First Half Flops Must Start Fighting From The Off

IT’S CRUNCH time: the next six games include four six pointers that will shape the season. In the next month Boro play Charlton home and away, Blackburn on the road and Sheffield United at the Riverside in a New Years’ Day clash that will demand more than just resolution.
The signs are not good. No matter which way you slice the statistics Boro are a side deep in trouble. The one dimensional team have now taken 17 points from 17 games to clock up what appears to be an unspectacular but solid one point a game average but the seasonally adjusted trend is markedly down: two points from the last 12, three from the last 15. That is a significant drift towards trouble.


Here’s something even more worrying: apart from Yakubu’s penalty in the 2-1 win over Everton, the team have not scored in the first half in nine games at the Riverside this season. In fact if you include the Notts County League Cup clash it is ten games without an opening period goal from open play. That is shocking.
Now, it has been apparent all season – in fact, for most of the last few years – that Boro have purposefully started slowly with a cautious game plan that aims to take the sting out of the opposition. That is the theory. In fact, a policy of sitting deep and slowing it down surrenders the initiative to the visitors, lets them determine the tempo and pile on the early pressure. It also leads to the crowd getting inceasingly frustrated and has directly contributed to falling crowds.
You can see the logic. Most of the players were brought in by McClaren and have been coached by the former manager’s cautious co-thinkers for long enough for it to become second nature. In theory it is the style that should suit the team best. But it isn’t working.
Boro have been ripped apart in the first half by Chelsea, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Man United, Liverpool and Wigan, who may have been four up at half-time but for Schwarzer. From those games Boro changed the shape to come from behind for the only time this season to beat Chelsea and weathered the storm to grab points from Newcastle and Wigan.
They were sluggish and unimpressive against Blackburn and West Ham too but were never overwhelmed, as much because of the equally conservative approach of the visitors as anything. From those games they slipped up against Rovers and beat West Ham, both by a single goal when most observers would argue both sides were there for the taking.
In handing over the initiative Boro are running the risk of leaking an early goal and the evidence suggests that if they go behind they do not have the formation or personnel to get the two goals back they then need to win the games. It is a high risk strategy.
It suggests a deeply worrying dimension to Boro’s matchday mentality that they stick with a system that is patently not bringing rewards. In makes sense to keep it tight against Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United who have blistering pace up front and players who can forward to hurt teams from all over the pitch. None but the rashly cavalier would dispute that.
But shutting up shop and sitting back against weaker sides is suicidal. Why invite pressure? On so many dull days in the predictable Premiership games are so evenly balanced that the outcome revolves around just one or two chances. So why present them gift-wrapped by retreating from the first whistle and abdicating responsibility for setting the agenda.
If Boro take that approach to the big relegation battles coming up it is inviting the opposition to have a go, get forward and create chances. It swings the odds in their favour. Boro are not good enough to assume they can claw back such a cheaply discarded deficit.
Boro need to change tack and start attacking from the off. They have scored goals late on – two against Chelsea in the last ten minutes, late winners against Newcastle, West Ham and Everton the late leveller against Wigan – but so often they are left chasing the game after shooting themselves in the foot before the break.
They need to attack teams, take the initiative and force the opposition to sit back and defend. Let’s start sending the team out fired up and determined to get the first goal, and early enough to spark the crowd and set the tone for the whole game. Let’s start swinging the odds our way.

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31 thoughts on “First Half Flops Must Start Fighting From The Off

  1. The fans have being asking for what you have written above since the beginning of last season and nothing has changed.
    Until Round and Harrison are sacked, MacKay is replaced with a scout that knows that there is quality available in the lower leagues, nothing will change on the pitch.
    Off the pitch the crowds will continue to dwindle and then we will get the speil from that muppet Lamb about getting ‘what we deserve’.
    We may never see the likes of Ravenelli, Juninho or Emerson in a Boro shirt again, however as the Bruce Rioch era proved, a tight knit squad coached correctly playing with tempo and passion can at least give something that excites the crowd.
    The current set up and style of play will only force the support we have and the next generation of support into finding other ways to spend their hard earned.

