Karanka’s Watford Woes: Blunt Boro Flashback To Familiar Flaws

POSSESSION doesn’t win games. Goals win games. And mistakes lose them. That was an angry Aitor Karanka’s verdict at Vicarage Road after blunt Boro went down 1-0 in a flashback to an old frustrating fragility. He was seething that after edging the game, the
stalemate was broken by a self-destructive spot-kick slip-up of the kind he thought had been eradicated.
“We lost the game, we lost a player, we lost our identity, we lost a lot of things. Some players maybe think they’re better than they are,” he said. “The problem is the mistakes. It’s not the mentality or the capacity of my players because we played at 100 per cent.but 11 players, 10 players, when we don’t play like we can it’s difficult to win.”


The rigid run of 10 clean sheets in 12 that had me nudging towards a state of Boro Nil Zen had been based on a systemic removal of mistakes at the back.
And not just mistakes but the areas of uncertainty that encouraged mistakes. By hoofing into Row Z when in doubt, by making the telling tackles high up the pitch, by fostering caution in the box, by stopping the opposition putting the ball into the dangerzone.
So for Ben Gibson to concede a cheap penalty – the first fatal mistake – with a reckless tackle in the box was an echo of the early chaos of Karanka’s first few games. The challenge was rash and came as he tried to make up for being caught out in the first place. That is the TENTH penalty conceded this season. It was a similar needless penalty to the one conceded (also by Gibson) at Birmingham.
That moment of madness was compounded by another soon after. Boro were handed a numerical advantage as Diakite was shown a red card for a clattering tackle but five minutes later a silly sending off for a pointless obstruction (Gibson completing a bad day at the office) squared it up.
Ben Gibson has been playing really well and last week had supporters – and team-mates, not least Jonathan Woodgate – raving about his display and his progress and predicting he would be a brilliant Boro player and future captain. Naturally he will be the scapegoat for this defeat (and after the game he was apologetic and gutted) but remember he is a young lad on a steep learning curve in his first term at this level and still has a lot to offer. He’ll be back and as a better player.
But there is no getting away from it: that is where the game was lost. The penalty apart Watford didn’t have a serious shot on target. Shay Given didn’t have a save to make. He had be out quickly to head clear at one point then made a good block with his shins late on from Deeney but the flag was already up. Boro did a good job of shackling the Hornets for long spells and probably edged the game in almost every area.
And while there was a fatal mistake at the back, that doesn’t excuse the lack of cutting edge up front. Had the spot kick not been conceded the game was on course for a fourth successive goalless draw. Boro certainly didn’t look like scoring. Watford keeper Bond barely had a serious save to make either.
There was a contentious offside call in the first half as a Woodgate header from a Leadbitter free-kick was ruled out but apart from that Boro didn’t put a lot on target either. Adomah and Ledesma fired wide in the first half and Graham chippd one over in the first half then sent and another spinning into the side netting after the break and late on put a header straight at the keeper. There there was a concerted late flurry of crosses and corners and speculative efforts from an animated Boro but nothing with bared teeth.
So disappointing but not surprising. It has been the same problem for weeks. Months. Boro have no cutting edge. Graham looked better and sharper and seems to be shaking off the ring rust as but he didn’t get brilliant service. The crosses from both sides weren’t on a plate. The midfield weren’t getting up in numbers or quickly enough and their shots from distance were charged down or sailed over. And the corners weren’t made to count either. It was easy for Watford to defend. In that sense it was similar to the Blackburn game. Lee Tomlin has a a serious weight of expectation building on his shoulders now.
Now the stats don’t look very good. Three points and no goals from five frustrating games. Probably best to cancel that North London hotel. It;s time to regroup, rethink and relaunch the season with an eye to preparing for next term.
And Leeds are up next…
More later

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22 thoughts on “Karanka’s Watford Woes: Blunt Boro Flashback To Familiar Flaws

  1. Any symmetry between Boro’s and Hartlepool’s seasons so far?
    Both teams have had a new manager and making some nice improvements but not being quite in there yet. First bad results, then a longish winning streak, then no goals and finally an improvement (in Hartlepool’s case)
    Perhaps this is just a natural learning curve under a new manager? I was hoping for a late surge for the last play-off place from Boro but as AV said, we might cancel the hotel near Wembley now. We left it too late, perhaps.
    Up the Boro!

