Brighton Rocked As Boro Click

BRIGHTON rocked. Twice. Boro soaked up the pressure – and rode their luck at times – then broke out to score two well worked goals. Keep it clean, take the chances: that is exactly what Aitor Karanka has been working towards. The 2-0 win was a glimpse of a new improved Riverside recipe… now with added goals!

All the basic ingredients of our favourite football-based brand of soul food have been there for months At times the no-frill functional fare has been stodgy and far from mouth-watering.
It just needed some fine-tuning and some seasoning with the most important and tasty ingredient of all: goals.
Adding a few of those to the mix makes the Karanka recipe far more satisfying,
At Brighton, Boro finally delivered exactly what the boss has been working towards: hard work at the back combined with real teeth when they broke forward.
It still wasn’t a gourmet performance – there were some rocky moments at the back and an hilariously awful Seagulls penalty miss – but there was far more fluidity going forward and a coherent lively link between the defence and the sharp end was far more evident.
3danny.jpgBoro beavered away to soak up the pressure then scored well worked goals on the counter with much maligned lone targetman Danny Graham making one and scoring one after another hard-working display up front.
They looked composed and organised at the back and swift, confident and potent going forward. They looked like a decent team in all departments, and it looked like every unit was working in unison.
It has taken a while to get there but the signs are that Boro are starting to get the balance right. The team Karanka wants is starting to evolve.
When the Spaniard arrived he was faced first and foremost with the task of plugging the gaps. Tony Mowbray’s side were scoring but they were leaking almost two a game, often in calamitous and chaotic circumstances.
At times their faces were as red as their shirts: two in the first 10 minutes at home to Bournemouth, an implosion at Ipswich, two to lose a commanding lead at Forest. Late goals were leaked on almost a weekly basis, usually from set-plays.
The creative intent going forward in numbers left massive spaces at the back and when attacks broke down Boro were repeatedly sliced open with quick counters down the empty acres where the full-backs should have been. It came to a head with three slapstick final nails in Mogga’s coffin in a farcical first half at Barnsley.
It is hard to believe that this new-look side could ever leak three goals in a single half.
Karanka set about eliminating mistakes, drilling a regimental, rigid rear-guard and instilling a conservative mind-set and industrial work-ethic in a pair of midfield anchormen. The once cavalier full-backs were pegged back to plug the gaps on the flanks to deny the opposition space, time and the width for crosses to come in.
Meanwhile the strikers were urged to defend from the front, closing quickly on opposition defenders to force mistakes, prevent them building from the back and to win back possession early and in dangerous areas. The sight of Curtis Main tearing into full-backs, or Marvin Emnes lolloping in their general direction or Lukas Jutkiewicz working hard but being bundled over in the channels became a familiar part of the template.
When the bits at the back fell into place, a new miserly Boro started to emerge. Boro cut out the mistakes, became organised, mentally strong and water-tight. That was the first part of the Karanka game plan: become hard to beat.
And boy, did Boro become hard to beat. They started to rack up clean sheets: four in a row at home, three in a row away, eight out of ten… now 12 in 19 league games. That is impressive on any level and is a solid platform to build on.
Of course, a clean sheet may give you a point but it doesn’t win you games. Goals win games – and goals became a rarity. That was – is – the problem
Having shifted the mental and philosophical balance towards defence, Boro were found lacking up front. And while the impressive stats stacked up at the back, some damning numbers mounting at the business end. Boro went through an eight game, 12 hour goal drought that saw the season shrivel and confidence drain away.
There was – and is – widespread muttering about the tactical approach of playing with just one up front. These tactics can never work, said the critics. You can only get out of this division playing with two strikers. Look at Leicester and Burnley.
But these tactics were integral to the best run of the season as Boro took 16 points from 18 over Christmas (and beat Burnley) and into the most productive January in a decade.
And while the tactics are not the swashbuckling style most fans crave, and probably ultimately what the manger would really want, they do create chances… but not taking them was the chief reason that wins turned to draws, momentum was lost and morale wavered.