  2. Vic
    And so say all of us – and we’ve been saying it for so long now it isn’t true.
    But I don’t see it happening – unless Gate is supplemented either by a director of football above him or by a change of coaching staff below or both. If that doesn’t happen then I would suggest Gate has to go before the window – and I have to say I don’t particularly want that.
    This is partly because I think he was given mission impossible anyway without the support above from the start. Partly because I think he will come good eventually and if he goes now it may just ruin him for the future. Partly because I think a change of manager now generally isn’t that good news unless you have the successor lined up – like Curbs at West Ham.
    Aside from that, if Gibbo is still fixated on English or bust as a manager the only credible candidate available is El Tel and I’d rather have him in the DoF role.
    Without this and some better results and performances quickly I don’t know how we are going to attract the players we need in the window. Gate is already on the Dave Allen script – ‘I won’t be rushed’ (Oh no – midnight on 31st again); ‘We need better than what we’ve got’ (Pur-lease!!) and ‘If we complete the season with the squad we’ve got that’ll be OK (He’s taken leave of his senses or he means OK for the Championship)
    I also note this worrying trend in much of what Gate is saying at present – totally different view of a game from anyone else present etc. He’s only short of ‘the lads done brilliant’ and ‘our season starts here’ for the full compendium of idiocy.
    Can someone point this out to him at a press conference before he Allen’s himself out like The Ex.
    Veruka’s obviously caught the same bug – amongst other things he said at the weekend was that the squad was finding it difficult to get motivated because they weren’t in the UEFA. Slight volte face from last season’s position that we didn’t perform in the Prem because of the UEFA. Also, who was it – aside from The Ex – that was responsible for the no shows at Villa Park and Eindhoven and our poor Prem performance.
    Plus ca change……unfortunately.

  3. AV
    sorry lost my posting if it comes through just tidy up the end. The final point is that if you send them about with a formation they are uncomfortable with it will result in a slow start. Any whispers about keeping it tight exacerbates the situation.

  4. when was the last time we really went out and dominated a game in the league and won comfortably? Probably birmingham away last season.
    The cautious mentality has been brain washed into them by the coaching staff and its now affecting Southgate’s tactics

  5. I agree, if Steve Mac was still manager we wouldnt have this problem. All those McClaren haters must be regretting wanting him out

  6. Oops, the first part didnt get to the blog so lets do it again.
    I dread to think how many man hours have been spent blogging about the need to get a fast start in matches.
    One of the most irritating things at matches is the arrival of peole late to their seats and the palaver of everyone standing up and settling down again. What is even more irritationg is the realisation that these are experienced Boro fans who know the team dont turn up until half time,
    The only time the team were on time was at Reading but then they b******d off after 25 minutes for a shower and were on the M4 by half time.
    There are no doubt many reasons for the Boro turning up late.
    1. Lack of a settled formation.
    2. Constant personnel changes
    3. Square peg round hole syndrome – even Man U came unstuck for half an hour against Benfica playing a right winger on the left, a left winger central midfield and a withdrawn striker so withdrawn he was almost running the line.
    4. Whispers to keep it tight.
    Even teams like ManU dont like being messed about, in our case we dont have the same calibre to turn things around.
    Solution, play a settled formation, stick to it and dont preach so much caution.
    PS what is briggsy on?

  7. There is an agenda by the LMA and other footballing authorities against Gareth Southgate. The regular penalties against Boro comes as no suprise to me at all.

  8. Vic,
    I could not agree more. The first half perfomances at the riverside have been particularly shocking in the main.It does make you wonder what is being said to them prior to kick off, whatever it is it has to change, it simply is not working.
    The most annoying thing though is that the problems in the team are obvious for anyone to see.We lack real pace, creativity in midfield and a right sided player of real quality.
    Yet what do we hear from the club “If i finish this season with only the players i have at the moment, i wouldnt be dissapointed’ Really!!! Is this for real?
    Wow, we really are in the mire. Not only a team perfecting the art of underperformance week in week out, but a rookie manager of the belief that what he has at his disposal is good enough to produce the goods.
    Excuse me for having a chuckle in disbelief, but the results speak for themselves. Played 17 games won 4.
    Conclusion, we are simply going through the motions of surrendering our premiership status in the midst of complete apathy from the club. Perhaps relegation will instigate change!!