  2. Yep AV bob on with your analysis yet again.
    Just woken up with a fuzzy head and the bad dream that was Vicarage Road. We could have played for 10 hours against 8 men and still not scored.
    I thought Watford were poor but like many other poor teams we have played this season they didn’t have to break into too much of a sweat in order to grind out a result against a Boro side reminiscent of August/September. Our transfer deadline dealings have been peculiar.
    I’m still not convinced what value Graham brings to the side. I know he was isolated today but so was Juke most of the season. Kamara seems to be taking an age to get back in the team after injury and Butterfield? Well I’m not sure what his role is.
    Last season Boro started badly, but McDonalds return in October (at Watford coincidentally) sparked life into a dull team. This year at Millwall I thought Ledesma would be the catalyst that injected much needed energy. It worked for a wee while but the season is fading out yet again. Boro dominated the midfield today but not sure of the rationale behind subbing Ledesma at half time for Carayol was. Unless he was injured but why not consider bringing Carayol on for Chalobah and giving Ledesma a more forward central position to assist Graham perhaps?
    Anything is worth a try because for the criticism Karanka gave the players yesterday his formation and choice of centre forward certainly didn’t help.

  3. Elsewhere on the gazette site we have requests about our merchandise and an article by Simon about a 4-0 drubbing by Villa.
    That prompted memories of another match against Villa. Was in the car listening as we drove up to Northallerton to meet Alex off his train from Toon Uni. We were going to visit friends in Middleham to exchange belated Xmas pressies.
    1 0 down and playing badly as Alex got in to the car rapidly to descend to another 4-0 home drubbing by Villa. Season ticket thrown at McClaren, subsequent Gate and JFH closed doors meeting to follow.
    Sat down to cup of tea and chat about the football, then a sheepish exchange of presents. There was a joint extra one for Alex or myself – a Boro wall calendar.
    Being generous I said my son could have it but the sneaky sod played the ‘on a train’ card so I was lumbered.
    What is the point of this post? The alternative is talking about a depressing afternoon.

  4. Señor Karanka is getting ever closer each week to just saying, “these players are useless”
    **AV writes: I think it will be the first time in his entire career that he has had to work with players who are on the whole flawed and ordinary rather than overwhelmingly top quality. And it appears to be the mentality/concentration issues that vex him most. He seems increasingly annoyed that they don’t/won’t/can’t do exactly what he tells them in the team meetings,

  5. That was grim.
    The scapegoating of Ben Gibson merely hides that otherwise it would have been another tedious 0-0. I think Karanka needs to reconsider the formation as one striker up front is not giving us any attacking threat. What is our longest run of goalless games AV?
    I think we were never really going to get to the play offs, lets just hope next season is better.
    Only bright spot was that my train to and from Watford Junction seemed immune to the otherwise chaotic train network in the South.
    AV writes: Just doing a bit for tomorrow on the longest goalless run. And we are fast closing in. We are currently on 525 minutes. The league landmark is 527. If Boro don’t score within two minutes against Leeds they are history makers.
    Boro 1 (Graham, 3) Leeds 0 Nailed on.

