Boro Red Hot As Albert Comes In From The Cold

ALBERT Adomah was red hot as he came back in from the cold on a night marked by a classy brace, a public embrace and Boro in second place.

The recently “wantaway” winger bounced back from the naughty step with a bang as he claimed an assist and a goal in a rousing Riverside return and it was hugs all round as Albert and Aitor kissed and made up in a hard-fought 3-1 win over battling Brentford.


                 Albert and Aitor sitting in a tree…  frozen out flanker back in the fold

Credit to Albert for seizing the moment, being the game changer, slamming home his goal and making a very public display of affection as he rushed to the touchline to embrace the boss and show the world the rift had been healed amid cheers from an adoring Riverside crowd.

And credit to Aitor too for his perfect timing. He introduced Albert at a crucial moment when the pressure was on and invited him to complete his rehabilitation in the spotlight and prove his point. And it came off. He can claim to be a shrewd psychologist to make a shrewd substitution with a player fired up and focused and swinging the game. Everyone’s a winner.

The winger has had his nose to the grindstone in training to work his way back into Airor Karanka’s plans after a dressing room bust-up and a subsequent written transfer request. There were no offers on deadline day, although to be fair Boro never invited any. They left him to stew while insisting he was still in their plans and still an important player.

He has had a difficult two weeks, said Aitor. He had been left out of the squad for three games – that Boro won –  had been training alone for a spell and then was gradually reintegrated. Then after a fortnight of frustration and fidgeting he finally got his chance – and boy, did he take it.

The fans’ favourite flanker came in from the cold as a substitute on the hour to loud cheering and singing. His name had already been hailed as it was read out before the game and had a warm reception as warmed up on the touchline in the first half and his inclusion was a risk. Had things gone horribly wrong and Boro struggled and gone behind the symbolic calls for the flanker would have grown and been a coded criticism of the boss.

But it went well. It was sticky for a spell as the comfort of a commanding first half and one goal interval lead was wiped away as battling Brentford made a match of it and levelled soon after the break.

Enter Albert on the hour. He soon had the Riverside roaring as he teed up a goal within minutes, wriggling down the right and chipping to the far post for goal machine Cristhian Stuani to bundle in his second.

Then soon after he burst through onto a David Nugent ball to slam home Boro’s third and take a massive step towards rehabilitation and first be mobbed by his team-mates then leap into the arms of the boss.


                                 “Sorry.” “No I’m sorry.” “Come here you big daft get.”

 He is certainly a crowd pleaser. And he is also smart. He has jumped through the hoops and battled his way back into the good books. Albert has knuckled down, shown contrition and then made a game-changing contribution return. You can’t ask for more than that.

But the former first team fixture may not find it so easy to regain what had been an automatic slot on the team-sheet. Things have changed.

While he has been left kicking his heels on the fringes Boro have been playing well and won three games in a row. That has eased any political pressure the boss had been under to play him. As we know there is an iron law of inverse ability and players get better by the week when they are sidelined and the team are losing. But Bristol and the air of growing unease and sporadic sniping feels a long time ago now.

Albert had not featured in the matchday party for three games and Boro won them all and looked balanced, patient in possession and potent. In those three games Boro have scored seven goals and felt their way towards a shape and group that looks to have real potential. 

His spell in internal exile has reinforced Aitor Karanka’s authority while results have undermined any notion that the Albert is indispensable.  That leaves him with a lot of work to do. Not only have the team played well in his absence but a distinct rival for his position has emerged.


                  Another game, another goal:  Cristhian Stuani  can’t stop scoring 

Some critics had already decided that Cristhian Stuani “can’t play on the right” after a stodgy first start in the defeat to Bristol City but he has played there for Uruguay and in La Liga and Aitor clearly rates him in that position.

When he first arrived I couldn’t believe Boro fans weren’t wetting themselves with excitement at a player with such an impressive pedigree but everyone seemed mesmerised with Jordan Rhodes hypnotic pricetag and incredibly plenty of people shrugged or were disappointd.

