Free Kicks: Boro’s Fatal Flaw?

EXACTLY how many goals do Boro concede from set-plays? That is one of the FAQs when stopped by supporters for an animated chinwag. The answer is of course: “Most of them.”
So far this season every goal leaked in the league since the opening day defeat to Leicester has come from a dead-ball of some sort.
And the two in the red-faced League Cup exit to Accrington Stanley.

In that game Stanley’s shock against the run of play leveller came as Carver nipped in front of marker Ben Gibson to nod on a long throw.
And then – after Boro had peppered the North Stand with a sustained SWAT assault flurry of shooting – the minnows sealed it as Mingoia stabbed home when a static home defence failed to clear a corner.
Since then Boro have gone unbeaten in a solid if not spectacular start… but they may have been right up at the top of the table but for the vulnerability to set-plays.
Against a blunt and banked up Blackpool, Boro dominated and looked rock solid at the back. But they were stunned late on when a Ferguson free-kick was slammed into the wall and then a second effort deflected kindly for unmarked Basham to sweep home.
Luckily, Boro showed spirit to claw to a deserved leveller late on through Marvin Emnes but the damage had been done and a single point was scant reward for the balance of play.
Next up was the trip to Wigan. There Boro conceded a penalty (the softest of the three quick-fire spot-kick shouts) which may be a special ermine clad free-kick presented on a golden platter but is still a dead-ball and – with more astute defending – is still avoidable.
Then, with the hard work done and the game all but in the bag, Boro conceded a free-kick after a self-inflicted string of errors just outside the box and Gomez slammed in a rocket shot that took a deflection off Andy Halliday and squirted in.
Unfair? Maybe. But both of the costly kicks were given away cheaply in situations that could and should have been controlled. The tug by Friend at Wigan which gave the striker the excuse to tumble in the box was naive at best and rash at worst while the free-kick for the late leveller came when a ball that Williams should have put in Row Z or down a channel was played with a high-risk cushioned short pass towards a man who was being closed down leading to not only a dangerous deadball but two cheap yellows cards. And, then a goal.
Then with Sheffield Wednesday… again Boro were in the ascendency when they leaked the opener just before the break, Johnson given acres of room to nod down a corner for Antonio to react quickest in the middle of a posse of defenders and hook it home.
Spirited Boro levelled and they deserve credit for that. But it still felt like two points lost – and lost from situations that are largely predictable and rigid and which can be rehearsed day in day out.
In general terms the back four will have faced tens of thousands of set-plays in their career. Being good at dealing with those situations got them the gig.
In specific terms they will have watched the videos and break downs in how the opposition tend to use corners and free-kicks: in-swinging, out-swinging, short, far post, near post, spot, which big lads make runs where and which areas they nod the ball down into for lurkers to pounce. Defending dead-balls is a well practised art in football – or should that be a science as it has a hefty academic body of work behind it? – and most teams do several sessions a week.
And still they fly in.
Open play is far more unpredictable but set-plays – penalties aside – should be defended with second nature mechanical precision aided by knowledge of what this opposition are likely to do.
Chances in football are limited and teams must make the most of them. Dead-balls represent a chance within parameters you can control. Static positions, movement of players at specified times, direction and speed of delivery … all can be manipulated in order to catch a defence off guard. Many teams – those who have picked up the John Beck or Wimbledon mantle of simplistic ‘position of maximum opportunity’ approach – have made winning set plays the central plank of their game-plan. The current vogue is to denounce Stoke for that anti-football approach but many bigger and better resourced teams are just as adept with a dead-ball.
But defending teams know that. They organise to prevent it. It is at the heart of their preparation. So for a defence – and a manager who was a great defender in exactly those situations – it must sting to concede so many.
It’s more than a blip. Or a statistical quirk. It is more than a bad habit, ii is an institutional flaw that needs addressing swiftly if Boro are to prosper. They can’t keep going into games with their back door ajar.
At some point, even if a well balanced and dominant Boro have the bite on, teams will get a corner, a free-kick or a throw- in around the box and have the chance to exploit that vulnerability. The evidence shows they have a good chance of doing just that. It is now Boro’s most pressing problem and the single most effective tactical improvement the boss can make.
Of course, this season’s seepage isn’t anything new. It was a corrosive current that undermined last term too. Last season Mogga was moved to say the team were crying out for a defender to “just get a head on fifty times a game” when the ball flew in from corners and free-kicks where his team had proved so vulnerable.
I’ve had a quick flick through season’s match reports and gone through the 70 goals that Boro shipped. It wasn’t pretty reading.
Of Boro’s 70 league goals 20 came from dead-balls. That’s a worryingly high 28.5% leak rate.
Let’s be generous and take out the five penalties. That still leaves 15 of 70 goals – 21.4% – from static situations.
Five came from free-kicks, either slammed straight it, deflected in via the wall or after the opposition reacted quickest in the box to bundle it home.
Eight came from corners, often as part of a series of flag-kicks that stretched the defence out of any discernible disciplined shape and usually accompanied in the match reports by the phrase “rose unchallenged to head home.” Although a few came as sharper strikers have poked home in scrambles at one or other of the posts.
And two came as Boro stood rooted as attacker latched onto quickly taken throws into the box.
Naturally the stats don’t tell the whole story.
Each goal comes with its own chain of causality and blame – although credit must be given to the opposition for stretching the defence and creating and taking chances as well.
And morale must be a factor too. Penalties aside, Boro leaked only once from a dead-ball in the opening 12 games, to a quickly taken free-kick in a 2-1 win over Leicester. At that stage Boro were tight and alert to dead-balls.
The bulk of the costly dead-ball blunders came as the season unravelled.
The rot set in with the Cardiff away game as Boro dominated but lost 1-0 to a header from an in-swinging corner. That sparked a wobble in which they leaked to dead-balls in six of the next seven games, including a late Leeds winner from a poorly defended Becchio header and an own goal as Friend screwed in from a Millwall free-kick.
And there was another poor run of six in the last eight games as the inching slither down the table turned into a headlong plunge. A late corner at Huddersfield turned what had looked a win five minutes earlier into a demoralising 2-1 defeat and in quick succession Boro surrendered to set-pieces in a 3-2 defeat at Wolves and a 1-0 reverse away to Hull.
The final goal of the season was a fittingly inept one, a routine curling flag-kick that bounced through the box that was missed by two Sheffield Wednesday players and two Boro defenders before bouncing in at the far post.
We had hoped that fatal flaw would be addressed urgently over the summer and the solution would be helped by the stability of a fixed back-line.
It seems not. Yet.


