Hammers Blow – But Signs of Improvement

ONLY the obligatory late leaked goal from a set-piece spoiled the day as Boro drew 1-1 at West Ham. The subconscious retreat in the face of a late Hammers assault was a frustrating finale after Boro had continued to gradually inch back to being a decent side.


Boro had set out with positive intent and took the game to West Ham, pressing them deep in their own half and forcing a string of errors at the back that led to half-chances and kept the home side looking nervous. It was only after the Hammers made major changes and put on three strikers that they escaped that grip.
The Boro midfield had a more balanced look about it with square-pegs in square holes – Adam Johnson restored to the left, a more interested and effective looking Gary O’Neil on the right and Didier Digard industrious and creative in the middle. Only unconvincing Julio Arca looked off the pace and when the Hammers stepped up the tempo in the second half he really struggled.
There was a more rational and balanced look about the back line too with a natural full-back on the right in Justin Hoyte who added an attacking dimension when needed while the central pairing was Boro’s best. A fit and fired up Robert Huth is a massive boost and his presence brings the best out of David Wheater too. And much maligned Brad Jones deserves praise too. Whatever the reservations many have about his fragility, he has played well in recent weeks and made some cracking saves.
Up front Alves continues to try. He makes runs, carves out chances and is not scraed to shoot. He remains our best hope for goals and if he could just stay on his feet when faced with a physical encounter could even be a potent force.
Stewart Downing had his best game for ages and capped it with a goal to end a long and worrying drought. He ran at West Ham, played some killer balls through and found space for a string of decent efforts. Playing in the free role in the middle gives him the opportunity to use his creative instinct and prevents the opposition marking him out of the game so easily. Whether he can do it against bigger, better organised and higher quality opposition is yet to be seen but it offers an option for a team that has been desperate for invention in the absence of the other Tuncay that used to play for us.
The sloppy marking at the set piece for the equaliser was disappointing, especially as in many ways it was self-inflicted. The free-kick was cheaply and needlessly conceded and came at a time when Boro were deep in their mandatory slo-mo retreat to their own 18 yard line that invites pressure.
But to be fair, the West Ham marking for Boro’s goal was atrocious too with two defenders spurning chances to clear and Stewie allowed to run 30 yards unchallenged to the far post.
Overall, it was a good result although it could have been better. A good display and a draw away at a ground where we have won once in the Premier League era, against one of the league’s in-form sides is not bad. And we are in the quarter-final draw again: four years running makes it a golden age for Boro in the FA Cup. Plus, importantly, there were some good individual performances from some of the players who will be crucial in the weeks to come if we are to dig ourselves out of the hole.
A few observations:
*It was nice to see Steve Agnew jumping, pointing and screaming on the touchline. Some animation is nice. And the spat over the non-returned ball was funny too.
*Juninho was at the game as a guest of the chairman. He is in England on business and to possibly make a cameo appearance at Garforth Town, the samba powered pyramid experiment driven by Teesside futsal guri Simon Clifford. But don’t let that routine explanation of his presence stop the rumours and the religious zeal sure to follow.
*How narrow was the Upton Park pitch? It seems to have been shaved by six feet on either flank since our last visit.
*London has a third world infrastructure. It is a major European capital with a transport system like Khartoum. And they slate us.

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33 thoughts on “Hammers Blow – But Signs of Improvement

  1. Well done Boro, good display and well done Gareth Southgate, you almost pulled off a shock result. Your team selection had a more balanced look about it. Your tactics nearly paid off. Yes well done I’m sure we all want to praise you when we can. Now can you and your team find some consistency to keep us up please.
    I like everyone here watching cringed when we conceded late on once again. You know zonal marking or man to man, the defending players have to attack the ball. If not you will concede as we do week in week out. You have all week to practice, come on it is not to difficult to get right.
    Intresting to watch the FA Cup games yesterday, Premier v Championship and to see two up and comming young managers who have spent years learning their trade but were outstanding against Premier opposition.The Swansea and Coventry managers. Both outstanding managers. Both good candidates for the Boro job in the summer when a change will inevitably be made. Just hope its not too late. But in the mean time lets keep up the good work Gareth.

