A Pivotal Point In The Promotion Push

THE WIN over Derby felt like a pivotal point in the promotion battle. It felt like a seismic shift in the balance of forces. It felt like the landscape has been reshaped in the in the psychology and the maths and the momentum at the top. It felt fantastic.

This “Week of Destiny” has been looming large for months and lets be honest here, some people have been wetting themselves over it. If you are that way inclined and spend most of your time viewing events through a jaundiced flaw-magnifying telescope of scorn predicting that the next match is a looming disaster then you would have seen this Titanic trio of tussles as the point where the wheels would come off, where the inherent obvious weaknesses in the team were exposed and “typical Boro” collapsed.

In fact the “Week of Destiny” is showing what the rest of the league – managers, players and fans of other teams – knew all along: Boro are a very good team. They are well organised, well motivated, technically gifted and tactically astute, they have strength in depth and they have the  right balance of steel and spite needed to get through games that the opposition try to turn into a  toe-to-toe blood and snot scrap.

Boro have risen to the challenge of a massive week. They polished off Ipswich with a ruthless zeal live on TV when the habitual critics said they would bottle it on screen.

They went to Derby when the critics said they had yet to beat a top team away, and that Steve McClaren was the uber-coach and would prepare a trap and we would now see why Tom Ince was a Championship game-changer and that Boro wouldn’t cope with a baying full-house in a high pressure away game.  And they won.  They were battered and bruised and physically drained on the whistle but they won and landed what could be a dream denting blow on  Derby and beefed up their position at the top. And then there were two.

1SteveMc

  Mag-bloody-nificent…..  not again!

The dust-up at Derby felt important because of the nature of the battle. For all his clip-board coaching credentials and appliance of science approach, McClaren’s tactical plan was fairly simple: clatter Patrick Bamford to nullify Boro’s threat and get if forward quickly to Ince and Ward, play at a test-to-destruction tempo and intensity and try to pick or batter a way through. Boro defused that approach with ease. They more than matched the muscle and pace and played all the best football to finish well on top.

For all Derby’s possession and balls down the flanks and into the box  Boro were rarely troubled and bar a punched clearance of a late free-kick Dimi barely had to do anything. There was a frantic first 20 with Christie and Ward putting a few square balls in a couple of hopeful efforts stabbed wide and an attacking home energy that produce more heat than light and an even more frantic kitchen-sink last 20 with four, five, six up-front and a barrage of crosses to be blocked and headed.  But for all the nervous energy it never felt like dentures Derby had real incisors.  Russell on featured in flashes . Ince quickly faded. Yes, Derby have injuries to key players and it was “a good time to play them” but they are still one of the strongest squads in the league and hey, we have injuries too.

But it wasn’t easy. Physically, it was one of the toughest tests of the season. Boro had to be at their best. They were industrious without the ball, closing and chasing and tackling and blocking and they headed away a barrage of routine crosses and after a first half spent largely on the back foot drawing the Derby sting they started to assert themselves.

They should have broken the deadlock in the first half with the the Jelle Vossen 40 yard first time audacious chip after a scuffed shot-stopper’s clearance,  an inching instinctive arch of ambition over the hapless stranded shot-stopper, a long geometric plotting that wafted a sudden shroud of open-mouthed cinematic slo-mo silence over the ground as everyone’s neck rose and tracked the flight of the ball through what seemed minutes of agonising airborne uncertainty as it dipped goalwards… then rattled off the far post and bounced down and back up into the relieved keeper’s arms as full-speed resumed amid a massive sigh of relief from Rams and disbelieving laughter from Boro fans.

After that the balance of the game and the mood of the ground shifted decisively. Derby were getting no joy with either their frustrated probing down the channels or their simplistic bludgeoning and their belief and tempo gradually waned while Boro started to show they had a potent punch in reserve, that they had quality given a chance to shine.

