Time Running Out To Learn Lessons Of Defeat

“YOU LEARN a lot from your defeats,” said rookie boss Gareth Southgate after his soft centred team suffered another blow at White Hart Lane. After a lot of bruising dug-out education the Gate is looking increasingly world-weary and frustrated as his tinkering with personnel, culture and tactics struggle to transform a pedestrian side.
So what lessons have we learned from this defeat? Sadly, very little we didn’t already know.

Concentrate from the kick-off immediately after you score a goal? Surely the penny should have dropped on that one after the two previous games saw goals – and ultimately precious points – surrendered cheaply within three minutes of a breakthrough.
Villa hit back quickly as Boro’s generous midfield opened up to let Petrov free into the box. Manchester United hit back quickly as Boro’s sluggish midfield failed to pick up Fletcher’s run. Spurs hit back as Boro’s slack midfield left space… you get the picture.
Whatever happened to the famous Bill Beswick “red zones”? Tighten up. Close down. Focus. Even cliche-spouting small screen microphome men know the score. The seventies was a tape loop of commentators warning gravely that “you are never more vulnerable than when you have just scored.” Maybe we should get Motty in to do the team talk.
Boro have little punch up front? Well, we knew that too. Yakubu looks a shadow of his former self. Where is the player that ripped into defences? Who barged defenders aside and had a real hunger for goal? Yes, it has been a season of disruption and the absence of Viduka, the departure of Hasselbaink and the failure of the second string to step up to the plate have piled pressure on him – but he has not responded to the challenge of being the main man. That leaves Boro shot shy and relying ever more on Plan B.
Against Spurs, as against United and as against a host of teams this season, Boro have relied on their strongest componant – the defence – to soak up the pressure in the hope that they would get the odd rare breaks and maybe create one or two chances and snatch a goal.
As a pragmatic approach to answer an injury crisis or visit Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates Stadium that makes sense as a stop gap strategy but Boro can’t afford to gamble their Premiership status on establishing it as the norm. That hands over the initiative, invites pressure and swings the percentages in favour of the opposition. Boro can’t afford to gift goals because with such a one-dimensional midfield bereft of creativity or pace to break forward in numbers there is no guarantee they can claw it back.
Maybe Gareth learned that George Boateng is struggling? Again, we knew that. He knew and has admitted he has been off the pace, has been distracted by the responsibilities of the armband and has playing through the pain barrier after an early season knock left him with fluid on his knee that restricts his mobility. He told the Gazette only last week that he knew he could probably do with a few weeks rest. Well now he will get them.
The skipper was probably at fault for the Spurs winner as he failed to pick up the runner and soon after, although he was mugged by a posse of opposition players in a brief outbreak of handbags, his frustrations boiled over and he reacted. A red card for violent conduct will bring a three game ban that will hurt Boro at a team when they are looking vulnerable.
But those detractors who see the red card and subsequent ban as a relief are in for a shock. Without Boateng, even an off colour one, Boro will lack steel and nouse in the area where games are won and lost in a string of massive games: Wigan, two points ahead are next at home, then Fulham away and then a Riverside clash with a revived Charlton side who are climbing out of their coffin.
There is no-one to replace him. His absences through injury in the past two seasons have stung and the problem of cover has not been completely resolved. Battling Lee Cattermole shows great promise, enthusiasm and energy but is far from the final product – and besides will be banned himself for Wigan – while Fabio Rochemback, who has played as a defensive midfielder for Barcelona and Sporting is well short of what is required in that role in the Premiership. He has no pace, a powder-puff tackle, squanders possession and has a tendency to go walkabout leaving inviting gaps in his wake. Where’s Doriva when you need him?
Has Southgate learned he is well short in midfield? Boro have been crying out for width and pace on the right for three years now – at least sinc ethe departure of Geremi – and despite playing protracted footsie with a string of likely solutions the problem has not been solved. Likewise the absence of genuine proven creativity in the midfield, the “Bolo Zenden” role, is an on-going problem too. We can not wait for the kids to come through in.
Without these vital cogs the Boro machine can not work to full capacity and to resolve that will take cash. Boro may be reluctant to fund such recruitment, citing falling crowds or the need to be prudent. That will be a false economy and a massive gamble.
The crucial thing that Southgate should have learned – but will almost certainly not admit to – is that Boro are now deep in a relegation battle. There is no avoiding the reality of that. To say that “we are too good to go down” is delusional, dangerously complacent and lies in the face of facts. This is a team that has lost to trapdoor dancers Watford and Sheffield United.
Boro try to play good football in flashes and when they do get forward in numbers the movement hints at a bright future with just a little fine-tuning but they are not consistently creative enough to hurt teams. And they are not physical enough to play a high-tempo direct style and muscle teams out of games, and especially in those grinds with the teams geared up to scrap for their lives. That leaves the onus on a solid defence, the on-going brilliance of Jonathan Woodgate and the penetration and pinpoint crossing of Stewy Downing.
The next run of games will clarify the situation: Wigan (H), Fulham (A), Charlton (H), Everton (A), Blackburn (A), Sheffield United (H) and Charlton (A). If we haven’t learned the lessons and starting putting the theory into practice after that it may be too late.


