Ram Raid Dents Return Of The Mac

THE RIVERSIDE crowd gave Steve McClaren a warm reception – but that’s all he did get on his Riverside return. There were no points packaged as a home-coming gift.
Instead Aitor Karanka’s battling Boro worked hard to frustrate our former master tactician and make sure he went away empty-handed. Karanka out-McClarened McClaren, wrapped the game in a stifling tactical shroud to stop the opposition playing then hit them with a well worked counter to claim a deserved 1-0 victory over Derby.
That helped take the sting out of what otherwise could have been a taunting, haunting emotional reunion.


It is no surprise McClaren got generous applause: he will be forever intrinsically linked to the memories of Boro’s golden age. He earned it.
His last game in charge was the UEFA Cup final in Eindhoven in May 2006.It was Boro’s high water mark after a glorious two years in which we won a first ever trophy on a famous day at Cardiff and then set off on a two-year fairytale trek across Europe meeting and beating some of the biggest names in the game along the way.
At Eindhoven Boro’s line-up was: Schwarzer, Parnaby, Riggott, Southgate, Queudrue (Yakubu), Morrison (Maccarone), Rochemback, Boateng, Downing, Viduka (Cattermole), Hasselbaink. Subs: Jones, Ehiogu, Parlour, Bates.
That’s some team McClaren was working with then. One carefully assembled with a huge investment in transfer fees and wages and peppered with household names and established internationals. It was a time when Boro could genuinely compete with the big boys for players and for the honours.
It was a different world.
And people were cheering the electric emotions and memories of that dream time as much as the man. That is understandable. It is the stockpile of memories and experiences that bind us together and to the club.
But lest we forget, Steve McClaren was not always universally loved when in charge at Boro. His last year at the Riverside was divisive and marked by a soundtrack of bitter squabbling in the stands and rancour behind the scenes.
He spent much of the first part of that final season skulking out of sight in the tunnel on matchdays lest he prompt another cascade of booing. The team were struggling in the relegation-zone, he was being pilloried for playing dull football with one up front at home to poor sides – even the chairman was moved to call it “dross” live on the radio – and fans were in turmoil, divided and openly hostile.
The dissidents, and there were many, had a lengthy charge sheet to level against him: he had sold Juninho, he played safety first football, he had openly flirted with other clubs – painfully with Newcastle and Leeds – and for all his vaunted PR training had alienated many fans with his “magnificent” mantra after woeful, disappointing games and left many insulted after he said they “needed to be educated.”
Among the crowd, collectively and individually, all that bubbling back story had to be balanced against the undoubted success. And some people struggled to square the circle at the time. And still do.
So when Steve McClaren left there was much respect (some begrudged) and a lot of gratitude (some qualified) and many testimonials to his managerial ability and record – but very little love. He was not viewed with the residual warmth of Bruce Rioch for instance. Or even Bryan Robson.
So it is no surprise that the Return of the Mac prompted an outburst of emotion. It was a proxy celebration of a fabulous golden age of which he was a central part and that will never be forgotten. No surprise either that for many it underlined painfully exactly how far back the club have slipped since his departure.
But there is nothing to be gained in swooning over faces from a fading past and bemoaning a fall from grace.
What is important is rebuilding in the present and marking out a path to get the club back into the big time.
And Boro are starting to put down the platform for that. Slowly. And from a far lower base than Steve McClaren would recognise. But the signs of progress are there.
A functional fledgling Boro deservedly won 1-0 on a day that suggested McClaren’s Derby – despite the set-back still nailed on for a play-off place – are not that far ahead of Aitor Karanka’s side.
McClaren indicated after the game that his side were below par – “it wasn’t us out there today” he said – but the fact is that Karanka’s Boro did a job on them. They took the tempo out of Derby’s usual game, stifled their fluid movement and blunted their attack in a very disciplined display.
The central defensive duo of Ben Gibson and Kenneth Omeruo were fantastic in their tenacious tackling and between them shackled 19 goal top scorer Chris Martin and Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford with relative ease.
And in midfield Nathaniel Chalobah did a superb man-marking job on Derby dangerman, schemer Craig Bryson to neutralise him before passing that job to Grant Leadbitter and switching to a more assertive role going forward.
Having taken the sting out of Derby, Boro started to look more enterprising on the break and snatched victory with a well-enginered counter-attack, Gibson pinging a sublime 50-yard crossfield pass to Emmanuel Ledesma who slotted diagionally into the box and into the path of Chalobah who took a touch and rifled home.
McClaren would have been proud of the game plan.
And Karanka can be proud of his team too. As at Brighton last week, who were just outside the top six, Boro more than matched an in-form side and then edged a close fought game – because they have finally found some firepower.
Not devastating firepower. No way. They never looked like blasting Brighton nor drubbing Derby. But the relentless industry throughout the team, the closing and pressing, the tenacious tackling and blocking at the back, the tactical rigidity that stifles the opposition, grinds them down and blunts their cutting edge has slowly been allied to something approaching a bit of punch.
After a 12-hour, eight-game goal drought Boro have now scored six goals in four games and nine in seven. They have come through a relatively tough run of games against a string of polished teams higher up in the table – Nottingham Forest, Ipswich, Bournemouth, QPR, Brighton and Derby – and only lost one in those seven… and that only after a bottle-top bobble in stoppage time.
It doesn’t constitute a new goal-den age of net-busting but it does suggest that Karanka has started to tweak the tactics and mentality to address the problem up front just as he did earlier in his tenure to solve the porous defence.
Initially the tweaks that led to goals also led to Boro leaking as they sacrificed institutional rigidity for more movement and hence more space but the last two games have also seen clean sheets as the balance is adjusted.
So it is starting to come. In flashes. Tentatively. And against some of the better teams in the division too. That bodes well for next year.
Against Derby Leadbitter was given the more conservative anchor role while Chalobah was given a little more licence to get forward. Whoah there – not too cavalier! But certainly a little more freedom to push forward and add pace and creativity. Chalobah’s goal was well taken, a crisp low strike, but just as telling was the delightful dink over the top just before that sent Adomah into the box, although he poked wide under pressure.
With the goal drought monkey off their back it looks like Boro have started to regain a bit of belief going forward. There are little flickerings there, reasons for optimism. Forest, Brighton, Ipswich and Bournemouth are all locked on 58 points, just six ahead. And we know this side can easily live with all those team, even if it ultimately turns out we can’t catch them in the final straight because of stuttering spells earlier on..
Boro now need to give it one big final push in the games that remain to turn a few more of the narrow draws into narrow wins, to build a bit of momentum, to put bums on seats and go into the summer with a bit of a buzz of anticipation ready for next year.
There are new memories to be made. And hopefully things to be cheered in the present.