35 thoughts on “Free Kicks: Boro’s Fatal Flaw?

  1. I think it goes even deeper than that though Vic. If you go back to when Strachan or Southgate were in charge I seem to remember us conceding a lot of goals from set pieces.
    Now I don’t know if that’s just me remembering it incorrectly given how it is now almost expected that we will concede from a set piece in a game, and distorting my memory as a result or if it actually is something that is ingrained in our defence. Speaking to a few friends of mine we all seem to remember this going on for quite some time.
    If that is the case then it’s probably more a fact that our defence is just inept at dealing with set pieces.
    Our two main centre backs have been with us during this period – Rhys had his breakthrough in 2009 (I think) and Woody was with us for the beginning of Southgate’s reign before coming back last season. Not to mention Seb Hines and Justin Hoyte.
    I think the fact is that we don’t have a truly dominant centre back in this squad who just takes charge. We have two classy centre backs, don’t get me wrong, but I get the feeling neither of them would do as John Terry did a few years back and stick his head in amongst a load of boots to make a clearance. It’s probably the thing we’re missing most is a centre back who is unafraid to put himself in harms way.
    The other issue I feel is that as a result of that expectation (or dread) that we’ll concede from a set piece, it has got into the players’ thoughts. If you are afraid of conceding or expect to concede, and you are afraid you are going to be the one who makes that mistake then the chances are that you probably will make a mistake and lose your man.
    How often do we think that the longer a game remains at 0-0 or 1-0 to Boro that the other team are going to score? We could have 80% possession and 20 shots on target to the oppositions one but we would still be all sat thinking “They’re going to score”.
    I’m not sure how to remedy it myself, it’s not my job to sort that out. It’s the job of the coaches, players and the manager to find a way to stop us leaking so many goals from set pieces. But I hope we can because a lot of the time our general play is deserving of a victory and our defence is letting us down at times, as well as our midfield who lose the ball far too cheaply at times.
    **AV writes: Maybe the crowd’s nerves at 85 minutes is transmitted to the pitch? I don’t think so but maybe with weaker players it is a factor. Plenty of players over the years have mentioned it in interviews.
    I couldn’t find any comprehensive stats for Championship goals conceded from set-plays but 20% seems high. In the Premier League two seasons ago the average was 12% of goals scored from dead-balls and at the the last World Cup it was 11% so it seems reasonable to see that as a rough benchmark. Being almost double that is a worry.

  2. Ian =
    I was going to say exactly that!
    I can’t remember the last time we scored from a set piece, other than Juke’s header at Charlton this season. It’s such a real rarity that if we ever do get one I expect to see the headline ‘Boro SCORE in set-piece shocker!’
    **AV writes: To be fair, I should probably have kept a tally of goals for free-kicks for as well and compared the stats. Had I more time and access to better data I should probably have taken it back over a couple of seasons rather than just last year, a campaign which had a quite spectacular collapse that may be a deviation from the norm.

