Winning Ugly Leaves Boro Sitting Pretty

WHEN the open top bus parade is over  and the newly inked ‘Aitor’s Army’ tattoos telling of title glory are paraded proudly around the hotel pool we will look back over the magic moments of the season and beam about cup wins at Man City and Arsenal and days at Derby and Bournemouth that  swung it decisively our way and gush about the soon to be fabled fixture at Fulham that sealed it.

Should those celebrations come to pass no one will remember the win-ugly bread-and-butter battle to a 1-0 win at Brentford. To be fair I’m already actively trying to forget it. It was scrappy,  tense and low quality fare played in atrocious conditions.

It was all long balls, stray passes, niggly fouls, squandered chances, misfiring moves and mistakes.  And it was freezing. It was light years away from the Etihad.  It fell well short of the demolition of Derby or the clinical  defeats of the Bees and Norwich at home. And it was won with a penalty against the run of play. No one will be celebrating it as a true reflection of  the team’s philosophy.  Honest Aitor admitted that his side were “lucky”.

And yet,  these are exactly the building block battles that get teams promoted.

11Grant

           Yeeeeeessssssgerrrrrrinthere:  Grant debates the aesthetics of Boro’s win

Scrapping to narrow wins at Cardiff and Bolton and Huddersfield and Brentford may not take up much space on the end of season high-lights videos but you get the same number of points as more aesthetically pleasing victories. Winning when you are not playing well is a crucial part of the promotion skill set. We all know that. Newcastle, West Ham, QPR made grinding out wins on poor days their modus operandi.

And Boro did not play well. They were well below par. They were second best and under the cosh for long spells, especially in a torrid first half when they were given the runaround.  Our heroes struggled to come to terms to a side that did a good tactical job on them, closing them down quickly at the back and stopping them building from the back and playing largely fruitless long balls. They were clunky from the off as Fred and Ken showed signs of ring rust and Brentford carved through a few times forcing Dimi into a couple of crucial early saves while twice headers flashed just wide.

They couldn’t impose their shape or tempo or intensity,  they struggled to find their fluid passing and probing,  they looked creaky and frantic at the back and  laboured going forwards. They were poor. And yet they won. They wriggled off the hook and got a goal against the run of play – a long ball forward, an assertive run that drew a foul and a cool headed spot-kick from our penalty king  – and then dug in and defended it with Trojan zeal.

11asitis

So,  not one for the purists and I dread to thing what the neutrals in the armchair audience tuning in to see the team that  toppled City made of it. But who cares? Job done. Points banked. Ground at the top of a very tight table made up. A promotion rival dented. Another clean sheet. And a productive unbeaten January wrapped up. That’s a good day’s work in anyone’s book.

Brentford was rubbish as a spectacle – but could play a bigger part overall in the season’s narrative than Manchester City.  That coupon-busting cup success at the Etihad was a delicious ego-boosting bonus and a great day out but in strategic terms beating the Bees is far more important. It can be a significant step along a path to promotion that has been carefully prepared and planned for.

Not that we should forget the City game. We – and the players –  should take strength from that.  This Boro team have proved that if they stick to the game plan, keep their concentration at the back and take their chances they are a match for anyone. They have raised the bar and  raised excitement levels and expectations among  the fans. And it is important now they reach those heights in the bread-and-butter games too.

They may not be able to play the brightest and best City slicker football in every match but they have to show the same determination, spirit, snarling will to win and mental strength to claw to wins by hook or by crook, even when they are not quite clicking.

Boro have a “week of destiny” in March that already has many supporters instinctively nervous and suffering a pre-emptive sense of foreboding deep in their DNA – but before then all the teams around us play each other. Points will be dropped. Gaps will appear. Pressure will tell. The dynamic will change.

If Boro can keep their focus, keep racking up points, keep the clean sheets piling up and keep winning games – six out of the last eight now – then they could be in a position of considerable strength before March. Especially if they can keep somehow find a way to grind out a result in the games like Brentford.

And that process, of carving out breathing space, of ratcheting up the pressure on our rivals, of relentlessly banking points and closing in on the top spot in a cut-throat scrum at the summit has to step up a gear now.

