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Boro v Sheffield Ut...
 

Boro v Sheffield Utd

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Andy R
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It’s been a horrible start.

Three games into the 2022/23 season and Boro are still searching for a first win. Sure, no-one will be too upset about exiting the Carabao Cup especially with a much changed and youthful XI on show but it isn’t about the cup at this stage, it’s about gathering some momentum.

Everyone was aware, not least manager, Chris Wilder, that the squad headed into the season with some gaping holes to fill but Boro aren’t alone on that front.

West Brom was a tough opening fixture on paper and perhaps QPR away was more difficult than it first appeared too. Whatever, it’s one draw and two defeats and Boro need a couple of wins now to kickstart the season and get ourselves going.

In truth, it hasn’t been quite been as poor as it may appear to the casual observer. Boro bossed a talented West Brom side for forty-five minutes and more and should probably have killed that game off before the Baggies boinged back. The first half at QPR was as poor as it’s been under Wilder but the second was strong and Boro nearly nicked a point from nowhere. Barnsley? Well, both sides didn’t exactly put out their strongest XIs but Boro dominated again, although just three shots on target doesn’t necessarily scream “we was robbed”.

However, none of that matters as far as the early league table is concerned and Boro now need to get some points on the board. Thankfully it’s only Sheffield United up next. Wait, what??

Another tough fixture awaits at The Riverside against another promotion hopeful in the shape of Paul Heckingbottom’s Blades (Sunday, KO 2pm).

Last season’s beaten play-off semi-finalists had a difficult start themselves with a narrow 0-1 defeat away to Watford in their opening game but bounced back to beat Millwall in their second fixture with two early goals.

The South Yorkshire club have been busy enough in the transfer market over the summer bringing in five new faces, although four are on loan including one-time Boro target Ciaran Clark. The other three loanees are all 21 or under and have barely featured in the league so far whilst their only permanent signing is 23 year-old Bosnian centre-back Anel Ahmedhodzic, who arrived from Swedish club Malmo for an undisclosed fee reported to be in the region of £4m.

Heckingbottom is, of course, a former staff member of Chris Wilder from their time together at Sheffield Utd and will know everything there is to know about the Boro boss’ plans. Like his former gaffer, the Blades' boss sets his side up in a wingback system but tends to forego the holding midfielder in favour of a “double pivot” with a creative midfielder scheming behind the front two.

Perhaps the best bits of news for Boro are that evergreen frontman Billy Sharp is another year older at 36 and seemingly no longer a starter, whilst – perhaps better still – last season’s major threat, Morgan Gibbs-White, has returned to parent club Wolves and cannot repeat his absolute destruction of the Boro backline from the last time the sides met back in March.

Overall, however, this is a settled Sheffield United side featuring several familiar faces: Enda Stevens, John Egan, John Fleck, Sander Berge and Oli Norwood – all formidable operators at Championship level in a Blades squad that will surely challenge for promotion.

Boro risked little in midweek as they slumped out of the Carabao Cup with only Djiksteel, Bola and Watmore retaining their places from the previous weekend. All three could now be facing a spell on the bench as McNair, Fry and Lenihan potentially return at the back and a further reinforcement has arrived up front.

21 year-old USA international striker Matthew Hoppe is the latest young prospect to arrive at Rockcliffe though with little experience, recent game time or indeed training with his new teammates, it would be a stretch to expect much from him any time soon. Still, they say it’s the Hoppe that kills you and Boro will be hoping that that becomes a regular theme as the season progresses.

That said, whilst Boro’s drawn out pursuit of strikers has been one of the main talking points thus far, the evidence on the pitch is that it’s defensive qualities that the team are currently lacking. Boro have of course scored a healthy three goals from their two Championship encounters and should arguably have had more, with the (very) early stats showing Boro as the seventh most creative side in the division despite a couple of tough encounters.

At the other end, however, Boro have conceded 4 goals from 2.88 big chances conceded and there must be some simmering concern about our ability to limit the opposition. Again, though, we’ve not had the easiest fixtures and the defence hasn’t yet been a settled one.