But the team was still doing the basics right. They were still solid at the back, worked like Trojans in midfield and defended as a unit. It was just that the goals wouldn’t go in.
And it was not that chances were not being created. Until recently Boro had clocked up the third highest number of shots in the Championship – although too many of them were off target, powder-puff or from long range and easily saved.
They hit the post from three yards, keepers proved to be on song, balls were cleared off the line… it seemed Boro had lost the knack of putting the ball in the net.
Even when they did – as with Jacob Butterfield’s ghost goal at Hillsborough – the goal was ruled out. Or, when they got their noses in front a quirk of fate intervened: a punched leveller against Forest or a bottle-top bobble against QPR.
Clearly, with the defence addressed, Karanka has needed to resolve the lack of firepower.
That was his aim on deadline day as he shipped out two players who seemed unable to play the way he wanted and were failing to convert chances. Jutkiewicz, in a different system, is suddenly a prolific poacher who is taunting us with his Bolton goalrush but that shouldn’t airbrush the memory of spurned sitters, wayward shooting and being routinely bundled aside. Like wise, Emnes may have played in the Europa League – briefly – since leaving and has his qualities but they were not a good fit with the Karanka style.
Danny Graham came in and has worked hard to settle in the very demanding lone striker role. He has beavered away and earned praise from his team mates even if the fans have been far from convinced. Unseen work off the ball doesn’t spark terrace chants.
It has been difficult to get the combination behind Graham right to bring the best from him and various options have been tried, although injuries and spells in isolation have made it tricky to get a settled trio as the manager has chopped an changed in a bid to find the right blend, much as he did at the back.
But in recent weeks both Butterfield and Lee Tomlin have added a bit of creativity in the “number 10” role behind the frontman in flashes. Both are more comfortable in that role than Grant Leadbitter or Emmanuel Ledesma. And it has been coming together. Slowly. The link-up play has been more fluid, the movement more incisive. That combined with the Trojan work-rate of Graham has given Boro added zest in the final third, even if it has yet to deliver goals consistently.
At Brighton the balance between defence and attack seemed right. The transitions between them were smooth. The team was well drilled. And Boro looked good on the break without being too gung-ho – both Luke Williams and Tomlin had good efforts well saved in the first half while twice Albert Adomah broke through but shot when a better pass was on – and the attacking movement was not at the expense of the solid shape.
And both goals were well worked, combined quick movement, hard work and determination. The opener came as pressure from Graham forced defender Greer into a stumble over a ball played down the inside left channel and the striker was quickly onto the loose ball to sweep an inviting ball across the face of goal for Albert Adomah to shrug off a challenge stab home his twelvth goal of the season from close range.
dannydanny.jpgAnd it was sealed after Luke Williams drilled in a good low ball and when a defender cut it out but failed to control, alert Grant Leadbitter latched onto it and slotted it diagonally into the box for Graham to dart forward and lash it home. Two finely crafted team goals and well finished. They were accomplished moments in an encouraging display.
Brighton in contrast had a lot of passing and possession and probing but rarely had a clear sight of goal. They passed from side to side with metronomic precision but without a snarl. There was a Mowbrayesque air about it. Forster-Caskey caused problems for a spell after coming on but his early flashing feet were quickly shackled and the Seagulls gradually got longer and more more direct and that was dealt with routinely. The penalty was sloppy but the miss illustrated the stuttering Seasiders’ lack of cutting edge.
It would have been hard to say which of the teams were play-off contenders. On balance, on intent, on threat, on organisation, on work-rate Boro were the better side, as they were for long spells against QPR last week.
But taking those chances is key to turning that progress into points over a sustained spell and shrewd recruitment up front in the summer is needed to turn a work in progress into a side capable of a decent crack at the play-offs
And if Boro can serve up a few more tasty shows like that in the final few fixtures it will whet the appetite for next season.