19 thoughts on “Time Running Out To Learn Lessons Of Defeat

  1. Time to face up to the reality of the situation that we find ourselves in. I for one am sick of reading these throw away comments seeping from the boro camp about how hard we will fight etc etc etc etc. RUBBISH!!
    This is the same nonsense we used to be spoon fed from the previous management regime, the only difference here is……..erm……..well actually…….none.
    With all the best intentions from Gareth, nothing has changed.We are still as inept as during the previous tenure, only this time we have even less personnel to deal with it, and we will be thrown the old chesnut of “the supporters will get the team they can financially support”
    Excuse me, but the last time i looked at the pricing mechanism and turnout of a significant spectator sport, it was inexorably linked to the quality of the entertainment on offer. If the gig is of low quality, the turn out is proportionate. Improve the quality on offer, the turn out improves accordingly. Therfore it is up to the provider of the entertaiment to provide substance of the highest order if they wish to attract a proportional return.
    But lets be honest, if we are to be served up what we have experienced over the last few weeks, how long do you reckon before the attendences are below the ayrsome park days. Now that would be progress!!
    Over to you Gate.


  3. I didn’t see the whole game, just the edited highlights on Sky, so I may be over-reacting with this comment. I thought that referee was a disgrace last night.
    Where are the standards we were promised would be applied at the start of the season? I thought after the Man U game the refereeing couldn’t get any worse, you’d think I’d know better by now!
    Twice in the first half Chimbonda had his arms wrapped around Pogi in the Spurs penalty area – refereee’s decision? – carry on. Boro were awarded a free kick and tried to take it quickly – referee’s decision? – take it again, losing the advantage. Spurs were awarded a free kick, took it quickly and Keane scored.
    Boateng is attacked and wrestled to the ground – referee’s decision? – send him off!
    Boro are having a hard enough time coping with 11 opposition players, we don’t need to have to cope with the 12th man as well.

  4. AV
    Are you forced to keep hitting nails squarely on the head?
    I am at a loss what to do next because we are no nearer to a reconisable style of play utilising the players we have.
    There is a coherence about the three promoted teams that we do not as yet possess. They play at a far higher tempo than we do and the reasoning is that they will burnt out after Xmas – I do not need to remind anyone what else happens after the crackers have been pulled and Paxo start looking for the next victims to be stuffed.
    We can look at our strikers and say we are missing JFH, Yak isnt firing, Veruka keeps getting injured (surprise, surprise – we need an Aussie international match coming up so he needs some match practice). Downing can beat double marking but reduces the effectiveness. But these all rely on bossing midfield and that is the major problem.
    Boat is having a poor season. The break may be a blessing because he has always come back from a break and fired us up. But what to do in the meantime?
    Sadly the slither has now lasted nearly two years and there is a serious risk of it gathering pace, 72 matches 81 points.