  9. You can blame it on tactics, poor coaching, fear, bad management etc etc. Isnt the truth however that we’re just not a particularly good team?
    Our league form has only carried on from last season, which was only saved by European adventure.
    We have a team that lacks imagination, pace and the skill to really get at the oppposition,most of which is it self pretty mediocre to say the least.
    What annoys me the most is all those who kept on about us challenging for top4/6 .
    Finally, to Gareth, please take the captaincy away from George and give it to Woody.

  10. The most worrying thing at the moment is that only the fans seem to realise what deep s£$* we are in.
    Southgate and the players (they seem to take it in turns) continuly try to convince the fans that all is OK and Boro will come good.
    Newsflash, we are a poor side and are fortunate that the PL has two good teams, half a dozen OK teams and the rest (Boro included) mediocre at best.
    We were as poor last season under MaClaren, nothing has changed, its a shame that only the fans seem to realise this.

  11. Let us now try and be positive.
    Second half against Wigan was much better. The results were either favourable or neutral over the weekend.
    The coming weekend has Charlton home to Liverpool and West Ham home to Manu. Both very difficult fixtures. Watford are at Toon and SheffU at Wigan. Hopefully, a good set of results.
    By the time we play Fulham the table may well be exactly as it is now but whatever the results it is difficult to envisage all those clubs making ground. There would be a great incentive to give it a go with an unchanged team especially the front six.
    Then same again against Charlton at home, another opportunity to put some points between ourselves and the relegation places.
    Wouldnt it be nice to go into Christmas with two wins or a win and a draw.
    If we whimper at Fulham and turn up late for the Charlton match it is difficult to know where we go next. So much depends on us starting matches as if we mean business. I can cope if we have given it a go but the matches I saw against Blackburn, Sheff U and Watford were as dispiriting as many of the games under Mac.
    When Downing came on the scene we started games as we are doing now and would bring him on second half and cut the opposition open. We also had Zenden. JFH was two years younger. Now the opposition knows stick two men on Stewie and no matter how well he crosses no one will attack the ball. If Morrison is on the other side it creates some space and genuine width. But it is only any good if we play further up the pitch.
    And that brings us back to Boat and the mindset of the players. Those are the two aspects that define our performances. Both need to be right for us to succeed.

  12. CONCERNED AGAIN…. REPORTS TODAY SAY THAT WOODGATE DOES NOT KNOW IF HE WILL BE RETURNING TO REAL MADRID OR IF INFACT HE IS WANTED THERE. JANUARY IS COMING AND IS THIS HIM ASKING TO CONCRETE HIS FUTURE IN ENGLAND AFTER HIS LOAN SPELL?
    IF SO HE HAS DROPPED A BIG HINT SAYING HE IS REALLY ENJOYING IT AT THE BORO AND THE PROUDEST DAY OF HIS CAREER WAS BEING CAPTAIN OF HIS HOME TOWN CLUB.I THINK GATES SHOULD BE LOOKING NOW TO SIGN HIM PERMANANTLY BEFORE THE BIG BOYS WADE IN AND HE IS WHISKED AWAY TO PASTURES NEW.
    HE HAS PERFORMED BRILLIANTLY THIS SEASON FOR US AFTER COMING BACK FROM A VERY LONG LAY OFF……WAKE UP GATES GET THE BALL IN MOTION OR YOU MAY HAVE EGG ON YOUR FACE SOON!!!