But with another two goal haul – that’s seven for the season already and five in four – and an impressive display of industrious and assertive flankmanship he is starting to make the pre-emptive snipers look silly. Patrick Bamford got 19 last season. This bloke has got over a third of that haul already and looks clinical and comes alive in the box. If Aitor wants him on the right then Albert will have to really produce week in, week out if he wants to win that berth back.

Meanwhile Stewart Downing has had electric sporadic spells on that flank too and for Diego Fabbrini can do that job too… and we haven’t seen yet how the arrival of left sided deadline day signing Carlos de Pena will change the dynamics and the need to field as many of the most effective players at once. There is no guaranteed shirt for Albert now as there was last year – there is no nailed on place for anyone now – and he will need regular rousing displays to make him a fixture. But then, we have always known that Aitor nurtures competition and constantly raises the bar. 

de pena

                   Carlos and Kike take their place on an awesome looking bench 

Meanwhile de Pena has had to wait. The new Uruguayan winger was on what looked an awesome bench that included not just Adomah but also top league scorer Kike and Adam Forshaw who must wonder what he has to do to get a start, although, it is hard to argue with the results so far.

And talking of benches…

What a difference in the Brentford side. The previous encounter was the last game under lights at the Riverside and it finished with everyone on the pitch celebrating a trip to Wembley.

For this visit they had no Alex Pritchard, probably their best player last season, and no goal-getter Andre Gray, who made a £9m move to Burnley.

And as a radical stat-based shake-up (and injury crisis) takes hold at Griffin Park, Brentford named just six subs – and two of them were goal-keepers. But then, Jim Platt once scored a hat-trick for Boro reserves and Stuart Pearce tried to out-fox us by putting David James up front. And maybe they have good striking stats in training. Analytics eh?

Brentford’s new model is based on individual performance data and matchday modelling with selection and tactics heavily influenced by laptops in the dug-out. It is the appliance of science.

I quite like stats too: Boro beat promotion rivals Brentford four times last season, 4-0 and 1-0 in the regular fixtures then again in the play-off semi-final double header, 2-1 away and 3-0 at the Riverside.

Boro have now won eight games in a row against Brentford. In leagues games they have won 10 and drawn one of the last 12 games against the Bees going back to before the war. That’s good stats.

Beyond Brentford I’m starting to like the look of the numbers at the Riverside too. For all the nervous talk of Boro struggling at home against bus-parkers and teams digging tactical trenches, the record on Teesside turf is actually incredible: Boro have won 10 of the last 12 at home with a total of 23 goals scored and just four conceded.

The rude awakening of Bristol City was only the second defeat at the Riverside in 2015. The previous was the carbon-copy cock-up of Leeds in February when the visitors netted early then somehow held out against an onslaught. Before that Boro’s last defeat was back in August 2014. That’s good numbers. Run that through your lap-top.


86 thoughts on “Boro Red Hot As Albert Comes In From The Cold

  1. Maybe I’m wrong, but I got the impression that AA was brought on to attack and there was no emphasis to bother with that defending malarkey.

    1. GHW –

      I didn’t mean to infer Albert was brought on to defend. From what I have seen he is just better at tracking back than Fabbrini and Stuani. I would have thought bringing him on wouldnt make us weaker defensively.

      In theory it is four attackers before and after the change.

  2. GHW –

    There was a bit of dodgy defending before and after their goal. Not sure if it was a result of a more attack minded approach or because, by their usual high standards, Ayala and George looked a little bit out of sorts. Didn’t matter in the end. UTB

  3. It will be very interesting to see who AK lines up with on Saturday and am looking forward to watching the game….it will give a better idea how we have progressed. NF have just had two very good results and their tails will be up.

    Reading the previous posts in appears that AK threw caution to the wind somewhat in his change of personnel/formation. Obvious in that the stats and the limited footage I saw showed the end to end football played by both teams.