  3. Whilst I agree with your comments AV, you have to be fair and say that the whole side defends corners, not just the back four and I think that could be the reason why we lose so many goals from set pieces.
    If we have eleven in the box, the opposition will push more players forward as they have nobody to mark. If we put one or two players on the halfway line when we concede a corner, then the other side have to have at least two players to mark them, usually three.
    That removes 5 players from the penalty area which leaves more room for the defenders (the other seven or eight) which should make defending a little easier.
    Just a thought.

  4. We have been woeful at set pieces for the last two seasons at both ends of the pitch.
    For every game I attend I always,always say to those in my company: yet another corner, lets see what happens but don’t hold your breath because nothing ever does,literally never almost.
    I have been banging on about this all during this period so why has it taken so long for others to notice especially the management team who still appear to be in denial.
    It’s not rocket science it’s about good organisation and attention to detail which can only be developed on the training grounds and video rooms at Hurworth.
    On the evidence of our woeful record in these areas it would appear this just does not happen. Other basics that have been lacking have been obvious and highlighted by the management team themselves; fitness, finishing skills and heading ability.
    Which is al rather risable.

  5. Amen to all of that AV.
    In a tight league where winning ugly and grinding out results is a prerogative you must get your set pieces right.
    It was the bedrock on which Cardiff, Reading and QPR built their championship titles but we haven’t learnt from their example. In fact we appear to be getting worse.
    The starting point is the goalkeeper. Steele is a good shot stopper but weak on crosses. He doesn’t command his box or the defenders around him. That wouldn’t be so much of a problem if we had centre backs who could compensate for his failings but we don’t.
    Williams is classy but goes missing when a cross comes in. He is also surely the least demonstrative captain of all time, when we badly need an organiser. Woodgate can attack the ball but he doesn’t boss his colleagues about enough. He is also either injured, about to be injured or just coming back from injury. Outside those two we have either permacrock Hines or the novice Gibson. The chance to purchase a no nonsense , hard nosed stopper in the Mick McCarthy mould has been lost.
    Coaching has to be part of it too. When Steve Agnew left the club he was replaced by Proctor who I believe is the main defensive coach. Agnew’s current club Hull got promoted on the back of defensive solidity whilst we have leaked goals for fun.
    Of course the coach can only do so much but a lot of our goals conceded are a result of repeated mistakes which should have been stamped out by now. Static players failing to track runners et al.
    We also seem to concede an alarming number of needless set pieces. In the Sheff Wed game we dominated possession and chances but amazingly the corner count was 8-8 , one of which they scored off. In the same game we gave away numerous silly free kicks including a crazy foul by Adomah late on, bringing down a player who was already marked by two defenders. Hint, if you don’t defend crosses well don’t give your opponents free chances to cross the ball into your box.
    If anything our attacking set pieces are worse!
    Leadbitter’s corners are beyond a joke. Chipped in meekly to be devoured by the first defender or the keeper. Oh for even a fraction of the pace and accuracy of Ziege’s deliveries. Remember those.
    Let’s hope Butterfield can give us a greater threat because , as things stand, a defensive counter attacking goal is more likely than a Boro goal from one of our set pieces.
    And why don’t we have a long throw specialist ? The last one I can remember is Mick Kennedy ! Again this was a big part of Cardiff’s threat last season with Gunnarsson and his bombs into the box. We now have pace and penetration in wide areas and the result should be more throw ins in advanced positions. Let’s use that our advantage rather than throw it backwards again and again with the ball ending up with a centre back or even Jason Steele.
    Part of the problem is that Mowbray is a purist . A well worked goal to him is almost worth more than a scrappy tap in from a corner. Remember how he snootily dismissed Cardiff’s set piece goals. He talks of the “Land of the giants” as if a set piece threat is something alien, to be feared not embraced. We can’t afford to have that mentality.
    I’m sure I’m not the only fan who felt that the window was a wasted opportunity. Instead of bidding £4m for a Belgian striker why didnt we save a few quid and bring in a no nonsense stopper, a good corner taker, a long throw expert and a decent defensive coach. It doesn’t exactly set the pulse racing but we would be better off where it mattered: points accumulated over a season.
    **AV writes: I agree. The player we most need is “a Nigel Pearson” type battle-scarred warhorse at the back.
    I have to confess a moral schizophrenia over Mogga’s philosophical approach. I think trying to “play the game the right way” is a laudable aim. I do like the idea of playing expansive, attacking, passing football that sets out to entertain. I like the idea of ball retention, fluid movement and patient build-up and I accept that setting down a template like that will make it easier to add quality component parts as and when the opportunity arrives and make the transition to the style in the Premier League should Boro go up (yes, I know, I know). Slick Swansea found the gap easier to bridge than functional Reading did. Or Hull will.
    And yet sometimes I can’t help but yearn for a more direct, more robust and more cynical element. I think sometimes playing “the right way” can be naive. Should Jutkiewicz have gone down when he was man-handled in the box at Wigan? Should Boro stand over the ball to prevent quick free kicks? Should they sometimes rough up the keeper at corners? Should they sometimes ‘put it in the mixer’ rather than pass sideward and backwards? nd It is noticeable that Dean Whitehead sometimes thinks he is back at Stoke and clatters an opponent in harmless positions to break up play. Sometimes you need that.

