Ipswich v Boro: Preview

ANGRY Aitor Karanka simmered as he described the annual Portman Road ploughing as a “an alarm to wake us all up.”
And I think he meant an eardrum busting  industrial klaxon rather than that pathetic peep-peep-peep bedside thing that you can lazily lean over and hit the “snooze” button and turn over for a few more minutes under the duvet.
Karanka was furious. On a day the media had dubbed “Panic Saturday” his team had certainly caught the mood of the moment.
They ran around chaotically in wide eyed confusion without any clear idea what they wanted or how they were going to get it then ended up going home frustrated and empty handed and leaving their loved ones deeply disappointed.  In contrast, wily old Mick McCarthy’s well drilled, more methodical and impressive Ipswich made merry and went home piled up with the points  gift-wrapped, celebrating comfort and joy.
Ipswich pressed and closed at a high tempo, hustled Boro out of their stride then turned the screw and carved open a creaking defence with some exquisite passing to score two good goals. It would be churlish to dispute they were the better team on the day.
Just as Boro had systematically dismantled Derby, so Ipswich took apart Boro, steadily, clinically and ruthlessly and in a way far more emphatic than the scoreline suggested.
Yes, Boro “improved” after the break and had more of the ball and created a few half chances but the Ipswich keeper never had a save to make until stoppage time and bar an audacious Adam Reach lob that was headed off the line Boro  barely threatened at all.
It was a dismal showing.  Every department failed. Every player was below par. The framework that has served so well failed to function. The defence was penetrated repeatedly, the flailing midfield never got a foothold in the game and were quickly swamped and chasing shadows and up front Boro offered very little.
With Ipswich in their faces so quickly the team could not get a passing rhythm going and gradually resorted to increasingly desperate aimless long balls forward somewhere  into the same postcode as Patrick Bamford who beavered away but hardly got a sniff.
And it could have been worse. Far worse. They had one cleared off the line. They hit the post. They bossed it.  We can’t even blame the ref: the replicant Kenneth Omeruo who played in place of the good one of the recent past could and should have been sent off.
He might easily have had four yellow cards including two in three seconds as he trundled around making ill-timed challenges and pumping wayward punts forward.
Scrappy and stuttering, Boro looked timid pale shadows of the swaggering team that tore up Derby so completely and confidently to prompt fevered “P word” chatter.
It’s refreshing that Karanka was steaming after the game, not just at the result but at the performance and the attitude of his team.
It would be easy – and probably fair – to shrug it off as “a bad day at the office”, that Boro were due a blip and that is not an indictment of the team as a whole or to accept the immutable Law of Football that Boro NEVER get anything at Ipswich (three points in 10 visits since the last win in 1992 is a serious hoodoo).
And it would be sensible and sober and measured to set the result in the big picture context: it is after all only the second defeat in 17 games,  after an unbeaten run of eight had taken Boro joint top and at the team with the best home record in the division.
And it must be said Boro are still only three points off the top at Christmas and we are all fluent in cliche so we know that “you’d have snatched their hands off for that in August.”
Promotion will not be  decided on one result. The defeat to the Tractor Boys is a set-back and has temporarily dampened the rising expectations on Teesside a bit, but it will not fundamentally change the long term dynamics of the Championship table.
Derby have been turned over twice this week and then were pegged back in stoppage time for a draw on Saturday but no-one would seriously rule them out of the promotion race. We battered Brentford  but they are still in there.
And the variety, depth and ability of a squad we were all gushing about last week hasn’t changed with one result. Boro remain a well organised side with a tactically astute manager, a system that works and one of the strongest squads in the league.
But Karanka is a tough task-master. He sets very high standards. His policy is to raise the bar every week and he won’t buy the notion that Boro were “due” an off day.
The boss was furious.  It will have been a frosty coach journey home with the chastened players not wanting to catch his laser gaze or be caught out tweeting or watching the Strictly final on their tablets or laughing and joking in loud phone-calls.  For this one reason we are definitely not happy.
And while Aitor will be dealing with the team, getting the mentality right and quickly refocussing on Boxing Day and beyond, we must do the same.  There’s no point dwelling on Ipswich and torturing ourselves and little to be gained in letting one result  become the prompt to release months of pent up doubts, digs and told-you-sos.
Maybe we all – fans as well – thought we were better than we are. The defeat hurt but maybe we had built up expectation to unrealistic levels. Despite being Mourinho-tinged at times, Boro are not Chelsea. We remain a Championship team. We are still a work in progress and for all the recent steady improvement we still have to expect (and forgive) slip-ups and defeats.
But, as with the team, it is about how we collectively react to the set-backs that count.
Last week Boro fans were gushing about the prospect of a 30,000 Boxing Day gate and making plans to take 13,000 fans on the road in a week. Optimism was high. Confidence was bubbling and unconditional support soared. Teesside was bubbling with a foam fumed feelgood factor and looking forward to the unfolding promotion push.
Nothing about the possibilities this season presents has changed with one result.
But it has reminded us it will be a long and tough campaign. It won’t be a procession.

Boro Ram Raid On “The Best Team In The League”

BORO have just easily dismantled “the best team in the division.” Easily. Dismantled. The table-toppers and promotion favourites were picked apart in a televised demolition of Derby that will have plenty thinking that tag has just changed hands.

