Boro In Back-to-Back Victory Shocker!

I’LL BE WITH YOU SOON. Got tomorrow’s spread to write. In the meantime, if someone wants to kick off with an appraisal of mighty Boro’s glorious defeat of table-topping Burnley and the impact of former frozen out flanker Emmanuel Ledesma, crack on….
But a few brief observations:


**As Roy Wood would have it… “I wish it could be Christmas every day”…. Boro have just clocked up their first back-to-back first back-to-back wins since this time last year when they beat Blackburn and Blackpool. They hadn’t claimed successive victories at all in 2013 before Burnley.
**Still on a seasonal riff, that was our Snata-hatted heroes fourth successive win and fourth successive clean sheet at home in Boxing Day fixtures after beating Scunthorpe 3-0 in 2009, Hull 1-0 in 2011 and Blackburn 1-0 last year. It is New Year that is the problem….
**The steely defensive show made it Boro’s first back-to-back clean sheets since October 2012 when Mogga’s men were flying and they got a double blank at Brighton then at home to Hull. They won the next game 2-1 then got another clean sheet in the 1-0 League Cup win away at struggling Sunderland.
But Boro gradually lost cohesion at the back and had only seven clean sheets in the league last season. This term so far they have had five – with three of them in the last six games under Karanka. Of the others the first came under Mogga with the 1-0 win at Charlton and the other the 4-0 ‘Spirit of Teesside’ demolition of Doncaster with Mark Venus in charge.
**Ledesma will take all the plaudits – and after an eye-catching intervention at Millwall then the winner against Burnley that is fair enough – but the win was based on the solidity of the once brittle defence. Not just the back five but as a collective Boro worked hard to press high, close quickly and defend from the front. The goal came after Emnes won a physical battle!
Both centre-backs were superb (on the whistle Woody struggled to remove Ings from his pockes, the full-backs have had their cavalier tendencies curbed and are now operating primarily as defenders – both George Friend and international right-back Jozsef Varga made crucial tackles in the box as well as blocking off the flanks – and on the three occasions Burnley broke through Shay Given made magnificent saves.
My highlight of the game was when Friend, in the past too often brushed aside amid suspicions that he was “too nice”, charged through a crowded box to muscle aside a Burnley man and ferociously attack a cross to get in a powerful clearing header with real distance and in the process clattered poor Daniel Ayala dumping him on the turf with those little cartoon birds tweeting around his head. Obviously its not good to crock a team-mate but that tunnel-visioned will to win and get a head on it despite risk of personal injury is exactly what has been missing.
**Burnley arrived having lost just twice all season, having beaten QPR, Leicester and Forest, unbeaten in nine and boasting the 17 goal Championship top scorer in Danny Ings (briefly on the Boro radar last summer) but on that showing it is amazing they are top of the league. They worked hard enough and had a lot of possession in the second half but they didn’t have too much up front and struggled to beat a Boro whose recent record is unremarkable. Which says everything about this division and shoudl give hope that with a bit of confidence and a bit of momentum there is still plenty to play for.
I like football bouncer Sean Dyche but his remarks after the game – his side had the bulk of possession, made Boro play like the away team and the home bench had ‘gone mental’ and celebrated ‘like they had won the World Cup’ – were ungracious and short-sighted. Boro did a job on his side tactically and out-worked the league leaders and deserved a bit of praise.
**That was Boro’s first win on a Thursday since the famous fightback against Steaua Bucharest in 2006. I’m not drawing any parallels of making connections. Just saying.
More later….
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24 thoughts on “Boro In Back-to-Back Victory Shocker!

  1. Great team performance and great atmosphere it was good to have some good times back at the Riverside.
    Signing Given for the rest of the season has to be a priority as apart from the two or three great saves he made he organises his defence so well. Playing Ledesma is like signing a new player it must be the Spanish speaking connection!
    Again the right back position looked sound and Vargas getting a booking for a dive in their penalty box looked a bit iffy.
    Whitehead seems to be playing steady and only the odd pass going astray.
    Marvin did his usual stroll in the park (does he ever break into a sweat?).
    All in all a good win and a decent referee who must get a mention although the Lino in front of the east stand made a couple of strange decisions!
    Roll on sunday ……….