  6. Karanka, said after the game: “Possession doesn’t win games, goals do.”
    If that’s the case then why start a game we needed to win with three defensive middle men – Chalobah, Whitehead, Leadbitter – and leave Carayol on the bench?
    As industrious as Grant is his shooting skills like his set pieces are woeful. Unless it’s a 20 yard daisy cutter it will go high wide and handsome with a minimum of three halogen bulbs needing replacing for the next home game. Playing the link between midfield and the striker isn’t and never will be his game. Lets hope Tomlin’s match fitness will not take another four weeks.
    The game looked comfortable and controlled but had 0-0 all over it up to the point of another lunatic challenge in the box. We cant keep gifting penalties, I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe three month wages fine and a three month spell with the under 18’s?
    Ledesma of late sadly has reverted to his previous anonymous irrelevance, added to the three defensive midfielders and its looking very sterile.
    I am a big supporter and believer in Aitor and how he is restructuring things generally but no goals in eight hours is very difficult to defend even to the most optimistic foam handers. Lone strikers are fine and part of the modern game but “lone” does not mean “isolated” or “marooned”.
    The removal of two of the remaining four defenders leaving only Friend from the starting back line after Ben had walked was either madness or desperation. I suspect the latter but the question has to be asked why we find ourselves (repeatedly) in a goal free environment. Hopefully but perhaps deludedly it was a realisation that there needs to be a little more adventure in our approach.
    I wished that the 4th official had the correct number up originally and one of the midfielders was being removed but strangely it was Varga. That’s the first time I have inwardly questioned Karanka and his tactics.
    By all means he can blame his charges, but he decides the tactics, he picks the team and he picked players that have failed to deliver a successful conclusion to those tactics repeatedly. As we said about Mogga many times on here “if you keep on doing the same things but expecting different results“?
    Surely going to three at the back and pushing Friend up on the left side with Chalobah (or Omeruo) filling in for Ben at the back would have been more structured, balanced, settled and controlled. Then pushing Carayol into the middle behind Graham would have made more sense to me for a 10 v 10 game that we needed to get back into?.
    Leeds next week is now a massive game for Aitor, not for the play-offs (after Gibson’s walk I switched my focus to the Millwall/Bolton and Donny/Barnsley results) nor because it is classed as a fixture we traditionally like to win (although it is not a derby as the Leeds fans constantly remind us) but to avoid another non scoring drab affair which will end the honeymoon period which already showed cracks at the end of the Blackburn game.
    Live on TV he has the opportunity to show what we can do and why the refuseniks should return and get behind the Boro again. No goals is an absolute no-go!

  7. The total obsession at Boro that playing two forwards is wrong has cost the club dearly, not just this season but for years now.
    The second costly obsession is with clean sheets. Its total nonsense. You can have 42 clean sheets a season and only just stop up if you can not score goals. The last time I looked three points was gained for the team scoring the most goals in a game, be that 1-0, 2-1, 3-2, etc.
    In Karanka we have replaced a local manager obsessed with clean sheets and one forward to a Spanish manager with exactly the same beliefs. There is no difference and the results as we see are no different. Boro are terrified of conceding a goal and this negative football is killing the club.
    We have 39 points which with 15 games to go is safety so why won’t this guy play 4-4-2 and lets see how it goes? If it does not work then we know the players are just not good enough but until we try we will not know. Danny Graham or whoever else needs someone up there with them. This system is killing centre forwards and only a world class player will score goals in this set up and we have none of them.
    Graham and Main will get goals playing together with our two wingers operating behind them. If two midfielders and four defenders can not cope with the rest then they are not good enough for this league, simple as that. Give it a try Karanka you have nothing at all to loose or are you so afraid that your players are not good enough you need nine or 10 behind the ball at any given time.

  8. AV wrote: “I think it will be the first time in his entire career that he has had to work with players who are on the whole flawed and ordinary rather than overwhelmingly top quality. And it appears to be the mentality/concentration issues that vex him most. He seems increasingly annoyed that they don’t/won’t/can’t do exactly what he tells them in the team meetings.”
    I think that is absolutely right, and this was my only doubt about appointing someone like Aitor Karanka as team manager.
    Tony Mowbray had created something that is a mid-table Championship side, at best. While the players needed to impress a new manager, some seemed to be playing above themselves, and we began to hope that we had underestimated them. Now the dust has settled, they have reverted to type, and their deficiencies are just as obvious as they were previously. That is the real problem, not the manager’s tactics.
    The players are mostly the same ones that were performing so dismally under Tony Mowbray, so what else should we expect? Aitor is right in saying that too many of them think they are better than they are. They are unwilling to recognise their limitations, and that makes them unresponsive to coaching. To see that, you need only to read the guff that was coming out of the dressing room as the club drifted towards relegation.
    The opportunities for strengthening the side in the summer will again be limited. So I think the remainder of this season is a big test for Aitor, to see whether he can really shape this team into some vague semblance of a promotion-winning side.
    To do that, the least he needs is for them to stop thinking they are Premier League footballers in waiting, concentrate on not making mistakes, and stick to the plan. But that already looks like “a big ask”.