So a tough game awaits at a time when Boro could do with a straightforward three points. Can Wilder get a reaction from his charges to recharge Boro’s pre-season optimism? It’s the Hoppe that kills you….


werdermouth
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Another great preview Andy and yes this is not a great fixture to try and get your first win of the season - especially as Heckingbottom will know more than most how to counter a Wilder side - which will likely make the Boro manager try something left field.

Anyway, Boro need a win by any means to get up and running - hopefully with two first halves of WBA rather than QPR!


deleriad
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Thanks for the starter from Andy. On paper, this match can only end one way. Thankfully, games aren't played on paper. 

Sheffield Utd are probably the 5th best squad in the league. They've lost Gibbs-white but in Sander Berge have their version of a Paul Merson: someone far too good for this level. There doesn't seem to be much to say about this game. The players who were taken off early against Barnsley were possibly to keep them ready for Sunday so I am expecting something like

Steffen

McNair - Lenihan - Bola

Jones - Crooks - Howson - McGree - Giles

Akpom - Forss

Subs: Roberts, Smith, Fry, Dijksteel, Gibson, Watmore, Hoppe

Personally, I don't think Lenihan is cut out for centre of a three but I do think he's an excellent RCB along with all our other excellent RCBs. 

Even though it's not played on paper, this feels like we could be badly rolled over. If Sheffield Utd get a good start against us, I fear what the final score will be.


Andy R
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Topic starter  

Thanks Deleriad and I agree on the team for Sunday. I also suspect that once fully fit, Fry will end up in the centre of defence. He's been a rock for us there for some time. Lenihan may end up as the RCB.

Maybe Werder is right in that Djiksteel will compete for the defensive midfield role. He's definitely got the legs and the tackling ability but I don't know about his passing or positional play in that role.


Ken Smith
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A good insight from Andy R especially about our opponents. I’m afraid it’s all above my comprehension as I’m not really au fait with what’s happening in the current football world spending much of my time on too many alternative sports especially cricket, Rugby League, golf and speedway as football has become a low priority in the summer. It seems incongruous to me thinking about football in the summer months, but then I’m a statistician rather than a spectator as I continually fall asleep especially watching football. It’s an age thing really as I sometimes can’t remember what’s happened in the last couple of weeks yet still remember things that happened 70/75 years ago so it’s not dementia.

So thanks to Andy, OFB, Werdermouth, et all in keeping me abreast of all things Boro, though I have to say that speculation over who Boro might sign bores me to death. In fact I’d never heard of any of Boro’s purchases prior to signing them, but probably not alone there. I never look at league tables until each team has played 10 matches as they seem irrelevant until then. Nevertheless there are about a dozen or more clubs who have hopes of promotion this season in all 3 EFL divisions, yet especially in the Championship have next to no chance of establishing themselves in the Premier League which is not good for the future of football in this country. 

As for forecasting Boro’s match on Sunday, no score or result will surprise me, although as David Prutton is forecasting a draw I’m more likely to expect a win or a defeat.


K P in Spain
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Thanks Andy for another great opener and one in which you comment on our greatest weakness, the inability to put a consistent and dominant league performance together over 90 mins; this has been a major affliction probably since after Tony Pulis’s reign.

I concur with Deleriad’s team selection and also, like him, have not been convinced by Lenihan’s performances since he arrived.  

To my mind Dale Fry is our best central defender, so why are we not utilising his strengths.  I agree with CW that a number of them can play in different positions but we should be playing to each player’s strengths.  DF for one never looks as comfortable or accomplished when asked to play elsewhere and I wonder of Lenihan is experiencing similar feelings.

As for Sunday, I am fearing the worst.  At best we may sneak a point but feel the blades will be to strong for us and just hope we don’t collapse.  0-2. ☹️😎


Philip of Huddersfield
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Thanks to the excellent starter by Andy.   Whilst Boro have only played 3 games, the pressure increases to get the first win.  Sheffield will be really tough as they are a team which plays to the end and often sneak late important goals. So Sunday’s game is really important - possibly more so as Boro face two away games in the following 7 days.