  2. I am sure most of us would have settled for a draw before the game began. It’s just a pity we couldn’t hang on for another 8 minutes as a win would surely have injected some confidence into a squad desperately short of that rare intangible quality.
    The quotes were all ready to be dusted off for the Press. “It will give a kick start to the rest of our season”. “It will be the catalyst to better performances in the League”. “We can now look forward to facing Wigan with a renewed appetite, and realistic confidence of a surge away from the relegation pack”.
    The result may have been slightly deflating, but only because a completely unexpected win away, at the ground of a “form team”, seemed on the cards until those hopes were dashed in the final 10 minutes (AGAIN!).
    However there was enough there to give some hope in the weeks ahead. Remarkably for a team whose recent performances have reeked of the Championship, there were some signs the team has enough to find a way out of Premier League trouble. It CAN be done. Let’s hope the players realise that and use it to their advantage.

  3. CONSPIRACY CORNER:
    AV writes: Hmmmm. And have you noticed that Coops has started wearing trackies instead of shorts? And Juninho was sat near Gibbo this week? Who can read the between the lines semiotics of the technical area?
    And…..have you noticed we have no player wearing number 23????? Juninho to return!!!!
    Mido has gone to Wigan so no-one wearing number 9???? Mikkel Beck again maybe????
    I swear down these rumours are true, i work for Boro Taxis.

  4. Almost a satisfying result but for our usual late capitulation.
    I was a little surprised by the formation, and King wasn’t even on the bench, no reports of an injury, so was it the court case that precluded him AV?
    Arca is a passenger these days and doesn’t raelly have the pace or urgency in his play (if he ever had it), he should’ve been replaced with Walker much earlier.
    Overall we had a balanced look about us until Alves went off as Tuncay didn’t really slot into the strikers position well at all, meaning their defence had even less to worry about.
    All the papers were reporting how many chances went begging for West Ham, but I thought we played some good one touch stuff that at times frustrated the hell out them. We can win the replay.
    **AV writes: Marlon King is cup tied.

  5. Signs of an improvement indeed, certainly in the quality of play. Downing looked good, Jonno on left and O’Neill on right sounds too.
    The frustrating thing is the same problems continuing to haunt us at set pieces, particularly later in the game. I don’t know whether it’s a concentration issue because we put ourselves under increased pressure in the last 15-20mins and this is when we make set piece errors, OR, whether it is a consistent game-long defensive issue.
    Either way, it needs a review. I see that Pompey got a good win at the weekend that the conspiracy theorists are claiming was down to Brian Kidd gesticulating widely on the sides. Either way – a brilliant move in bringing in a highly experienced coach at this stage in the season. Are there any other Brian Kidd like people out there who we could bring in for the last third of the season?
    Despite improvements I still think the coaching team needs a little freshening up, if only to try and give GS the confidence to square peg the square holes and to keep us passing it around.
    Fingers are already crossed for 3 points at the weekend!

  6. I watched the highlights on ITV which isn’t the best way of judging a performance but what I saw makes me concur with AV’s assesment.
    Digard looked good and his form/fitness is key to how succesful we can be in the run in to the end of the season. Brad Jones performed well, great to see and I’m happy to admit my doubts about him appear to have been ill founded.
    Looking forward to Wigan, its half term my son and I have bought our tickets and the West Ham performance means we’re looking forward to it now. I agree completely with JP, against Wigan we need Downing left midfield, with Jonno on the wing.

  7. Could it be that agnew is taking a more hands on approach as he has more respect from the players than GS does? It wasnt so long ago that tuncay was dedicating a goal to him.
    Anyway back to saturday and again its same old same old; late goal conceeded and again froma set piece. AV, any stats to show how many goals we have conceded either directly from set piece or from a resulting one, ie where the original ball in is cleared however ball ends up in the net from resulting pass or shot back in? I can think of 15 at least that have been from set pieces.
    Looked like it was Downing’s best game and Jinky was a threat when he got the ball. any chance of a link to his goal from the under 21s aswell supposed to be an amazing piece of skill and great finish?
    .
    We get another chnce to get one over on the hammers but saturday is a massive game. Win we can get out, lose we are down and out as Pompey’s result has created a gap that wasnt previously there.
    Come on Boro!!!!!!!!!!

  8. I suppose you could say the land crab isnt the player he was before the injuries. I wouldnt be so sure, I bet if you played him at left back he would be as good as he was in the Mackems back four!
    He has probably lost a bit of the little pace he had following his injuries. As he isnt the best tackler in the world there would be nothing lost playing Downing alongside Digard at home. My only concern would be that Wigan are being hewn in the image of Bruce, that is not to say they dont play good football but that they are combatitive. Lee Cat will certainly be up for it.
    The cup replay could give a boost to the season as long as we do well against Wigan

  9. London’s transport structure bad? Considering it’s size it is really good. If you want bad try New York City. I have lived & worked in both places & London is far better !
    I’d take it over waiting for the 282 from Marske when I was a kid !
    **AV writes: I am sure it can be good when it is working. This weekend it wasn’t.