  6. For all Leadbitters admirable qualities set piece delivey would not rate high on the list. I suspect we were probably better when Robson and McMahon were taking them.
    The defending is not just a Mogga issue, we have been poor for several years. It has been common to see all ten players no further forward than the penalty spot, opposition players basically unmarked outside the box.
    It seems to be the modern fashion, clearly football coaches don’t watch athletics and believe the high jump is still competed for by athletes doing standing jumps rather than running up.
    I cant understand how we have so many players in our own six yard box and still players score in acres of space.

  7. Is it just me who thinks that a lot of our problems in this regard, particularly at home, stem from our inability to convert possession and chances into enough goals?
    If we converted our chances to get our noses in front in games, rather than having to chase them, and if we had the ability when do do take the lead to go more than one goal in front, would this not help massively?
    Surely if we scored more goals ourselves we would not have to lose our shape and commit more and more bodies in a desperate bid to save the game as play goes on. The opposition would be less able to hit us on the counter-attack (leading often to the mistakes that give away corners and free kicks) and would be demoralised. If we are defending a corner from 2-0 up rather than at 1-0 or 0-0 surely the defence is also less prone to panic.
    **AV writes: Yes, I think you are right. So many times last season Boro’s problems stemmed from missing a shed-load then chasing the game and getting caught pushing forward. If they could get a second when on top not only could they relax, the opposition would be forced to come out more leaving space to be exploited.

  8. Lies, damned lies and statistics …
    Pedant alert. It’s a lifetime since I was an engineer but the maths is still there.
    I don’t believe the number of goals conceded should be compared or benchmarked as a percentage. After all, 25% sounds like a much bigger problem than 10%. Nevertheless, if 25% of 20 goals conceded are from set pieces, that is little problem, whereas 10% of 100 goals overall conceded is much more of a problem.
    We need to talk in absolute figures.
    **AV writes: Well I am an arts graduate and not really maths minded so I may have failed to grasp the abstract but 100% of the last six is a figure I understand.

  9. We just need to stop giving needless free kicks away. Needless is when a guy gets skinned and pulls the player down out of petulance rathet than leaving him for the covering player and getting back behind the ball. Maybe just about a little more nous and positional sense?
    At the other end, how come Mogga can’t see that Leadbitter is wasting freekicks and corners? Or is it that old chestnut that he produces the goods in training? They must practice these things after all…..

  10. Lots of interesting takes on this above.
    If I can throw in my own observation – I think the GK is in the wrong starting position.
    I’m no goalkeeping coach – is there someone out there who knows about this stuff? – but we always see Steele starting on his line in the middle of the goal. That seems to me to be a poor starting position.
    Shouldn’t your keeper be a couple of steps towards the back post and a couple of steps off the line?
    You can move forwards much more more quickly than you can backwards, so it makes sense to position yourself towards the back stick and come towards the ball, or if it a deep corner, you’ve less distance to cover.
    Being a nearer the six yard line then the goal line just seems like common sense.
    That isn’t just a Jason Steele issue by the way.
    I agree that we should leave at least two up the field, one on the half way line and one mid-way between.

  11. “**AV writes: And yet all the top coaches and teams do it ”
    There are fads and fashions in coaching as much as any area and I’m sure this one will pass in time as well. It wasn’t so long ago that it was popular not to have a defender on each post. *shakes head.
    One of the easier brickbats to metaphorically smack Mac with was his decision to have everyone back to defend a corner. It seems sensible to me to always to have at lease one ‘out’ ball for the defenders to play.
    There is somewhere a video on-line of a (possibly South American) team who when defending a corner positioned four attackers on the halfway line. The opposition were unable to decide what to do and had to wait for instructions from the bench on how to respond.
    I think the defending team nearly scored on the break. Will post it on here if I can find it.
    Going further back to AV’s ‘moral schizophrenia over Mogga’s philosophical approach. I think trying to “play the game the right way” is a laudable aim.’ Rioch was also lauded for playing the game the right way but was astute enough to see the virtues in Mogga’s (the player) more agricultural approach to the game.
    I don’t see the two positions progressive play/nails defending as being mutually exclusive. For further evidence see Arsenal’s trophy record since their back four of Adams et al retired.

  12. Thanks for keeping a legitimate line of discussion open with the fans.
    The obligation to join Facebook in order to reply to EG’s articles is a step too far for many of us and has IMHO stifled healthy debate and is yet another distancing of many of the fans from the club.
    Remember there were almost 16,000 at the Shef. Wed match but 2,000 from Sheffield so Boro bodies were only 13,000 plus. Considering the best of the weather is probably behind us , this type of attendance does not bode well – especially if the tinkering starts again.
    Thanks again.