This is another test for CW to get a winning performance with a team which we are repeatedly told lacks quality in numbers. This is trotted out before every game - I bet virtually all the Championship teams could say the same and so Boro may be no better off or worse off than other teams.

Philip of Huddersfield 


exmil
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Thanks Andy for another great opener 👍

Come on BORO.


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lenmasterman
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Thanks for a great opener Andy. I agree with your sentiments about the season so far in your recent posts.

These contrast starkly with the infantile  comments in the Gazette ("Wilder Out"; "Gibson Out" etc), so it's always a relief to come back to the reasoned debates that characterise this blog. Even here though, the view has been expressed that Wilder has it all to prove as a coach. This after two league games.

My view is that Wilder has absolutely nothing to prove. His record over the past ten seasons stands comparison with anyone else in the English game, and in terms of the Football League he is way ahead of all the competition. He is our most precious resource and has been a far more important acquisition than any player.

Remember the Spurs game last season? Antonio Conte is justifiably considered to be one of the top five  coaches in Europe. His greatest strengths are his tactical astuteness, his motivational qualities, the fitness of his teams, the discipline he instills, and his flexibility- his willingness to adapt to the changing conditions of a game. 

Yet on that night Chris Wilder proved superior to Conte across all of those criteria, and he did this with a team which was, on paper, inferior in quality in every department, costing a mere fraction of the Premiership opposition.

The Boro won the game tactically hands down, at every stage. Furthermore, they were more highly motivated, more up for it, than Spurs. They were fitter and ran further and faster than the opposition, and they kept their discipline when Spurs lost theirs. Game, set and match to Boro, and to Wilder above all others.

Just one managerial triumph of course. But set within the context of a complete tactical reboot from the years of the negative risk- averse football of Karanka, Pulis, and Warnock, a highly significant one.

That Wilder was able to turn around the ingrained negativity that had been our default position over more seasons than most of us care to remember was itself something of a miracle.  He gave us football, at long last, that we could actually enjoy and look forward to, based on creativity and intelligence as well as energy, commitment and grit.

Of course there are difficulties and problems and I have myself analysed the inherent structural issues in having a relatively young and inexperienced Head of Football in a more powerful hierarchical position than a vastly more experienced manager. The tea leaves weren't necessary in predicting the Scott-Warnock conflict, still less how it would be concluded, and the same applies to Wilder's situation.

There is an inverse correlation between power and responsibility in the set-up. Scott has the final say over many of the decisions for which Wilder will be the fall guy if and when they fail.

Things have not yet come to that, though there was a clear disparity between Wilder's post-match frustrations last Saturday, his hope that supporters will have some understanding of his situation (presumably that he is a general being sent into battle without any bullets), and his earlier, calmer assurances that he and the recruiting team were "on the same page".

Things seem to me to be still delicately poised. Whilst the signings so far have been distinctly underwhelming, and some of Wilder's preferred options may have been knocked back, there has to be some sympathy and understanding of the fact that the Boro are awaiting many decisions that have to made elsewhere and are out of our control. The big and important signings face a bumpy road and are yet to come.

We hope.

What can be said for certain is that far too many assumptions, fears and conclusions have been made on the flimsiest evidence of the first two games of the season.

Personally, at half-time in the West Brom match, I was astonished at how the coaching staff had managed to coax such an exciting and fluent performance from such a Rag, Tag and Bobtail collection of players, who fully deserved the ovation they received on leaving the field.

It did not last, of course, thanks mainly to the influence of Wallace and Swift, two free signings of precisely the sort that we need: experienced pros who have been stand out performers in this division over a number of recent seasons. (Only the Boro, incidentally, could, under Pulis, have scouted the Millwall midfield and concluded that the journeyman Saville was our man and worth £6 million to boot).

Put Wallace and Swift in our team and we beat West Brom 4-0 and are already being touted as promotion candidates, as the Baggies currently are.

Whatever, I will be looking forward to a season with Wilder in charge, either playing enterprising football with whatever resources are to hand, or more fully equipped as promotion contenders with a couple of proven strikers, a decent left sided defender, and a creative midfield playmaker.