32 thoughts on “Brighton Rocked As Boro Click

  1. Well aint that just (Un)Typical Boro? After a week of angst-ridden, end of days blogging what happens? The useless gets go and win handsomely, and away from home against a team aiming for the play-offs. What is going on? Can’t they let us revel in our misery in peace?

  2. From my calculations, as long as you dont wimp out, it should take your Trinity Towers Quattropote four hours 46 minutes to get back to Acklam.
    Allowing twenty minutes for a comfort break then we should expect an article around 11.15pm.

  3. We finally got the balance right between attack and defence. It had been looking (and may well look again) that we could only gain blank sheets at the cost of any scoring threat. Not this time.
    We looked capable of goals for much of the match without ever going gung-ho and forsaking defence. We should have conceded the penalty and could easily have given away another goal. However we could also have scored another goal or two ourselves with better finishing.
    It has to be acknowleged that Brighton were pretty poor. Considering they had a chance of the play-offs, they seemed without belief, as if nobody had told them. They were flat and had a lot of Mogga-like possession that led to very little.
    Most of Brighton’s chances resulted from Boro defensive errors of which there were a worrying number. Characteristically, the penalty came from two defenders leaving the ball. They then had to throw themselves into a last-gap challenge when the ball was allowed to run to an attacker.
    Otherwise, Boro looked organised and fairly solid. Everybody seemed to know what was expected, in contrast to some of Mowbray’s sides, and the football flowed nicely at times. With a more clinical no 9 and incisive no 10, we could have had three or four goals.
    Adomah flattered to deceive and, other than his goal, he was ultimately ineffective. Several times he got down the right in eye-catching fashion. However, without exception, his crosses were hopeless and usually went straight to the keeper. Good job he netted.
    All in all there was a promising team shape and balance. The pattern could be detected and showed promise. If we can repeat this a few times before season’s end, the close season will have some hope.

  4. Found a threepenny bit some crisps and an old Boro European programme down the back of the settee where I was hiding listening to the match this afternoon.
    I don’t know how long my nerves are going to take this but suffice to say we rode our luck and had a bit of good fortune today.
    It sounded like a complete team performance and the lads seem to be playing for each other and engendering real team spirit (is this the input from Higgy ? One wonders but it was nice to hear that they seemed to be together .
    Good performance again from Danny Graham capped with a goal and it’s nice to hear his team mates recognise his contributions even if some of our supporters don’t.
    Bring on Schteeve and let’s see how Special K performs against his Rams.
    Rock and Roll!
    Fat Bob

  5. Three points are always welcome and is just reward for being unlucky at the corresponding Riverside fixture. How on earth we won though is down to Brighton as Nikeboro has mentioned looking more like a Mogga side than our performance.
    Our defending during the game at times was comedic and bordering shambolic. Omeruo looked to be off it all game, perhaps he was carrying a niggle but he wasn’t anywhere near the standards he has recently set himself.
    Grant’s return in the middle was a positive, the two game break looked to have recharged his batteries and was easily MOM. Dimi looked composed and for the first time I wasn’t clenching buttocks when the ball went near him. The teasing from the home fans after his well publicised “bobblegate” didn’t seem to affect him and perhaps helped his determination and focus.
    I’m not sure what to make of the inclusion of Luke Williams, he had a few runs and even a shot or two from distance but whilst this was a huge improvement over the showing he had against Hull in the Cup I felt the game largely passed him by. I hope he can prove and show something between now and the end of the season but sadly I think that ship has long sailed.
    Albert seemed to be more defensively minded working in tandem with Varga who again I thought had a good steady and composed confident game. I think Aitor’s defensive requirements perhaps hampered Albert’s attacking side a little in that he was further back when starting his runs along the line which meant more ground to cover, more energy and legs that were shot by the time he reached the Brighton end.
    Danny worked and ran and chased and it was good to see after Albert’s article in midweek praising his unselfishness that the rewards came their ways.
    Like I said three points are three points and I will happily take them, our overall performance showed some sublime touches and neat interplay but also some weaknesses that on another day against better sides would have seen us blown away by our own inadequacies.
    Had Brighton not missed several sitters in the six yard box on a plate for them and blazed a penalty over (which almost landed in my back garden) then the game overall would have taken a different complexion. Derby next week will be an interesting test.
    **AV writes: I never thought Brighton would score. They lacked conviction. I didn’t think the penalty was going in, although I never expected it to be missed so spectacularly. I thought their movement was sharp enough but they had no teeth.

  6. I missed the game entirely yesterday so can’t really comment but that was a very good result away at a play-off hopeful. Very pleased to see Luke Williams got a full first team game as well.

  7. Good to see we can score a goal or two, I am suprised no one has commented on how Bolton have found a prolific centre forward, six goals for Juke and looks a goal machine with them… as he was with Coventry.. must be the red shirt!

  8. David G –
    I am pleased for Juke, 6 in 13 games for Bolton is a good return especially considering he scored one every four for us and roughly the same as his Coventry strike rate (18 in 67).