And they won the game with a goal conjured with another moment of magic, a perfectly weighted Lee Tomlin run and well spotted wire guided pass that somehow squeezed through a crowd of flat-footed defenders to find Bamford’s perceptive run and he took a deft touch to guide it around and beyond the keeper then sublimely swept it into the net with an angled stroke that was almost one balletic moment.

That was a moment heavy with inevitability:  he was a former Derby player with a point to prove, a Nottingham-born Forest fan (a “Red Dog”) with all his friends and family watching, and he had been battered relentless on the pitch and barracked off it by increasingly hysterical fans. He was whacked and crunched at every turn. He was kicked and pushed and pulled and  rammed in the back but he kept battling, kept moving and scored a sweet St Patrick’s Day goal that oozed Premier League class.

1paddy

 Paddy Power! Bamford turns on the Football Inevitability Drive. 

He could have had a second at the death that would have echoed his goal against Ipswich as he peeled away from Keogh as a long ball forward bounced on the halfway line but as he raced forward he felt his calf cramping and never had the ooomph to finish it. He was knackered. Albert went down cramped at the end. Woody was limping. Gibbo was creaking. George was bruised (although not as bruised as Ince after some early hits).

It was a well organised and meticulously prepared win. After the game George revealed he had spent the whole week watching DVDs of Ince’s twists and turns and knew what to expect, when to hit him and when to stand off. Bamford revealed that in the warm-up he had deliberately and publicly lined up wide right during the kicking-in drills to send out pre-match tactical disinformation to McClaren. Both said  pitchside after the game that they had already started work on Bournemouth.  Those are the levels of  micro-management that Aitor Karanka puts into every single day of his project.

Aitor Karanka himself was delighted and rightly praised his players and said, yes, it was a big night but he counselled caution, said nothing had been won yet and was immediately focussed on Bournemouth…. although his “for this one reason we are happy” body language suggested he had EIOed his way from the changies to the press lounge and was about to leading the singing all the way home on the coach.

And to be fair, Steve McClaren admitted after the game Boro were the real deal too.

It was a fantastic, pulsating electric atmosphere and that reflected the frenetic high-stakes nature of the game. At kick-off there was an ear-drum bursting up-to-11 roar that made it feel like a cup final. And that energising volume and passion was relentless through the first 15  or 20 minutes of Derby’s quick but gradually more ragged probes forward.

But the organised volume of passionate mass urging soon dropped to be replaced by more anxious notes and urgent, nervous individual squeals and suddenly Boro fans dominated the soundscape.  By half-time the home fans were no longer chanting in purposeful unison – except when they were berating Bamford as he picked himself up from yet another juggernaut drive-by – and from those in front of the press box the fear started to bubble through, the pitch went up several octaves to dog-whistle territory and the scape-goating started and morale dipped. Quickly.  By the end every misplaced pass brought a fractured yelping. That is a club with a serious crisis of confidence and a big challenge to go up.

11tabs

So that’s the “Week of Destiny” so far: two games, six points, a pair of putative promotion rivals seriously dented, the rest of the pack falling away …. and it is Bournemouth next. The long time leaders are two points behind now.   They only know one way to play so they will attack and pass and try to have a go at Boro. That may suit our normal game.

I’d take a draw right now.

 

 

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

And here’s what we said before the game.

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

BORO have a massive chance to change the mood music of the title run in tonight as they go to long time rivals Derby in the second instalment of their “Week of Destiny.”

It feels like a good time to play them. Boro’s wobble is weeble-like, we haven’t fallen down and seem to right ourselves quickly for the next push. But Derby have had a massive Greek plate spinning crockery catastrophe with just two wins in eight, four without victory and some distinct stutters, needing to come from three down to grab a draw with Rotherham and letting slip a two goal lead in stoppage time to draw with Birmingham.

 

They appear to be having a crisis of faith, an injury crisis (key strikers Chris Martin and Darren Bent are both out) and a once rigid backline has sprung a leak and they have conceded two goals or more in EIGHT of the last nine games.  Talking to their press people the tension at the top is is getting to both the team and the crowd with nerves setting in early and  the fear that even two goals may not be enough for a point. Last season’s play-off failure  is casting an icy shadow over their hearts.