But it will be worth keeping in mind in the coming months that whichever of those scenarios plays out will not principally be down to him. I have every confidence that he will do the best possible job, but in circumstances that have been determined elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This post was modified 2 months ago by lenmasterman

Pedro de Espana
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Thanks Andy for the interesting Headliner. Great work.

I am not confident of even a point on Sunday, but live in hope that the players at least turn up for this one and give it a real go. 


Powmill-Naemore
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Great opening piece again, Andy. Thank you.

Also excellent post from Len, underscoring how important it is not to get hysterical after a couple of games and to recognise that the footballing intention on offer now is far better to watch and enjoy than over more than just a few recent seasons.

All the same, for the immediate future it is difficult not to be more than a little gloomy in outlook. Among Boro's shortcomings since we fell out of the Premier League the last two times has been that inability to find the consistency that is an essential component of any successful side. Here we are again. The team has shown it has the capability to compete with the best the in this league (and above as Len noted). Unfortunately it has also shown a woeful tendency to capitulate to whichever eleven is in front of it - sometimes in the same game as against WBA and QPR !

So what to expect on Sunday? I do think there will be at least 45 minutes of good Boro, but worry there may also be 45 minutes of bad Boro as well. On that basis (and agreeing with Deleriad's team selection) I am imagining a 2 all draw.


Original Fat Bob
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Many Thanks Andy for a sterling piece of work (again) I really do like your opening posts which encapsulate the situation and tell it how it is.

Unfortunately I intend to write my openers when my emotions are high and not taking a balanced view. 

Still that what this wonderful blog and contributors is all about, the varying posts and different viewpoints and always being fair and not playing the man.

cheers

OFB


Original Fat Bob
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Len

A great post which sums up where Boro are and also need to be in an articulate and expressive way.

Me? I just love this blog !

OFB


Andy R
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Topic starter  

Thanks Bob - and everyone - for the kind responses. It’s good to be back, though I’d quite like Boro to get back on track as well!

I enjoy your previews too Bob and have never thought they were reactionary or emotional - give yourself a break!

When there’s a midweek game the turnaround can be quite quick though can’t it?

We’ll all feel better after Boro win tomorrow.

Gulp.


Pedro de Espana
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A couple of useless pieces of information I noticed.

Hartlepool make their FIFTEENTH signing!!! 

Ashley Fletcher has joined Wigan on a season loan.


werdermouth
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Posts: 1415
 

Len

Great defence of Wilder or indeed any manager who has not yet had a full season in charge and is already expected to have produced a table-topping team.

As you say, most of the squad’s problems are mostly out of his control control as he awaits the tools to do his job - he’s not really had a goal scorer since he arrived and other positions have been make-do too.

Nevertheless, as well as impatient fans, the club itself has been guilty in recent times of expecting managers to get results in sharp time - so Boro would benefit in having the same manager for at least three years. The Watford model hasn’t worked for MFC!

Whether Wilder ends up with what he needs this season is another matter - as things stand it looks to be too much of a rebuild to expect anything but a late surge up the table - though that’s probably what life in the Championship is for most clubs!


MW in Darwin
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Thanks for the opener Andy. Will be happy with a point and a clean sheet on Sunday. Interestingly a Premier League referee Andre Marriner the last league game he had at the Riverside was against Leeds in 2015 leeds won 1-0 goal scorer Alex Mowatt!


Malcolm
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So Mowatt signs on loan. What do you think friends. West Brom fans apparently couldn't wait to get rid of him. Just saying 😏 


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exmil
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Welcome to Boro Alex Mowatt.

Come on BORO.


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Andy R
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I think Mowatt is a great addition. He was Barnsley’s best for several years and just a shame that West Brom took him when Ismael took charge.

It hasn’t worked for Mowatt at WBA but he’s a proven Championship performer at peak age. On top of that, he’s a left footed centre  mid that perfectly fits that Tav gap.

Great recruitment and we just need Mowatt to settle quickly, which I doubt will be a problem off the pitch given his years at Barnsley.


exmil
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Mowatt could go straight into the side on Sunday, he has had a full preseason, came on as a sub but played a full match during the week when WBA beat Shef Utd on Thursday.