    This is most unlike AK and you could say he went for broke. Certainly the two of Clayton/Leadbitter appeared not to perform to the normal expectations within their defensive duties in front of the back four. There where more holes than in a colander.

  4. Pedro –

    I listened and have seen the extended highlights. At face value, bringing on Adohmah looks to be going for it.

    Ignoring the fact neither of us saw the match, a major drawback, from afar what looks to have happened was one substitution took off a central attacker full of tricks and a the chance of giving the ball away, he was replaced by a wide right player good at tracking back. At the same time a player who was on the right but bee-lined for the penalty spot when the chance arose moved in to his favourite position.

    The reality is one attacker came off to be replaced by another with a different skill set.

    Probably far too simple but the game is simple

  5. Ian…

    but we appeared to have played a far more open game than normal, or was that because of Brentford’s attacking quality giving us more problems than we could contain?

  6. Ian

    On your analysis, the question becomes “Did Stuani play further forward than Fabbrini. had been playing?” and, if so, did that create the gap in central midfield that Brentford may have exploited.

    It’s all fine margins and the only big change will be when we play five attacking players rather than four … and that may never happen. The nearest may be to rest Leadbitter and/or Clayton in the League Cup and experiment with other players.

  7. Selwynoz

    Someone would still have to pick up Stuani or Nugent. The main things are the three points, Albert is back and we have a bench with lots of options.

    Tricky Trees next

  8. I don’t think we need worry too much about which teams we have or haven’t met yet.

    This early in the season and with additions and departures in the squad, the team is still finding out how good it can be. Will the new players fit in successfully and are they an upgrade? Does the team structure still work after the changes? Is the resolve still there to grind through another Championship season after the bitter disappointment at the end of the last one?

    So far the answer to all these things has been positive, and each good result solidifies the team’s confidence. The next test is playing away at one of the better teams tomorrow, and we will know more after that. And later, when we reach ten league games, the table will definitely mean something.

    Albert’s successful return is another weapon in the armoury. His ability to get past defenders creates nervousness in any defence, the sense that they cannot control what the opposition is doing, which stops them from settling and feeling they have a grip on the game.

    Peter Stockwell: ‘This is stylistically one of the greatest match reports of all time’. Who are these bozos who keep inflating AV’s already huge ego?

  9. Sorry I’m so late making my contribution after Saturday. As I’ve said, I’m currently ‘between appointments’ and spent the first half of this week in interviews and visits (companies queuing up for my services – he said, lying through his teeth).

    That was more like it! That’s what I’ve been talking about. We have a good squad, AK is starting to get the best out of them and we’re getting a glimpse of their potential. However, lets not forget, much of the first half wasn’t that good – only a notch up from previous turgid performances. I thought that, once again, I was going to be blogging about over-caution and not starting on the front foot.

    And that was the key. ‘Throwing caution to the wind’ is over-stating it but AK certainly sent out the massage to attack and do so in numbers and with pace and it paid off in trumps. As others have said, the switch to 442 wasn’t that big a deal; it was the message it conveyed.

    The point is often made here (mainly by Ian I think) that any formation is just a variant of others with one or two players playing deeper or more advanced. Whatever the team shape, ultimately it’s the players that make it work (or not).

    Regardless of the set-up, what I and others have been banging on about is the mindset going onto the pitch. We’ve seen so much caution with ponderous, sideways-passing football producing only scraps for the new forwards we’ve brought in.

    How many times did we see Boro win the ball, start a counter-attack but then stop and play the ball back? The FIFA Technical Dept. tell us that it’s no longer all about possession: it’s about rapid transitions. We have the pace and all the attributes to be a devastating counter-attacking team. Instead, too often we paused just as counter attacks were coming good.

    Yes, the points haul was fairly good and we were still scoring but it seemed to me that we were succeeding despite ourselves. Unless we changed, those chickens would come home to roost. If we continued with the emphasis on caution and to not make the best of our new attacking prowess, then we would not do as well as we should.

