February: Boro Geared Up For A Massive Month

AFTER weathering the traditional “January Jitters” we can look forward to Boro’s form picking up a bit over the next month. We know that from our history. We come out of hibernation and pick up a bit in February. Which would be great timing.

Boro may not have played at their best but they were unbeaten in January, conceded just one goal, saw off the the Premier League champions and stepped up the promotion pace with three wins and a draw. Yet the table is tighter than ever. Boro have kept racking up points but so have the rest of the leading group. Just one point now separates the top three with the rest of the top six just behind and although the pressure is mounting, no one has yet shown any signs of cracking. But something has to give soon.

111Qfix

There has been much pre-emptive worrying among the instinctively nervous on Teesside about Boro’s “Week of Destiny” in far off March when Aitor’s Army take on Ipswich at home then make tricky trips to Derby and Bournemouth in quick succession. “That will decide things at the top” is the consensus. Not necessarily. The future shape of the table could change radically before then. The dye could already be cast before that trio of tussles.

February brings a fixture flurry that should see gaps appear in the table. Boro are playing seven games in 21 games – or in tabloidese, they are braced for a ‘fixturebomb’ – with most of their rivals playing at least six.

That will be a physically gruelling programme but on paper Boro’s looks relatively inviting – Charlton, Blackpool, Leeds, Birmingham, Bolton, Sheff Wed – while many of the other teams in the promotion pack must face each other. A string of summit six pointers are looming for other members of the cut-throat scrum, starting with Bournemouth against Derby on Tuesday, and those clashes must dent Boro’s chief rivals.

Teams in the pack will drop points. Some will slip up. Others like Watford and Norwich play several rivals and can drag their way back into it. By the end a pivotal month of crunch clashes the shape at the sharp end will be a lot clearer.

And with the prospect of a draining slog through a busy and crucial stage of the season on heavy pitches every squad will be tested, some to destruction. We have been saying for months now that cracks will appear in the challenge of Brentford and Bournemouth and to some extent Ipswich who have smaller squads with fewer options. We have been saying that that they will pick up injuries, they will get suspensions. If that is going to happen, if those sides are going to falter and fade, it is going to happen now. 

Likewise, if the strengths of the squads at Boro – and Derby – are going to tell, then it is going to be now. Karanka has carefully constructed a solid collection of athletic and versatile players with at least two players for every position and several capable of multi-tasking across key areas. And they have all been drilled meticulously in the shape and system. They have been rotated throughout the season and are now used to slotting in where and when needed and are used to being rested. Every player in the squad is tune with that collective ideology.

We have said since early on that there will come a point when squad size, depth, ability and the number of options will start to tell and when squads that are not so broad based and not so deep would start to show cracks. If that is going to happen it will be in February with fixture congestion, heavy pitches and a series of high pressure matches.

It is a massive month. Bring it on.

Here’s the fixtures. What say you?

***********************************

BOURNEMOUTH – 1st, 54 pts, GD + 3

7 (a) WIGAN

10 (h) DERBY
14 (h) HUDDERSFIELD
21 (a) BRENTFORD
25 (a) NTTM FOREST
28 (h) BLACKBURN

***

DERBY – 2nd , 54 pts, GD +27

7 (h) BOLTON

10 (a) BOURNEMOUTH

14 (h) READING (FA Cup)

