Yellow Submarine Torpedoes Boro Pre-season Planning

LAST time Boro took on Villarreal, Steve McClaren’s star-studded side were out-played in a UEFA Cup group game.  Back then, in November 2004, a team still basking in the glow of Carling Cup glory were comfortably beaten 2-0  away after paying the price for starting without some star names for what was a dead rubber.  Mark Viduka and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink were on the bench with Joseph Job up front on his own leaving the 4,000 fans who had travelled to Valencia in the first big away glamour trip feeling a little let down.

Boss Steve McClaren had bigger fish to fry.  He was resting his big names for bread and butter games and as Boro still qualified for the knock-out phase and went on to finish in a highest ever Premier League position of seventh, he maybe had a point.  His tinkering that term helped Boro to a second continental campaign that was to take them to the high-water mark of the final at Eindhoven.  Ahhhhhh, wistful nostalgia.

But those misty memories must have felt like another club, in another lifetime to the 6,000 plus crowd who watched another encounter between the sides at the Riverside. The scoreline was the same but the gulf in class and status between the sides was massive.

The Spanish side – “the Yellow Submarine” – torpedoed Aitor Karanka’s side who had won four on the spin in their pre-season build-up and threatened to sink the rising tide of August optimism fostered by some shrewd signings. Here’s the match report. 

Losing to Villarreal wasn’t a disaster. It wasn’t an embarrassment.  It wasn’t an indication that Boro wil struggle next term.   But it was a massive step up in class.  It was a quantum leap from brushing aside Rochdale and Hartlepool last week to being given a Riverside runaround by the team that finished sixth in La Liga last season.

Boro had plenty of possession and worked hard to harry and hustle and press and close and worked hard to contain a very good side.  And they had some decent chances too. In the first half Daniel Ayala had a “goal” ruled out for offside and £2.8m new boy Kike  flashed a glancing header just wide and fired a weak angled shot straight at the keeper. In the second Lee Tomlin dipped a free kick just over the bar and James Husband spooned one high and wide.  But they were few and far between.

The well drilled (and at times aggressive) Spanish side in contrast  scythed through the Boro defence several times with ease and clinically took two chances to win – and created a few more besides – without ever needing to go through the gears. You felt that had Boro scored they had plenty in reserve to step up the tempo and firepower.

The second half was disrupted by a string of substitutions – there was a Football Manager vibe with double, treble and at one point quadruple  substitutions with 16 changes in all – that took any shape or intensity out of game that had some bite early on.

But there are positives to take out of it. Teesside got a first glimpse of the players who will spearhead next season’s mooted promotion push.  Kike looked lively. He had “good feet for a big lad” with a few mazy dribbles, some neat twists and turns and a delightful back-heel flick and he was inches away from heading what would have been a leveller.

And Emilio Nsue – who has barely been introduced to the squad let alone had time to do any serious training with them – came on for a cameo and looked direct and pacy and put in a decent square ball for fellow new recruit James Husband to screw off target.

Plus, while Boro fell short,  they will not come up against a team that good again this season unless they get drawn against a top half Premier League team in the cups.  Defeat should not lead to too much gnashing and wailing.

And that team will not be the side that start against Birmingham. And certainly not the one that will go into September. After the game Aitor Karanka said he expected to have several new  faces in before the big kick-off. Boro are working hard to bring in the first choice right-back, another wideman to give extra options in the ‘three’, another striker plus a couple of Chelsea loanees.  Then there will be Big Ken, judged not fit enough today.

Bring it on.







57 thoughts on “Yellow Submarine Torpedoes Boro Pre-season Planning

  1. Thought all in all was a good test to see where we are at and where we want to go!! Thought we looked pretty comfortable in possession albeit without the cutting edge!!

    They showed what good players in dangerous positions can do and I hope with a few more additions that’s where we will slowly become!! All positives in Bennett at RB and first sight of Nsue who looked pacy and direct whenever he got the ball!! Roll on next week as we won’t come up against opposition like that in the Championship!

  2. Your analysis is just about correct AV,but you do have to get out of our league by scoring goals and usually around 80, and we are being told were in the market for strikers, however the team is still crying out for that quality player in midfield that sees openings and can dominate that area of the field most games. I had high hopes for Tomlin but in some games I’ve watched its hard to know what his roll is.

    Maybe Karanka told the players to not be too aggressive in the game, no injuries needed because we did seem to be tentative. When you do play against a superior team they do reveal some of the weaknesses your team may have. I just would like our players to settle on the ball quicker (poor first touch) and decide on the pass, they seem to rush passes a lot.

    Anyway like you say we wont be up against this every week, however, winning becomes a habit and confidence grows with it.


  3. We were pretty much outclassed overall but when we had possession we looked comfortable in retaining the ball but looked lost in moving forwards and penetrating. Kike was isolated at times contrasted with Villarreal who often had four or five going at us in the last 20 yards.