  10. Everyone seems to agree with your sumary A.V. so we can all enjoy this week at least.
    Interesting this Agnew situation. My guess is its a quite side step from our Stevie God on high to save face and at the same time save the Boro I hope. Who knows. Anyway we will take anything positive at the moment.
    I cannot understand myself why Southgate has not played young Emnes. His reasons do not have anything to do with football because the boy can play and score and we certainly need goals right now. As for Tuncay John Powels is spot on. We need Tuncay playing at his best to keep us up.

  11. The performance against West Ham appears to be a marked improvement on recent attempts – probably down to players playing in their positions (now we know what was in Gareth’s latest course).
    But more questions have been raised – Is Downing the new Tuncay? Where’s the old Tuncay? Is Tuncay the new Arca? Does Arca have a best position? (other than sitting on the bench) Has Juninho returned to give Alves his mojo back? Is Brad Jones allowed to catch the ball? If we don’t get corners, how can we turn one?
    Sorry but I just don’t have any answers…

  12. Anthony et al, my sons I’m afraid you get do get carried away. It was typical Boro and there is still no light at the end of the tunnel. Basically the team managed for a while to relax knowing it was a game that did not actually matter, but in the end the usual anxiety and Smog set in! Replay 1-3.
    But cheer up, you will still get to play the Muggles next season, but sadly it will be in the Championship. My hope is that Pool, Muggles and Boro will all be in the same division in about 15 months. I’d prefer that being because Pool get promoted. Ditto Darlo.

  13. Square pegs in square holes, right back at right back, zonal marking appears to be gone, balanced side. Topics that have been regular features in this blog and elsewhere.
    AV:
    As one of those privileged to have a job covering the Boro and access to the club, do they ever take any notice of what we debate? Does anyone actually think if we play someone out of position it wont work, if we play four it is folly?
    Let us hope we are turning the corner, we dont want any ‘if onlys’ at the end of the season. I am as delighted as anyone that our form is taking a turn for the better and look forward to a good result on Saturday with some real hope.
    **AV writes: I think people who matter at the club are well aware of fans concerns but I don’t think anyone sits there with a notebook taking down specific ideas.

  14. Can’t understand why on earth Emnes was not played. Southgate missed a(nother) trick not playing him, Alves looks less and less like scoring every time I see him. Saturday was encouraging but the brutal truth is that it was a wasted opportunity.
    A couple of other sidelines which some may not have seen yet: alleged Boro transfer window target Jimmy Bullard, who Hull lumbered themselves with for a chunky signing -on fee and an even chunkier contract, faces another major op having made just one appearance….
    And chunkier still Viduka is preparing for a move back to Oz after another injury-plagued season at Sid James’…. Credit where it is due
    **AV writes: Yes, we’ve dodged a few bullets.

  15. Adam Johnson’s goal in the U21 was for me goal of the season, better than Gazza’s in Euro 96. If you havn’t seen it follow Alex’s site or go to Adam Johnson on Youtube.
    Our best team at the moment has to be : Jones, Hoyte, Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz, O’Neil, Digard, Downing, Johnson, Tuncay, Alves.
    I still have faith in Alves. Why he didn’t lob Given on at least two of his chances I don’t know but any time now he will be our salvation.

  16. We go and attack, play square pegs in square holes and round ones in round holes and immediately there is a marked improvement.
    We need to start and push out and concentrate for the last 10 minutes instead of absorbing pressure (Emnes should have been the Sub choice for me rather than Tuncay) and stretch the opponents, taking some pressure off our defence.
    Overall I would give Saturday 5/10, could and should do better. That said it was an improvement from previous weeks and every journey begins with a single step, lets start converting those Alves chances and we might just have a glimmer of hope.
    Wigan this coming Saturday is not a “must win game” it is an “absolute must win game”, drop another 3 points (or 2 even) and the gap gets much wider.

  17. Sorry but we still need a left back. Poggo is no good, Arca is gone. Play Tuncay in that position. I still think Downing best on wing. What price CAT to get sent off?