    That was the difference on Saturday. AK’s changes during the game transformed the whole feel of the play. We saw belief and conviction in our own strengths more than worrying about the opposition: pace, urgency, people pushing forward. That’s what I’ve been looking for, at least against the weaker teams at home. Finally we saw Leadbitter and Clayton no longer restrained exclusively as two holding midfielders, even when we have the ball. They took it in turns to advance and, albeit briefly, operate as creative schemers.

    Notes on individual players. Nsue has improved immeasurably. He had a good game in one of the away games I saw (Burton was it?) but was even better against Brentford.

    Playing in the centre, Amorebieta brings something to the party. His distribution is better than Gibson’s and his long passing contibuted to our attacking play.

    It’s difficult to work out how Stuani does what he does. He’s not especially fast, he’s no ballet dancer who dribbles his way past defenders, he’s not the biggest & strongest, he’s no great header. I guess it’s that inborn goalpoachers nack of being in the right place at the right time, allied to hard work.

    Other commitments prevent me from going to Nottingham. Probably just as well because I’ve seen nothing but defeats there, including a 4-0 hammering following one of van Hooijdonk’s exocet free kicks. I’ll be listening on Boro+.

    Having not won at the City Ground since 1066, lets see the iconoclastic AK overcome another of our bogy teams.

    1. Nikeboro a great post and well thought out with good reasoning. It will be interesting to see what team we put out tomorrow at Forest.

      Can’t see any changes to back 4 or midfield. Possible a change of keeper??

      Think we will start off with same attack as started against Brentford the other night.

      Good luck with the interviews!

  10. A couple of years or more ago, I remember commenting to general agreement that, in the very unlikely event we were promoted, there was not one player in that squad with which you would want to start in the PL. That’s not the case now.

    Although we would (will) need to buy some top tier quality & experience, personally I’d be happy to see nearly all of the current regulars at least as squad players.

    I’d take the defence up pretty much intact. Dimi would be most at risk but he’d make a back-up keeper. Except for a question mark over Kalas as a loanee, I’d be happy to give the regular back four, and a few of the reserves, a run in the top division. With his recent significant improvement, Nsue may well be worth retaining in his current role as a can-do-a-job squad player. If he hasn’t already hung up his boots (again), promotion would definitely see the end of Woody’s playing days.

    In central MF, I see Leadbitter, Clayton and Forshaw all as viable to take with us. I’m not sure about Fabbrini. Even in the Championship, for my money, the jury is still out on him. Yes, he can do what we need. However, rather like Tomlin (but to a lesser extent), he has yet to show he can do it often enough or for long enough.

    On the wings, Downing has proven himself at the top level so would be nailed on. If Adomah is still with us (the reconciliation is reassuring – but who knows?) he would certainly be in my squad. However, to be a regular, Albert would need to produce more end product than he usually does. Reach has gone backwards over the last year and isn’t convincing at this level, let alone a higher one. He might need to be moved on, as much for his own good as anything. Pena is as yet an unknown quantity. Plenty of hype but then we had that with Vossen.

    It’s up front that we would mostly need to invest. Kike is well short of what is needed for the PL. Nugent will be past his peak and he never completely secured a top flight place anyway. His experience might be useful as a squad player but no more. If Stuani continues in his current vein (nothing is guaranteed – he might be yesterday’s man by New Year) then he would deserve the chance to prove himself in the PL, especially at his age and having already played in the Spanish top flight. Wildschutt seems to be already found wanting.

    Then there are the long-term injured that, at the moment, it’s impossible to judge. All three of Abella, Baptiste and Williams could play at the higher level if they make a full recovery.

    So, shopping list: GK, RB, attacking MF, striker (perhaps two) and possibly a RW. To move on: Woody, Kalas (presumably – perhaps not), Reach, Wildschutt. Altogether, the landscape looks vastly healthier than it did just a couple of years ago.

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