Here’s a quick preview chat I had with DerbyCountyBlog.  The fans seem to be a little bit jittery there and a bit more worried about Boro than we are them. And to be fair, most Boro fans are more worried about Boro then  they after about the Rams..

Boro travel boosted by the emphatic (eventually) 4-1 win over Ipswich that pretty much ploughed the Tractorboys out of the race for the automatic spots. Another victory tonight *could*  seriously dent Derby’s  morale as they labour through their own fixture flurry of five games in six against top eight sides. It would also set up Boro nicely for the big trip to Bournemouth on Saturday.

There has been a lot of theoretical mathematical modelling going on over the past few days over what points return is acceptable, possible and desirable. Having beaten Ipswich and given the looming fixtures for all the top sides I believe TWO points from the next two games would be acceptable, four is possible and I’d be pinching myself with six.

There is an abstract argument going on that TWO would be better than THREE. It sounds crazy because obviously that would mean Boro would be one point worse off. But the logic is that two draws would peg back both rivals where as a win one, lose one outcome would let one of the others steal a march. If Derby were to win they would be back ahead of Boro. If it was the Cherries they would open a gap. I see the logic but don’t buy it. I think it is just psychologically building a cushion to land on if Boro fail to win the games.

It depends whether you want to play the long game and try to control at least some of the factors in a tense multi-team chase or believe we should just bank the points and let the rest take care of itself.

A moor point. I think we’ll win. I think Derby are vulnerable. I think they are also scared of the Totemic power of “Red Dog” (Forest fan) Patrick Bamford, who it emerged this week their fans dubbed ‘Wigwam’ when he was there last year. Bamford – who scored in the reverse in December – has declared himself “well up for it” for a bundle of reasons  . If he plays to his Paddy Power potential Boro will win.

I’m going for a Boro win, 1-0 or 2-0. But it will be tense. Aren’t they all now?

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148 thoughts on “A Pivotal Point In The Promotion Push

  1. If Typical Boro did eclipses then it would be pretty much as it is over here and most of the UK.

    It’s been clear blue skies all week until this morning when we woke up to a pretty foggy day and now it’s basically just a darker foggy day instead – I blame the media for building it up into a ‘once in a lifetime experience’ (again!)

    1. Classic coverage on Sky News when they interviewed a man ringing a bell as the eclipse reached it’s maximum.

      “What are you doing Sir?”

      “I’m taking in the occasion as an eclipse is normally a portent of change and I’m hoping that it heralds the end of this evil austerity”

      “Er Well that was a bit political – let’s quickly go over to our reporter in Lerwick”

  2. Ian
    A delayed response to your 9.00pm post last night as my visits to the blog are constantly curtailed by other demands on my time. I am an OAP but would never use the term “retired” as, like a number of my other retired friends, I appear to be busier now than when I was working. But I digress.
    On reflection, I have to agree that I might have been touting Willie’s England credentials through rose coloured glasses. Playing for Boro, apart from his inherent injury (which he played through for years without affecting his performances), he was always likely to be overllooked.
    Are we paranoid or is it a fact that Boro are just one of those “upstarts” who occasionally crash the Big Boys’ party?
    We are certainly close to suffering over exposure at present compared to our historical standing.
    I suppose we should enjoy the moment because, history tells us, we can soon despatched to where we belong once the media are bored with us.
    For tomorrow, I agree that, if fit, Woody should play and Ayala should be given more time to be fit for the final seven. I’m hoping for at least a point but, as ever, I’m not confident. Us pessimists get more joy from being proved wrong!
    UTB

  3. I don’t think you were overdoing it at all Slaggy (or Mr Islander). No way we’ll ever know, but I’ve always harboured a thought that football being the small closed community that it is, maybe the word was out that Willie could hardly train during the week making it impossible to pick him for international duty.
    It could also explain why other than a decent six figure bid from Ipswich in his early days, we weren’t fending off bids left right and centre for him.
    The only other explanation is that the England management genuinely thought that Brian Greenough, Mike Doyle, Emlyn flipping Hughes and a few others were better players, and that to this day I do find unbelieveable.