  9. I enjoyed the game and think we just about deserved to win the game,mainly because we took our chances and Brighton didnt.
    Dimi made some good saves and appears to be getting more confident with each game he plays. Poor Omerou had a game to forget hopefully a one off, nothing went right for him and to top it off went off injured
    I thought Luke Williams had a decent game especially in the first half, his positive forward play created openings for us and made us more of an attacking threat. He faded in the second half but didn’t do his future chances any harm.
    We rode our luck a bit but fortunately they didn’t capitalise on their chances and Dimi was able to deal with the danger.
    The game hinged on the last 20 mins from when Adomah scored, the penalty conceded which thankfully Ulloa tried to hit the scoreboard instead of the net and then the second from Danny Graham which sealed the points.
    It was good to see us put the game to bed for once and not throw points away.
    Some good performances from Leadbitter,Dimi,Williams and Graham. Good to see Adomah add to his tally but apart from his goal I thought he was poor, his performance was no where near the Huddersfield game. It’s frustrating not knowing which Albert is going to turn up,with Carayol out for the season he needs to be more consistent with his performances.
    Overall it was a good three points picked up away at a team hoping to be in the play offs,12 clean sheets in 19 is promising, lets hope we can have a few more goals to celebrate in the remaining seven games and finish the season with optimism for next season

  10. “12 clean sheets in 19 is promising”
    This is an understatement and a half. It’s superb – and this was an excellent win.

  11. Never Give Up –
    Your comments about Adomah probably sum up where we are.
    I dont mean to belittle our players, I cant even dream about having their skill and fitness but a comment I heard about Suarez this morning summed it up. He was described as being relentless.
    For all his past problems he is some player. He is playing in a team that seams the same.
    We should remember it takes time, in Liverpools case twenty years!
    **AV writes: That’s why they are in the Championship: inconsistency, not being quite good enough, concentration, mentality. Being able to do it for 90 minutes every week is what marks out the top flight players. We can’t afford them.

  12. I was able to listen to the first half commentary only from Brighton. But we seemed to play very well in the first half. And then got the goals in the second half! Great.
    Before anybody says that Brighton played badly, may I remind that they played as well as we allowed them to play. So some credit to the team when due.
    Now I am really looking forward to seeing Boro live in April. I wouldn’t want to invest around £800 to see three matches without seeing a goal or two. So we have scored a few recently even Carayol has been injured.
    Hopefully we will build a system for scoring a goal or two. Just like the back four were mended after Mogga left.
    A clean sheet and a goal or two. Life is perfect for a Boro fan. Up the Boro!

  13. Adomah now has 12 goals and 8 assists. That’s a brilliant effort and yet he’s criticised on here for being inconsistent and a “luxury we can’t afford”.
    Where would we be without those 20 goals? In the mire quite probably.
    Ignoring strikers, he’s the second top scorer in the league. Only Bryson has more and he’s playing in an attack minded team at Derby. The chances of us replacing him with a more productive player are slim to nil. We need more as good as he is to add to Friend, Leadbitter, Carayol, Varga so we can increase our core of quality championship players.
    Don’t let the fact that Mowbray bought him cloud your judgement.
    May I suggest a few of you re-read AV’s last blog bit on unrealistic fan expectation and acceptance of where we are. At our level, and given our resources, Adomah is probably as good as it gets.

  14. Its all about inconsistency, not been quite good enough, etc, etc.
    It was thus with most of our players in the Premier League. You get what you pay for….generally. That’s were the hidden gem comes in for the majority of teams, regardless of which division they are in.
    PP. One cannot argue too much with what you say about Adomah. However “wingers” do tend to be somewhat of a luxury, and when we play both Adomah and Carayol together we struggle because they tend to be inconsistent, not because they are in the Championship as AV says.
    Playing one and the other on the bench, for me would give a better all round team selection. Posters on here have said how poor Adomah was on Saturday. Of course I was not there, so I may be wrong?

  15. I agree with Ian and AV’s response, though I think “being able to do it for 90 minutes every week” marks out the better Premier League players rather than all. That said, the general level of consistency in performances is definitely higher the further up the chain you go.
    You see some cracking strikes in the lower leagues, never mind the Championship. That shows the skill level is sporadically there but those players do it once a season. The top players are capable of it regularly, while the very best seem to have an extra gear.
    The quest for us is to buy the best we can afford and then make sure we get the best out of them. That must be Karanka’s short term remit. Unfortunately it is nigh on impossible to measure accurately.