17 (a)  ROTHERHAM

21 (h) SHEFF WED

24 (h) CHARLTON

28 (a) FULHAM

***

BORO –  3rd, 53pts GD +25

7 (h) CHARLTON
10 (a) BLACKPOOL
15 (a) ARSENAL (FA Cup)
18 (a) BIRMINGHAM
21 (h) LEEDS
24 (h) BOLTON
28 (a) SHEFF WED

***

IPSWICH – 4th, 51pts, GD +19

7 (a) ROTHERHAM
10 (h) SHEFF WED
14 (a) FULHAM
21 (h) READING
24 (h) BIRMINGHAM

***

BRENTFORD – 5th, 49pts, GD +7

7 (a) LEEDS
10 (h) WATFORD
14 (a) CHARLTON
21 (h) BOURNEMOUTH
24 (h) BLACKPOOL
28 (a) BIRMINGHAM

***

WATFORD – 6th, 47pts, GD +23

7 (h) BLACKBURN
10 (a) BRENTFORD
14 (a) BOLTON
21 (h) NORWICH
24 (h) ROTHERHAM
28 (a) LEEDS

***

WOLVES – 7th, 45pts, GD -2

7 (h) READING
10 (a) HUDDERSFIELD
14 (a) NORWICH
21 (h) ROTHERHAM
24 (h) FULHAM
28 (a) CARDIFF

***

NORWICH – 8th, 44pts, GD 16

7 (h) BLACKPOOL
10 (a) CHARLTON
14 (h) WOLVES
21 (a) WATFORD
24 (a) BLACKBURN

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37 thoughts on “February: Boro Geared Up For A Massive Month

  1. Nice one AV, sneaking in a post after midnight but the Aussie guys will be on you like a flash.

    At first I thought it strange that Ipswich and Norwich should only be playing 5 games and then realised that they actually play each other on Sunday March 1st. That’s another mind and body-sapping encounter to add to their list.

    I totally agree that February provides the opportunity for a team to open up that 6 point gap that provides the launchpad for the final sprint to the line. Equally, Boro seem to have the fixture list and the squad to seize that opportunity. However, like any long time supporter, I am concerned that even saying something like that will bring down the wrath of any relevant deity who happens to be taking an interest and we will find some way to miss out. Set against that is the warm nugget of belief that suggests that AK is the real deal and all previous weaknesses have been banished.

    Anyway, I would guess that the superstitious amongst us will still be spending February hopping on one leg, wearing the same clothes and checking results on the proper websites in the same order. At home to Charlton feels like a good way to start the pursuit of Big Jack’s achievement and then we have the potential banana skin of Blackpool. The fixture computer definitely has a sense of humour. Away at Blackpool on a Tuesday night in February. What could be more fun. However, six points from these two games will see us on top and that’s a powerful incentive.

    All the best to everyone. It’s quite warm in Sydney.

    UTB

  2. Bad enough that AV is awake all hours downloading his latest Blog piece, but then we have our Antipodean DiasBoro responding whilst most local supporters are in their beds. But no, they have to make it worse – boasting about the warmth there when the last patches of snow are melting in our North Yorkshire gardens. Of course there may still be the white stuff up on the hillsides, but at this hour I’m not going out to check. It MIGHT have all gone by tomorrow, unless fresh supplies are delivered overnight.

    And “selwynoz” – does that refer to a college you attended in England (in which case there must be at least three people contributing to this Blog who have been there), or does it relate to your name?

  3. Don’t begrudge us a bit of warmth. There has to be some small advantage to living so far away from the epicentre of this latest boro upheaval. By the time it gets here, it’s barely a ripple. We live off the internet and cable TV.

    The tag betrays a stunning lack of imagination as it refers to my own surname with a quick oz tacked on. I didn’t make it to Cambridge but instead was at Imperial College in London. 95% male at the time and packed with nothing but chemists, miners and engineers. I wonder if there are others on the blog who went there

  4. Good Morning Bloggers, always nice to catch a new thread, the old one was a bit drab considering the lack of transfer action.

    February is strange month always too short, but here in the desert it is BBQ weather and time to start putting the sun cream on again.

    The Blackpool Banana Skin is certainly looming but the stats also favour a Charlton upset. Check the form in Sporting Life form table and you will see why. I really hope AK doesn’t do a typical Boro this month!!

  5. Other than their game against Bournemouth, Derby seem to have a similar run of fixtures to Boro – so if they negotiate that then they’ll be up there come the end of the month. Ipswich’s next five games don’t look too daunting either – though as they only won one game in January perhaps they’re struggling a bit

    To me it looks like Bournemouth have the toughest looking fixtures in February – though I’m not sure we can rely on them having a weaker squad as they rested quite a lot of players for the Cup and still performed pretty well at Villa I seem to remember (though conceding two goals against Villa is not exactly the best).