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15 thoughts on “Ram Raid Dents Return Of The Mac

  1. We held our nerve and a clean sheet to round off a professional performance which was strangely reminiscent of Boro under McClaren at times, a man who once called a 0-0 home draw with Liverpool magnificent!
    I agree with you AV it was a solid performance and as the saying goes an ugly win, but hey, if that’s what it takes to get out of the Championship then so be it.
    Our centre back pairing goes from strength to strength and our full backs have become more adventurous again playing in the opposition half.
    I think special mention should go to young Luke Williams who chased down every ball and then took on the role of playing behind Danny Graham when Lee Tomlin was subbed. We need to get our young players some game time and the only thing that worries me for next season will we get the same loan players back from Chelsea and how far into the season will we be if they do come back?
    Pretty positive match report AV and hopefully some nicer weather and good results will encourage more supporters to come down to the Riverside and help their team to get back into the Premiership as soon as possible.
    Roll on Tuesday!
    Fat Bob

  2. Pleased to get the win. Before the game I wasn’t overly confident we would. I thought Derby would have offered more especially upfront as Patrick Bamford has been knocking them in regularly since his loan from Chelsea.
    I took a lapsed supporter with me as my son decided Thailand would offer more entertainment in the last few weeks of the season than The Riverside and he was impressed enough to think about coming back to give them another look.
    Impressed yet again with Gibson and Omerou. Gibson is looking like he’s going to be up there as one of the best players to come out of our Academy,I hope he’s here for many years and not sold off to make a few million.
    Two play off contenders we have beaten in the last two games now and whether they have had off days or not they have looked quite ordinary. It’s hard to believe this is the same Derby team that thrashed Forest a couple of weeks ago. Also our recent performances against QPR and Forest and were it not for the “bobble” and hand of (god) Henderson it could have been an impressive sequence of results
    It’s a shame we went through that barren spell and winless run, if we had been scoring we might have had an exciting end to the season. The team were slated a few weeks ago for the 0-0 at Bournemouth,but this is the leagues form team now who have put four and five goals past teams. You could say that was a good result for Boro now!
    Burnley next,that will be harder in my opinion but not beyond our capabilities of getting a point there. Here’s hoping