  5. Vic
    My lad and I were there last night and I agree with every word of the above.
    A couple of things to add.
    Firstly, the half time subs. My lad and I believed that Tayls must have had a knock to be taken off. He was one of our few shining lights in the first half – defensively strong against Lennon and forming a good partnership with Stewie. Our belief was further strengthened by Arca (never was the epithet Mackem Reject more earned) warming up for the last few minutes of the first half.
    My lad even said that ‘if Gate has taken him off for any other reason he’s lost his marbles’. Well, this morning, Gate has confirmed that he is ‘an alley and a bongy’ missing. He says he took Tayls off because we needed ‘freshening up’.
    Arca was so fresh that, 2 minutes after coming on, he was 10 metres away from Huddlestone who he should have been marking when the cross came in and allowed him a free header to Berbatov who scored.
    Then he took Christie off for Mozza. Christie only touched the ball twice in the first half so him coming off wasn’t a surprise. But why Mozza? I’m not critcising Mozza – I would have played him from the start instead of the Peroxide Portugueezer who never crossed the half way line despite not having a left winger to mark.
    But replacing a striker with a midfielder left us even shorter up front and further disrupted a centre midfield which was already struggling. Judging by all the gesticulating going on and despite having half time to sort it out no-one seemed to know how they would play together.
    The Ex has gone but his legacy still afflicts Gate’s decision making.
    This demoralised Catts even further and shortly afterwards Veruka came on to replace him – we settled into a better shape and had our best spell, culminating in our goal and before the debacle started again.
    Learning, Gate? Where’s the evidence.
    There was also another ‘Jim Bowen’ experience in seeing what we would have had with Malbranque.
    My second point – our coaching is still very poor and Gate is not well supported. I doubt he has the personal resources yet, himself, to pull us out of this mire. If he’s to stay as manager and we’re to stay up we need not only players but a change in coaching regime and personnel and maybe a director of football.
    I continue to fear the worst.

  6. I have only seen the goals on the news so can not comment on last nights games.
    I refuse to spend any more money (use holiday time)on away games. Reading reports and the above on the game, nothing seems to have changed.
    Southgate churning out the I will learn as I go on tripe is exactly that.
    I said at the start of the season that Steve Gibson has to bite the bullet and give Southgate a chance by sacking the coaching staff and allowing him to choose his own.
    The other option is to sack the lot of them and start again.
    If it continues and we are lucky enough to stay in the PL, Boro will be lucky to have 10,000 season ticket holders next season.

  7. Club needs a shake up. too many players going through the motions. change in coaching staff personnel might help. club on the pitch has been going slowly in decline since januray 2005. Dont think southgate has money to spend in january as he has implied that the squad needs reducing in size.
    Some blame on gibsons shoulders for putting southgate in a difficult position. There was no plan for southgate to go into coaching just yet, he was planniong to take a couple rof years off once retired then get his coaching badges. boro job has come too soon. and it could ruin him

  8. Vic,
    Can’t fault anything in what you said, and to be fair there have a been a lot of us saying similar for a long time, and not just this term under Gareth’s “leadership”.
    Ian has said on a number of occassions about the gradual slope to oblivion that we have been on, and Eindhoven, FA Cup Semi’s or not, we have not improved since Cardiff.
    I cannot for the life of me see how Gate is going to make it any better, certanly not in the short term with the players he has and his own struggles coming to terms with what football management is all about at the highest level with a coaching set up so out of touch.
    I shudder to think what our midfield will look like on Saturday, as I too think that a half fit Boateng is better than nothing, based on the fact that even though he is misfiring who else do we have to replace him?, Rochemback, Euell, Mendi, Parnaby?, my god!!. All of our problems lie in the unbelievably weak midfield area of the team even when everyone is fit, so I expect the worst against Wigan.

  9. Vic
    We have a plan B? (and I’m not sure A was much of a plan either)
    There’s no passion, no belief and a pityful lack of creative effort. Are we to suffer a season of ‘rope-a-dope’ football where we cling on desperately in the faint hope that one of our few attacking moves will floor the opposition?
    Steve Gibson described modern football as being like a game of chess, watching the Boro at the moment is about as interesting.
    I only hope that the players turn it around and keep Boro in the Premiership. We wouldn’t be guaranteed a swift return on current form.
    With regard to your last post on cheats, there are a few in the squad pretending to be Premiership footballers at the moment – and that’s one thing every fan gets upset about.

  10. Hang on! Could it be that Fergie is right and our boy is just plain naive? That might help to explain a lot.
    However if that’s the case, at least Gareth has an excuse-he has only been in the job a couple of months.
    So now we know Gareth’s excuse, what’s yours Fergie?
    Never criticise a fellow manager, don’t you know what comes round goes round.

  11. Here is a sobering thought for Saturday. Assuming Gate sticks with 352 the middle five may be PP (to please John Powls), Euell, Roch, Downing, Arca.
    That will pull the fans in.

  12. I thought George has every Christmas off!
    How about Arca playing the holding role?
    Schwartzer, Huth, Woodgate, Pogotetz, Xavier, Morrison, Arca, Downing, Taylor, Christie, Yakubu.
    In our next 9 PL games we play none of the so called big guns.
    Anything less than 15 points from these games will be a disaster.