  16. Taking up Andy R’s point about the best we can afford, looking at Carayol, Friend, Varga, Gibson, Adomah, Leadbitter and Ledesma for example, only Adomah cost serious money which even at this level was not a king’s ransom.
    They were also all Mogga’s signings after rebuilding from the trashcan car crash he inherited. It is possible to pick up some nuggets here and there and whilst some like Ledesma may not be consistent they do undoubtedly have ability at this level.
    I wonder had Mogga and Boro managed to acquire Ross McCormack would things at the Riverside have had a totally different outcome?

  17. Paulista Park (and Andy R) –
    That is the top and bottom of it. Consistency is what marks the better players out.
    If the players we have continue to improve then we will progress. Adomah, Carayol, Ledesma, Williams, Gibson are all projects.
    As long as we can keep them together along with key other players and some imports (Spanish, Chelski or otherwise) then we will do better.
    If we consider how Friend has improved this season. He always was a bit cavalier. Watching him alongside Bikey needed some careful stress managememnt and suitable medication of the type provided at the Navi. The same goes for Ayala after an uncertain start.
    It is rare for my to praise Liverpool but they are a joy to watch at the moment. We don’t have that quality but Gerrard doing a Whitehead and Henderson a Leadbitter gives the opportunity for the front four to carve up the opposition.
    I must admit it is a tough choice. Adomah, Williams, Tomlin and Graham or Sterling, Suarez, Coutinho and Sturridge?
    Nothing the odd £150,000,000 and Champions League football couldn’t attract.

  18. The game seemed very similar to the reverse fixture last season, when a Boro team on the edge of the playoffs were toothless in a 2-0 home loss to Brighton.
    It is a shame we were unable to build on the January run, just two wins in 13 since that 1-0 victory over Charlton, that placed us four points off the play-offs.
    For me, I prefer our solid approach. Yes, everyone wants to play attacking football, but I couldn’t give a hoot if we are winning games.
    I am of the philosophy that defence takes you up the league. I feel this, in part, is because solid teams are better on the road, soaking up pressure from attacking home sides who have a go at you. Case in point being Mowbray, we were so open, at home you can get away with it just, due to an away side not wanting to attack often but when we were on the road it was calamitous, 3-0 down at half time to Barnsley and collapses at Ipswich and Forest before you could blink.
    With Karanka, despite the perceived lack of wins, I am a lot more confident when looking at the score and expecting us to be 0-0, or heaven forbid, in front.
    The best part of all this is that I can see light at the end of this tunnel, we are solid and can only get better…I hope.

  19. Jarkko –
    much as it pains me, I must start by disagreeing with you this time. (PS. Which matches are you coming over for?)
    Apart from a few spells, Brighton were mostly poor. It wasn’t so much because we didn’t let them play – after all, they had a penalty, an open goal and several other reasonable chances. Our defence was erratic and error-prone on the day, in contrast to the way they have been playing.
    We gave Brighton opportunities to show what they could do and it wouldn’t have been surprising if they’d bagged one or two goals. No, they were poor because they were poor. As Max Boyce says: ‘I know coz I was there.’
    PP –
    I’m not so much disagreeing with you as clarifying my take on Adomah. I’m a fan of Albert and I believe he adds a lot to this team and I take your point about his record – outstanding in this mediocre team. While acknowledging that he scored the crucial first goal, I was simply critical of his performance on the day.
    He played rather more as a conventional winger than he usually does and stretched their defence. Several times he beat his man and raced down the wing in eye-catching fashion.
    Unfortunately, time and again, just as we were on the edge of our seats with Adomah speeding towards the corner, having done the hard bit, he then failed to find a colleague and put the ball comfortably into the keeper. It was the end product that was lacking.
    RR –
    I’ve had the same thought about McCormack. I’d like to think that his goals would have given Mogga some success. However I suspect the defence would still have been too wayward and that particular train was already derailed. But add McCormack’s goals to AK’s organisation and mean defence – now you’re talking.
    His value has probably rocketed but it might not be too late. As Leeds look like they might be crumbling – who knows for this summer?
    If we get a few more performances and results like Saturday’s, then even I might stop being grumpy and bored. All I need is to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
    With what was hopefully the beginning of a successful shape and pattern at Brighton allied to some decent performances, I think I caught a glimpse of that light. What encouraged me most was that it was clear that the players had bought into it and believed they could win.

