THE TWO week break couldn’t have come at a better time for Boro. The certainly need to regroup, reassess and reinforce a team that is still not the finished article.
The 1-0 defeat to Reading was a major blow. Hot on the heels of the home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday it shows that Boro, for all their patient probing and possession, still struggle to break down archetypal Championship sides. Wednesday sat deep, knocked it long to a big man and caused mayhem at the book; Reading snatched an early lead then set out to spoil, frustrate and waste time and did it very effectively.
But for all the natural angst in the crowd that the reshaped squad has yet to live up to the hype after a summer of spending, this new look Boro remains work in progress.
Meijas, Abella, Nsue and Kike have played less than half-a-dozen games in English football while Omeruo didn’t have a pre-season, Clayton has just arrived and Bamford has barely unpacked. Now Boro are poised to bring in two more front men – they hope to sign Jelle Vossen and Yanic Wildschut within 24 hours – and midfielder Lewis Baker so that is even more work to be done on assimilation, bedding in and philosophical orientation.
But after an August blur of midweek games that has allowed little time for work on shape ans system, the two week international break is a timely one for Boro. It will give them time to bed in the new boys and work on much needed tactical variety – and the past two league games have shown the ability to change the game and tempo is pressing.
Against Wednesday the game was up after half-an-hour but Boro did switch to three at the back at the break to no avail. Despite clawing back two goals – from the spot – they were frantic and shapeless in chasing the game. Against Reading they started slowly and paid the price by leaking a sloppy early goal – the visitors first and only serious attack – then laboured and beavered away without much conviction as they tried to claw it back.
For long spells they dominated possession and territory and created a string of chances but never seized control. Reading were able to take the tempo out of the game, break up Boro’s fluidity and for all the passing and probing 30 yards out they never turned the screw inside the box and when the chances came they lacked a killer touch.
Kike fired a tame shot at the keeper after a slotted free-kick from Leadbitter then Adomah and Tomlin brought decent saves in the first half and Kike and Hines headed over. After the break Adomah drilled an angled effort straight at the keeper then Kike failed to pull the trigger in the box and Reach had a cross deflected against the post. There was a frantic finale with Boro pumping the ball forward and at the death Bamford shot over but it was all hurried and scrappy and lacked cohesion.
Again, Karanka was angry after the game. Again the team failed to play with the tempo, consistency and swagger he is demanding. Again the fans went away chuntering and questioning the ability and character of the team. But it IS early days. This team is far from complete, either in personnel or in ability to apply the shape as second nature – and crucially it is not yet able to switch systems effectively in play. But it will come.