the bases of how we look going into the season opener. I have to say that for the first time in quite a few seasons I am absolutely uncertain of how we are going to start. Not that I have been right about that in previous seasons, but at least I always was convinced by what I thought at those times. This season, definitely uncertain.
I would like to think that we are going to be blown away over the course of the next six months by the blindingly brilliant signings the youthful intake will turn out to be. Then again, as we all know it is the hope that gets to you most of all...
Me? I think I am just going to hold my breath and hope for the best on Saturday, but I remain extremely (or is that hopefully?) optimistic for the season as whole.
Thanks for the opener, Andy. I just hope no one is expecting those of us who’ve stuck our hands up to write some intros to reach your standards!
A great piece which does cover all the bases for what will be, as ever, an interesting start to the season.
As a result of a late change in other commitments, I now able to get to the game and managed to get a ticket - not many left now so should be a good crowd.
Looking forward to seeing what team MC starts with and how we perform - given the injury situation and the incoming players, I won’t be unhappy with a draw (or god forbid a defeat) although will be cheering on for 3 points.
Not being too negative but in 55 years of watching Boro, I know not to set expectations too high, especially so early in the season!
"Welcome back you Boro fans! Hopes have been high in the close season with one or two signings made and some obvious weaknesses remedied..."
So began Cliff Mitchell's programme notes every year for the first home game of the season.
We are privileged to have such a stylish and original introduction to our season here on Diasboro, which has set us up for another great season on the blog, whatever our fortunes on the field. Many thanks, yet again, Andy.
At least you still have the form for the coming season. A cracking and informative opener for all of us to follow.
I agrees with all your comments and assessments it’s a good job we are going to have different posters for the games this season or everyone would think we talk and agree the points together to have the same views.
To all those posters who are going to follow i would say .. Just be yourself, no need to be a crack journalist or a top writer. This blog is run by friends for friends and we never play the man. Take your time there’s no need to have a lengthy opener just give the basics and over time it will develop.
Andy and I are grateful to those Diasborians who have stepped up to the mark and offered their services over the season so to you all I say thank you.
Andy many thanks again pleased you could contribute again.
A great opener from Andy there. Just like the old days.
I can't decide whether I'm glass half-full or glass half-empty about the season ahead. I feel like we're doing a good job of recruiting for 2-3 years time but right now it seems that we are significantly weaker than at our best last season. Combine that with the injuries and uncertainty over Chuba and I'm really not looking forwards to this game.
I have a sinking feeling that this will be a horrible game where we get 2/3 of the possession and no attempts on target while Millwall also get no attempts on target but win 1-0 after an own-goal from a corner.
On the plus side, my predictions are terrible so there is hope.
Team I expect
McNair - Fry - Lenihan - Coulson
Barlaser - Hackney
Forss - Crooks - McGree
Subs: Glover, Agyemang, RVDB, Bilongo, Payero, I Jones, Gilbert, Hoppe, Silvera
The lack of pace and natural width is going to kill us. I've seen this kind of thing happen many times where a team gradually loses all its pace and width while no one's looking. That line up reminds me of watching Swansea: loads of nothing passing in the hope that something turns up.
On the glass half-full side, I can see us getting to 70 minutes, 1-0 down after an own goal and going nowhere. Carrick brings on Silvera, Jones & Payero for Coulson, Forss and Crooks and we score two quick-fire goals and then all is right with the world.
The team I would pick? Well we can't defend so might as well attack. Nominally a 4-2-3-1 but 3-2-4-1 in attack with McGree acting as a wing-back while Jones can filter back to act as pseudo wing-back to make it it 5-3-1-1 in defence
McNair - Fry - Lenihan - McGree
Barlaser - Hackney
Jones - Rogers - Silvera
An excellent starter there, Andy. I hope the Boro will play as well as you wrote there 😊.
I think it is obvious that we need a left back. And possibly a good striker, too. I hope we try my patriot Forss in the middle. He has played there before and is the most experienced striker we have apart from Crooks (but a midfielder).
We have five (5!) players out injured for the first match. They should not be long term (Clarke?) but they have missed most of the pre-season, which can be problematic long term this season. Apart from Coburn, they are all experienced Championship players, too.
For the two injured right backs, we can cover with McNair, I Jones, Van Der Berg or Howson (when fit) - even Fry. So no need to go just shopping yet.
See my attachment for squad depth (The Boro Breakdown Podcast). Looking forward to the Milwall match.
You lost the last digits on the link address again Malcom !! 😉
@deleriad They do say attack is the best form of defence and I would like to see your team and maybe MC may surprise us!
Many thanks for your excellent opening introduction to the new season Andy - it’s got me completely up to speed with all the comings and goings in the summer.
It certainly looks like there’s still plenty to do in August for Michael Carrick before the window closes and hopefully some of the injuries will clear up soon!
As I sit relaxing in Northern Italy I will obviously not be catching the game this weekend but am still hoping to be a happy camper come Sunday as I browse the results from afar 🙂
Was wondering why Carrick does not play Forss in the middle. Perhaps the Finn is not quick enough like Cameron Archer was. Forss is often cutting in from the flank or moving sideways towards the D.
But still, I think he would be the best goal scorer we have at the moment as Akpom is injured. I hope one of the new arrivas will surprice me. Up the Boro!
Only 3 days left till the Championship kicks off at Hillsborough at 8pm on Friday. Thirteen of us so far have had a go at predicting how we think the season will end up in the Clairvoyant Of The Season challenge, with entries recorded for:
K P in Spain, MW in Darwin, Jarkko, Martin Bellamy, deleriad, Forever Dormo, Original Fat Bob, Andy R, lenmasterton, Selwynoz, Pedro de Espana, Powmill-Naemore and Clive Hurren.