  20. Nikeboro –
    I agree about Mogga’s leaky defence but there would have like as not been some thrilling 4-3’s in there (hopefully the majority on our favour).
    Have to say that McCormack in this side would be a scintillating piece of business in the Summer and I reckon make a huge difference. That said if Karanka can get Tomlin up to speed in the Summer and/or Butterfield as well as he did with Friend/Varga/Gibson etc. then it could be we only need that extra McCormackesque dimension be it Ross himself or a Spanish/Chelsea alternative.
    If we can get a few bob for Juke plus perhaps Rhys if he gets back fit then its a possibility. I just wish we had seriously pushed for Nakhi Wells, I think he would have been an ideal fit. The challenge is there now for Luke Williams to take his opportunity and surprise us all.

  21. Nikeboro –
    I heard just the first half as I said. But generally hate that people always says we won as the opposition was poor. I wanted too point out that perhaps we had an affect of the opposition playing badly.
    But you were there as I read your tweets. So you know more about this game than I do.
    By the way, I will come over to see the Millwall and Barnsley matches at home, and then Reading away. As Werdermouth was coming over, too there is always a possibility to see in the Navi before the Barnsley match.
    Up the Boro!

  22. It is good again to read so many positive posts and I hope it does not turn negative if we lose to Derby.
    The main thing I take from those that were there (I can’t get to away matches as I have to use holidays to get to home matches and the wife insists I keep some so the family can go on holiday together – she has not figured out why I always book the last week of July and the first week of Aug and pray the fixture gods are good to me – was a lot more fans are starting to see the team develop and embrace the system AK is bringing in and when they play to it brings results.
    Yes it is not fully up and running but it may mean we do not need to get rid of so many players as we all first thought.
    Through these first 4/5 months we have seen the defence tighten up considerably, players improving, team bonding together and at times playing some decent football.
    I am not bothered who brought the player in, George as an example has improved immensely, Varga I would sign tomorrow, Dimi may be the experienced goalkeeper we have been looking for while the younger keepers develop.I am pleased we signed Ayala, Whitehead is getting better each game, Tomlin/Butterfield could be the spark we need in the hole. I don’t know if we can afford Graham but a rejuvenated Juke could surprise a few people.
    I would let go Parnaby, R Williams, Woodgate, Richardson, Halliday, Ledesma, Emnes and possibly Kamara plus some of the fringe players but that is my own opinion, AK will know better and a lot will depend on what offers we get for some if any of our squad.
    I think this close season will be a lot better than previous ones but fans will need to keep patient.
    Come on BORO

  23. Less than a day and the Qatar Facebook protest has already gathered more than 600 likes. And that before Untypical Boro has published my attempts to alert you guys!

  24. I think some people here misinterpret my comments on Adomah.
    I like Adomah and think he has alot to offer the team his goals and assists have been crucial to our results.
    It’s the inconsistency that frustrates me and not knowing each game which Albert is going to turn up, the up-for-it torturing the opposition Albert or the can’t-be-bothered to win the ball or back track and looking disinterested Albert.
    More often than enough the latter happens the game after he’s had a good game which I find strange
    I do realise that’s what you get with Championship players and if he was going to turn it on every week then he wouldn’t have been playing for Bristol City and he would have gone to a club with better prospects than us and for more money
    But it obviously annoys Karanka too because he had a short spell on the naughty step and was missing from the squad and on the bench for a couple of occasions after he came back from injury.
    I was lucky enough to be invited on one of the Rockcliffe days out today and was interesting to see what goes on at the club behind the scenes away from the match day.
    Because we now have Category One status we are eligible for grants from the league but its obvious it costs a lot to run the set up,right from the coaching staff down to the chefs, laundry and cleaning staff.
    Paying for your season ticket isn’t just to buy and pay players. The running costs of the Riverside and Rockcliffe must run into millions each season as well as the playing staff finance.
    So the moaners who think we should have reduced or halved the cost of season tickets this season need to get realistic now Steve Gibson can’t contribute an infinite amount of money into the club anymore

  25. Not directly to do with Boro but an interesting first half of Manu vs Bayern. It took me back to the mid seventies and Leeds vs Bayern.
    Leeds had most of the play but didn’t score. Bayern won 2-0 I think. The thing that stuck in my memory was the number of balls Leeds played into the box but the key fact was that the Leeds players were marked so didn’t have clean strikes on goal.
    Oohs followed aahs as yet another ball zipper across the box between the penalty spot and six yard line.
    A lesson for us, be solid.