  2. Easily the best game of the season so far.
    Great team performance,Ledesma and Varga have made a huge difference in the last two games since their return to the side.
    Varga looks comfortable at right back and the defence is better for if. I hope he continues to play there.
    Ledesma has been a huge surprise for me. He looks confident has great vision and is not afraid to shoot and has had his reward with two well taken goals.
    It seems Karanka has started to get through to these players and has got them playing at last.
    I would love us to keep Shay Given but I can’t see it happening mainly due to financial reasons.
    Still think we need a striker,we had a few more chances today that should have been converted but luckily they didn’t come back to bite us and the defence stayed strong until the end.
    Reading next eight points ahead of us in seventh place and the chance to edge our way up the league.
    Remember in Mowbrays first season at one point on Boxing Day we were bottom of the league but then went on a decent run and weren’t far off the play offs. Stranger things could happen this season.
    Merry Christmas UTB!

  3. Cor blimey! What a bluddy game. Amazing atmosphere too. My Dad and I popped down early doors to grab the tickets. I asked for South Stand lower, which was a mistake because we’re usually North Stand. Walking around the stadium we thought we’d accidentally bought away tickets.
    Anyway, there we were, right next to the Red Faction. We bantered with the Burnley fans, laughed with Shay Given as he counted down the clock with some cynical time-wasting. (Something that has been sorely missing in recent years, what with our young team’s naivety.) I know where we’ll be sat from now on.
    Back to Shay – we need him on a contract ASAP. The guy has settled our back-line right down. Look at how we’re not giving away foolish late goals either!
    Up the Boro!

  4. What the last two games have told me is that all these people who claim that the Championship is a war of attrition where you require hardened championship battle scarred players are if not wrong then certainly misguided.
    What you need is some players with guile, craft and natural ability. They are the players who win you games and they are the players we have been painfully shy of. Ledesma may be Mr Inconsistent good one game and poor the next but when he is on song he is head and shoulders above the hardened championship players we supposedly need so badly.
    Fantastic couple of results and hopefully with a couple of astute signings in january a real step in the right direction.
    Karanka is slowly turning this ship around and it’s about time. Up the Boro.