    Brentford also seem to have some tricky fixtures but they don’t seem to be phased by much at the moment and were the better side for most of the game against us.

    I’ve got a feeling that Wolves might start sneaking up the table and their games don’t look too scary either.

    As for Boro? Karanka always delivers doesn’t he?

  6. The Derby view is that Ince and Bent were good additions giving them a really strong squad. they haven’t conceded a goal in January and have added attacking options. Andy also thinks that the best on Tuesday for us would be a win for Derby, that could lead to a two horse race for the title between us.

    A key point that we must remember is that our form is six months behind Derby’s, we were rebuilding whilst they went on a promotion run. We are now within a point and it is set for an exciting run to seasons end.

    I see we have got a double whammy in player and manager of the month! Damn, well lets break the mould.

  7. Nail biting and sqeaky bum times ahead!

    Take it one game at a time. Settle for a scrappy 1 0 against Charlton tomorrow.
    Fat Bob

  8. Do we dare to dream?

    It all seems far too drilled like a swiss watch and just maybe it will happen. My own initials are AK, and I like to plan things to perfection, so much that I had a nickname of Special K. Apparently coz I gave everybody the shits in the morning.

    I think it is going to happen and nothing is gonna stop us now.

    Up the boro.

  9. Agree with all of that, AV.

    And I’m grateful to Exmill.

    It was his challenge that alerted me to the run of games that looked softish on paper, the first three of which have all been won. I’m not a betting man, but the spread bet that Boro would attain more than 79 points looked too good to miss. It’s off to an excellent start and I intend to take any winnings or losses after the Sheff Wed game.

    I think it’s most likely to be Boro and Derby by the end of the season, though Bournemouth continue to play well and there is little sign there of a bursting bubble.

    I do think that Derby gained a trick on us in the transfer window, however. A question: Which looks the better deal to you,Tom Ince on loan, or £2 million with add-ons for another defensive midfielder who will provide cover for Leads and Clayton when their card counts come home to roost?

    By the way wouldn’t it have been cheaper and more efficient to instil a bit more discipline and restraint into the errant pair? Most of their bookings have arisen from dissent or quite unnecessary fouls. And to have splashed out the money on an attacking midfielder?

    I should say that I was quite impressed by what I saw of Forshaw last Saturday at Brentford, and I’m hoping that he will prove a real acquisition. But on the evidence available it looked a surprising signing.

    I attended the Wigan-Boro game with GHW and we both agreed that we were lucky to come away with a point. Maloney scored, hit the bar, took all of the dead balls, and generally ran the show. McManaman gave Friend considerable problems. That was in November. Had you told me that in January the Boro would make a £million plus bid for a Wigan midfielder I would not have been a bit surprised. Had you said it would be for Forshaw, I would have called for the men in the white coats.

    Poor Adam was heckled throughout the game. Every lateral ball, every misplaced pass was greeted with derision, until he was substituted to ironic cheers. In truth he had a terrible time at Wigan. He made only seven starts all season, and in only one if those did he finish on the winning side. He never established himself as a first team regular in a side that has flirted with relegation all season. Malkey must have snatched our hands off at being offered that kind of money for a player whom he clearly did not rate.

    Given his outstanding record at Brentford, Forshaw’s disappointing time at Wigan needs some explaining. The lad underwent a serious ankle operation last Summer. Could that be at least part of the explanation?

    Ince, for me, has been the single most impressive player I have seen in the Championship over the past few years, a view which I’m sure will be endorsed by George Friend who endured the mother-and-father of all roastings at Thomas’s hands two years ago at Blackpool.

    AV said that he has been touted around Europe, as though in some desperation. In fact he could easily have gone to Inter Milan, or many of the bigger English clubs, including Liverpool, who jibbed only at the price. He chose a smaller club because his agent (his Dad) thought he would be better playing regularly than spending much of the season sitting on the bench.