  13. Thinking back, part of the problem under gate was the fact we didn’t score the second and it has continued.
    Teams were secure in the knowledge we would eventually implode. One nil down was rarely a problem, 0-0 was a sure fire red zone implosion.
    To some extent we are the same now, Mogga’s Baggies team were renowned for not scoring one end and conceding the other. That is why they were worse than us.

  14. **AV writes: Well I am an arts graduate and not really maths minded so I may have failed to grasp the abstract but 100% of the last six is a figure I understand.”
    But you could say that 100% of goals from open play have been prevented.
    Now is it better to only concede from set plays if you don’t concede from open play?
    Probably best not to start that though.
    **AV writes: Good spin. *applauds*

  15. Those statistics don’t actually say a lot.
    You have to compare our percentage of goals conceded with the average percentage of the other teams in the league. To be fair you also have to compare it with the percentage of goals we score from dead balls.
    Counting penalties in your statistic is silly.
    To define how poorly (or well) we defend you have to consider how many free kicks or corners we concede. e.g. how many corners do the oppostion need on average to score one goal. You then have to compare that to other teams.
    etc. etc.
    I’m sure you put a lot of work into that article, but the time would have been much better spent finding out how many current footballers were born in Cleveland, North Yorkshire or Durham, 😉
    **AV writes: I think you are right that in academic terms it is far from being a scientifically valid model. It would probably need to be set against all other teams and at least two or three seasons to pass serious spread sheet scrutiny. If that’s what was intended. It was more a quick flick to check exactly how many we conceded last season.
    I don’t think including penalties is “silly” though. Yes they are ‘special’ cases in that they are impossible to defend so have to be judged differently and I did set them aside for that reason but you can’t take them out of the equation completely. They still raise questions: Are they preventable? Are we conceding more than the norm? Are there patterns? Do they come from a particular offence? A particular position? A particular player? You need to know before you can work on eliminating them.

  16. Stephen Pears ‘n’ Custard was a blonde prematurely balding fantastic shot stopper who came out and collected a cross once a season. He occasionally got a bit red faced with his defence and shook his head when they weren’t looking. He is now Boro’s goalkeeping coach
    Jason Steele is a blonde prematurely balding fantastic shot stopper who has yet to collect a cross this season. He has been seen to look a bit cross with his defence when they’ve been a bit naughty.
    I sure there’s a pattern there somewhere
    I also remember getting promoted on the basis of Stephen Pears being unbelievably good at shot stopping one year. Let’s hope that pattern repeats!

  17. Once again Paulista Paul, ABSOLUTELY spot on.
    It is the one thing that irks me more than any other with TM. His belief that we have some of the best defensive players. We have not!!
    I have also said before that for me Steele is a big part of the problem, not all, but his inability to command at least the six yard box does not help. Then as PP has said the two current CH´s are too alike and not domineering enough. The full backs we have are OK for this division, but the other three will not get us out of this league.
    Yes we have missed a golden opportunity this window to get the right centre half.
    Lets just hope the forwards click and we start to score more than we let in.

  18. Here’s one for you AV. I’m on holiday in Turkey at the moment, got chatting to a guy in a bar, as you do. He asked where I was from and when I told him , his reply was, “is the Gazette still on the go?”
    Turns out back in the 70’s he worked for the said paper. It was his job to watch the Teleprinter and enter the scores into the “Stop Press” section. It’s a small world indeed!
    **AV writes: That sounds like a cushy number.

  19. Is it just me or are the posters being spared from my rambles? A couple posts have shown as waiting to be approved only end up on the cutting room floor.
    Any problems with the new high tech software at Trinity Towers? Is there a ‘muttered about Facebook filter’ in place?
    **AV writes: There was a problem overnight with the Londonshire servers. Not at our end but at the big GlobalNet supersystem. It’s alright now. They put ten bob in the meter.

  20. I can’t get my head around the criticism of England.
    Top of the group with all away games played, unbeaten, scored more goals than anyone else in European qualifying and conceded the second fewest behind Spain, all with a pretty average team. Surely Hodgson is doing a very decent job?
    Maybe I’m just an International Ra-Ra to go with my Boro affliction.
    **AV writes: But you know that anything less than a resounding 3-0 win is a disaster that sparks hysterical media OTT outrage. That is the England default.

  21. Andy R –
    The problem is that there is no happy medium. A useful away point without playing well. Poor at ball retention is a fair criticism.
    The difficulty is that any debate has to be polarised, sorry is polarised.
    My biggest gripe is that no one wants to take responsibility for the current dearth of players but as someone rightly commented England haven’t won anything since a home competition in 1966.
    The current situation isn’t helped by the fact the age group teams had a difficult summer and even the women had a shocker.