    Reality is that there is no side in the Championship even remotely as accomplished as the one that finished 6th in La Liga. We finished the game with Seb at RB and Fewster and Luke as our outlet up front which is not ideal for differing reasons. Nsue and Husband could only identify their team-mates by the colour of their Jerseys, no understanding or intuition developed as yet which will only come with time.

    Reach had a few good moments and Butterfield looked like he had a point to prove. AK was able to see who looked worthy of a squad place and who should go out on loan or simply out permanently. It was very much a friendly although sprinkled with a few hefty challenges but neither side really raised their game, although as AV said if Boro had raised the bar Villarreal looked like they could raise it another two or three notches.

    AK will expect far more endeavour and determination next week, anybody who doesn’t train well this week will be left on the fringes. It will take a few games for new faces to bed in and settle down and no doubt the anticipated incoming faces will further improve competition and quality but also prolong the bedding in period.

    I think a lot more was learnt by playing a quality side today as oppose to a League 1 or a Scottish 2nd division side and leaving us with misplaced delusions of grandeur.

  4. Decent workout against a very good side. I heard some grumbling (natural) but I won’t be drawing any conclusions from a pre-season friendly other than that we are not as good as the sixth best side in La Liga.

    I enjoyed watching Kike. Plenty of movement, a nice touch, linked up well with the midfield and a couple of inches from scoring – although when he was through on goal for his best chance he fluffed the shot. I think he’ll do alright. The other new lads weren’t on long enough to make any judgement really.

    Half of that team won’t feature much this season and soon we’ll have Big Ken, a new right-back and Vossen and we’ll be OK. My main worry is Tomas Meijas, the Spanish Brad Jones. I though he was jittery. I’m not convinced at all but clearly he is Karanka’s No 1.

    Looking forward to the real action starting next week.

  5. Dear Mr Gibson

    Time to return to your ‘Thinking outside the Box’ era when you did things no one else even thought was possible. Maybe some aren’t right now but we and you had success when you took a chance on talent, even though they may have had questions on their character: Merson, Ravanelli, Zeige, Emerson,Jimmy H. But what they had was talent

    Why am I saying this? I’d like to add maybe a player or two that I think would help us get promotion,someone like Tarabt at QPR. I know hes different but what a player on his day,even on loan

  6. It was always possible a better football side would play the better football. A reminder of how far we have to go.

  7. I really fail to get excited by results in pre season. They finished sixth in La Liga last year, so their English equivalent would be Spurs. Yes, the same Spurs who spent £100m last summer and finished above Man Utd. Considering we were missing Woody, Carayol, Williams, Omerou and a senior Right back, it was hardly a disgrace to lose the game.

    Another thing the game showed, although we all understand it is hard to do otherwise, is that having all your new players in early and getting experience playing together on the training pitch is an advantage.

    Like Linthorpe Lad, I’m not entirely convinced by Mejias. In fact, nothing I have seen from either him or Dimi suggests that either is any significant amount better than Steele. I feel sorry for Jason as it seems he simply isn’t being given a chance to prove himself by AK.

    One thing I would suggest to the Boro, if they really are looking to offload Steele, is to give Blackpool a call. They have no senior keeper at the moment and a young English lad with loads of Championship experience and the potential to improve would be just what they are looking for. Maybe even a season long loan with a small loan fee?

    This was the most interesting line to me though:

    “Boro are working hard to bring in the first choice right-back”

    That suggests to me that the deal for the foreign lad is still very much a possibility and the Lowton link is possibly being used as a backup option. The Boro execs Maybe even leaking news of interest in Lowton in an effort to cajole the agent of Mr first choice to hurry up and get the deal sorted out. Very sneaky if so, but possibly the type of tactics that are needed when things are not happening with enough urgency.

    **AV writes: The deal for the mystery foreign right-back seems to have gone cold but I haven’t been told specifically that it is dead. Look at Juanfran, that was said to be dead but there were several attempts at CPR. I suppose it depends what the sticking point is. I’m told that that talks with several option at right-back are now at an advanced stage and they are eager to resolve that situation quickly but won’t be rushed into a decision that is not right for the team or the club (I took that to mean they won’t pay over the odds.)

  8. “Considering we were missing Woody, Carayol, Williams, Omerou and a senior Right back”.

    Well at least two of the four mentioned would not be considered first choices for their respective positions, and Carayol has some way to go to prove he has the consistency to make it at this level. So we were missing Omerou yesterday. Oh and of course a senior right back, but then we’ve been missing one of those for four or five years.

    No problem with yesterday’s result, but I still think we are short of promotion material this year.

  9. Been waiting for an article on yesterday’s match but nothing forthcoming (Sunday lie-in, AV?). So here goes anyway with my thoughts.

