Bum Note: Boro Fall Flat At Doncaster

WELL that was a soul-sapping, shot-shy no-show by a toothless team struggling against the shackles of tedium.
The trip to Doncaster was another dismal goalless grind, another bout of frustrating, fruitless, sweaty labour. And with an eager Red Army ready to respond to a rousing display, it was a massive anti-climax.
But that is the Boro way. We should have known. It is ingrained in the club’s genome sequence: Whenever Boro travel in numbers, naive enough to expect success, events have a habit of kicking us in the teeth.
I suppose we should be grateful Boro didn’t lose.


Boro took a well fuelled 4,254 fans on the short-haul trip to South Yorkshire in a convoy of coaches, Transits and cars that clogged up Doncaster and gave the town’s boozers and fast-food joints an unexpected spending bonanza.
It was the largest following in the entire country on the weekend and accounted for a hefty 37.2% of the 11,440 crowd at the cosy Keepmoat Stadium. That is the only stat from the day to be proud of.
The show of faith by the fans was the biggest mass exodus from Teesside since a similar buoyant beano to Baltic Barnsley under Gordon Strachan when, again, the crowd sizzled and the team froze.
Despite the dour fare, the crowd were fantastic. They were loud, proud and creative in their chanting, colourful with an eye-catching confetti display as the teams ran out – although there was an acrid wisp of pyrotechnics at one point and that is never nice when you are packed in a crowd and the wind-direction is unkind to you – and they generated an nerve-jangling atmosphere.
It was exactly what football fandom is supposed to be about.
And before kick-off there was a surging sense of upbeat unity between team and fans that hints at a growing optimism in the slow-burning Karanka project.
The players were wearing T-shirts wishing crocked team-mate Rhys Williams a swift recovery and were cheered to the echo as they warmed up at the Boro end.
And the news that last gasp deadline day signing Danny Graham was in the squad only pushed expectation to the max.
Surely it was scripted that the prodigal poacher – serenaded with regular bursts of “He’s one of our own” – would come off the bench to score the winner?
The crowd did their bit. They started with a full-throated roar and largely kept it going for the full 90 minutes, whereas the team barely got as far as doing their scales. The team’s off-key display was a bum note on a day that was orchestrated for Aitor’s heroes to deliver a symphonic performance. But it all fell flat.
The sharp contrast between the relentless passion, energy and spirit in the stands and a go-slow on the pitch that lacked conviction and fire was the most striking element of the day.
And Karanka – who is quickly winning hearts and minds on Teesside with the searing honesty of his post-match assessments – was the first to acknowledge that marked disconnect.
“No excuses, we should be better,” he said disarmingly. “With so many of our fans here I was a little embarrassed.”
“So many people from Middlesbrough came with us – they are always with us – but for them we didn’t play and we didn’t fight. That is not good enough.
“When you don’t play and you don’t fight it makes it difficult to win the game and is an embarrassment for our supporters,” he reiterated.
“Doncaster were fighting, they were working, they battled for the second balls and they were one second or two second quicker than us.
“At half time I told me team I was not happy with them.
“I told them when you have behind us that crowd then you have to play a good game. You have to deliver.”
No “taking the positives and moving on”. No gripe about the wind or the pitch or the referee. No excuses. Just a ruthless dissection of the problems and a demand for better.
It probably echoed exactly what was being said angrily on the convoy back home in far more abrasive language.
It is hard to disagree with Karanka’s analysis.
Lack-lustre Boro were sluggish and for all their honest huffing and puffing they were well short of the urgency and intensity that clinically swept aside then leaders Burnley and play-off pretenders Reading a month ago.
Their muted workrate was well below the animated piecework industry of limited but more motivated Doncaster.
The wind whipping across the pitch didn’t help flowing football but if wasn’t exactly freak conditions for February and they didn’t adapt to the conditions well, didn’t impose themselves and never looked likely to break the stalemate or force the issue.
Doncaster’s keeper was barely tested – “he’s done less work than Ledesma” said one press box cynic – and in fact Boro never had a serious shot on target. It was sub-standard fare and very disappointing.
Of course it was not a disaster. Boro were solid enough at the back, bar one moment when Rovers were gifted a sitter they squandered. Seven blanks out of nine is an impressive miserly recent record it would be churlish to criticise, despite some jitters and creaky moments.
That Karanka has come and dealt so swiftly with the fatal flaw he had inherited – a porous and demoralised backline – has been impressive.
With a few simple tactical tweaks – two solid human shield midfielders, the full-backs penned back in conservative roles, and closing from the front – he has underpinned the foundations and made Boro hard to beat.
That is the first and fundamental problem solved.
But the tweaks have left Boro short at the business end. They have now scored just once in four games and the drought has lasted five hours and 45 minutes.
Departed Lukas Jutkiewicz and Marvin Emnes had three goals in 48 appearances between them this term while Curtis Main has one in 15.
Which may explain why the club’s deadline day activity was concentrated on sharpening the cutting edge.
Danny Graham is undoubtedly ring-rusty. Instead of a scripted goal to light the blue touch paper he spluttered and fizzled a bit but failed to explode and handed those who like to beat the club by proxy an open goal – Kevin Doyle scored for QPR, giving those who a few days ago were denouncing him as not good enough for Boro the opportunity to change tack and say the club had signed the wrong one.
Meanwhile fiery frontman Lee Tomlin is banned after two red cards in three games. And Kei Kamara is still well short after just two brief cameos from the bench.
That leaves the entire tactical integrity of Karanka’s 4231 system resting on getting the strikers fit and firing.
That’s frustrating but it is something we will have to be patient with over the next few games of fine-tuning up front.
After a fantastic run of 16 points from 18 lifted Boro to five points from the play-off places, a stutter of two from nine has seen Boro slither back and the feel-good factor is fading.
Boro’s tactical problems appear to have been addressed at the back. Now Aitor has to address the log-jam in front of goal. But he’s good. He is determined, ruthless and shrewd. It’ll come.