  9. With all hopes of the play offs now gone following the Reading result today, the only players representing the Boro from here on in should be those who will be here next season. We should not be developing other teams players to the detriment of our own.
    I include Danny Graham in that. Why we see a player with one goal in 40 as the answer to our goal scoring limitations is beyond me anyway.

  10. Listen and you can just about make it out. The sound of the penny dropping.
    Mowbray was in charge of an average Championship team which had no problem scoring goals but struggled defensively.
    Karanka has taken over an average championship team and made them more solid but they now can’t score for toffee.
    The key words are not “Mowbray” nor ” Karanka” but “average Championship team” because that is what we are and are likely to be for some considerable time.
    All Karanka has done is re- shuffle the same deck. He’s improved the goals against column by making the whole team defensively minded and risk averse, with the entirely predictable result that we are harder to play against but mind numbingly dull to watch. How ironic that Mowbray was sacked, in part at least, because of a failiure to excite the fans and put bums on seats in an era of FFP, yet his replacement is now presiding over our worst scoreless run ever.
    The group of players we have, with their limited skill set, are not capable of being both good at both scoring goals and keeping our opponents at bay. I would personally rather see an error filled 3-3 with Bournemouth than a 0-0 snoozefest against Wigan but that’s just personal preference. It all amounts to the same thing, nowhere near enough points to be involved in a promotion race.
    That will come as a huge disappointment to many on here and to Mr Gibson who has a very expensive stadium/training ground/academy to run that needs premier league funds to be viable. Strangely, it doesn’t worry me so much,
    in fact I find the obsession with all things Premier league a bit old hat. Very mid nineties. I’d rather be there than in the Championship but not by a huge margin.
    We’ve done all that before and with global superstars like Juninho, Ravanelli, Ziege etc. If we did throw a couple of sixes or had a run at the poker table and somehow fluked our way back in we’d be fire fighting from day one with blokes not fit to lace the boots of the aforementioned. Everyone would get bored very quickly as we got pummelled most weeks and patronised by Sky and the other “global partners”.
    Here’s a better future.
    Let’s forget about promotion and how many points you need to reach the play offs and instead play a brand of football that we can all be proud of. And let’s not demean it by calling it Arsenal lite or Teesside tiki-taka as if we can’t have our own identifiable brand of stylish football.
    Let’s promote local talent where we can and make an “informal ” promise to play, where possible, at least five outfield players from our Academy.
    Let’s be at the forefront of promoting standing at grounds and be pioneers by introducing it at the Riverside.
    Let’s have local producers, such as micro breweries and butchers, supplying proper food and drink at the ground instead of the processed pap that we serve up.
    Let’s build on the family schemes we’ve introduced so we are the benchmark for any aspiring community club.
    Let’s be a club of whom other fans say “I wish our club was like that”.
    Naïve, yes perhaps, but rather that than hitching a ride with a Spanish learner driver to a place I’m not sure I want to go.

  11. Good post PP.
    With a 35k capacity stadium and an expensive Academy to run I don’t think we can afford to fall any lower than the Championship (and for that reason Mowbray had to go I suppose) but I see no reason why we can’t be an aspirational club with a clear identity at Championship level and above.
    Treading water in the Premier League playing dull football isn’t the future I want either.

  12. Looks like our season is effectively already all but over bar the shouting for a miracle run of ten straight wins.
    We haven’t even finished bedding in January loan signings – and I’m sure they weren’t signed as squad players for a mid-table finish.
    So what next? Building for next season isn’t going to be exactly straightforward with half the team due to return to their respective club’s come May.
    As for Boro and Karanka trying to manage with average players – I’m afraid that is the Championship, an average league full of average players. You will never get a team full of quality players but you need to get the best out of what quality you have.