    Villarreal won comfortably. Unless they fielded a weakened team, we never had much hope of winning, truth be told. Level for level, Spanish teams are generally better than their English counterparts and Villarreal are more than a division above us. Their class shone through. They were hardly ever troubled, mostly didn’t have to stretch themselves. In the second half, two goals up, they never had to find anywhere near top gear, Boro were toothless and Villarreal wrre able to cruise.

    However, bearing in mind the gulf of status between the teams, Boro didn’t play too badly. For the first 20 or 30 minutes we matched them and at times looked the slightly better team. Although we rarely stretched the Spanish, Boro were poised, passed the ball around well, were quick to the ball in breaking up play and at times edged the match. For a quarter of the game, we looked the more likely team.

    Ultimately we lacked goal threat and, once that became clear, it left Villarreal free to exploit defensive weaknesses. Having said that, they didn’t carve us up and only penetrated the back four on a handful of occasions. However their finishing was top class and they didn’t need many chances to convert in two goals.

    The lack of goal threat was the biggest concern – Villarreal took our efforts in their stride. There was a break-down between MF and attack. Kike is a grafter, a physical presence and makes intelligent runs. However he shows no signs of being able to win a match on his own – he is a striker who needs the right service. He must have been frustrated to be left feeding off scraps – and not many of them. One slight disappointment was that he did nothing with those scraps. Given a couple of half-chances he didn’t even trouble the keeper.

    Why the paucity of service? Why was there so little support for Kike? The priority for the MF seemed to be in winning the ball, an aspect at which they did well and regularly broke up the Villarreal play. However that was achieved at the cost of most of the creative play. There were few incisive passess and, despite his intelligent runs, negligible passes to Kike in dangerous positions. Hardly anybody pushed forward from MF to support the attack.

    That might have been OK if we’d had penetration from the wings – we didn’t get much. We knew Adomah was short of fitness and that showed through. Reach was lively to start with and looked promising. Unfortunately, having enjoyed a few breakthroughs early on, he did little with his crosses. Furthermore, Villarreal soon got his measure and, as the first half wore on, Reach’s runs and tricks began to get him nowhere. Throughout the second half, their defence had him in their pocket.

    With no passes, no crosses and no runs from MF, Kike was left to his own devices. Along with the lack of a RB, that is the biggest weakness that needs to be remedied. Thinking back to the MF of Murdoch, Souness and Armstrong, it is now some years since we’ve had a creative MF who could carve open a defence with one well-judged pass. We can get all the forwards we like but we need to give them something to work with.

    Having mentioned RB, young Bennett mostly looked the part. He got his tackles in and looked confident and capable going forward. Unfortunately both their goals started with penetration down that wing. Bennet was beaten for pace and the resulting cross led to their first goal. His naivety caught him out for the second because he had simply gone missing. Nevertheless he contributed enough to show promise.

    Conclusion: we’re a work in progress. Not surprisingly, we were well short of matching Villareal but we’re also still short of having a promotion threat. The basic shape & pattern is there, along with a squad of mostly capable players. However there are significant holes but the whole picture might look different in a week or two.

    1. Ah, there you are! So there was the usual match report after all. I’ve evidently not quite got the hang of this new blog yet.

      Gettin’ down wid da yoof and because the Gazette website is difficult to access because of its instability, I saved this page into my favourites. However I find I need, at the turn of the month, to click on the next month in ‘Archive’. Lesson learned.

      Hope you enjoyed your lie-in, AV.

  10. A good summing-up Nikeboro and your match report underlined most of my suspicions. How did our keeper(s) play? Is Jason Steele on the way out?

    There seem to be as many questions posed as there were answered.


    John R

  11. Great summary NikeBoro…..and I agree completely, far too many concerns about the goalkeeping area when the real concern is a lack of a creative midfield player. Wingers/wing backs/attacking fullbacks are NOT midfielders IMHO. Perhaps I’m old school but I want someone in central midfield who receives the ball from, and is protected by, the ball winning aggressive midfield scrapers, and who then dictates the play – and if marked closely automatically creates space elsewhere to be exploited.

    Unfazed by yesterday’s result, reading the reports no one says we were disgraced, it’s pre-season still, and its Birmingham we have to beat, not Villarreal next week

    In Aitor we trust!

  12. Am I right in saying that Premier League teams are restricted in the amount of foreign players in a match day squad or have to include so many British players? As I recall that was one of the main reasons Liverpool bought Brad Jones from us (he was foreign but holds a British passport or came through a British academy). The same applied to Ross Turnbull when he was at Chelsea. Therefore the least likely player to get on the pitch (sub Goalkeeper) means that more foreign talent is left for the remainder of the squad.