Patrick Bamford will take most of the headlines, and rightly so.  He has scored against the side he played for on loan last year;  he has now scored seven goals in eight games; he is on-loan from Chelsea so he has a handy tag for the nationals.

Bamford scored (and celebrated like a Forest fan) and won a penalty in another superb show in a game that he admitted had given him butterflies and a restless night before and so yes, give him the headlines. He deserves all the attention he gets after a magic month in which he has staked his claim to be a first team fixture and consistently showed us every part of the strikers’ skills set.

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                          Bamford: can’t sleep for Butterflies, stings like a bee

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Mythed Sitters? “Shot Shy” Tag Is Well Wide

“Shot shy Boro just don’t score enough goals to get promoted!”

That’s the latest line being peddled by the cynics – sorry, “realists” – as Aitor Karanka’  side take up residence in the pack. Or at least, it was until the five-star display at the Den when a potent performance and a goal romp dented that thinly constructed criticism.

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                         Boro celebrate massaging the scoring stats at Millwall

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Jelle Serves Up Goal Treat

TASTY Jelle showed this team are not to be trifled with as Boro served up a treat at Millwall.  Vossen has had to wait 12 games to get off the mark but got his just desserts with a delicious first on his way to a mouthwatering 23 minute -hat-trick before Bamford and Kike put cherries on the top. In a fantastic first half bubbling Boro created a flurry of chances: they could have had hundreds and thousands. Almost.

There were a string of clear cut chances, a couple of good saves, a strong penalty claim and one that bounced in off the post only to be clawed back into play by the keeper. It was party time for Boro who really could have scored seven or  eight. Nine?   In an awesome first 45 minutes that looked not only possible but likely.

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Sheeran Lunacy: Ref’s Bum Note Costs Boro

WELL I’m blaming Ed Sheeran for Boro’s stoppage time sucker punch in a 1-1 draw with Blackburn that left scene of crime officers working late into the night at the Riverside.

Or at least, I’m blaming relegated ref Mark Clattenburg’s dodgy taste in music. Clattenburg blew bang on 89.59 so he could get a flyer from the West Brom game last month to get back to Newcastle for a gig by the ginger This Years’ James Blunt. He left alone breaking ref’s matchday protocol and put his foot down – pausing only to take a call from Neil Warnock, another breech  – so got dumped into the Championship. And we ended up with him. And he made a costly error. Great. Thanks a lot Sheeran!

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John Neal: Boro Boss At An Historical Crossroads

JOHN Neal’s Boro reign offered spells of hope and excitement book-ended between two moments of FA Cup heartache that are burned on supporters’ psyches.

The former Boro boss died this week aged 82 prompting tributes to a widely respected coach and an old school football gentleman. And it is also an opportunity to reassess an interesting and important time in the club’s history as it approached a crossroads.

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The Road To Wigan Pier: Boro Bandwagon Misfires

THERE was no Feeding of the Five Thousand;  Although it was a minor miracle Boro managed to come away with a point. They got back down to the bread and butter of the Championship by serving up some stodgy fare.  There was no procession to the points for the travelling army who arrived in a convoy of coaches; the team spluttered and back-fired and chugged along in the slow lane. But at least they didn’t end up on the hard shoulder.

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Is Karanka Gibson’s Best Ever Appointment?

INTERNATIONAL breaks can be frustrating. Withdrawal symptoms make Boroholics tense and tetchy,  simmering and snappy.  Inevitably tempers bubble over and squabbles start and  soon protocol breaks down witty, urbane banter becomes more ascerbic, personal and threatening and before you know it, we’re the car-park to sort out once and for all.

The latest abstract to go physical came after our debut podcast in which we collectively gushed over Aitor’s transformation of the club from top to bottom. It lead to a third party innocently asking:  “Is Karanka Steve GIbson’s best ever appointment?” Well…

Battle-lines were quickly drawn between myself and Mr T as an Iron Curtain was thrown up across the sports desk.  There’s  only one way to settle it…. FIGHT!

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Special K: One Year On

TODAY is what has been dubbed the #Karankaversary. It a year since Boro appointed Aitor Karanka as their new boss. I think it is fair to say it has been a year of marked change on and off the pitch. A  year of of steady if not spectacular improvement in every department of the team and of results and performances.  And a year of reshaping of  the attitudes that surrounds the club. Karanka is all about professionally planned progress.

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Tasty Tussle – But No Cherry On The Top

A TOP TWO shared summit showdown. A bumper crowd.  The featured match on the Football League show after a sustained campaign of cynical sniping. What could possibly go wrong?  That should be the club motto: potuisset quid peccavit?  

Well, it was goalless. That definitely wasn’t part of the script. Obviously with 23,000 fans in the Riverside – almost 6,000 more than the previous high and a lot back for the first time in several years – the ideal outcome would have been a Norwich-style goal romp, a mass conversion of cynics to the Karanka cause and a long queue outside the ticket-office demanding half-season cards immediately. Instead some will have gone away feeling a little cheated and saying that “they always let you down.”

But that would be very harsh.

Continue reading Tasty Tussle – But No Cherry On The Top