  13. At the begining of the season I was reading what people had to say on this page. I couldnt believe it when I was hearing people say that we needed a couple of new defenders and possibly a new striker, but that we were strong in midfield.
    Our biggest problem for years now is that we have absolutely no pace or creativity in midfield. I dont think that this team are capable of starting a game strongly because we dont have the ability in the team to do so. Even when we play teams with smaller names in them, if they have a bit of pace in the team we come unstuck.
    All that teams have to do when they face us is cancel out Downing, then they know there is a good chance we wont create anything. What we need fast is a couple of midfielders with some pace, otherwise we will not be able to change the style of football we play this season, and it will be touch and go if we stay up or go down

  14. too many people have had their head buried in the sand at Redcar and only popping their head up for Uefa Cup games. Our league form as been pretty poor for a few seasons now.
    Uefa cup papered over the cracks and a club like boro should be reaching the last 16 by default. the groups stages are a joke with too many teams not even championship standard.
    We peaked in rome games. the bucharest and basel games were big tactical mistakes and nearly ended in disaster. we only rescued it when we had to throw all the ammunition on as a last resort then we scored last minute.
    We then played sevilla in the final and our comeback luck had run out and we came up against a proper quality side.
    With no uefa cup to deflect the attention from our poor league form this season, the escuses are running out.
    As always mentioned, just maybe we arnt really that a good a side?

  15. Any news on Huth yet? Have the medical staff remembered to get him checked out? Has anyone told Keith Lamb about the concept of pre-contract aggreements? Has anyone told Keith Lamb that the transfer window starts on Jan 1st?
    Has anyone told dozy Don that he is allowed to watch British players? Can the players be given energy drinks before games instead of drinking chocolate or horlicks? Can the players please try to stop kicking each other in training? Can they learn to pass to each other instead?
    Does the law of averages mean that we will get some points whilst playing live on Sky? Does sods law mean that Franq will pop up with the winner?

  16. Chris,
    We always listen here, unfortunatley I’m not sure the people who can make a difference within the club are listening.
    I’m off to the Fulham game this coming Monday and I intend to be there early in anticipation of Boro getting stuck in from the off. An early goal for us will give the team a surge of confidence. They need to believe in themselves and be positive…..simple really.

  17. Alf
    Way back in August I posted about the squad we had should be able to put out a good team. I listed all the alternative players but finished with statement that if we cant then we may have been sold a pup. Now where is my pet insurance?
    No, I believe that there is a decent team within the club. There has not been what can be called a settled formation with some width and pace. The 352 was all very well but as John Powls posted at the time you need proper wing backs on both flanks.
    I have long advocated that Mozza be given a run on the opposite flank to Downing. Let it happen but most of all have a go, dont retreat from the first ball to our own area.

  18. Should have added that I also believe we need to do some pruning and buying in January. Just dont believe we are getting the best out of what we have.

  19. To keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result is surely a sign of madness. Mr Gibson should check himself into St Lukes for a course of Hypnotherapy to rid himself of the belief that McClaren’s coaches can produce a team to preserve Premiership status. After all, look how England’s prospects have improved under the same régime, or not… Southgate deserves better, I reckon.

  20. steve mac had terrible relationship with the fans and his PR spin was bad. Most fans with a brain cell saw through it and thought steve mac was just making fun and treating us with a lack of respect by saying things like the fans need educating. God knows what the local media thought of him.
    Gibson saw this so installed southgate as a figure head that the fans can relate to and is an honest person. This will get the fans on his side, however the fans were expecting a proven class replacement so this could back fire.
    How long can southgate keep his honesty up with stuff while we get beat? Only for so long can he keep using the excuse he is learning and learnt from it

  21. Alf
    Your comments above do make sense, however is Southgate being honest when he says the team have played well, or a certain player was fantastic?
    These comments are very near to the crap MaClaren used to spout, the other 25,000+ people in the ground seem to watch a totally different game.
    As I have said before, Southgate has been lumbered with Harrison and Round and nothing will change whilst these two organise the teams training.
    Prehaps the powers that be think that a point a game will keep us up this season. Why else would they set out every game to obtain a goaless draw.