    Maybe we are hoping to sell Jason Steele to a big club for the above reason, bringing in funds to make more signings nearer the end of the transfer window i.e. Vossen or Graham. Steele is well known in England, an ex-under21 international and Team GB player and in my opinion better than Brad Jones and he went to Liverpool for two and a half million, one of the best bits of business we have done in the last few years.

    And is Jason Steele any better than Dimi or the Spanish lad? If so not by that much but he is more likeliest out of the three to get a higher transfer fee.

    **AV writes: The restrictions on loans apply throughout the leagues: a maximum of eight in total, a maximum of four from any one club and only five are allowed in a matchday squad. Premier League teams have an added restriction in that they have to declare a squad of 25 on September 1st – although under 21s are exmept from that. There is no formal quota for home grown players but there are constant fears that one may be imposed with UEFA talking about a 6+5 formula. I think that would be challenged by the big clubs under EU law.

  13. As AV and others have said, we shouldn’t read too much into this defeat. Villarreal are a good side and maybe the game will keep the players grounded and ready to bounce back against Birmingham. “Take the positives” is the contemporary cliche.

    I am concerned about Jason Steele though. He was regularly one of our best performers not too long ago and it’s a shame that he hasn’t been able to play behind Karanka’s generally well organised defence and midfield. Perhaps he just doesn’t train well. I hope his chance comes and he nails it. His potential is huge.

    We must be getting close to the annual predict-where-we’ll-finish blog? I suspect that with no real evidence to go on nobody will really have changed their minds. Those who were optimistic at the end of last season will remain so, perhaps further buoyed by the transfer ins and outs. Pessimistic souls will see little encouragement in the pre-season wins over lowly opponents and recruitment of unknown quantities. And fence-sitters like myself have splinters.

    I’ll give it a go though: We’ll be competitive in almost all games bar a few howlers, miserly in defence and be in the top half all season. For the most part it won’t be pretty but in three or four home games we’ll score early and go on to win by three or four.

    We’ll be useful on the counter and pick up some valuable away wins but teams will generally come to the Riverside for a point and we’ll struggle to open them up.

    We’ll lack a bit of creativity and, whilst it’ll be a close run affair, a lack of goals scored will cost us, edging us out of the playoffs for a 7th place finish.

    Either that or we’ll hack up and win the league.

    1. I think that Steele is in danger of becoming the next McDonald, Bailey etc!

      It wasn’t long ago that Steele got nothing but stick; now he’s been heralded as a fantastic young prospect! I think that the stick was unfair, as is the hype that builds around him every day that he is out of the first team. Whilst he is a decent keeper, I don’t think that he has improved over the last few seasons so perhaps a move is best for everyone assuming that there are interested parties. I haven’t seen enough of Meijas to judge him, but I don’t think that we are any weaker for having Dimi in the team.

      1. I don’t recall Steele ever getting universal stick. Many said he needs to improve on crosses ad command of his area – and he does – but “nothing but stick”? I think that’s overdoing it.

        I don’t think many would have received more Gazette stars that Steele did over the past 3 seasons, though he didn’t play a lot last year.

        I agree that I don’t see us as a weaker team with Dimi. All the more reason to give Steele experience.

  14. Looks like an outbreak of common sense and realism after the frothy euphoria of the last few weeks on the blog. AV has a wise saying that the longer a player is out of action, the better he tends to become in supporters’ eyes. The same seems to be true of the team as a whole. As the memory of last season’s performances fades, our expectations of the coming season get inflated.

    I have seen nothing on the pitch during Karanka’s reign to suggest that we are anything other than a mid-table team. And in spite of all the hyperbole about how well balanced and organised we are, with targeted new signings to cover areas of weakness, and our close relationship with the Special One, it looks to me like the most disorganised and shambolic prelude to a season that I can remember in many a long day.

    We have seven centre-backs, at least four of whom would walk into most Championship teams. In our chief areas of weakness, we have discarded a pretty good player who was more than adequate at right back, without finding a replacement; lost three and possibly four strikers, and have one replacement, where we need four to see us through a long tough season. The one possibility as a truly creative playmaker, we were prepared to include as a makeweight in the abortive Clayton deal, as a result of which neither the players nor the manager seem to have much idea of how we will line up in midfield. It seems to depend on who does well in training this week.

    Worse, only when Chelsea, in their own time, decide whom they wish to keep and whom to let out on loan, will we have a clue as to the extent to which we have either a balanced, or an even more critically unbalanced squad. I have nearly 70 years of following the Boro under my belt, and I cannot remember a season when the squad looked so unsettled and lacking in preparation for the big kick off. Nor a season when there was so much rhetoric telling us exactly the opposite

    So it looks to me like there will be more of the same as last season under Karanka, and that we should prepare ourselves for plenty of 0-0 scorelines, with the defence doing well, but with a pitiful lack of creativity in midfield, and little or no penetration up front. Too many draws will kill any hopes we may have of a top six spot. For me it will most likely be mid-table mediocrity at best. It could be worse. If we lose the first game, the pre-season optimism will disappear like a World Cup free- kick line. If we lose the second there will be relegation talk. If we lose the third, then some fans will be calling for the coach’s head. I won’t be among them, because I believe that Karanka has a far harder task on his hands than perhaps even he realises. I tip us to finish 12th. Because I’m an optimist.