  13. Agree 100% AV I purchased my season on deadline day, and it is my biggest regret, i wish i never bothered.
    Unless there is a vast improvement on & off the field and decent signings in the transfer window I and my 2 sons will not renew next season.
    I have been a season ticket holder for the last 12 years and spent thousands & thousands over them years, but i’ll spend no more.
    As for messers Gibson & Lamb preaching about taking the next step forward I think they are trying to fool the fans…… more like 3 steps back. After all SG is business man first and a Boro fan second.
    I’ve just about had enough. What about an earily prediction little lowly Hull City will knock us out of the FA Cup.

  14. it seems strange gareth gets the nod too carry on, and the reffin decisions start going against us. like the one’s against mandiver utd the 2 against spurs or are we just unlucky and the ref did’nt see them.
    the fouth official is stood near a moniter surely he could look and see what has happend and call him on the head set and tell him, after all he went too the linesperson and asked them.
    we are charged with not controlling our players on the pitch but was’nt it about 7 players who attacked boat and our player’s went too protect him.
    keep up the good work its the best bit of the gazette

  15. This blog is about Gate and lessons. Tonights match between Manu and Benfica should be compulsory viewing for the players and coaching staff at the Riverside.
    I think I wont attract much criticism if I suggest that the ManU front six of Ronaldo, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney and Saha is probably slightly better than we could put on the pitch.
    What on earth has this got to do with Boro? Are you sitting comfortably?. Then I will begin
    They came out against Benfica with Giggs in central midfield (I do believe he is left footed and can play a bit on the wing), RonaldMFICoffeetableo on the left wing (isnt he right footed and doesnt he play quite well on the right wing), Rooney on the right (where he has been so succesful in the past -not, but isnt he better just behind the main striker).
    They came out and played slowly giving Benfica the chance to control the game. As it is near Xmas and in best panto style ‘shiver my timber, slap my thigh’, that is exactly what Benfica did and scored.
    ManU raised the tempo and went back to players in their best position, stopped being clever and lo and behold turned it round.
    We dont have the players of ManU’s calibre so are unable to switch on and off as well as they do and even they come unstck. Maybe it is worth playing people in the correct positions and tell them to get stuck in and have a go. Impose our match plan.
    No, silly idea, I dont have any coaching qualifications or the pro licence. Come to that it also presupposes a match plan.

  16. Never Happy
    Are you on the whacky mushrooms or are you just winding us up??? Arca in the holding role? Holding what? His return ticket to Blunderland?
    More likely, he’ll be desperately holding on to Scharner, McCulloch or Kavanagh as they go racing(or just ambling) past him for the umpteenth time!
    Only 2 possibilities if Boat gets the suspension. Parnaby or Pogo are the the only likely midfield ball-winners. And I’d be loathe to disrupt the defensive 3. Looks like Parnaby,then…..
    By the way, Boat will get a suspension, even though he did nowt. When have the FA ever done anything for Boro? Remember Christian Ziege and Liverpool? Remember the 3 points??

  17. Clive
    I am quite happy to be shouted down for suggesting Arca for the holding role, however for you to accuse me of being on the whacky mushrooms and then suggest Parnaby or Pogo as the holding players, leads me to think that you have been taking even stronger substances!
    Parnaby at best is a championship full back and not a midfield player. Pogo has worst distribution than George.
    It is a shame that Jason Kennedy is out on loan as he could probably do a better job than all of them.

  18. Never Happy and Clive
    As you both know about peculiar substances do you go for a drink with John Powl’s best mate – the PP?
    The discussions about central midfielders highlights a point made by a chap with the Colgate Smile (no longer with us) – our strongest squad ever!

  19. Never Happy
    Fair comment, mate. I like the point about Kennedy, too. But our current holding midfielder can’t pass the ball more than ten yards to a red shirt anyway, and he’s actually the last player in the squad we ever want to see lining up a shot ! Watch out, row Z, it’s George… So Pogo or Parnaby would have been just like for like! Anyway, not an issue now George has somehow escaped the blind justice of the FA! Miracle of miracles.
    **AV writes: Clive, I took that second bit out. I tried to write around it and rejig it but I couldn’t do it without making it look a bit strange and disjointed. These things have to be worded very carefully.

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