  3. A good goal, well-taken from a lovely move.
    A clean sheet.
    A number of good performances – both centre-backs and both full-backs and Chalobah caught the eye – and Dimi seems much too good to have been at Pools (right under our noses!) for so many years.
    A win, which makes it two on the trot.
    All against a decent team that will be safely in the play-offs and therefore competing for a Premier League place in a few weeks’ time.
    It’s looking better….but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. For the moment, the weekend has started in the right way.
    All in all, a good afternoon. Long may it continue.

  4. In the first half our midfield was struggling to win the battle in the middle of the park. Derby seemed to win everything and we were second best in anticipating the second phase of play.
    That said Ken and Ben stood firm and never looked like conceding. For me Ben slightly edged it in the MOM awards. George had a couple of uncharacteristic moments in the first half allowing the ball to bobble out for throw ins but other than that had a solid game. Varga looked suspect during the first half hour and Derby looked to punish him but in fairness he kept at it and in the end turned the tide and became more solid as the game wore on.
    Grant put in a senior professional role, getting stuck in and splaying some good balls out wide. Chalobah for me looked a bit overrun in the opening spells but like Varga he came into the game especially after Tomlin went off and perhaps there was no coincidence in that as Lily had a stinker, full stop.
    Nate then started to push up and was superb in the air winning several headers and deserved his goal although I have to admit to thinking he had lost the moment but he kept his cool and picked his spot. In the end his composed class was the differentiator between the sides.
    Manu had came on just before and provided the spark needed to create mayhem and set up Nate for his goal. Afterwards he almost got himself booked as he also gave away one of his traditional suicidal free kicks just outside our 18 yard box. His death throes on the pitch where it looked like he had lost a leg I suspect saved him from the booking for the “wipe out” lunge from behind.
    Having said that I thought the Ref and his assistants put in the best officiating display I have seen all season at the Riverside. Mr Haynes didn’t get everything right but he let the game flow and only stopped it for potential loss of life. Thundering, clattering challenges were permitted, play on and stop whining was his mantra. I have to say I enjoyed his performance, so well done to him and the two lino’s.
    Danny ran and ran and chased but with little to no service. Dimi only had two shots of note to deal with but his distribution from the back was very poor all game. It seemed that everything skewed to his right and usually cleared the advertising hoardings. The obligatory calf/hammy strain was clearly being blamed in the second half but no doubt Leo will be working on that.
    Albert looked off the pace for me, missed a six yard sitter and by his own standards looked lethargic. The biggest plus was Luke Williams, up until now I didn’t believe he had anything remotely near what it takes at this level. I just don’t see what Aitor sees in training, but he put in a good shift yesterday, chasing and harrying, snapping at the white socked ankles like a demented terrier whilst setting up a few moves and runs. Well done to the lad and lets hope he continues to grow in stature in the remaining games.
    Fine margins are what have cost us this Season. Games where we have lost the day roll off the tongue, Derby and Birmingham away, Brighton at home, Forest/Handerson, Wednesday and Leicester away and off course “Bobblegate” just to name a few.
    Its starting to look that even though we struggled to cope in the middle at times our rearguard was impenetrable once again and a moment of Manu ghosting in from the wing and setting up Chalobah on 69 minutes sealed the points and was the margin of difference.
    As already mentioned above there is little to no difference these last two weeks between Boro and Derby or Brighton, reasons to be cheerful perhaps in 2015.
    If a few of those above games had by the law of averages tipped in our favour we would have been in the play-offs or thereabouts. Considering our indifferent start that would have been an amazing achievement but if we can build on that by finishing this Season strongly and raising optimism around the Club and the area it augurs well for next Season.
    Just a shame I will be stuck in Eastern Europe next week and will miss the Birmingham game. I have a hunch that Tuesday night could be a game worth watching for Boro fans!

  5. It’s great to see that the attacking shackles are being responsibly withdrawn game by game. The fullbacks are definitely getting forward a little more whilst one of the two holding midfielders is being permitted to join in with attacks.
    That, allied to greater movement and fluidity of the front four has developed a much better Boro threat. A few goals and improved confidence have followed and we are now starting to look like a better balanced side.
    Regardless of results, that subtle change of tactics gives me more confidence for next season. It does appear to be gradually coming together. Much still depends on the success of the summer rebuild.

