HAS LEE Cattermole solved Boro’s long standing problem on the right?
Certainly the defensive midfielder turned makeshift wideman showed more of an attacking threat down that flank against Everton than Stuart Parnaby, Gaizka Mendieta and James Morrison have mustered between them all season. Added to that, his willingness to track back, his ability to close down quickly and his bite in the tackle gave the right flank added protection and a reassuring solidity about it that has been lacking for years.
Cattermole was a revelation – but his barnstorming display in an alien position role must raise big questionmarks over the current trio of contenders for that role.
That a teenager playing out of position can come in and have a stormer and make the job look so easy only serves to underline the weaknesses of the rival contenders for that role.
To be fair to the trio who are seen as the current right sided multiple choice answer for Boro’s trickiest selection problem, none of them are natural flankers either. Mendieta is clearly a central midfielder, and one that needs time and space to operate in. On the flank his lack of pace is cruelly exposed and he looks as worried at being deployed there as the crowd do.
Morrison was a central midfielder as he came through the ranks and only put on the right by McClaren because as a scarcity of other options. He offers pace and enthusiasm but lacks the physical presence to match imposing opposition, is not a brilliant crosser of the ball and is weak when it comes to the defensive duties.
And Parnaby is a player without portfolio that has never looked entirely comfortable on the right. He was a central midfielder as a junior, was converted to a central defender and then later pushed out to right back to fill a hole. McClaren then pushed him forward, not primarily as a creative flanker but as a wing-back with a cautious brief. He offers more on the defensive side as that has become his stock-in-trade but he is limited when it comes to pushing forward, beating his man or floating in the telling cross.
The other alternatives in the squad are equally flawed. Should the cobwebs ever be dusted off Ray Parlour and the Romford Pele unleashed by Boro again it is hard to see what he could offer as he creaks along the right while Massimo Maccarone will chase lost causes all day long but he rarely creates from the flank and his defensive works is littered with dangerous free-kicks.
So by default Cattermole found himself in the job – and responded with one of the best displays of right sided flankmanship seen at the Riverside since Geremi to leave fans gushing about his versatility and even encourage the wilder talk of the lad being Teesside’s Stevie Gerrard.
It may not be ideal but the marriage of convenience could work for all concerned. Keeping that team – and why change it? – would give Lee the chance to establish himself with regular games while solving the weakness that has left Boro lopsided and hence easy to defend against.
But it would also allow Southgate to play a more adventurous midfield and still harness the zest and pace of Cattermole. If Boro are to play an attacking formation it means a 4-4-2 and a central midfield pairing of Boateng and the Catt does not provide the creativity needed. Yet Catt out wide offers added protection for the defence, relives the pressure on the central two and allows a more adventurous selection in the attacking, schemeing role. Against Everton that was Jason Euell who looked fantastic, covered a lot of ground and was involved in both goals.
On that showing Euell looks a snip and a pronounced threat to the erratic Rochemback who goes walkabout and leaves gaps, still squanders possession needlessly with too many adventurous balls that do not come off and puts in too many missed tackles.
Southgate is still at the experimenting srage with his squad. The experiment with Cattermole on the right was a success. Now to turn base metal into gold.