    Thanks to Nikeboro for an excellent report.

    1. There is another way of looking at this Len. Perhaps AK is so confident that he can get replacements and build the squad he needs this month, he felt able to move on players while the going was good and the price was right.

      Thinking back, we could have sold both Downing and Johnson for a lot more than we belatedly did. That must have cost us £5m and possibly closer to £10m between them. There’s a lot to be said for selling when the money is there.

      In contrast to being ‘shambolic’, it could be that AK has a crystal-clear plan and, if we knew what he knows, we would see it that way. Time will tell but we don’t have long to wait to find out.

      In terms of being a mid-table team, my view is that we were headed for a season-long relegation struggle without the new manager. Furthermore, despite all the changes and his having to adjust to the new environment, I believe he got what was basicaly a low-mid table team to 12th place and gave us fleeting glimpses of a possible top 6. As the current squad stands, I think we would face more of the same. However, I don’t believe we will enter September with this squad.

  15. I think we have a decent squad and a good manager. We have a reasonable first few fixtures and with our fair share of luck we can establish ourselves at somewhere between 4th and 8th for most of the season.

  16. Have to say AV My level of optimism and pessimism swing like a metronome with your enthusiasm and genuine confidence pushing me always towards the more optimistic side. However the reality is probably tending more towards slight pessimism at the moment.

    Our starting eleven on Saturday was very weak particularly in central midfield possibly the most key position on the field. Suddenly Butterfield who three weeks ago was on his way out is probably close to being in the starting eleven.There were a number of players in that starting eleven who are no where near good enough to be in a promotion challenging side and another few who at present are still relatively unknown quantities particularly over an entire season i.e Reach, Tomlin, Gibson etc.

    High hopes of top quality signings across the pitch have been replaced with a not first choice right back, another striker and a host of loanees and even they are not our first choice, it’s the players Chelsea feel don’t require Premiership experience yet.

    I will wait and see what the new season brings. Yes I’m still excited but at the moment I fear we are still well short in a number of departments and the optimism of a few weeks ago and the promise of top drawer signings smacks a little bit of the pre season ticket deadline obligatory bid for a world class player. I hope I’m wrong.

  17. So as things stand, we’ve replaced Graham, Main and Jutkiewicz with Kike (who I’d never heard of), Emnes with Nsue (who I’d never heard of). We’ve also bought James Husband (who I’d never heard of). We’ve yet to replace Varga. The season starts on Saturday. As Len has pointed out, it’s difficult to see where the optimism has come from.

    And yet…for some inexplicable reason I do feel optimistic. I think last season I predicted 14th, I think we ended up 12th. This year I think we’ll be higher, I’m predicting 9th. I’m also expecting an opening day loss to Birmingham.

    1. Bob

      I see Fewster as Main’s replacement as the next young player trying to break through. Curtis had his chance but never made the most of it so if we are to give opportunity to the younger Players then that means creating an opening for them which meant Main had to make way. AK doesn’t take prisoners, if you are good enough and take your chance great if not then move along.

      Nsue can’t be any worse than Emnes who had lost any semblance of conviction and desire he may have once had with Boro.

      Kike or Juke is one that we will not know until Christmas or October at the very earliest when we see where he is in the goals chart. I suspect though that he is a better fit for AK’s tactics and as such we will see a better return.

      Graham is the one that needs replacing and Bamford is looking likely to be that replacement which is not exactly a weakness. Graham still hasn’t got a club and there is a reason for that, several probably not least of which is a contract with big wages and an affordability versus proven ability ratio. Age and the potential in being able to recoup some dosh in a few years time is another challenge with Graham.

      And of course there is also Kei who wants to be off to see the Wizard in Kansas (perhaps he can find a heart for Emnes when he is next there). If Kei does goes then I suspect a deal for Graham “may” be in the offing but if he is still on the books in September then with FFP I think AK has to accept that he has to work with what he has got (and Kei likewise). Always assuming Vossen isn’t landing at Teesside Airport this morning!

      Albert is still here and Tomlin looked to be finding his feet and fitness at the end of last season so there are a few more goals plus Reach likes a shot and Muzzy is to come back so I think goals will come but regardless of who plays AK has to get bodies in the box.

    2. Bob: ‘we’ve replaced Graham, Main and Jutkiewicz with Kike (who I’d never heard of), Emnes with Nsue (who I’d never heard of). We’ve also bought James Husband (who I’d never heard of).