  22. I am going to make a very tentative plus point about Gate.
    The return of Veruka improved things. The playing of Morrison and Downing is a positive step. Arca in the Bolo role may work. The proof will come over the next couple of games. If we continue to try to be positive and play sensible formations and personnel all is not lost. If we start more positively and show we mean business that is better.
    The signs are that the players know who will no longer be involved and several appear to be moving on.
    If we just revert to the pedestrian, hold out for a point tactics we will surely be up to our knees in the smelly stuff.
    We have a chance over the next few weeks to make progress, lets us hope the positives are the first green shoots of recovery not the effects of weedkiller making the shoots sprout before collapsing.
    As I dont believe we will see much coming in during the window Gate will have to use our troops effectively.

  23. I do worry that that steve macs coaches will turn southgate into damaged goods and tarnish his reputation with their ‘must not lose’ mentality.
    Just look at the coaches and i remember steve harrison helping graham taylor with his long ball tactics at villa and england.

  24. The most disturbing thing about this blog, Vic, is the recurring theme:- we fans can all see that the slow start isn’t working; 19 other Prem teams can see it isn’t working and are now coming out deliberately to take advantage of it; only the coaching staff seem oblivious to this.
    How can we get this message across, short of venting our spleen and our frustration on the players (which most loyal fans are loathe to do) or by staying away in droves?
    Does Gate meet with you and Eric Paylor, Vic? Do you get the chance to ask him awkward questions? Are you able to pass on the views of the great majority of fans? And what about an audience with Gibbo? I’m sure he must be as fed up of the negative stuff as we are.
    Gate has promised us attacking footy, and in the second half against Wigan, we got it, at long last, with a side put under genuine sustained pressure. At least Boro showed us what they are capable of.
    But of course, it was second half again, and almost too late. So,please, Gareth – listen to the fans and go with your own instincts and not those of a discredited coaching staff.

  25. Clive
    What worries me is the fact that Gate will have all his coaching badges by next season. At that point he will have a Pro Licence implant in his brain then it will be too late.
    He will be indoctrinated by all the Mac, Wilkinson and LMA spin and that will be it as far as independent thinking goes.

  26. Over the last few weeks we have all commented on the formation used ie one striker or two, the players in the team ie Rockie vs Morrison etc. We all seem to be agreed that there is now a settled formation with clarity about who is in the side.
    Surely this shows Southgate is making positive progress?
    Now we are all agreeing that we need to make a fast positive start to matches, prehaps this is the area Southgate is currently working on?
    He’s a professional footballer who thinks about the game, we all agree he is no fool, surely its reasonable to assume that he can see the problems as well if not better than the fans?
    GS inherited a squad which is proving to be poorer than I for one thought it was. I believed players were under performing where as now I can see that some simply aren’t up to it.
    For example I was convinced Rockie would come good this season, but sadly not. I also expected Boateng and Yakubu to perform a lot better than they have.
    GS has big changes to make, the list of players that need to be moved on is big: Ugo, Parlour, Mendi, Maccarone, Rockie (maybe). Thats a big part of the squad.
    On the plus side we already have a superb defence which is where all good teams start. We have a couple of good midfield players and a couple of decent strikers.
    What the team is still lacking and which hasn’t been there all season is self-belief although that seems to be improving.
    Lets hope it all comes together well enough and soon enough to allow us to survive this year and move forward.

  27. Well written AV.
    Anyway, on to my point. Basically the club have to come out with the same rhetoric about all being well, even if it isn’t. I’m sure neither GS nor the players are happy with the situation, and are aware of the disquiet on the terraces. They are simply saying what they have to say, in an attempt to reassure.

  28. Talking of slow starters there are amazing parallels between the England cricket team and the Boro.
    Play a conservative side, play to keep it tight, give the iniative to the other side. Followed by going behind, followed by the lads are working 110% to put it right. Lets play a more attacking formation – shiver my timbers slap my thigh, we are playing better and competing. Just hope I dont switch the cricket on to another collapse overnight.
    Udayan, I think the Boro are like ducks on a lake on a windy day, serene on the surface and paddling for grim death under water.

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