  22. Referring to AV’s moral schizophrenia over Mogga’s philosophical approach and trying to “play the game the right way” I agree fully with that synopsis.
    In fairness and in balance the example of Swansea coping better than more basic sides who were promoted to the top flight is a valid point but commercially Boro do need to get up even if they yo-yo for a while, as pointed out 13,000 gates are looming.
    Mogga like many of us pursue perfection in their career. Pursuing perfection in an extreme way though can cause paralysis which results in stagnant or poor results. Is the answer to lower standards or even accept less? Partially yes but with a caveat.
    Putting progress before perfection can be difficult but the minutiae to which perfectionists often go to causes the paralysis and a lack of fresh approach and left field thinking. Long term it may work but in the short to medium term workers, players, supporters, shareholders, Directors etc all like to see progress in their business or team.
    It is possible to practice progress over perfection whilst maintaining high standards but its very difficult for the perfectionists to be bold enough to break their intransigent mentality. To make a difference a modified approach from the perfectionist is required a change in mindset is crucial.
    Mogga is right to an extent with his “play the game the right way” but I think to move forwards he does need to consider progress before perfection e.g. a big bruising CB and not another pretty passing clone, Ehiogu and Southgate were the best recent examples. Ayala seems to me to be another Williams/Woodgate in build and character.
    The same old things get repeated on here month after month about set plays, defending, his Baggies team defensively and Celtic weaknesses etc. Most of the ammunition finds its base in his perfectionist techniques.
    In fairness he has made some major changes this season and his side look far more organised and balanced but some of the fundamental flaws are still there and keep repeating themselves.
    Maybe a little less coaching and more unpredictability is the missing ingredient. Giving for example Ledesma a chance to support Juke and to take free kicks when we all know he is prone to a few howlers might see us gain more than we lose, especially with Leadbitter and Whitehead behind him to clean up any accidental mess.

  23. I can see it now. Permatan Lineker and his association of all-seeing all-knowing ex-footballer glitterati, complaining about Roy’s clueless England who defied all the odds and, having been pounded by Brazil in the World Cup final, but bravely and miraculously having managed to keep a clean sheet before then nicking the trophy with a last-minute goal against the run of play from their only shot of the game, a shot that had originally been heading out of play near the corner flag before luckily getting twice deflected (once off the referee) before trickling in at the near post as Brazilian goalkeeper Jefferson collided with Thiago Silva as they both made a last desperate effort to prevent the ball crossing the line and the Russian linesman kept his flag low ….
    You could put money on it, that they would be seen jumping around the studio like eejits if that happened.
    No matter what, it is always the result and I think Roy has been more than making a good fist of it with the resources at his disposal. Like Any R said, top of a group,with overall second highest goals scored in the qualifiers and with all away fixtures completed … incidentally a group with the quality of Ukraine and Poland, neither team of which would be out of place in the finals.
    None too shabby a position to be in with two home games left to play.

  24. AV & Ian –
    The general reporting on England, which seems to feed through to some rather idiotic In-ger-landers, is unfathomable.
    There seems to be a general acceptance that England are not amongst the best nations out there – the bookies generally have us eighth in the betting at around 25/1 to win the World Cup when previously we’ve been more like 8/1, clearly the money hasn’t been put down – yet we get this ridiculous outcry at not beating a similar side away from home.
    Realistically, England are, at most, only one notch ahead of Ukraine or indeed Poland in that a Quarter Final would be a good World Cup for us, whereas the second round is probably a good tournament for them (am I being unkind?). Going beyond those respective markers would be unexpected for both I would say, so a point in Kiev is a good result. The performance wasn’t even poor relative to many England games in recent years and we were missing a few regulars.
    I don’t understand how we can be told that there aren’t enough good English players, then berate this generation for their performances.
    Back to more important matters at Boro, you don’t really need statistics to know that we’re poor at defending and attacking set pieces.
    The two are related – bravery and attacking the ball are key to success in either box and we don’t have/do enough of it at present. Delivery is also key in attacking set pieces, something we’re also poor on.
    Despite that though, I still think scoring more goals should be our number one priority. Perversely, scoring more will help us concede fewer.
    I knoiw Smog and others like to remind us that clean sheets win matches, but they don’t really, they only stop you losing. And as Mogga has said recently, draws are not good enough.
    Redcar Red –
    I think Mogga has demonstrated an acceptance of progress rather than perfection from day one, even if much of that progress has been off the field.