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68 thoughts on “Bum Note: Boro Fall Flat At Doncaster

  1. Swansea, one of the most stable clubs in the country over the past decade and one I hoped we might emulate, have sacked Michael Laudrup.
    A trophy and a top ten finish for them last season. Overachieving really is one of the worst things you can do in football management.
    Given their methods, the sacking will probably have little effect on whether Marvin stays there beyond May. I hope he scores a Patrick against Cardiff this weekend.

  2. Clive –
    I remember Caleb’s debut, a sort Warhol 15 minutes of infamy, I think it is close to one of the worst loans ever.
    Even Alves, the goal machine, scored some goals though he was more like a goal keeping coach firing shots in at the right height for the keeper during pre match routines.
    As someone posted earlier Dong Gook came on a free and we were robbed. He actually started some games before Tuncay!
    Some of the jocks were not brilliant but they tried.
    But Caleb takes the biscuit, a cracker of a loan deal. I suppose the beauty was he didn’t block the progress of anyone else.

  3. As the move to a team without Shay is a Given we must give who ever takes over a chance. It looks as if Steele will be fit but the first time Leadbitter over hits a corner or Adomah misplaces a pass fans must not blame Steele.
    Daft examples? Not much worse than blaming Steele for every mistake in defence.
    Get behind him and big the lad up. That means on here, twitter, facelessbook and at the ground.
    PS plus journos 🙂

  4. I had a dream last night that Emnes scored the winner for Swansea at the weekend. What is going on in my head.
    **AV writes: It’s a funny old game.

  5. Wonder if this’ll get through the ether. fingers crossed, anyway…
    Extract from Peter Beagrie’s “Window polish” piece on the Sky Sport site:
    “Middlesbrough’s double capture of Danny Graham and Lee Tomlin also excites me.
    “Graham scored bundles of goals for Watford in the Championship and the Boro fans will make him feel loved again, while his telepathic relationship with Stephen Dobbie at Swansea could be replicated with Lee Tomlin.
    “Tomlin, the nearest thing I have seen to Dobbie, has been desperate to get a move ever since Peterborough slipped out of the Championship, and he and Graham could strike up a deadly duo for new Riverside boss Aitor Karanka.
    “If Nathaniel Chalobah and Daniel Ayala make Boro more solid and harder to penetrate, my old club could have a very interesting end to the season.”

  6. BoroPhil –
    It’s a bit brave of you to reveal the contents of your subconscious mind as I think Freud would say that ‘scoring’ is essentially a euphemism for sex and I believe the Swan is often symbolic of partnerships in dreams.
    I know many people have described Emnes as the mother of all projects but since I have no qualifications whatsoever in psychology I wouldn’t attempt to take this any further.
    Anyway, you shouldn’t pay too much attention to dreams as they generally don’t really have any meaning at all – though I might start to get a little concerned if your mother had dreadlocks.

  7. Ghost pairings of the past?
    Has anyone noticed the possible similarities between our new signings Graham/Tomlin and Hendry/Wilkinson?
    l read once in the distant past how one eminent opposition manager had rated the Hendry/Wilko partnership as the best of their time in the old 2nd division.
    The Boro are due a bit of good fortune after a long drought, maybe the time has come, that’s as long as Tomlin doesn’t see red.
    Either way l think ‘Ka ka Karanka’, ever the pragmatist, will have been scrutinising tapes of past Watford games and pasting in the necessary adjustments to his game plans.
    Exciting times to come – maybe?