    The problem for Thomas is that if he is playing in a team which is struggling, as Hull have been for much of this season, he looks like a bit of a luxury. He can be a bit arrogant, he doesn’t always chase back, and defend all that well from the front. But he does have precisely what the Boro most obviously lack at the moment (and no more obviously than at Brentford). Our squad lacks support for the Tomlin role in terms of quality and creativity going forward, the ability to link defence and attack,and to both create and finish goal scoring opportunities. We have strength in depth almost all over the park. Yet it remains true that Tomlin is the one player for whom we do not have an adequate replacement.

    So it will be of particular interest to compare the relative successes of Ince and Forshaw at Derby and Boro during this crucial run-in period. I think we may have missed a trick. I hope I’m wrong.

  10. Have Boro been struck down by the ‘Manager of the Month curse’ before? Yes, but that was well before Karanka’s time. So I am just gone enjoy the February now. No panic – in Aitor we trust.

    Len –

    I wouldn’t have Tom Ince on a free. There must be something. Nobody wants him permanently. And we needed cover for central midfield more. We have plenty of wingers – so much so that we could loan some out as Carayol is fit again.

    Up the Boro!

  11. Ah, the ‘Gypsy’s Curse’ of Manager of the Month and Player of the Month. Talk about sticking pins in an effigy. I bet Schteve is delighted about missing that one for his office cabinet.

    Didn’t Barry Fry, at one of the clubs he managed, rush round the pitch and have a pee on each corner flag to lift a curse? Or is that just an urban myth and a man with an eye for publicity?

    As for Charlton and Blackpool, I think AK will earn his corn preparing the team for these two, I know somebody is due for thrashing but Charlton have form and Blackpool although seemingly doomed are going to start getting some results that go against the form book.

    The others in the leading pack, well we shouldn’t even worry about them, they’ll do what they do and there’s nowt we can do about it Boro just need to keep winning, or not losing away from home. As for heavy pitches does anybody have a heavy pitch these days in the Championship? There can’t be any pitches like the Baseball Ground or Northampton any more surely?

    2 – 1 to Boro on Saturday.

    UTB,

    John

  12. Good post Len.

    My view is that however well Ince does at Derby, he would not fit in with AK’s defend-from-the-front mantra and therefore could not have been a success at Boro.

    Of more interest to me than comparing him with Forshaw, which I don’t see as like-for-like, will be seeing if Derby’s numerous additions, especially Bent and Ince, improve their squad or destabilise it.

  13. Tom Ince thrives in open spaces and broken play just like many players. I hope the lad comes good but not now.

    There have been many who have burst on to the scene only to fade away, have a read of the piece on Stephen Bell. Nathan Porritt, Marinelli never kicked on, the list is very long indeed, even Adam Johnson hasn’t reached the heights expected though playing in the top flight is hardly a failure.

    I think the key thing from our viewpoint is that our squad has matured together as the season has worn on. Each piece has been blended in to the way we play, everyone has had their chance to play together, no one who remains is excluded, the new players are assimilated as and when ready.

    Carayol coming back will give us four strike wingers in Reach, Adomah, Wildschutt and Muzzie. We will have the ball skills of Tomlin and hopefully Ledesma. Upfront we have Kike, Bamford and Vossen. Those players can be blended in different ways.

    It is Aitor’s way.

    The two strongest squads appear to be Derby’s and our own but I am sure the rest are not that much weaker.

    Now is the time to push on, I would have liked a few more points by this stage but it is the table at tea time 02/05/2015 that counts.

  14. Thomas Ince has never had so much attention and here am I adding to it. He will not be the difference in any team. He just promises a lot but doesn’t deliver where it counts.

    Having nothing to do for a change here is my predictions for the teams emerging from the February fight club on the 28th

    Bournemouth 67 points
    Boro 67 points
    Derby 63
    Ipswich 61
    Brentford 60
    Wolves
    58
    Watford 57
    Norwich 53

  15. Ron

    Don’t worry, when I went to university I couldn’t spell inginere now I is one.