  18. I see that our Hammers replay has now been moved to Wednesday for live ITV coverage. Good news for me – I can get ITV here. Bad news for me – every time I hear their main commentator (especially when he’s shouting RONALDO! in extremely short, excited bursts) I just want to throw whatever is to hand directly at the TV.
    The question is, what will we see? Will the extra pressure of being on TV get to the players? Or will we see a display of positive attacking football that will shock and delight the neutrals? I know where my money would go, but let’s withhold judgment for now…
    The Aliadiere news is good, let’s hope he can make a surprise return during said FA Cup replay, it could give us a welcome boost.
    Anyway, why am I even discussing this, when the biggest game of the GS era is this Saturday! Forget the Cardiff debacle, although it was a watershed moment, THIS is the most important game we’ve had in a long time.
    To lose in unthinkable. To get a draw is almost similarly unthinkable, although no doubt we’d get lots of “positives” from it. The gaps are appearing in the table now – nothing less than 3 points will do.
    I remember last season, or the one before, beating Wigan 1-0 at our place after literally tearing into them from the off. The margin of victory was only small due to wayward finishing (sound familiar) which then increased calls for an expensive striker. I would happily settle for the same scoreline again!
    Come on Boro!

  19. Yippee! It’s home time!
    Smoggy in Exile at 4.02pm – wholeheartedly agree. We don’t want to take “positives” from the game with Wigan, just the three points, please. Even if they come with a barrel-load of negatives.
    It is no contest really. A good, exciting game with sweeping passing movements from both sides, end-to-end gut-busting energy and commitment, with plenty of shots on target but being saved by the keepers, though maybe a snorter of a goal from Alves to liven up the first half before a deserved equaliser from them in the second half. A point!
    Or would we rather a poor performance with passing regularly going astray, mis-kicks and a general lack of interest from the players, but a game in which we sneak a lucky, very much undeserved winner? Lots of negatives from the show, with substitutes seemingly put on for no reason, and out of position, but three points. That would do me.

  20. Sorry AV, I should have phrased the question differently.
    Following the debacle at home to Chelsea Gate owned up that the choice of two square pegs at right back and right midfield were wrong. Has anyone hinted that the policy of playing people out of position doesnt work? Why do they keep repeating it?
    If I wanted to be rude I would pose the question ‘does anyone think?’ Maybe we are too simplistic and don’t understand the subtleties of the game.
    **AV writes: I don’t think it is about subtlety, intricate nuances of coaching theology or even hidden knowledge we are not privy to. The team has most often been patched up, mixed and matched or busked for the simple reason that the squad is too small and does not have the depth to cover all contingencies.
    Some surprise tactical switches are about the manager actively trying to counter what the opposition are expected to do – against Blackburn for instance, you may not agree wit the approach but you can see the logic of the height and solidity at the back – but in most cases of ‘square-peggism’ I think it is simply a question of putting out the least flawed side given a very small pool.

  21. Is it me or is Alves, well, a bit thick? Let’s just say he’s got a one track mind.Twice on Saturday he blasted the ball well wide (one went out for a throw in) when he had colleagues with open goals if he had shown awareness and passed the ball.
    Also many times this season he has just blasted the ball straight at the keeper when with a little thought and awareness he could of at least had double his tally, and we all would be breathing a little easier.
    I am still concerned about our defence we always expect the other team to get at least one goal needing us to get at least two goals to win a match. GS needs to get a settled defence and get them attacking the ball and not retreating into the six yard box, Brad Jones is a plus though.

  22. Its amazing football isnt it? You play footballers in their correct positions and they respond with an improved performance. It’s just a pity its taken Mr Southgate 26 games and a 13 match winless run in the league to fathom it out. Let’s see if he does the same on Saturday… go on, I dare you.

  23. Just a thought but where are all the happy clapping foam handers from AV’s last “Shot shy Boro’s cruel repeat” post?
    Surely their positivity and blinkered support has more stamina (than their monosyllabic thought provoking names at least) and should now be regular contributors on here countering any negativity with well balanced debate on the benefits of Zonal marking and how we need 5 CB’s on Saturday to nullify the Catt?
    My Taxi Driver reckons it was all an orchestrated PR campaign by the Riverside thought Police.

  24. Can we have a vote as to whether Redcar Red’s taxi driver could be given a shot at managing the Boro? Or at least that he should pick the team next week?
    On reflection, too harsh. Without wishing to resort to British understatement, we’ve had a sticky patch. The corner is being being turned. As any good taxi driver should be able to see.
    In that case, will it be the taxi driver giving Gate some tips?