  5. Walking back to the car I was thinking when was the last time I felt that content after watching the Boro, at a guess I would say probably after the Steaua game.
    Now this afternoons game wasn’t anywhere near as important but the level of fight, determination, grit, bottle and togetherness was getting there. For those that attended it was money well spent for those that didn’t it is with great pleasure that I can say brimming with smug confidence, your loss!
    To a man everyone performed, granted some waned and wilted a little in the 2nd half notably Juke and Marvin but they had battled and scrapped. At one point Sean Dyche was complaining about Marvin being too physical in the challenge!
    And so it came to pass that after Emnes had bullied (honestly!!!!) the Burnley defender, Manu picked up the ball, cut inside ran forwards and let fly another cracker which bounced en route and into the back of the net. 1-0 and no more than the red shirts deserved after embarrassingly dominating the League leaders.
    Juke never looked like scoring but he put up a battle and even spilt Burnley blood. As the pair wore out Grant and Curtis came on and both were immediately up to speed with points to prove. Curtis chased, harried, ran the clock down, determined not to succumb to a late sucker punch. Grant came on to add some more bite replacing Marvin’s fancy footwork and no doubt prove that he is determined not to become a forgotten man.
    At the back Shay dealt with everything fired at him including a worldly save that as it happened was ruled offside but even so the North Stand insisted on a standing ovation to the loanee.
    Woody returned and read everything with aplomb, I have to admit to being frustrated to see Big Ben dropped and Woody reinstated but hand on heart he had his best Boro game in months. Ayala alongside won mostly everything and together the pair looked impressive. Towards the end in an effort to keep a clean sheet I think it was Friend who determinedly went straight through Ayala to get a header in to clear. Ayala went down and went off a few minutes later to be replaced by Big Ben who slotted in seamlessly.
    Friend continued his form from the Millwall game and never looked in serious trouble. Varga looked seriously like the RB everyone wanted signing in January to the point where he cleared out and cleaned out everything that came near him, solid, strong, dependable and driven. He even should have had a penalty but only received a booking for his troubles.
    Albert had one of his poorer games by his own standards but as the club’s leading scorer we can give him that, even so he still wreaked havoc down the left flank. In the middle Whitehead was solid and strong whilst Richie ran and chased everything that moved.
    Manu however was the game changer, at times he was awol defensively and got a rollicking from the bench in one direction and Richie who covered him from the other direction. Going forwards though Manu had the entire Burnley, bench, midfield and backline reaching for the Imodium super strength (other diarrhoea medications are available)!
    Burnley did get a slight foothold later in the first half but Boro went in to a standing ovation after the first 45 minutes. Second half and Burnley upped their game but I never felt the same level of anxiety as i did throughout 2013. I do believe it is what is called trust and confidence.
    Boro were resolute in defence, strong in the middle and fought it out up front. At times it was end to end and but for some fine saves from Given and taking too many touches from Boro there could have been a lot more goals. Brilliant entertainment, fine festive fayre and sets things up nicely for Reading on Sunday.
    The last ten minutes had the fans singing and raising the roof at times whilst the born again Boro side battled, unity in abundance and at the final whistle a rousing cheer, applause all around the Riverside and most of the fans staying until the players (after walking to the four sides applauding the support) went down the tunnel. Like I said at the start, it was a long time since I left the Riverside so content and full of well being!

  6. This was a good performance. Successive wins (first time we can say that in 2013) and successive clean sheets.
    Varga, on the last two games, is the best right-back in the club. Ledesma has had two good games, though after he failed to track back and left his man wandering free at the touch line near the north west corner after about 10 minutes today, you might have queried that: luckily it came to nothing. The defence gave hints it knew what it was doing. No-one sent off, no penalties given away and no last-minute goals conceded.
    People are suggesting we sign Shay Given. Sadly his wages are stratospheric as far as our club is concerned and it would be staggering if we signed him permanently. It would be good, but sadly unaffordable. He has made a difference, though, in the time he has been here. We needed someone at the back to tell the others what to do, where to go etc.
    Karanka is starting to make a difference. Thank goodness for that.

  7. Fabulous – just that. Great atmosphare at Radio Ali, too. Must have been great at the Riverside.
    Hope this is a start for somethig different. We cannot afford the traditional hangover after the Christmas fixtures.
    Up the Boro – the Boro are going up!

  8. Another great result and a big scalp for the Boro.
    Good to see the boss is not getting too carried away with Ledesma as he needs to track back and get more involved off the ball. But credit where due he is like a new signing at the moment. And a great crowd by all accounts.
    Lets hope we can edge up the league a little further,safety first dreams later.
    As for Given yes very expensive but needs to play and I think will only go to a prem side if they have an injury at the moment.
    So may be get in early and at least try and secure him for the rest of the season.
    Mean while hope Steel is watching and learning it must be hard for the lad but he can learn so much from Given.