There is still time for more you to have a go – or for any of the above to change their submissions. All you have to do is to post which teams you think will finish:
- TOP 6 = Team, Team, Team, Team, Team, Team, Optional1, Optional2, Optional3
- BOTTOM 3 = Team, Team, Team, Optional1, Optional2, Optional3
- AUTOMATIC PROMOTION = Team, Team, Optional1, Optional2
- CHAMPIONS = Team, Optional1
- OVER ACHIEVER = Team, Optional1
- UNDER ACHIEVER = Team, Optional1
- BORO TO FINISH = 1st
So come on you Diasboroeans give it a go and I will keep everyone updated on how everyone’s scores are looking after every 10 games or so.
- the “optional” teams are for those who want to hedge their bets, but remember that while you might have a better chance of predicting a team to finish in the top 6 if you make more than 6 selections, you will get fewer points for a successful prediction than had you only made 6 selections. (You can see in the example entries in the table below how optional selections reduce the points awarded.)
- a team will be an over-achiever if it is one of the promoted teams finishing in the top 9, otherwise any team finishing 10 places higher than last season.
- a team will be an under-achiever if it is one of the relegated teams finishing outside the top 9, otherwise any team finishing 10 places lower than last season.
…but if you do want to wade through the full details of how the challenge works, here is the link:
The table below shows the entries received so far. The scores shown are based on the order of each team in the current league table, which is alphabetic because no games have been played yet!
The last 4 entries shown are examples to demonstrate how to get maximum points (ALPHABETICAL) or how the specifying of optional teams reduces the points awarded in the categories. You will also see in the real entries people have made that many of us are getting “minus” points. This happens when Top 6 or Bottom 3 predictions are wrong and the more wrong the prediction is, the more points will get taken away.
|K P in Spain||MW in Darwin||Jarkko||Martin Bellamy||deleriad||Forever Dormo||Original Fat Bob||Andy R||lenmasterton||Selwynoz||Pedro de Espana||Powmill-Naemore||Clive Hurren||ALPHABETICAL||ALPHABETICAL2||OPTIONS 1||OPTIONS 2||OPTIONS 3|
|BORO to finish in||7||0||11||15||1||-10||6||-5||6||-5||14||5||6||-5||6||-5||14||5||4||-5||14||5||2||-10||5||-5||11||15||24||-12||11||15||11||15||11||15|
Andy, starting the season off with a bang, another great opener, thank you.
Come on BORO.
An excellent opener, Andy, thank you. Unfortunately, I’ve drawn the short straw as I have to do the next one for the Huddersfield Carabao game. I expect it will be short and not quite as sweet as yours!
Even more unfortunately, I tested positive for Covid this morning, which means I now have to miss the Millwall game. Talk about being sick as a parrot!
I agree that this will be a tough game. It always is against them. At this stage, given our injury list and our lack of options at full-back and up front, I think we’ll do well to get a point.
So sorry to hear about your testing positive, Clive. Hope you're up and about again soon
@clive-hurren So sorry to hear your misfortune. I am sure you will get through the Covid but terrible you must miss the match on Saturday. Let's hope Boro will bring you the right result.
Also, writing a preview would have been easier had you seen a match and the new players live.
But keep it short. We will understand. And take care of yourself. Up the Boro!
Hi clive just let me know if you’re not feeling well enough to do the opener for the next one and I’ll step in. We all understand how it affects everyone and not just physically but brain fog as well.
Do you mean the brain fog from watching Boro, getting old or Covid!?
anyway hope that Clive recovers quickly
@clive-hurren adding my best wishes you will recover quickly Clive. Do take care, it can still be a very nasty virus to contract. Let's hope Boro will deliver a tonic for you on Saturday.
Speaking of people in need of a tonic. I know you speak with Ken from time to time and wondered had you spoken lately?
Do you mean the brain fog from watching Boro, getting old or Covid!?
anyway hope that Clive recovers quickly
My only concern is like a number of games last season, we dominate possession but get caught out on counter attacks, too many times we had to comeback from a goal down , that catches up with you,as it did at the end last year, Johnny can't last forever but he could read things and was missed after he got injured, I would like us to sign a more mobile experienced type midfielder who can also defend when needed
Thank you all for your best wishes. I’m confined to one bedroom, but my jailer-wife occasionally brings me bread and water,
Powmill - unfortunately, I haven’t spoken to Ken now in something like 3-4 weeks. How about you, Phillip?
OFB - thanks for the offer of help with the opener. I’ve got it three-quarters written already, so I should be ok. But as Jarkko pointed out, it would have been better had I actually seen Boro in action first!
... as Jarkko pointed out, it would have been better had I actually seen Boro in action first!
I might have reserved judgement about it being better to have seen the Boro in action until after the game is over on Saturday !!! 🙄
P.S. I see Ken has just posted up in the Cricket Thread
Andy, A great pieced better than all of the bogus reporting in the media, to the point and relevant, well done.
I'm sorry to hear about Clives illness, look after yourself and it's good to see a post from Ken too, let's hope Boro can win for him on Saturday. At the moment we've got a pair of RAF Typhoons dogfighting right over the house and turning fuel into a whole lot of noise, let's hope the Riverside is as noisy on Saturday to urge the team on.
I have suspicion that nobody knows what bro's team will be so I'm hoping that the opposition not having seen the team in action will be kept guessing to. having said that I'd be happy with draw but pray for better. No predictions from me, as always I'll be behind the couch, curtains drawn but with a beer and some salted nuts reading Charles Buchan's Football Annual by torchlight.
All the best to everyone, particularly Clive and Ken.