    On to the size of the crowd, my glance at the seat map hints at a similar number of Boro fans as against Huddersfield but there is the rest of Friday to go before I firm up on my guestimate.

  16. Now come on len, you’re trying to wind me up aren’t you?! In the first part of your piece you imply that ‘Dutton’ Forshaw is rubbish because he got booed by his own supporters and then subbed when at Wigan. You then go onto claim Ince is a top midfield player (best in the Championship?) and claim his poor form is down to playing in a poor team. But clearly Forshaw’s poor form wasn’t down to playing in a poor team? Double standards there perhaps?

    I’m not sure Forshaw is a ‘defensive’ midfield player is he? I think he has a little more to his game than that, but on the other hand if you think Leadbitter is a defensive midfield player then yes maybe Forshaw is to. Personally I think the Forshaw addition is an obvious one, Grant is about to serve a ban, we’re going to play two games a week now pretty much until May and the attritional battle that takes place in midfield every match will take its toll. I’m not sure I’d be whooping with joy if when Leadbitter was suspended/injured Karanka put Ince in hs place, he’s not his Dad.

    Looking at the fixtures I can’t see Blackpool being a banana skin. My guess is Derby will draw on Saturday win on Tuesday and we’ll win both on Saturday and Tuesday and so will go top. Our run of poor form is behind us, it’s time to put this league to the sword.

  17. Nigel, surely selwynoz must be a grown up and not a miner if he has been to university?

    I am still thinking that the time is ripe for Boro to give some team a right tanking at the Riverside … so I’m going for a 4-0 to Boro tomorrow afternoon.

  18. @ AV This is what comes of posting after midnight 🙂 “the dye could already be cast”, could it indeed? Could it have been a red dye that was cast into the river “Rubycon”? JC’s original quote might have been “iacta alea esto” or “let the die be cast” – which would have had a similar meaning to “bring it on”.

    **AV writes: Good spot – extra points for the classical reference.

  19. Predicting a win tomorrow and Bikey to get a hostile reception after he took out George with an elbow earlier in the season down at The Valley.

    I’m sure Velovic will be lively with a point to prove after AK sent him on his way

  20. I think Vossen, Bamford and Kike can all play in the Tomlin role and have done so this season. So, in that respect, we do have cover.

  21. You can factor in as many permutations as you like AV: players coming in/out of form, surges from teams below us, injuries, fixture pile ups/cup replays… but you can’t ignore the most dangerous factor – the ticking timebomb that is the manager of the month award. The black spot of the football world, second only to the dreaded vote of confidence. Dismiss it at your peril. Unless Aitor wins it again it means another team has had a better month…..

    **AV writes: Yes. And Boro always come down with the docorations. And are rubbish in January.

  22. Right, Boro, it’s down to you to rescue my weekend. No pressure then…….

    Mate who sits next to me can’t be there (very long story) so Mrs Dormo will have his ticket. If we don’t win handsomely, it’s all down to her.

    1. Welcome Mrs Dormo with you there we will win!!

      No problem

      Fat Bob

      **AV writes: “One Mrs Dormo, there’s only one Mrs Dormo….”

      1. Some thoughts occur:

        1. I have been threatened with all sorts of violence if I point out that she is the “PRESENT Mrs Dormo” (since 1st August 1981).

        2. I would say more but she is looking over my shoulder……

        3. She thanks Fat Bob for his friendly welcome.

  23. Yeah this really is a pretty big 21 days in the scheme of things. As big as the matches in March may appear to be right now, it’s what happens here and now in February which will dictate if we are to push on for automatic promotion I think.

    Tomorrow I’m hoping for a 2-0 win. This team is gelling and it’s clear everybody is working for one another. Long may it continue.

    UTB

  24. There are some great photographs in that Tumblr feed AV. Did you take them yourself?

    UTB,

    John

    AV writes: No, most of the old Middlesbrough ones are images I’ve copied from the Gazette archives. The graffiti ones are mainly by a photographer that used to work for Time Out.

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