  9. First of all a massive ‘well done’ to the lads on what was a cracking Boxing Day performance. I am a southern based Boro fan so getting up to see the family for Xmas and a great win topped off a good few days.
    I went to the ‘nearly’ games against Brum and Derby and despite massive disappointment at throwing away the points late on we showed improvement in both. So it looks like it is starting to finally come together.
    Massive positive has to be the clean sheets. We have a side that looks like it will always nick a goal or two so keeping it tight at the back should see us fly up the league?.
    It’s always the way when a new boss comes in that some players benefit and come from nowhere. So the emergence of Ledesma/Main and Varga are simply without being football cliche ‘like new signings’.
    I think Ledesma again showed what we have been missing. He is what I call a proper footballer and at times looks real ‘class’. Also keeps Leadbitter away from set-plays so that has to be a positive. Ok he will sometimes go missing or not track back but hey I think what he gives going forward is worth the gamble?.
    I really hope when Williams is fit he sticks with Varga. He looks solid and composed and like he has played there all his career. I was actually slightly annoyed he brought back Woody for Gibson but he had a blinder so ‘what do I know’.
    So going into Jan? I still think we need a real good CF but where do you find them on the cheap? The fact Juke/Main and Emnes had two goals between them this season shows a real problem up front. The are all ‘honest’ and put in shifts but not sure they are going to get you the goals we need. I suppose Kamara will be back in a couple of weeks so maybe not as big a problem.
    I think we could move on a bit of deadwood to free up a few quid in the wages but again easier said than done.
    I agree with most on here that keeping Given has to be a priority. I read that Liverpool and Swansea want him but as back up. He says all he wants to do is play so hopefully a week in week out for Boro is more of a appeal than on the bench at anfield? He has made his money and seems to genuinely what to just play. That may swing it? If we get him it’s not the end of Steele. He can only learn from a keeper with 600+ games under his belt.
    Also last few weeks been impressed with Ayala. How long is he on loan for? I wonder if we are thinking of extending or signing permantly?
    So back to back wins and a bit of a feel good factor. I am glad it’s a decent side up next in Reading. I always think we have more chance of raising are game against a side like that than say Barnsley at home. Dare we dream of 3 wins? I am off to Bolton on New Year’s Day so to go there with 3 wins and a big following would be the making of another good day out. Oh and may I just day ‘bravo’ to Bolton for cheap tickets £15 for a adults.
    UTB!!!!

  10. It may be premature to consider having the Boro team run out to ‘I wish it could be Christmas everyday’ but at least there would be no post-Christmas slump in that song’s Groundhog scenario.
    So finally we can point at the list of results from 2013 and identify back-to-back wins doubled up with clean sheets – something I thought we’d not see until the arrival of new players.
    Does this mean that the mentally weak players excuse was indeed only an illusion brought to bear by the inability of the Mogga regime to find a solution to our woes?
    It seems what Karanka has been able to do already is focus the players on what their jobs in their positions are supposed to be. Two good results will make that job easier as confidence and self-belief increases.
    It may also help in January to reduce the requirement for more players than our stretched resources will allow – maybe just a new spine (keeper, centre-back, striker) instead of arms and legs as well will suffice at the moment.
    So more boxes ticked – now lets turn back-to-back into something I’ve heard also exists – ‘a run’.

  11. It was hard to gauge how much progress had been made after the Millwall match because of the weakness of the opposition. Having now beaten the leaders, there can be no doubt: AK is getting his message across and the players are buying into it.
    I said a couple of weeks ago that confidence is everything and a couple of wins would make a big difference and could transform this team. Yesterday showed that it has taken only one victory: some players were almost unrecognisable. Friend looked steady and secure; Woody was solid and some of his old self; Varga showed his RB credentials again; Emnes put himself about and even battled for the ball; and will the real Ledesma stand up – he was consistently incisive.
    The improvement in the defence has been notable. Although still shaky at times, they work more as a unit. They look more organised & determined with concentration and attention to basics. This in particular reveals the deficiencies of the previous regime.
    It’s likely to unravel at times but overall we seem to be on our way back. We don’t have the players to have aspirations for the play-offs but I can see us heading that way.

  12. Late changes due to friends asking to pop round meant rearranging a family visit to the cinema being pulled forward meant I missed first half commentary.
    As we came out the text arrived from John and we were one up at half time. Fraught 45 minutes and suddenly two in a row plus clean sheets.
    A couple of decent results in the next two matches can have us looking up instead of down.