Boro won’t win every game. There will be set-backs. Boro will draw games. They may – shock horror! – lose a few. But we can’t be weighed down with fear at that prospect and we can’t transmit our historic anxieties onto the pitch. We need to get behind the team and  play the long game. The crucial phase of the promotion battle is underway.

11Leo

             Roar passion: Leo shows the spirit that will be needed in scrappy games

 

 

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78 thoughts on “Winning Ugly Leaves Boro Sitting Pretty

  1. http://www.statto.com/football/stats/england/league-championship/2013-2014/table/2014-02-01

    A table from last season at roughly the same stage. The teams are much more spread out, this season we have bunches of teams, one group of eight, 12th to 19th (Forest down to Leeds), are separated by two points in the middle of the table. Last season it was nine points.

    The bottom seems much like last year.

    Leicester were already disappearing over the horizon, not surprisingly they were getting few unlucky breaks.

    It is anyone can beat anyone.

    I will leave you with the thought, win at home to Charlton and away to Blackpool and we will be in an automatic promotion place. Lets worry about Charlton first.

  2. I wouldn’t get too hung up about the performance as it was definitely the result that was the most important requirement yesterday – whereas Brentford seem to be glowing with the performance but alas without the points – I know what I’d prefer as Boro have been in that situation on quite a few occasions this season.

    Besides, it’s rare that a team always plays good football and storms the league. Just look at the Chelsea v City game yesterday, it was hardly a classic between two of the best teams in the land – in fact I don’t think Chelsea managed a shot in the second half.

  3. Werdermouth –

    I agree totally, last time Derby went up the probably scored more goals than they had shots!

    We have too many ‘ best team we have had here this season, thanks for the three points’ over the years.

  4. Small pitch? I would imagine well within League rules.

    Gibson is the designated hoofer when Ayala is absent, at least the opposition can’t score when the ball is at altitude in their own half.

    I remember sitting amongst the Wigan fans earlier this year and Forshaw was the target for some Dogs abuse. The harder he tried the worse he made it for himself. Obviously the boy has talent, a new start for him and at a knockdown price, looks like a good buy.

    1. GHW

      Yes the Brentford pitch conforms to league requirements and is very small but Riverside is significantly larger which also confirms to League rules. Perhaps AV or another well informed blogger can clarify. My point about Ben was that by over hitting the ball we were guilty of losing possession and it was coming straight back at us.

      Good comment about Forshaw He looked very confident and at home with our system already. When legbiter serves his inevitable suspension for reaching his yellow card total I expect him to provide a seamless transfer. Only thing is who would take the penna!

      Fat Bob

      **AV writes: According to FA regulations a pitch must be between 100 yards (90m) and 130 yards (120m) in length and 50 yards (45m) and 100 yards (90m) wide. So technically it could be square although that would be very unusual, an aesthetic abomination and almost perverse.

      The Riverside pitch is 115 yds x 75 yds. Griffin Park is 110 yds x 73 yds. A bit smaller but not drastically so. Incidentally the “wide open acres of the Wembley pitch” are a massive 115yds by 74 yds, ie, a whisker narrower than the Riverside.

      1. 5 yards shorter and 2 yards narrower than The Riverside, hardly any difference, especially when considered over each half.

      2. Interesting, I quite like the idea of having a square pitch – I imagine it would really screw up teams who had a long throw specialist and probably mess up their carefully worked out corners too.

        You could then maybe rotate the pitch by 90 degrees at half-time so their keeper had to play with the sun in his eyes – though I guess the groundsman would probably need some kind of magic pitch marker to redo all the lines in 15 minutes.

  5. One more thing, I disliked yesterday’s blatant time wasting. When the board goes up and the referee rightly adds on a fair chunk of time, it gives the opposition and home fans a boost. With our propensity for panic stations at the death it is an unwise tactic. But for a fine save from Dimi we would be rueing it over our cornflakes.

  6. Brentford were excellent, they worked very hard to make us look poor, except Ken who did that for them. He looked very rusty, fortunately the yellow card seemed to focus his mind. In the 2nd half the same as the rest of the team, he improved.

