PATIENCE, persistence, probing, passing, possession… add potent to the mix and Boro are a real team more than capable of getting out of this league.
On paper the three goal win over Charlton was a one-sided affair. The possession stats, the shock and awe shot imbalance, the corner count, the scoreline all suggest a routine romp for the promotion contenders against hapless basement battlers. And it was. In the end. The breakthrough ghoul was only a matter of time.
After the whistle we can look back and make a sober assessment that Boro ticked all the boxes to get past what was potentially a Bristol City shaped banana-skin.
But at times it can be very hard work watching them. If Boro don’t come out of the blocks with a sprint start goal they can quickly lose some steam and momentum, settle into a low-tempo toothless pattern and look laboured as they beaver away to slowly turn the screw on the opposition, to recycle possession and stretch the game sidewards, backwards and inside out in pursuit of an error or a lock-picking moment of magic.
Trick or treat? Scary striker Nugent poacher prank scares Charlton witless
Unless Boro get an early opener to force the opposition to come out and play the intensity can seep away and make the match feel like doing the breast-stroke in porridge.
And that is what we saw against a very poor Charlton side, another slow attritional grind straight out of the big book of Championship stereotypes. After the Lord Mayor of Salford’s Show at Old Trafford on Wednesday night Boro were back to the role reversal bread and butter of struggling to penetrate the massed ranks of team set up to defend.
Charlton were awful. They were possibly the worst team we’ve seen this season. Even Bristol had a go, they had a plan to break-out onto long diagonals, they had a threat.
On Halloween they looked like a limited lifeless zombie team lumbering through the motions, doing just enough to get by but always looking likely to collapse when the first goal flew in. If it flew in.
Boro were doing all the attacking but as the game lost momentum and intensity and inched towards the break fans grew frustrated as a thick duvet of ordinariness stifled Boro’s attacking intent. They bossed it on 80% of the pitch but still looked blunt in the box as the usual banjo/bovine bum note sounded an alarm.
After four games in five without a goal there is a fear not far from the surface that Boro’s set-up has “struggle to score” stamped into its DNA (despite being the leading pack’s top scorers and with the best goal difference to boot).
Albert’s haul. Adomah ghoul makes Charlton rearguard look like right pumpkins
And there is a fear that teams “know how to play against Boro.” That’s true. They do know. Just as we watch our heroes in action and know their strengths and weaknesses. Teams will come here to sit deep and defend with two rigid banks of four or five behind tactical trenches and barbed wire and hope to hold off the assertive home side . But knowing and being able to put a text-book strategy into practice are two different things.
It takes 96 minutes of concentration, relentless hard-work and a dollop of luck to keep Boro at bay. And not every team will be able to do that. A string of teams have come to the Riverside and dug tactical trenches – but Boro have blown most of then away. Eventually. Not all of them but most: Leeds, Bolton, MK Dons, Wolves, Charlton.
You expect to see some bus parking – after all we are the big spending promotion favourites – but this season has felt that the Riverside has become a popular tourist destination with charabanc drivers circling around Car Park B looking for a space.
Rotherham will come and try to do the same on Tuesday – and Boro will set about trying to dismantle them again them in the same methodical, well drilled way they did against the rest. Aitor said it was “perfect.”
Sometimes an early goal will fly in, they can relax and the opposition at some point will push out to chase the game and create space. Sometimes it will take a new ice age of slow picking and passing and probing until and opening can be deftly fashioned or forced by a more direct route. Sometimes it feels like purgatory.
But that is something we will need to deal with as fans this season just as the team must learn to deal with it on the pitch.
What we said before kick-off….
BUBBLING Boro must put aside the champagne fizz of their coupon-busting cup win at Old Trafford and get back down to the Championship bread-and-butter against Charlton.
Teesside has been on a high after the deserved victory over Manchester United – part euphoria after the pulsating spot-kick shoot-out and part sleep deprivation after the three hour crawl across a ten mile section of the M62 – but we must make that dividend count.
Champagne spot-kick celebration. Now its back to bread and butter
The win at Wolves ended a three game goalless blip that brought the first real ripple of nerves through the fan-base. The win over United ignited excitement again but for all the teasing glimpse of glory in knockouts this season is about one thing and one thing alone: securing promotion. That means Boro must not squander the Old Trafford dividend.
Aitor Karanka’s team are still just one point off the automatic spots after the stumble of one point from nine and need to get emphatically back on track in the league and put the pressure on the leaders . They can do that against a fragile looking Athletic, the first of two very winnable games at home to strugglers under new management.
Charlton has been a gimmee in recent years. Just as Boro fans fear Forest or Leeds or Ipswich, Charlton fans blanch at travelling to Teesside. They have won just once here in 25 years. They don’t win at their place too often either. In the last decade going back to the “Operation Riverside” FA Cup quarter-final when they arrive en masse on free coaches the Boro stats are: P10 W7 D3 L0 F20 A7. We have to extend that run. In style. After a barren spell in front of goal – United was the fourth game in five Boro have drawn a blank. We need to build on the Old Trafford heroics with a potent display at home.
Charlton are vulnerable. The club has slipped into the relegation zone after losing eight of the the last 10, they haven’t scored in three and have conceded six in last two. That saw Guy Luzon axed and Karel Fraeye as interim boss, their fifth in two years.
Fraeye was previously at Belgian third division side VW Van Hamme, 12th in a league of 18 teams when he left, with two wins in 11 games. It is an appointment that has done little to pacify a fan base now close to open revolt against trigger happy Belgian owner Roland Duchâtelet, who has presided over one cock-up after another.
“It’s the football equivalent of a FTSE 100 company whose share price is plummeting and suffering from profit warnings picking a shop manager of an outlet with struggling sales as the chief executive to turn things around,” was the damning verdict of a Charlton webzine.
So, let’s twist the knife for them. Boro need to match the intensity and spirit of the Old Trafford heroics to relaunch the promotion push, score the goals to ignite the Riverside and fire the team back towards escape velocity. I’m going for 3-0.
Usual drill: predict the scoreline and script the game and then regroup later to swap notes and relive the EIO excitement.
COME ON BORO.