  13. I said recently that AK’s early assessment of the squad he inherited seems likely to indicate he needs a GK, CH, RB, LB, one or two midfielders and a reliable scorer.
    I said a year ago that the Boro whole was less than the sum of its parts. Taking stock of the recent improvement and emerging strengths, the last couple of games suggest half those players may have been here all the time and that AK is the man to realise their potential.
    The defence is finally demonstrating the ability that the calibre of its personnel always suggested it was capable of. Clean sheets and wins can work wonders and it looks like we are finding out that their mental fragility is not inherent. Good coaching and sound organisation, reinforced by the confidence derived from success, are welding the defence into a unit that is finally showing some resilience.
    The fly in the ointment is the short-term nature of Given’s tenure. His commanding presence has played a large part in stimulating our defensive improvement. That is a problem that needs to be solved if the impetus is to be maintained.
    Still looking at the defence, although AK is having some success in patching over the cracks, I suspect that the long-needed pointy-shouty dominating CH will sooner or later prove necessary. Put a keeper of Given’s stature and a commanding CH (preferably captain) into that improving defence and we would have a rearguard to respect.
    Moving onto the rest of the team, we have pace aplenty but we have lacked creative and incisive passing. However that aspect is improving and there is less of the for-its-own-sake windscreen wiper passing. In time we might yet find that the creativity was there all the time. Nevertheless I suspect that, to build a team for a promotion push, at least one good new midfielder will be needed.
    Despite our recent good scoring record, I have said for some time that we need somebody to reliably convert chances. Our inability to score and pull clear of the opposition has far too often led to pressure coming onto our defence. The defence eventually crumbles with the all-too-familiar last gasp equaliser/winner. I see AK makes the same observation is the EG: ‘we need to kill teams off’.
    Wihout being able to splash the cash, it will not be easy to unearth a reliable scorer. We tried Scotland’s best two and they proved to be less than Championship grade. AK is unlikely to have the knowledge of the English lower reaches to shop for raw diamonds in the lower divisions.
    That leaves him finding low-priced nuggets abroad. However, even with big money, we’ve imported before from the likes of Holland and flopped. Unearthing a foreign bargain will be the test of the Boro scouting network, our new contacts and, above all, of AK’s judgement. I would go as far as saying that, without this piece of the jigsaw, Boro will not have much chance of pushing into the top 6 next season.

  14. Oh yes they will! Oh no they won’t1 Oh yes they will…
    Confirmation that the pantomime season is in full swing: Malky McKay sacked by Cardiff City. CRAZY. And that’s not a description of the reaction shown to the decision by the club’s supporters.
    Some people who say they want rid of Steve Gibson for some mega-rich foreign investor – be very careful what you wish for.

  15. That really was uplifting. It looked like Karanka was going to turn us into a hard to beat team with chances and attacking intent at a premium, but we created loads from the off yesterday and looked solid at the back.
    If we can keep this up, who knows. Keep winning and don’t look at the league table till we stop.
    Crowd was excellent as well from start to finish, let’s hope some come back on Sunday

  16. AV –
    Can you have a quiet word, no, make that a loud one and ask him if he could refrain from mentioning the P word….. 24 games, 72 points etc. Basically we would need 50 more points to threaten the play offs.
    First of all a point a game will see us safe for another season.
    Unbeaten over the festive season would be a good start. Lets see how much daylight we can put between the drop zone and ourselves. Getting in to the top half comes next, then catching the teams up one by one follows.
    It makes you wonder whether some of stuff attributed to the players is actually leading questions with predictable answers suitably packaged.
    **AV writes: No seriously, it is because all athletes have an inherent belief in their own ability and a generally positive outlook. That is what has got them too the top of their sport. For instance, Jacob Butterfield was asked last week if he thought Boro were in a relegation battle. Now you may consider that a leading question but if it was, it certainly wasn’t designed to get a “not far from the play-offs” answer.