    1. Wiggy

      I remember why maddren retired we were playing WBA and Cyrille Regis went past willy in his own words as if he was standing still.

      Willy decided to have a knee op after that game but it was unsuccessful and he retired RIP

      Fat Bob

  4. Great post-match piece as usual AV.

    I loved the paragraph about George Friend’s pre-match CD research on Ince and the Bamford pre-match curveball. Attention to detail, small margins and all that.

    On this occasion Stevie Mac came out second best but he was once ahead of the game on such matters. The day before the Carling Cup Final the players visited the stadium and were shown exactly where their families would be sitting in the stadium so they wouldn’t be phased at all in the vital minutes before kick-off. Whether that partly explains our stunning start that day I’m not sure.

    Perhaps getting these little things right does increase confidence in the players by reinforcing the message that we are better prepared for the game than our opponents.

  5. Slaggy

    It isn’t Boronoia.

    Whenever one of the big boys lose the focus is always on what they did wrong, it was ever thus. The English football world has two suns, one over the M62 corridor in west Lancs, the other over Greater London and the main media circle one or the other.

    It needs a partial eclipse to notice the disturbances away from the main bodies.

    It was worse in Willie’s day, we had Tyne Wear TV as well as ‘Yorkshire but no further than Wetherby’ TV.

    It is just factual.

  6. Can I put in a word for Andy D’Urso? I thought he had a pretty good game in a powder-keg atmosphere at Derby. And with one key decision that no one has so far remarked upon, using his discretion, he did as much for Boro’s automatic promotion chances as any of the players on the pitch.

    I know that RR has no time for D’Urso,and that reflects his own experience of him. Fair enough. And, in truth, he was demoted from the Premier League for a basic error some years ago.

    But all of this is surely outweighed for any Boro fan by his courage in defying Fergie and the Man Utd. mafia. D’Urso, of course, had the temerity to award Boro a penalty at Old Trafford some 15 years ago for Stam’s blatant trip on TLF. Refs just didn’t do that kind of thing.

    The sight of him being chased, pushed and harassed by Keane and his bully-boy mates was a sickening spectacle, It was a low point for the game in general, and the beginnings of the movement to start at least thinking about the importance of according refs some basic respect.

    So D’Urso, for me , starts off greatly in credit. And whenever I have seen him since he has looked experienced and well in control. A ref of Premiership quality who has never been allowed back in.

    He didn’t have a perfect game last Tuesday. He should have given Bamford more protection, and the Boro staff were infuriated by his failure to give Reach a penalty. But he was courageous in not being intimidated by a partisan crowd (few Derby supporters will endorse the view I’m expressing here), and the penalty claim was, as Ian suggested, more six of one and half-a -dozen of the other than a nailed- on pen., Both players were attempting to outmuscle one another. The decision could have gone either way.

    But when Leadbitter threw Hughes to the ground, off the ball, and in full view of the ref, most officials would have immediately reached for the yellow card. And Leads would have been out for the next three vital games. That D’Urso made do with a stern word infuriated the crowd, but said much for his courage and good sense.

    Boro staff looked furious with D’Uso about that penalty shout. In fact all Boro supporters have much to thank him for. Leads survived to fight the battles to come.

  7. Len

    From where I was stood it looked a nailed on pen, from the TV footage it looked a pen , we don’t know how it looked from where D’Urso was and it was far side from the non assisting referee..

    I have seen in the past situations that brought howls of protest from fans and pundits and purely by chance seen press photos that supported the ref.

    Chelsea will forever say that when Kanchelkis went down and in the final ManU got a pen it was a rank decision. In my daily paper the camera man had take a photo that framed the ref between the two players. Elleray was looking straight in to the lens and there clear as daylight not in an eclipse was the player going down with the defenders arm extended a hand pushing down between the shoulder blades.