  13. Paulista Park –
    There were a couple of obvious problems with the set up.
    The obvious one was the defence, Saturday was a reminder of what had become accustomed to as a regular diet. You cant keep leaking goals. We can call it what we like but 2013 had us on track for a very uncertain fate.
    That has hopefully been addressed.
    The problems at the other end were the fact strikers were not scoring, they were not doing so under Mogga and they still aren’t. The midfield had been scoring the goals and many were excellent. They should be supplementing bread and butter strikers goals.
    At some point the midfield players were bound to stop scoring. Since November the only striker with goals, Kamara, has been and more significantly Carayol and Adomah in and out with injury.
    Despite the rewriting of history, as I have posted before, there have been many poor games under Mogga as well as Strachan and Southgate, Karanka has his fair share.
    If you get twelve points from twelve games you have not been playing like Arsenal. Oddly we may have been our most dominant for a long time in our last two games.
    65% possession away from home is a remarkable statistic. The unwelcome return of defensive howlers is a shame, poor Ben must have gone home pulled the sheets over his head.
    You win as a team and lose as a team but occasionally someone has a mad spell. Just as well it wasn’t Ayala because it would have caused great confusion because he is Spanish but he was a Mogga target.
    Ben’s suspension will cause some grief because it is possible one of our Chelsea loan players will have to come in to partner Woodie. Will you be hoping he gives away a couple of goals? Will you take a laptop to the match so you can post told you so if we don’t win?
    All will be revealed.
    **AV writes: In all the Boro reaction after the game one aspect has been ignored: Watford were incredibly well organised, hard-working and also very defensively minded. They sat back and surrendered possession to Boro on the halfway line and invited then to try to find a way through. They had very little threat going forward and scored from a sloppily conceded penalty. Boro weren’t battered or tactically exposed or revealed to be a poor side, they were just not quite good enough to break through the Watford trenches and score
    It was a very different game to Blackburn where Boro did carve through and create chances or Doncaster where they were just poor and flat.
    “In football everything is complicated by the presence of the other team”.

  14. So, I think Saturday confirmed what we all knew really. Another season treading water in mid table.
    As its half term I’ll be at the Riverside on Saturday, at the moment out of loyalty rather than in expectation of being entertained.

  15. AV –
    Just reread your article and you mentioned Ben giving a penalty away at Birmingham, the poor lad was also culpable at Barnsley.
    Dirties coming up on Saturday and selection issues at the back and up front.
    **AV writes: I don’t think it was his fault at Barnsley though. He was forced into a last ditch tackle after the entire midfield stood off and let their man weave through laughing in a playground dribble.

  16. Just a practical question. If Woody would be injured or rested during the Leeds match, who can be play at CB with Omeruo? Is Hines OK to play or do we need to play Friend in the middle? If the latter is the case, do we have onother LB to cover Friend?
    About the more abstractic point, I think we have good enough group of players to challenge the top 10 in the Championship. We need coaching and getting the best out of the players. At the minute we don’t but I still think Karanka will get us going in the right direction. But now we neep to wait until next season, perhaps.
    Up the Boro!

  17. Probably the best way not to concede a penalty is to have Howard Webb making the judgement.
    Anyway, is Karanka starting to believe his role is to orchestrate all the players during a game by means of a predetermined plan? Surely there must be some room for players to express themselves and react to circumstances as they unfold.
    He’s only going to be disappointed at this level if he’s expecting no mistakes or loss of concentration from the players – chess was never much of a spectator sport as far as I remember.
    OK his and Mourinho’s philosophy works in terms of defending but Chelsea can bolt on better attacking players to get the goals and add the excitement.
    Let’s see what a full preseason and a few more quality signing bring next season before arriving at conclusions – at least we’re 15 points clear of the drop!

  18. Let us be honest, the prospect of play offs was always fanciful.
    Changing a manager a third of the way through the season will yield a degree of disruption that will take a season to recover.
    We have mediocre players that flatter to deceive Ledesma , young players such as Gibson who will have the odd aberration. Karanka has seen the full gamut of self inflicted mistakes by a third of his team.
    Improvement will take time and change of players. The next 15 games will become a sifting and sorting process AK has a template, we have players who will never fit into it and some like Main who are not good enough.
    This is where we are and a result of a year of drift and acceptance of mediocrity that became the finale of Mowbray’s regime .

  19. AV –
    I agree Barnsley wasnt just Ben’s fault, he was left holding the ball in front of the shop window when the big boys ran away. That will be no consolation to the lad. The irony is how many challenges Bikey got away with.

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