  25. I must be one of Redcar Reds ‘foam fingered happy clappers’ because I think that the team that Boro played at West Ham are easily good enough to stay up and am not scared to say so.
    I know the sheep are all bleating Southgate out when they flock together in the pub to worship around the radio when Three Legends is on and that they have resigned themselves to going down even though there is 13 games to go and we are three points adrift but I am still ready to fight, ready to shout and ready to get behind my team in every game. If that makes me king ra-ra so be it.

  26. By all reports Viduka is not going to offered a contract for next season, why not offer to take his salary burden off Newcastle and use him for the remainder of the season at the Boro. You do not lose World class goal scoring ability overnight and Viduka’s record of one goal every two games in his career is outstanding and he is stil worth a place in this shot shy Boro team.
    **AV writes: You might not lose it overnight but what about over two years on the physio’s table?

  27. BLT
    Most of us dont disagree with you, for many the irritation is that the way the team lined up was what we have been debating for some time.
    AV’s article talked about the changes, there are still some tweaks that could be done such as John Powls suggested move of Downing into the Bolo role and Arca to the bench but that is within the same framework of the team.
    Despite AV’s response to my posts it still begs the question why do we not play players in their best positions when possible.
    AV rightly states the intention to get some solidity against Blackburn. The other side of that debate is the fact they were not ManU but a side one place above us. Nor did we manifest any defensive solidity as we should have been comfortably beaten at home with Blackburn dominating possession and chances, Jones making many excellent stops and us not working their goalkeeper. We surrendered the initiative and didnt deserve the point we got.

  28. I still don’t think we are getting the best from our meagre resources so why not play a 3-4-3 formation consisting of:
    Wheater – Huth – Pogi
    Hoyte – O’Neil – Digard – Johnson
    Tuncay – Alves – Downing
    You may say technically Hoyte is out of position but I think as he gets up and down pretty well for a right-back so it’s just a slight reversal of position.
    That would leave Downing and Tuncay playing as more fluid playmakers with Alves slightly in front.

  29. Getting a bit fed up of hearing how great Boro were last saturday and how the corner has been turned. Get real. Take a look at the final result. We didnt win the game. We failed yet again.
    Failure by inches is no better than failure by miles – its still failure.
    We still failed to show any sign of converting chances. We still went to sleep on a dead-ball situation and threw away the result because of it. Same mistakes as have been evident all season. It doesnt matter whether we play the right players in the right formations or not we still make the same errors.
    Repetition of that performance for the rest of the season will still end up with us relegated.

  30. Benny Brown – Viduka did a ‘Boksic’ when he went to Newcastle, he’s collected a nice £6m pension. Even if he’s fit enough to take on loan I doubt his mind is in the right place anymore.
    I read with interest the Gazette article on how the Alves transfer fee has effectively gone up because of the Euro exchange rate. I’d be curious to know if this is implied by the Gazette team or an informed fact coming direct from MFC?
    Given that a huge amount of Bulkhaul’s business will be done in Euro’s then Steve Gibson and his management team will have been very aware of exchange rate risks whenever they bought a player in Euro’s.
    The risk is managed either by paying in Euro’s from Euro income in which case exchange rate risk doesn’t apply or by hedging on the exchange rate, which in simple terms when the Alves deal was done the club ‘buy forward’ 18m Euro’s at a guaranteed exchange rate thus eliminating the exchange rate risk.
    I would be amazed and concerned if the Gibson-O’Neil group bought Alves in Euro’s without managing the exchange rate risk. There are various ways to manage the risk which should be second nature to a company which does a lot of trade in foreign currencies. Any views on this AV?
    **AV writes: I think that cross-border transfer dealings are always a lot more complex than they appear and I’m sure most astute clubs are aware of the implications of movements in the money market and fix the rate in advance as well as structure them in the most tax-efficient and secure way possible.

  31. I almost agree with Wedermouth’s formation,but i would try 3-5-3. It is almost like Robbo’s wing back system only his wing backs never got past the halfway line.
    We obviously have to go for broke now but to have Wheater, Huth and Pogi isolated at the back is dangerous as they are a bit on the slow side and we would be hit on the counter by pacy players.To counteract this Johnson and Hoyte (our two paciest players) would have to play as sweepers i.e.,when we attack down the right Johnson hangs back and when we attack down the left Hoyte hangs back to deal with counter attacks.This may seem a little bit off the beaten,but i think it would work.
    Also i would have Tuncay play in midfield where he has played his best football in Turkey and for Turkey.We really need to push up the pitch and get away from this culture of mass retreat otherwise it’s going to be more of the same and we all know what that means.

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