  17. AV –
    Jacob Butterfield didnt mention the plays, it looks like it was Phil who flew that kite! It appears Aitor wasnt sucked in.
    Borophil –
    As I have posted before, from what the players have said it sounds like Aitor is going for a pressing game with a higher tempo further up he pitch.
    To me that is an attacking rather than a defensive approach.
    **AV writes: Ah, Phil you say. Well I wasn’t there – he has a one-to-one with the gaffer after the game – but I doubt if he asked directly about whether the club was aiming at ‘promotion’. We tend not to ask anything with a yes/no/don’t be stupid answer.

  18. 120%….. Arrrggghhh!!!
    I challenge you and your fellow hacks to pen a cliche free article.
    **AV writes: The manager said it, not a hack. At the end of the day, football needs cliches. It is a universally recognised form of short-hand. I think it is impressive that foreign managers learn and use them so quickly.

  19. No, AV, it doesn’t need cliches, it’s lazy journalism. Ask him why he’s suddenly decided to play Varga at right back. Why has Ledesma suddenly come in from the cold? Is it just Monkeys and Shakespeare?
    **AV writes: But he used the cliche you complained about, not a journalist. Do we start editing the quotes? Demand they rephrase the answers in less hackneyed terms? Football is a sport conducted largely in prosaic language.
    Varga went to right back last week because Williams and Richardson were injury and Parnaby was injured/on compassionate leave. Ledesma has come back from a niggling injury and then has played well in the ressies and so was given his chance. These questions were asked (several times) and reported last week in most media outlets. We ask those kind of questions routinely, Usually the answers are routine too.And cliched.
    I might do a column looking at the role of cliche in football interviews. I think there are several factors at play: the players/managers are being politically non-committal immediately after a game, they are trying to communicate quite complex chains of causality into a handy soundbite, cliches are a currency we all learn at a very early age so are actually useful, and – it can’t be avoided – people inside the game don’t think supporters understand the game so avoided detailed tactical answers and instead they give a very simplistic sketch when asked what happened.

  20. Great atmosphere although dissapointed at numbers 20,000 Boro fan. Let’s hope we get a few more v Reading as expectations are rising again.
    We should have seen Burnley off in first 20 mins but did not due to poor finishing which remains a problem,another long time problem is getting players in the box quickly, we have good wide men now but the likes of Emnes and the midfielders should be getting in the box to get on the end of the crosses.
    AV how did you see the appointment of Karanka,i must admit my choice was Pulis,but was he ever in the frame?Palace were allegedly after AK but the media story was he preferred Boro,obviously now AK is here i am now a fan,and want him to succeed.
    **AV writes: Boro were never in for Pulis. Steve Gibson told me emphatically on the night Mogga was sacked. No Pulis, no Warnock, no hoofball merchants because he didn’t want to see that type of football and the squad’s skill set didn’t suit it anyway.
    He also ruled out a couple of others that were floating about at the time, Mike Phelan, Nigel Clough etc. That’s why the Gazette never went with those names when other media outlets were getting themselves all in a lather. If Gibbo doesn’t want to tell us something he says as much (he wouldn’t tell us at the time exactly who he did want for instance). But if he answers a question then generally he is alarmingly honest.

  21. Ian –
    words are great, but it’s what we see that matters. The first two AK home games were pretty dull, especially compared to what we’d had so far this season. Burnley was a huge improvement.

  22. BoroPhil
    I agree with you, the point I was trying to make was that it seems he wants the team to be progressive. Flat back ten isnt his default position.
    It wont always work, the cricket team are working hard in Australia but it can still go wrong.

  23. No AV, I said a cliche free article, that means no cliches irregardless of the source.
    **AV writes: Karanka has reduced the cliche quota: today he only said they gave 100%.

  24. Howay vic,three on the spin and the game finished hours ago,you can’t be stuck for words surely!!
    **AV writes: LOL. Refresh….

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