      Ah, d’ya remember when we used to get players we’d heard of? Heck, it seems like yesterday we were buying players EVERYBODY had heard of. Sigh – nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.

      Let’s hope that, by October,everybody is very aware of Kike, Nsue, Husband and imminent new incomers.

  18. Interesting points system in that mini tournament Man Utd in, Stateside,

    How do you think it would go down in The Championship

    Everygame must be decided by a winner

    Winner after 90min 3pts

    loser 0pts

    Drawn Game after 90mins each team 1pt

    Penalty Shots at end of 90min drawn game,Winner gets extra pt

    Only difference than now is winner gets either 3pts or 2pts,depending how they win it

  19. Is the optimism dissipating already? There seems to be definite change of tone and nuance to the posts suddenly. On Saturday Boro will win against Birmingham. I’m still optimistic despite the loss to a very good side on Saturday. The season? I reckon the play-offs.


    John R

    1. I’m optimistic that AK is steadily strengthening the squad and improving performances. Consequently I’m still confident we’ll finish higher than last season and have a realistic chance of the top 6. Having said that, the squad that was available for Villareal would struggle to match last season’s 12 th place. I have faith that we will get the much-needed RB, creative killer-pass MF and the no 10 that we need to complete the jigsaw.

  20. That was odd, a post just disappeared.

    Anyway, I am not as pessimistic as Len or Optimistic as Jarkko though the labels are a bit harsh.

    At the moment I think the early part of the season will see performances similar to those Newcastle and Leicester enjoyed in their promotion seasons. Hopefully we will get the bits of luck enjoyed by both those teams, the luck that separates teams at the end of the campaign.

    You end up in the part of the table you deserve to be in, both Toon and the Foxes capitalised on that to run away with promotion, their football improved as the season went on.

    The key for us is to get a good start and hopefully build on it. The key thing is probably to be in the mix at the end of September, early I know but it would give something to build on.

    Will we be good enough? Only time will tell, my instinct tells me we will finish higher than last season but a play off position will need a bit of luck and some juidicious recruitment this month.

    1. I fully agree that a good start is very beneficial. It’s not just the early points in the bag it’s the confidence that it generates. Success breeds success and, once players start to belive in the manager, the system and themselves, you’re into the virtuous circle.

      Nevertheless there’s a dark horse that comes with a late run most seasons. If it takes until next year for this team to settle then so be it. If it’s Easter before we make into the top 6 then: no problem. I don’t care about the timing, just the getting there.

    2. Ian, having met Len once (before a Boro away match) I don’t think we are that different. He is a decent chap, really.

      But perhaps I am a bit more optimistic, though. We do need a right back and a replacement for Graham. I presume AK is looking a really top-notch FB as there is a plenty of FB available. As Graham is still available he is still an option for Boro but again I think AK have a better striker in mind.

      Interesting to see how we play against Birmingham. Cannot wait. Up the Boro!

  21. Really enjoyed the game, a tenner to see some good La Liga players and some of our new boys was a snip! Even if I did manage to get sat next to a bunch of idiots whom have probably seen limited Boro games in their lives or in fact any football matches! But to be expected from friendlies I suppose!

    Thought we played well against a really good side and there was some positives. Kike first of all looked great, he held the ball up really well, got in some great positions and showed some classy touches. He just lacked support from the widemen when he did manage to hold the ball up and obviously him and Tomlin have played together only a small time so that understanding needs some work but it will come. Reach looked great and I’m really hoping he has a great season and works as hard as possible as he is a good talent, he just needs consistency in his game. Friend also looked sharp as per usual and I thought Nsue when he came on looked very promising, beating players and always looking to get a shot off, which is what we needed as we hardly tested their keeper at all.

    Onto the negatives. For me there was a lack of conviction in the final third, highlighted by the fact we only forced maybe one or two saves from their keeper in 90 minutes? There was also a clear gap in the midfield of creativity, which makes the news that Brighton looked all but set to sign Clayton, a real bummer, as he (for me) is exactly what we need. Butterfield is good but he is never going to be in a promotion winning starting XI, he’s just not good enough. Don’t rate Whitehead either, would be quiet happy with him going tbh, rather see Smallwood in his role but would prefer Chalobah back in that role (or similar Celsea loanee).

    Hoping AK is right and we are bringing some new faces in before Saturday as we need them! Hopefully Bamford and a CM and most importantly a RB back – Interesting that AK give Seb a full 45 at RB on Saturday. Perhaps he may be his back up plan if that RB proves more difficult than imagined.

  22. Ian,

    I agree a slow start will be a poor start.

    The Toon and the Foxes gathered momentum and began to play better football as they relaxed with the growth of confidence. The confidence was well harnessed too by their respective managers too. Here’s to it starting well. A lot of people say you make your own luck, with genuine competition for places we’ll hopefully see an even spread of effort, I think I’m talking about consistency.