    Ben’s distribution was poor but it must have been like riding a push bike with only one pedal when your defensive partner is playing so badly, it’s possible he was getting rid as quickly as possible to avoid potential faux pas on Ken’s part. Regardless, I’d give Ben MOM, shading both Leadbiter and Bamford.

    BamBam was excellent, tireless and sticking to his defensive duty even though it’s clearly not a natural part of his game. And my, doesn’t he have a lovely speaking voice.

    Brentford had two very well worked corners in the first half. They prompted a discussion as to when Boro were last a consistent threat at corners. The consensus was back in the day of Mogga and Pally. Our group don’t go back much further than that, though I do remember beating the arse at Ayresome with a cracking headed goal. Mick Baxter I think. Or was that Newcastle. Brain not working today, it may be that last pint last night.

    I’ve no idea where five minutes of injury time was dug up from. Nor the additional after that. Also can anyone clarify why it was a penalty and a yellow card not a red? It wasn’t a malicious or dangerous challenge, stupid and late clearly, and I’m not angry the keeper didn’t walk but it seemed a strange decision by the ref. likewise the booking of one of their lads in a full blooded 50/50, both went in hard, both studs showing. So book both or neither, but booking one is unfair. I’d be livid if I was a Bees supporter.

    I’m delighted with the win, overjoyed at the clean sheet and would have taken a point at half time.

    The team and we all should take great heart at the diligence displayed, I doubt Ken will play as poorly again.

    On Richard’s post on the FA Cup, I couldn’t agree more.

    1. PM

      As an ex referee, in my opinion the referee awarded a penalty because obviously the foul was in the area. It was not a clear goal scoring opportunity as Bamford was actually moving away from the goal when he was fouled. Other players were also racing back to clear the lines.

      Regarding the additional time there is a set minimum allowance for substitution and Boro and Brentford made a lot in the closing stages. Boro were also guilty of professional time wasting when taking throw ins and of course Kike was booked for kicking the ball away after conceding a free kick.

      Hope this helps!
      Fat Bob

      1. Thanks Bob, very helpful not to say prompt!

        I knew time is added for substitutions, is it thirty seconds per? I didn’t think we were grossly guilty of time wasting tho it’s possible I’m using Boro biased selective vision.
        Kike’s booking was deserved, if he wanted to delay the free kick why not just stand over the ball?

  7. Regarding the yellow card for their goalie. I think that was fair enough. You get red for stopping a goal scoring opportunity. But Bamford had already kicked the ball well into touch just before he was fouled. He would never have retrieved that ball. The goal scoring ooportunity was gone. He was obviously after the penna. He saw the keeper coming got a touch on the ball and took the inevitable contact.

  8. I’m with grovehillwallah on the time wasting, we did a lot of it yesterday. Subs walking as slowly as possible off the pitch, slowly walking over to take corners, throw ins etc. I think you expect that five minutes from time, but we did it for an entire half. It’s not what I want to see from my team. I’m not a great fan of the cynical foul in midfield routine either, but that appears to be part of a succesful teams repoitoire these days.

    Regarding Ben’s distribution, I think we were done by Brentford squeezing high up the pitch, meaning he had little space to aim for. But, for me the big issue wasn’t his distribution but the lack of variety as the ball came out of defence, it seemed that the only plan was Dimi to Ben and then the big hoof in the general direction of Adomah, we looked like a one trick pony in the first half, it was painful to watch.

    But, when all is said and done it was a great feeling to win away and take three points off rivals, we played badly and won, another sign of a good team.

  9. Just watched Arsenal(5) v Villa(0), we really do have a challenge on our hands, they are some team and a better yardstick to our current standing than our previous conquest, despite prior results and league standing, theirs, of course, not ours!

    1. Mind you, if Boro played Villa, we wouldn’t concede a goal until at least 2017. Considering that is a club that has won the European Cup, their fans must be in absolute despair. Arsenal 5 Villa 0 tells only half of the story.

      It will be a welcome diversion from the extended trench warfare that getting out of the Championship represents. Enjoy the cup run while we can.