  6. Andy R –
    I wonder if the shackles have been released or the team are growing in to the system and are now more comfortable with it? A bit like learning to drive, initially it is a mechanistic process but as you gain confidence things start to happen naturally.
    It is possible they are now more relaxed and know when to go and when to stay, players naturally dropping in to fill gaps. They may also be happier with what runs to make and passes to make.
    It could be down to confidence in what they are doing. Whatever, I have bragging rights in one third of the East Midlands triangle and am a welcome guest in the other two thirds.

  7. No one is speaking to me in Derby. Even our Monday get together has been cancelled, from a work viewpoint it doesn’t matter.
    Odd that.

  8. Thanks, AV. A good read – especially so after a win. Of course there is less posts now as we have won a couple of matches. And we’ve now achieved 13 shut-outs in the last 20 fixtures.
    I am happy that we seem to get a few goals scored and look much more forward to my annual pilgrimage to Riverside in April. Perhaps worth a beano before Barnsley match at Navi? Anyone?
    Up the Boro!
    **AV writes: Anyone fancy a pint and a natter with our foam-fingered Finnish friend?

  9. Count me in Jarkko! However I’ll need to check on work commitments nearer the time. It’s a long trek for me to Teesside and, with no family left there now, it’ll need to be a weekend away fitted in carefully. I’ll work on it.

  10. A good performance on Saturday across the whole team, solid back 5, Grant strong in his holding role which allowed Nate the freedom to support the attack (must be the same against Brum) Luke Williams had a very good game but I thought Albert was OK at best,
    I agree with John Powls assessment of Tomlin in that after missing his 1-on-1, he started trying too hard and therefore had a poor game and finally Danny worked hard for the team with no reward.
    There is more signs that it is coming together and more players “getting” the system, another couple of performances from Williams like Sat then he could be worth a new contract, the two Chelsea lads would be worth a season long loan each with Ayala and Gibson resuming their partnership soon.
    Midfield squad of Leadbitter/Tomlin/Butterfield/Whitehead?/ Adomah/Carayol/ Smallwood ?/Ledesma ?/Reach ?/L Williams ? we do not need too many new faces there unless a lot of the ? move on.
    The attack is where we need the most of the funds available to be spent, problem being can we get the quality we need with the limited funds available ???
    Overall, what ever happens in the summer transfer dance, I am optimistic about next season with a realistic top 10 finish with a chance of the playoffs. I just wish I could be a bit more optimistic about the support the club will get !
    Come on BORO

  11. Jarkko .. I’ll be there and Chris from Beverley as always mate.
    Great tactics and win against Derby. Ironic really, the McClaren way indeed. It wouldn’t take long for the Boro boo boys to start complaining though even if next season we are clear in a top six position. Sigh, it’s the Boro way, ever since the Chicken run days of old…

  12. Tough game against Brum.
    Those looking at the table should look at their away form. Of their eleven wins nine have come on their travels, if we had the same away record we would be in 7th place.
    Complacency is dangerous in this league.

  13. Nikeboro, Kev B, Chris from Beverley & AV, let’s see before the Barnley match at Navi. I hope others can join in, too. Dormo and Smoggy perhaps? I will attend also the Milwall and Reading games with my wife.
    By the way Higgy said: “Aitor and his staff, Carlos, Leo and Javi have been smashing with me.” I only know Leo as a goalkeeper coach who also helps strikers according to Danny G. Who are the others exactly?
    Up the Boro!
    **AV writes: Carlos does fitness and conditioning stuff and designs training routines, Javi is the tactical/computer analyst that reviews player performance.

  14. Good article AV, glad to see there’s no end of season complacency creeping into your work.
    I was wondering if we can pretend the playoffs are still a possibility to drum up some blog interest. So people, if Boro were six points off the playoffs with six to play would you write them off completely?
    That would be the scenario if Reading weren’t in the equation – well looking at their remaining fixtures: home games against Leicester, Burnley and the mighty Boro, with away games at Wigan, Bournemouth and Doncaster – they’ll be lucky to get four points!
    Is it game on then or just false foam-fingered foolery? OK please yourselves, at least I tried – though it would give the Barnsley fixture a bit of an edge.
    **AV writes: I think seventh could be on.

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