    Here’s to being right in the mix come the beginning of October.


    John R

  23. AV retweets

    AIRPORT WATCH: reports say charter jet lands at Teesside from Maastricht… a delegation of middle-aged Belgian businessmen get off. D’oh!

    Maybe we are buying a middle aged Belgian striker or they are the negotiating party for a super signing who has sneaked in under the radar, maybe he came off wearing a pilots uniform.

    Ought to bring in straw clutching at the commonwealth games

  24. Sounds like it was a decent game.
    Newcastle soaked up a lot of pressure away from home and scored the vital goal.
    A lot of 1-0 away wins.
    I think AK is on the right track .
    Solid defence then sneak the odd goal time will tell .
    Looking forward to a great season. Just about a load of new faces coming this week .AK may be tempted to get them on .We dont need to be disjointed.

  25. Redcar Red…

    …Yes, all good points. I’m happy to see Fewster coming through and being given his chance in place of Main, and Karanka (unlike his predecessor) appears to be willing to give the youngsters a chance. I have no issue with the departure of either Juke or Emnes…in fact I think the club has done really well with both deals.

    It doesn’t matter in the least that I haven’t heard of any of the replacements. In fact I see it as a positive that deals are done without the rumour mill knowing about it in advance. As I think others have said, there’s something about the way things are happening that is generating some respect and optimism. And yet when you look at it on paper, as it stands now, it doesn’t look like promotion material…yet. Yes, we may sign Bamford, we may sign Vossen (and he might turn out to be good), we may find a right back. I certainly hope so. At the moment, I’ll stick with 9th.

    I do agree with Ian. A good start will make a big difference. I didn’t really spot it with Leicester last year, but the year before the barcodes had a lot of spawny 1-0 wins early on. By the time their luck turned they had points on the board and sky-high confidence. You can’t beat it. Let’s hope that’s how it goes. My ‘typical Boro’ monitor sees only a dispiriting defeat as the obvious follow up to a pre-season of optimism. Sorry, just the way I am.

    1. I too have that sinking feeling as the opening date approaches, what’s the bet we lose 1-0 from an injury time soft goal?

  26. I have to disagree with those who are predicting bottom half finishes this season, but not through any foam handed leanings.

    So far the club have been busy offloading those players who were surplus to requirements and creating the gaps in the squad that they could fill with better quality players. That process is still ongoing and players are still to be brought in. I believe people are more frustrated with the amount of time it has taken to recruit the new guys, rather than the quality of those players themselves.

    We may not be the only ones frustrated with lack of progress on the signings. AK mentioned this during his interviews the other day. While he was not overly critical of the club, he did mention ‘frustration’ and I would suggest that the fact he even thought to mention it would be an indication of his real feelings on the subject.

    While it is too early to come to any firm conclusions, the new players so far have all looked promising. If the players who follow them through the revolving door at Rockliffe are all of a similar standard then we can be reasonably happy.

    I fail to see how any of us can make an assessment of the teams chances in the League until the squad is finalised at the beginning of next month.

    I certainly fail to see how “I’ve never heard of him” is any kind of reason whatsoever to criticise a new signing. How many fans of clubs in the Segunda Division would have heard of George Friend or Grant Leadbitter would you imagine ?

    Having said all that – come on Boro and pull your fingers out. You have known about the need for a new right back for months and the fact we still don’t have one 5 days from the start of the season is downright ridiculous !

    1. Totally agree with all of that, frustration at the lack of progress is the key element here. Club, Gazette, and AV noticeably silent right now………perhaps the private jet was a blind, they came in by rubber dinghy up the Tees from the private yacht moored offshore out of land sight, and are even now 3 deep queuing for their medicals??

      **AV writes: I’m not quiet, I’m ranting at people in the office after a fortnight off. And writing my column for tomorrow. I’m “very close” to “pushing it over the line.”

      1. Damn! Here I am in the Arrivals lounge and now you tell me I’ve got to hot foot it over to Seal Sands. Will report shortly.

  27. I can’t remember when I last was looking forward so much to the 1st game. Probably the summer we brought in all the Jocks – oh dear … back to my cruisin’ for a bruisin’ theme.

    AV, when was the last time we had a convincing win in the 1st game by, say, more than 2 clear goals? When did we last go undefeated for the first four games of a season (was that the year before last?)?

    **AV writes: In 2011-12 Boro started with an 11 game unbeaten run, the best in a century, and going back to the previous season that included an all time record of six successive away wins. The last opening day win by two goals was in 2000, a 3-1 win at Coventry featuring goals from Alen Boksic and Joseph Job. We don’t really do opening days do we?

    1. I must apologise for my all-too-frequent misspellings of late – not like me at all. The letters are wearing away on my keyboard and I can’t touch-type.