  26. Hello chaps! Been busy lately, but I have just taken some time off work to go on one of the “3-year season-ticket holders events” at Rockliffe. Thought I’d let you know what sort of things go on there.
    Put to one side for the moment the nature and scale of the training facilities, and the amount of money that must have been sunk into it. Put aside thoughts about the 5-Star hotel development at Rockliffe Hall, and the golf course that lies right next door.
    The whole event was meant as something of a “thank you” to those who lay out three years’ season ticket money in one lump. But in reality, everyone who has spent that amount is probably a fairly committed supporter so the club was preaching to the converted anyway. We’d have been back to the Riverside, finances permitting, without the “thank you”, because it’s what we do.
    So, what did the visit to Rockliffe entail? Arriving at 10am we were shown up to the players’ restaurant. A cup of tea or coffee and a Danish pastry (if you wanted) whilst the arrangements for the day were explained. Then it was a guided tour of the facilities there.
    We had time to look at the team photos on the way downstairs (look how many England players in different age-groups in one photo, and work out the value of those players and number of Premier League and other league games played by them).
    Down to the First Team dressing room…the size of it, the fact that each player has his own alcove…marvel at how many pairs of boots and trainers Varga has stored under his seat…look at the showers, baths, what looks like a jacuzzi, and where ice-bath torture is meted out. Apparently bruising might mean an ice bath then a hot bath, then ice again (etc etc), which is said to speed up recovery. Yeah…and they’ll be telling us next that the world is a geoid. Pride of place in the changies is the de-luxe hamster cage, but the animal remained well hidden somewhere inside.
    I apologise if someone’s camera lens failed to survive taking photo of me sitting in Lee Tomlin’s dressing-room alcove.
    The corridors outside are painted with motivational slogans. I don’t guarantee that this is 100% accurate, but things like “Play for the name on the front of the shirt, and fans will remember your name on the back” and “blood, sweat and respect – shed the first two and you’ll earn the third” etc.
    The Boot Room! You’ve never seen so many boots. My guest and I had a discussion about which players might have to buy their own boots and which might have a sponsorship deal. We were given to understand that young apprentices/trainees are no longer forced to clean the players’ boots but many of them are happy to do so (no doubt for a very nice present at Christmas).
    Off to the treatment room with some high tech kit, and Bryn Morris probably bemused to find a group of people watching him lie on a treatment table with a strap round his left thigh, attached to the mains (not sure whether it was delivering electric shocks to the muscle or heat, or throbbing away to excite the muscle but he was taking it like a man).
    The gym had the usual weights, cycling machines, cross-trainers etc and a few hardy souls working in there. There was a sheet, rather like a school timetable for the week, showing work for Woody to carry out, no doubt to concentrate on specific areas.
    We’d already seen the physio/sports science room with the biggest and tallest running treadmill you’ve ever seen, so a particularly tall centre-back would have hit his head on the ceiling if it hadn’t been raised in the middle, above the machine. Most of the electric sockets there were at ceiling height, so players below could be attached to some electric machine or other whilst undergoing the work, or treatment, or measurement, that was being carried out.
    We walked into what looked like an outdoor pitch, but inside. Made with a form of astroturf it would be ideal for playing hockey, and it had a viewing gallery for parents and others to watch whoever might be playing or training there. Like an aeroplane hangar with goalposts at each end, it was colder than the rest of the buildings, and led outside to the training pitches.
    The first-team squad was being put through its paces in the mist outside and one of the pitches they weren’t using, with a billiard table surface and closely cropped grass, it would have been an even better hockey pitch than the indoor one. The groundsman must have a lot of work to do – there are LOADS of full-sized and smaller pitches outside. I’m far too loyal a supporter to say who looked better in training and who didn’t, but we arrived near the close of the training session then made our way back inside. Danny Graham is very good at holding doors open.
    We trooped inside for a warming cuppa and Danish pastry in the parents’ room in the “academy side” of the building.
    We then had a visit to the Press Room, which doubles as a classroom for scholars at the club. An opportunity was taken to have a photo or two in the seat (on a raised dais with tables/counter in front, and the usual sponsors’ signs behind) that might be used by the manager, or by Steve Gibson when presenting a new signing. We were told the press conferences are normally there on Thursday lunchtimes(?).
    There was a counter around the three walls of the Press Room (the dais being the fourth “side”), and computer connections so Press laptops could be set up. I was surprised at how small the room is. Smaller than my living room, it must be packed out when major announcements are made to the assembled Press.
    Aitor Karanka and Higgy came in and said a few words, the manager being interrupted by a visit from a group of players, and the assembled mass of three year season-ticket holders had the opportunity to take photos of them, or selfies of themselves and players or to persuade someone else to take a photo. Kei Kamara was there (does he ALWAYS smile – seems a nice chap) and Tomas Meijas amongst others.
    I saw Ayala elsewhere in the building and what a visit like this teaches you is that very few players are 5ft 8inches tall. Another thing is that whilst, to be fair, being pleasant and talking for 10 or 15 minutes or so to a group of strangers may not be the most arduous of tasks faced by a man, the players seemed to be perfectly amiable and happy to oblige. However the manager and Higgy obviously bent over backwards to make sure anyone who wanted a brief chat, or a photo, got one. Really good PR.
    We went into an academy changing room and had a chance to listen to Peter Hood (head of Sports Science which has pleasingly been resurrected at the club, and from whom we had heard briefly in the earlier part of the tour), from the Head of Education and Welfare about the way in which young scholars and trainees are handled and brought through the system, and from Gordon Cox about the Press and similar activities undertaken including the production of the matchday programme.
    After all that, and I will have missed out some because no notes were taken and I am growing forgetful, we went back upstairs to the players restaurant for a late lunch at about 2.20pm. Three course meal, no less, and very good quality. You should not expect anytime soon to hear that any Boro players have died through lack of food.
    We had an eye-opener about the extent to which stats and science are used. Players with GPS devices attached during training so the distances, speeds etc can be measured and compared. If injured, and the player is coming back to fitness, the player’s stats can be compared with what he was doing before the injury took place. The information about the efforts made to teach, train, and make progress with academy members was very interesting.
    The various members of staff were very helpful and friendly: those guiding us round, the catering staff, the cleaning and the laundry staff all seemed to be getting on with their work with genuine enthusiasm. It was suggested that the people there all feel is if they are being paid for working at a hobby. It was good to hear from a colleague of Billy Day, Cloughie and Alan Peacock and of other players in the 1950s/60s. They didn’t have these training facilities in those days.
    All in all I am absolutely convinced that everyone on the tour had a really good time. This was a very good exercise by the club, and that view is in no way influenced by the fact that I won a prize in a draw at the end of the visit (one that I very much look forward to “using”).
    **AV writes: Good report. Glad you enjoyed it. I’ve played a few time son the indoor astro pitch in press v club games, once being completely – and maliciously – wiped out by a senior member of the club heirarchy. #GrudgeMatch