Come on BORO.


Clive Hurren
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Another great opener, Andy, and a superb post from Len. Both were really thoughtful and balanced as we have come to expect. Thank you, both. 

I’m very pleased with the signing of Mowatt. He may not be the complete replacement for Tav, but he is a seasoned and able Championship performer who should do a good job for us. Boro have done this business rapidly and have effectively filled a gap. Well done to all concerned. It’s nice to be able to compliment the recruitment team this time after all the trenchant criticism I’ve thrown their way of late. 

And while we’re on that subject, I’ve just seen Twitter videos of Joe Lumley making three absolutely horrendous errors to gift Rotherham 3 goals, and he could easily be blamed for the fourth one, too. Reading fans are going berserk. So, well done again, Boro management, for getting shot of this absolute liability. 

Like many of you, I have been anticipating a poor result against Sheffield United. But if Mowatt gets on, even for half an hour, I think we stand a better chance. We’re starting to build the squad and the options available to Wilder. Deleriad’s suggested team shows a  much stronger bench. So I think we can nick this one, perhaps 2-1. UTB. 


K P in Spain
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I see after today’s results we are already in a relegation battle! 😉😂😎


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K P in Spain
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Clive:  

“And while we’re on that subject, I’ve just seen Twitter videos of Joe Lumley making three absolutely horrendous errors to gift Rotherham 3 goals, and he could easily be blamed for the fourth one, too. Reading fans are going berserk. So, well done again, Boro management, for getting shot of this absolute liability. “

Thanks for that.  I haven’t seen the goals but was keeping an eye on the scores and was thinking to myself   I wonder how many were Lumley’s fault and now we know! 😎


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PaulInBoro
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Posted by: @k-p-in-spain

Clive:  

“And while we’re on that subject, I’ve just seen Twitter videos of Joe Lumley making three absolutely horrendous errors to gift Rotherham 3 goals, and he could easily be blamed for the fourth one, too. Reading fans are going berserk. So, well done again, Boro management, for getting shot of this absolute liability. “

Thanks for that.  I haven’t seen the goals but was keeping an eye on the scores and was thinking to myself   I wonder how many were Lumley’s fault and now we know! 😎

The one where he knelt to get the ball an it went through his legs was particularly bad


werdermouth
Site Creator
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KP

A 2-0 win tomorrow will take us up to 9th - just one point off the play-offs and one win from top spot 😏

 


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Clive Hurren
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My apologies, mates. Lumley only gifted Rotherham two goals, not 3 (though he was also beaten at his near post for a third). One effort I thought was a goal on Twitter actually hit the roof of the net - but was nonetheless the result of one of Joe’s typically harum-scarum mad rushes of blood to the head! 


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K P in Spain
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Posted by: @werdermouth

KP

A 2-0 win tomorrow will take us up to 9th - just one point off the play-offs and one win from top spot 😏

 

Werder

Upon mature reflection, I prefer your assessment of the situation as opposed to mine. 😉😎


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MW in Darwin
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Posted by: @clive-hurren

My apologies, mates. Lumley only gifted Rotherham two goals, not 3 (though he was also beaten at his near post for a third). One effort I thought was a goal on Twitter actually hit the roof of the net - but was nonetheless the result of one of Joe’s typically harum-scarum mad rushes of blood to the head! 

What's the betting he plays a blinder against us next Saturday.


Liked by 4 people: Clive Hurren, Powmill-Naemore, Malcolm and Andy R
 
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Andy R
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Topic starter  
Posted by: @mw-in-darwin
Posted by: @clive-hurren

My apologies, mates. Lumley only gifted Rotherham two goals, not 3 (though he was also beaten at his near post for a third). One effort I thought was a goal on Twitter actually hit the roof of the net - but was nonetheless the result of one of Joe’s typically harum-scarum mad rushes of blood to the head! 

What's the betting he plays a blinder against us next Saturday.

Are you suggesting that as part of the loan deal, Boro have not only allowed him to play against us but insisted on it?


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