  10. Bed beckons, I refuse to carry out a blatant Ian Gill 29 ball keepy-up to secure another Trabby for my garage, I prefer team work. I will no doubt awake to a 120+ score card and yet another Derby taxi secured, which is something the English cricket team would aspire to on most days. Perth’s not a good place at present, the rain came too late!

  11. The narrowness of Brentfords pitch is probably an optical illusion because the stands are so close. The exact opposite of Stoke under Pulis.

    Some time ago I happened on a televised match Stoke played in the Europa Cup that prompted me to dig out the TV manual, There appeared to ghost blue lines all over the picture until the penny dropped. There must be a minimum size for European football which is bigger than our minimum so Stoke had to remark it and colour the grass for the old pitch.

    When you looked closely it was like those multipurpose sports halls. There was a blue goal line along the edge of the six yard box, the blue touchlines were a similar distance in. The pitch must have been a dozen yards shorter and narrower.

    Rory Delap didn’t have a long throw, a real case of moving the goal posts!

  12. AV –

    “a cool, headed spot kick” … now that I would like to have seen. Although to be honest, Leads’ can walk on water.

    To return to a more serious subject, although we talk about desperate defensive displays almost every match on here, I think it is more a case of game management. And of course is down to Aitor. When one thinks of the points scattered to the four winds from winning positions in the recent seasons, one would need a heart of stone not to laugh, particularly as each manager was patted on the head and told that it was not his fault and that he was not to worry it could happen to anyone, oh, and as an afterthought his job was safe. By the way, Aitor seems to believe in filling the six yard box in the last few minutes, the full eleven men.

    Sorry about the comma which suddenly appeared in your match report AV. never let the truth spoil a good joke.

    **AV writes: Punctuation – the first casualty.

  13. AV, as an aside to the current discussions, could you possibly say if the Boro received any money for Wyke and Halliday. My assumption is no, and I would be disappointed in that.

    We have developed them through the acadamy/club, and bearing in mind Halliday cost 100k, I believe we should have been looking for some recompense. The same goes for Ledesma, AK keeping him here, and is very unlikely to use him, when we possibly could have received a fee for him. All these small amounts lost, are lost to the Acadamy.

    **AV writes: No fees. It is almost impossible to get lower level clubs to pay fees, especially for players like Halliday in the last six months of his contract. In fact, Boro didn’t sell him. They agreed to terminate his contract which was a favour to him as it let him move as a free agent. On his existing deal few lower league clubs could have afforded his wages. If players aren’t in the squad or likely to be it is better moving them on than keeping them (and paying them) on principle.

    1. I realise the sense behind AV’s comment above. Having said that, I would have thought Halliday would be a good buy at 100K. He is still young and his performance against Chelsea suggests he is improving. He will still have a value after his “new” contract. How much would Bradford have received from the FA Cup game at Chelsea?

      Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves, as my mother used to say.

      **AV writes: Lower league clubs just don’t spend on fees. They haven’t got the cash. There was no interest in signing him last summer and now, on book price, he next to worthless. If Boro held out for a fee there would have been no takers and they would now be paying the bulk of his wages until July. Plus, he would then be out of contract in the summer and be competing with 500 plus unemployed professionals, some of them already on lower wages than him. For him to go now gives him a head start in the market. If he declined and took his chances on another loan next week it would be just for 93 days so bosses may not be so keen knowin gthey couldn’t get a full season out of him. Boro have done him a big favour and saved themselves a few bob. Not much but every little helps.

  14. On reflection, Brentford were not quite good enough to make their early dominance count. Clearing the bar or hitting the post is still a miss. If the keeper makes a save or the man on the line clears the ball, that’s what he is supposed to do.

    To Brentford’s credit, for long periods, we played exactly as well as they allowed us to play. However, this Middlesbrough team is tough, ruthless and organised. This means that unlike their predecessors, they did not capitulate when under pressure. When the opportunities did come, they were still able capitalise on them and win.

    Encouragingly, I think it would be possible to have cut “Brentford” and pasted “Manchester City” into these comments.

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