  28. Put me in the ‘excited for the first game’ camp. Impressed with the business AK has carried out so far, just a few pieces of the puzzle still missing. Biggest concerns are rb and striker. As good as Kike looks I’d be worried if we went into the season with just him and Fewster.

    I’d expect the Chelsea loans are pretty much done now and they will all be battling for a starting spot. Certainly exciting times to be a Boro fan again I think!

  29. Haven’t we got too many CBs? By my reckoning we have: Omeruo, Ayala, Gibson, Woodgate, Williams and Hines. We can add Friend to that, given that he came as a primarily CB and would be likely to play in a back three. That makes a total of seven senior CBs

    Even if we plan to play 3 at the back, that seems a lot. Yes, I can see what will be said: with injuries, Woody, Rhys and Hines make only one player for a season. Nevertheless it seems a helluva lot and when you throw in the youngsters Burgess, Atkinson and Jackson, we’re positively awash with CBs.

    It must be time to move on one of the senior players and, next summer, if the kids are making the grade (Burgess?), shift another one then. Perhaps, with Williams still out, AK has it in mind for January.

  30. NikeBoro,

    I cant find any instances of you using the word ‘late’ never mind misspelling it….

    Ok, I’ll stick to the day job in future

  31. I see the Twe12th Man are asking people to join them in the North Stand with the headline: ‘Noisy support is infectious’. You won’t catch me there then – too much chance of catching Adebola.

  32. The Jason Steele situation seems strange, I personally have never felt him to be a dominant goalkeeper,but other coaches have seen him, day in and day out, in training. He’s also captained England so there must be something in him that they see,

    But then again when it came to moving up the age groups I knew something wasn’t quite right when Butland who is two years younger was preferred, now this guy Darlow from Forest goes to Newcastle for something like £3.5m.

    Maybe we are asking for more, strange. Could be he’s hit a brick wall as far as his development goes, or has a loss of confidence.

  33. Nikeboro

    I read Lens post that mentioned the centrebacks. When you look at it, Willams is out until December/January, Woodie is no certainty playing 49 games since he rejoined in 2012 and Hines who has played 66 games and is now aged 26. I reckon that adds up to one centre back between them.

    Lies, damned lies and appearnace statistics.

    Who is going to buy one of these players? The biggest problem is scouting, an appearance is rarer than hens teeth.

    I will agree to a wager with you. I don’t think they will be available for 120 games between them this season, 50p?

    1. No thanks – there’s daft bets and daft bets. Woody, Rhys and Hines? I wouldn’t gamble on half that number of games. Knock the one off the front and I’ll take the wager.

      1. Nearly forgot – all of which supports my case. Why have them cluttering the place up and consuming wages and coaching time?

        Woody might be worth it for his experience and his consequent stature. Also, if he can ever recover his fitness and form, Williams is possibly worth persevering with, even if only for the prospect of eventually getting a fee. But Hines has had ample chances and has never made the grade and never will.

        I wasn’t thinking of selling any of them, certainly not at present. I had a ‘mutual consent’ parting of the ways in mind.

  34. Keep pressing ‘Post’ before I mean to!

    So, I reiterate: why have 7 CBs? Even if we plan to sometimes play three at the back, we would still have cover for injury if we moved on one of perma-crocks. As we usually play only 2 CBs we would normally need only three available on any given day so even 6 CBs looks generous.

  35. Nikeboro, who do you think would take any of these surplus CB’s. I do not think we could give them away for free.

    RR, think Fewster could do better than Main on his showings in Marbella.

  36. Nikeboro

    It is the mutual consent bit that is the problem, like all footballers they will be optimistic and think that if they could only string a run of matches together…..

    You cant blame them, they are young and want the best possible.

    Talking of wagers, ever since Paulista joshed Redcar Red and Len cast his spell on our chances our odds are shrinking, they must have a link to Mystic Mog.

    1. Ian

      You can still get Boro at 5/1 for promotion or 2/1 for a top 6 finish!


      Boro to finish top with Kike the division’s top scorer 100/1

      The Bookies seem certain that Cardiff and Derby are going up, Derby I can understand with Mac’s pedigree and analytical approach plus a steadily run club but Cardiff look borderline psychotic to me and Ole has little to no experience with Championship football. There again Mac done a fantastic job with the Tricky trees not so long ago so who can tell what is going to happen with those two clubs.

      One thing is certain once Boro unveil more signings this week those odds will shrink.

  37. When the odds for an event contract it is usually because the bookmakers have taken a relatively large number of bets on it.

    The chances are that the majority of those bets have come from Boro fans so I see the rise to sixth in the promotion market as further evidence that expectation on Teesside is higher than it has been for some time.

  38. Elsewhere Villa are ordering fans groups to sign up to codes of conduct, that is fair enough if it is just about abuse but apparently some the rules include not criticising the club.

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