  25. As the Facebook Police don’t inhabit this blog as yet I am free to pose a question.
    Has anyone at the Gazette considered the fact no one is posting any comments on articles? Is there are link between interaction and advertising revenue?
    Or is it a case that someone has to put their heads above the parapet and say that, like the emperor, there are no clothes? Do articles wear clothes?
    If people lose interest then it will impinge on the circulation of the printed version.
    Have the fans given up on the paper as well as going to matches? I know I am hacked off with the pop ups and videos that impinge on my reading but at least there is some sanity on here.
    Editorial policy must be like football coaching. They know best. Shame about the unedifying dross.
    **AV writes: As I have said countless times before, the new system is a common one that is being introduced nationally across Trinity (and other media groups too). It has nothing to do with stifling dissent at a provincial football club and anyone who seriously thinks so is suffering from delusions of grandeur and paranoia.
    It does not stop anyone from posting click driving comments. Why would a website that makes money from traffic do that? It just asks them to sign up through an innocuous global third party that is used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide and who entire generations use as second nature .
    As a by-product it has generally (not just here but across the group) reduced multiple identities, foul and offensive language, outrageous libels and our exposure to legal action. People are far less likely to cross the line when their identity is traceable and linkable to other parts of their cyber-footprint. That has to be a good thing. There is an initial dip in commenting but generally numbers recovers- and it actually encourages more unique users to post as they are less likely to be monstered by anonymous trolls.
    Of course, people can still refuse to sign up if they want (and affect a persecuted mask of world weary chip shouldered martyrdom to boot, Boro fans have turned that into an art form) but there is nothing sinister or difficult about it the new system.
    The reason big media groups with lots of traffic are moving to this and similar It is technical not political. The new systems is more stable, can cope with far greater volumes of traffic and allows all kinds of multi-platform bells of whistles. It is geared to a future of mobile and apps and all manner of technogeek witchcraft we have barely scratched the surface yet. Yes, a lot of these allow far more tailored and intrusive advertising. But that is the price you pay for “free” news.
    Newspapers have always had to strike a balance between advertising and editorial. When I used to draw pages manually (which I loved, especially the magic wheel) I used to HATE when people higher up used to order me to reshape the page at short notice around a garish, ugly, clunky three columns by 15cms advert. Especially if it was for something dull and incongruous like conservatories or a tile warehouse .But that has always been the deal. That’s how the medium is funded.

  26. Andy R –
    The bookies here in England might have England at 25-1 to win the World Cup, but I’ll bet the bookies in Brazil have their team pretty near odds-on, and in Buenos Aires, Berlin, Rome, and Madrid I’ll bet their home teams are at very much shorter odds than the 25-1 for England, and England’s odds will be rather higher there, too.
    Vic and Ian Gill –
    I read the old-fashioned paper Evening Gazette (and also have a good look at either The Times or Telegraph, and a squint at a tabloid in addition to the Northern Echo many days). The “I” newspaper is very good value.
    I listen a lot to the radio in the mornings, in the car, and at the evenings and weekend (R4, R5, 5LiveSportsExtra, BBC Tees, TalkSport and a few other digital derivatives). I watch TV. I look at the BBC Website for news. I think I have a decent chance of finding out about developments in the world shortly after they occur. I look at this Blog and I “do” Twitter.
    I don’t “do” Facebook. Firstly I reserve the right to move into new technologies at my pace. Secondly I see from my work the damage that is sometimes caused to families and between friends by injudicious use of Facebook. Details about children that should be kept private are pushed out into the ether, people who should know better arguing in pubs about publishing something the other person thinks shouldn’t have been put out there, or having been “blocked” or “de-friended”.
    Someone who might have a couple of friends in real life, thinks he has 750 friends on Facebook. What sort of delusion is going on here? I suspect many of its users don’t realise, until too late, that once they put something out there the bird has flown and cannot be caged again. They’d never consider putting the information in their local newspaper! I realise it is the imperfection of the user rather than the medium itself, but I still see the real trouble it sometimes causes.
    Of course things change. How many people had a car 50 years ago? Or a telephone? Or a mobile phone 25 years ago? Or a computer 20 years ago? Yet many would find it impossible to function without most of these in 2013. So, MAYBE, even those who might presently be reluctant to venture into Facebook might go there in the future. But for the present I don’t feel disenfranchised by my position.

  27. AV –
    I dont think the Facebook link was intended to prevent freedom of speech. I dont think it was sinister move. I dont think it has disenfranchised people – they have voted with their fingers.
    It is just another irritant to add to pop ups, video links etc.

  28. Been travelling a lot recently but still been able to read the blog regularly. So some commenst now, sorry for the delay.
    Yes, I always considered Boro special as the club give the youngsters a chance. I am still more proud of the home grown players like Cummins, Hodgson, Downing, just to give a few examples compared to the mega bucks signings by Bryan Robson.
    With the exception to Juninho, I think the home grown talent is more special. And always will. It a Boro tradition we are proud of. Even as a foreigner (and Boro have never had a Finnish players so far) I think the academy is the way forward. So please give Steele, Rhys and Smallwood all the support possible.
    I was a bit supprised to read that we need better CBs. OK, I admit we need cover for injuries, but saying Woody is not good enough for us is quite difficult to understand. The same applies to Rhys. We have the two best CBs in the Championship. A fact. But I do agree that we need cover for injuries as Rhys, Woody and Hines are all injury prone. But we have a gem in young Gigson as well – so we will be OK with the CBs we have and there is plenty of time to make a loan move if we hit injuries.
    What is surprising is that Woody has played all minutes in the league so far. And Rhys also. So some advance is done by the new health department at Rockcliffe (remember the jokes about Crockcliffe in the past).
    So no hurry now with loan signings. We need a striker defintely and the loan window can give some help but I suspect the real fix will come in next window in Januay. Preferably we could sign the chap on loan for 93 days with a view to permanent signing in January. That means he will come in October rather than now. There is no urgency at the moment.
    I am looking for a surprise 1-2 win at Portman Road tomorrow. Emnes with a Brace. Up the Boro!