    Another time in a rout of Derby we got a pen that wasn’t clear to me or my Rams mate in different parts of the ground. In the Daily Mail was a photo with Boksic going down with the defender all over the top and back of him with both arms down the front of sick notes body.

    Two classic cases, doesn’t mean the refs don’t bottle it sometimes. It just happens we have had Bamford and Reachx2. If all three were given no one would have batted an eyelid.

    Now tomorrow we play the sending off kings. First feat is to get to the end with eleven men on the pitch!

  8. Willie was in Don Reviews,very first England squad,his Knee was gone by then though,my biggest beef was in my opinion,John Craggs was the best right back in the country at the time but never got a sniff

  9. It will, indeed, be interesting to see if Bournemouth deploy their famed tactic of getting an opposing player sent off. You’d guess that Leadbitter would be their target. We shall see.

    Although it was scoreless, I still have the clash at the Riverside down as the most entertaining match of the season. Obviously, the wins against Norwich, Forest, Ipswich and Derby in particular were extremely satisfying but the Bournemouth game was a struggle between the league’s top scorers and the meanest defence. Tomorrow gives us another oportunity to shut them out. Can we do it?

  10. Its the year 2027 and Premiership Champions Middlesbrough,led by manager Gianluca Mozart, celebrate their victory.

    In an article in the gazette Phil Talentire reminds Mozart it was Tony Mowbray’s expertise that set us on our way.

  11. By the way Ian, we still call it Tyne Wear TV. BBC Look North operates a similar bias, so nothing has changed. No Yorkshire TV any more for us but I doubt we’d figure in their coverage because, after all, we’re not Yorkshire as far as anyone under 50 is concerned.
    That debate is going on again elsewhere in Gazetteshire. Maybe we old gits will get to claim our true heritage before we shuffle off.

  12. Never Give Up is right about Leads. He’s a fair player who mainly gets booked, not for dirty fouls, but from a sense of outraged innocence. He loses it a) when he is fouled, but the ref doesn’t give it. He then seeks retribution; and b) when he thinks the ref gets it wrong, He gets booked for dissent.

    Both of these scenarios can be easily avoided with a minimum of self-discipline. That they have not yet been (see the Derby match) is of some concern. It is a relatively simple straightforward issue. If it is dealt with there is no reason why Leads should not comfortably see out the rest of the season.

    I’m not terribly optimistic that it will be.

  13. So tomorrow we want everyone to be sensible and not get booked or sent off. Seems sensible to me.

    The other thing is something mentioned a day or so ago, Bournemouth are happy to shoot on sight so no letting them get a sight. We say at Forest what happens if you give someone time.

    I hope Aitor is drumming thoughts in to heads, sorry, no doubt he is doing that already.

  14. I hope we have been practising set plays, as Corners and Free Kicks seem to be Bournemouth’s undoing this season rather than conceding from open play. Likewise I hope we do not give them space and time to shoot from 30 yards out.

    Its important that Grant keeps his patience as the sending off kings will be deliberately targeting him and of course the loss of him in tomorrows game plus the ensuing two games will dent our hopes and benefit the Cherries greatly both for the actual game itself and the following two for which he will be suspended. Will AK decide to deliberately rest him?

  15. Leadbitter on the bench tomorrow? There’s a thought, there is some logic to it, on the other hand if we want to win and put five points between us and Bournemouth then he plays doesn’t he?

  16. In all the excitement this week it wasn’t widely reported that Boro have actually passed a significant milestone – 72 points is our highest total since we were relegated six years ago. Previous points totals for the other season have been 64 – 59 – 70 – 62 – 62.

    So it just goes to show how well we’ve performed this time out with none of those slumps that blighted previous campaigns – so what ever happens it’s been a season to remember. A win tomorrow and I suspect the angle-grinder can start getting to work on the roof of the double-decker bus.

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