  8. A comment on Tomlin from someone I know through work who’s an ardent Posh fan:
    “Tomlin has fire in his belly which if you extinguish may reduce his effectiveness. He is one of those players who on his day is a joy to watch as he can create so much – but now he has gone I wish he had more good days than he managed.”

  9. Hendry & Wilkinson? I’d settle for that. In fact, either would be good. If both Graham & Tomlin succeed we still have a chance of the play-offs.
    It has to be said, despite all our pragmatism and thoughts of sound foundations being laid, it would be good to see some coherent and penetrating attacking football. Goals would be nice. I’m just an old-fashioned sentimentalist …

  10. It looks like a tough one yet again with a patched up defence and an interim attack.
    I think Spartak can rest easy about another red for Tomlin, he would be some villain to get one sat in the stand whilst suspended.

  11. The state of modern football:
    1) A red card now has two levels of appeal – if you threaten to sue.
    Will Carroll get an increase in his ban for his second frivolous appeal? Or that only happens to Boro?
    2) Leeds get the owner they deserve (caution to those who want SG to sell up)
    3) Boro rip off local libraries.
    Classy week in the great game of football!

  12. My word! Señor Karanka’s written English is excellente! Mind you I don’t suppose Laura Cook is particularly enamoured that her e-mail address is printed in the apology letter. I reckon there will be some very novel missives in the inbox of Ms Cook over the next few days. Ask her nicely AV, maybe she will let you have look at them. I imagine some will raise quite a chuckle.

  13. I’m over in England from Germany for the next six months so I’m off to the match tomorrow. It’s costing me 27 pounds to watch Boro -Blackburn. Which is almost exactly twice as much as I paid to watch Schalke- Dortmund. Let’s hope the entertainment value is twice as good as well…
    **AV Writes: Don’t expect your ticket to cover public transport to the ground or to be able to drink beer while in sight of the pitch.

  14. Well to all you Boro fans who went to your first away match at Doncaster last week. Make it your last. Over 4000 fans travel, only to be disappointed by the garbage played. My advice is instead board a Pennine express train at the train station and go and watch either MUFC, MCFC,or LFC. I followed the club for 44 years a lot of disappointment.
    **AV writes: Yes, go to Old Trafford where you are guaranteed top quality free-flowing football and clinical spot-kicks. LOL. You Premier League fans, what are you like?

  15. Ever since the game at Blakpool I’ve stuck my neck out and been one of the first to try to predict the outcom of the next match. Apart from being disappointed at Donny, I’ve got it right.
    Home to Blackburn? Really don’t know. Not exactly a surge but Rovers have been steadily improving. As a result, they have a much better chance than us of making the top 6.
    Meanwhile we’ve stumbled after the excellent run – a defeat and two draws and a succession of turgid performances with no goals. Another poor performance and anything but a win today will confirm the slump and mean the end of any outlandish hopes of the play-offs.
    Even worse, we are going into the game with a patched-up team.
    The defence, considering its previous porosity, has been mostly consistent & tight. However, because of injuries, it now needs to break up that successful formula. In view of the effectiveness of his organisation, it will be interesting to see if AK can make this combination work.
    The attack has been utterly inept and is now weakened. While they have been far from potent, the departures of Juke and, in particular, Emnes must be a loss.
    Meanwhile we have little to replace them for the time being. The new Maddog is still suspended, Graham is not yet fit and Main is a willing work-horse but still raw and unlikely to score. You struggle to see them giving us a much-wanted goal, especially if the team has to concentrate on protecting the disrupted defence.
    To summarise: the attack promises even less than usual, MF is likely to be distracted by grafting and covering to shield the defence and the new defence may not be as tight before. All in all, this suggest we will do well to get another 0-0.
    Unless Graham comes on and makes the scripted winning impact on his homecoming … Over to you, gods of footer.

  16. Paul Bell –
    Yes if you want to watch high quality football go to Man U,Man City,Chelsea or Arsenal and jump on the “follow a winning team” bandwagon.
    But if you are a true supporter of your local team then you watch them no matter what through the good times and bad like i have done with Boro since 1971 and don’t jump ship and be a glory supporter.
    You appreciate the good times so much more when they come along unlike fans of the so called big four who expect to win every week.
    Must be quite boring going to a game knowing you will probably win don’t you think?

  17. Never Give Up –
    Knew you were a Johnny come lately. I started in 1962, goodness knows when Len started but one thing links us all. We all follow the Boro.
    I know loonie Toons and Mackems, they are the same. I know Manu and Citeh fans who are the same. Boston Utd, Mansfield, Chesterfield, Pools and Burton Albion. It doesnt matter and I never criticise their support, it is their team and long may it continue.
    Lets draw a veil over today’s scoreline. We must remember that the last four games are not the reason we are where we are.

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