  29. I read AV’s response to Ian’s comment about Facebook with some dismay. It seems a pretty clear indication that this is where we are heading.
    I enjoy this blog, but I’m not sure I enjoy it enough to sign up with Facebook (again…I did have an account but retired bored after about 6 months). Actually, my issue with the new Gazette site has nothing to do with Facebook, and certainly not with the ridiculous idea that it might be “stifling dissent”…where on earth did you get that idea from AV? No, it’s much simpler than that…it’s just rubbish. Poorly designed, poorly executed.
    **AV writes: I get the idea that some people think the new comment policy is designed to stifle dissent from a whole host of people explicitly saying that. At length. Repeatedly. As if a national media group would change the format of website right across the country to head off ant-Mogga comments.
    I’m not generally a fan of newspaper websites myself. There is some much emphasis on pushing the latest stories quickly to the fore that you lose the ability to navigate through archives and find a story from last week. I suppose in some ways that is the nature of the beast, the latest news being the product.
    I don’t think it is badly designed but it may have been over-designed. It is a system hopefully future-proofed and geared towards the next decade (which is partly why a lot of functions use Facebook etc, so it can easily link, sync and embed pages, apps and vide from other social networks). It is also largely designed with mobile and tablets in mind with the ability to swipe through categories rather than navigate in our habitual conventional way. The BBC had the same problem with their relaunch last year when the logic of following content was sacrificed in favour of software pushing the latest to the top.
    When you get a new site like that and most of the people using it on the shop floor are not code-crazy geeks (or do not have equipment to get the best out of it) it is bit like when you get a new smart phone and get angry because maps and QR scanners keep opening and you always misdial people when all you are trying to do is text your wife. (See also Windows 8)
    There are no plans for a Facebook sign up for this blog. I will no doubt come under pressure at some point to move onto Escenic but until all the teething problems and functionality are settled I would resist that. I’m happy ticking over the way it is on a different obsolete platform.

  30. I don’t post comments on Gazette articles or on any other online newspaper articles. I do have a Facebook account but dont use it much.
    What I would say is some of the comments left on articles written in national ‘quality’ papers even though moderated are outrageous. If having to have a Facebook account in order to post helps clear up some of the abuse which is posted then I for one am all for it. Why should the quality of my newspaper reading experience be ruined by idiots who should know better?
    **AV writes: I have always strived for quality rather than quantity. That’s why I have always insisted on sticking with pre-moderation. It makes it harder work for me but it prevents the real time auto-publish frenzy that brings with it defamation, personal point-scoring, pointless arguing, foul and abusive language, racism and all manner of nasty knuckle-dragging idiocy.

  31. Forever –
    I agree with all that, I rely on new technology for what I do for a living but I don’t let it rule my life.
    I just happen to think the non return of posters is a consequence of the law of unintended circumstances.
    I can think of many examples over the years where it has applied often due people doing things for the best of possible reasons and I repeat, I don’t think the adoption of Facebook was suppression of anyone’s rights.
    On to something of greater import. Tomorrow.
    The first thing is to keep the unbeaten run going – like England’s trip to Ukraine a draw would not be a disaster. Lets hope for better.
    My 50p would be on a scoring draw.

  32. “**AV writes: I get the idea that some people think the new comment policy is designed to stifle dissent from a whole host of people explicitly saying that. At length. Repeatedly. As if a national media group would change the format of websites right across the country to head off ant-Mogga comments.”
    Not on here you don’t. At least I haven’t noticed that tone.
    I suspect there is a huge section of the luvvies including National Media – no bridling Vic, not the like of you and the Gazette – who believe that if you are not heavily in to the new media then your view is worthless.
    The football is more important.

  33. Mogga said this week:”We enjoy working with this group every day. They seem to enjoy each other’s company and that hasn’t always been the case at this football club during the past two or three years.”
    So there have been bigger problems with the squad he inherited from Strachna and Southgate than just finances. What is your comment on this, AV?
    Up the Boro!
    **AV writes: It was quite clear last season that some players who were unwanted but unsaleable were not singing from the same hymn sheet and did not buy into the way the manager wanted to play and that their begrudging presence was causing friction. Scott McDonald and Nicky Bailey to name but two.

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