  27. There is plenty to play for not least our own well being. A good run would set the club and the fans up for the summer.
    When Mogga took over the team gradually improved and had a storming end to the season. The is no reason we cant do the same.
    It is unlikely to see the same pattern of being behind at home then coming back in the second half but being unbeaten to the end of the season is a decent target.
    We can spoil the onward march of play off pretenders, we can push those in peril closer to the drop.
    Elsewhere, even Juke finishing with a flourish would be great because he could come back a better player. He wont be playing in any different formations at Bolton but sometimes a change is good. He can force his way in to our team or we may get a decent fee for him.
    The transfer embargo at Barca means we will face less competition in the transfer market, Messi is in contract talks so who knows, cough!

  28. Terry M –
    A hospitality package for me and A N Other sitting with the Great and the Good in the best seats in the House at a match sometime in the future, yet to be determined. So no, I haven’t yet used it.
    When I won it, I wondered out aloud to the guest I had taken along with me to the event, what I would do with my own season-ticket seat for that game. He suggested I might give that to my wife. When I later relayed his comment to her, she had a different idea as to the seat in which she would be sitting for the relevant match – it would be clearly more than my life is worth to take my mate along with me (rather than her) to both the three year season ticket event AND to the match when the prize becomes active!
    There were basically two somewhat different “hospitality” prizes drawn at the event I attended, and I think there will have been five such events – so a total of 10 prizes. A bit of a “Brucey Bonus”.

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