Boro Go Top With Tasty Pick And Mix Selection

SOMETIMES you just have to trust the manager.  He picks a high-risk pick and mix team that bamboozles the fans – and then Boro comfortably beat a title rival in a promotion six pointer and finish the night on top of the league!

Aitor can throw some curve ball selections that raise eye-brows but by and large in his tenure he has got it right.  Naturally when the team was named there was a mandatory weekly gnashing and wailing: “What is Aitor doing?” “He’s clueless.” “Why drop X?  Y should start.” “This has a one nil defeat written all over it.” It is a weekly ritual. And as so often before, the manager is proved to be right. 

After Saturday’s left-field selection shocker against Birmingham – an UNCHANGED TEAM – football’s laws of nature demanded the Karmic balance was restored with a substantial shake-up and a big dose of Teeside Tinkerman tactical jiggerypokery.


Well Aitor certainly did that. Not just four changes, we are used to that, but a clutch of absolute bombshells.  Grant Leadbitter, Cristhian Stuani and Albert Adomah were all dropped for what was on paper Boro’s biggest test of the season so far against a well drilled title rival packed with Premier League talent. Plus of course David Nugent was banned and everyone was on tenterhooks waiting to see who would go up front .

Yes, the strength sapping heavy pitch against Brum may have left some leaden legs that needed resting and no doubt there was half an eye on the trip to Brighton at the weekend so you expect changes.

But still…. big calls. Big balls. But that is what the manager is paid to do. And for him it is not just dragging and dropping favourites onto a pitch or making abstract changes, or playing to the gallery with a few populist picks. He has to keep all the balls in the air and ‘manage’ all his resources for the forthcoming fixture flurry. Had he played all the big hitters and then gone to Brighton looking ‘leggy’ there would have been hell on.

Of course, benching  first team fixtures always leaves you hostage to fortune but the gaffer isn’t scared of that: he dropped Stewie and Albert at Wolves and saw a great fight back from a goal behind as Boro got off the hook. You may think that was lucky and the initial selection was wrong but he banked the points and they all count.

The biggest call against Burnley was probably dropping the captain. Simmering skipper Grant Leadbitter is Aitor’s representative on Earth, “will to win” made flesh and a snarling, seething presence on the pitch that provides the emotional fuel for the team.

Leaving him out was a big call. Unless it was on police advice to head off the potential seismic international incident should he clash with swaggering boo-magnet and self-dubbed football philosopher-king Joey Barton, in which case Aitor can claim mitigation and a public interest defence.  And it was a decision that was probably passed on to the skipper by big bear Leo.

Grant has his detractors but the only previous time he has failed to start in the Championship this term – bans aside – was at Hull and that turned into a right dogs’ breakfast.

His absence did however lead the way for the populist choice Adam Forshaw to start.

Forshaw  is normally restricted to a fleeting five minutes from the bench peppered with neat touches and assertive movement and has become something of a cause celebre and a stick to beat the boss with, becoming better by the week in terrace mythology to the point where sometimes you could imagine Boro are keeping  Ronaldo on the bench

It was a big chance for him to stake a claim – and he certainly seized his moment.


There were plenty of  flashes of attacking intent, especially in the early stages as he looked instinctively to play the the ball forward and the opposition retreated and lefy space for him and Adam Clayton to operate fluidly in but as Burnley tightened up and threw a stifling shroud of robust negativity over the game, that impact faded a bit.

But after the break when Boro stepped up a gear Forshaw was central to the extra zip. He linked up well with the more conservative Clayton in the engine room but also built an effective attacking unit with fast improving Emilo Nsue – pushed into right midfield with the absence of Stuani – in a potent pairing that cause all kinds of problems.

That duo  interchanged passes and swapped positions and looked to get down the right and the pair engineered the opener as patient Boro finally carved well drilled Burnley apart,  Forshaw wriggling rough two tackles to create space in the box then squaring for Nsue to stab home a crucial goal on his 50th Boro appearance.

Then there was the curve ball absence of big ticket summer signing Cristhian Stuani. Wow. You wouldn’t have found many before the game who would have called that one.

The Uruguayan has been at the heart of a hearted debate over the past few days with bitter cyber-space faction fights breaking out over whether to play him up front as a direct replacement for banned David Nugent or leave him on the right wing where he has proved useful and to maintain balance. But no-one was twitter storming the barricades with a banner calling for him to be tactically switched to the bench.

Stuani’s stint in the dug-out opened the door for much maligned marksman Kike, now pretty much downgraded to a late cameo role and without a goal since his early burst of three on two games in August.


To hear some people talk Kike is useless. In fact he has the best goals-to-minute ration at the Boro this term and is a very effective link man with a deft touch and good control who links well with midfield, albeit often too deep to hurt teams.

But like the others thrown into battle he did well. Very well.  Arguably it was his best display this season (although he did well at Derby and Manchester United).  In the first half he worked tirelessly holdiing the ball up well to create space and buy time for support to arrive and he made some intelligent darting runs to make himself available and pull holes in the defence.

He had a couple of shots charged down and never quite managed to getone on target but the lone front-runner role is an unforgiving one. And when he went off for Stuani he got well deserved and genuine applause.

All the changes worked. They all slotted in perfectly into the system in a display that showed the strength of the squad and the system.  Boro were largely functional but showed flashes of fluidity and flair against yet another side that came to the Riverside with no ambition over than to dig in for a point.

They beavered away in a first half they dominated without really making the keeper work while a very physical Burnley rarely ventured forward – although they did bring the only save when Dimi  had to block well from Boyd.

But Boro were bright after the break and once the opener flew in there was only one winner. They could have added more goals and Heaton did well to tip over a Stewie sizzler and block a George volley while Stuani rounded the keeper and took it too wide before slotting from a tight angle into the side-netting.


So, Boro nudge top ahead of Brighton on goal difference after “Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s QPR” came from behind to peg the Seagulls back for a draw, although level-headed Aitor isn’t getting carried away.  

They opened a yawning eight point gap over Burnley, one of the big pre-season title favourites, and a 10 point one from seventh spot. It was another win at the Riverside (eight now from 11 games with two draws and just one defeat, back in August) and it was another clean sheet for the impervious back line and Dimi (celebrating his contract extension) …  that is 671 minutes (11 hours and 11 minutes) since leaking a league goal at the Riverside.

Brighton next…  bring it on.



And here’s what we said before….


GRAVEL throated dug-out bouncer Sean Dyche brings his plucky cut-priced Clarets side to big spending Boro tonight for what has steadily and strangely become a little bit of a grudge match.  There is definitely a bit of needle there. Unrequited though.

Boro dug deep and beat them here when they were flying two years ago then in the return parked the bus at Turf Moor and then nicked it in the run in that probably took the  title away from them. But it is more than that. There were a few ungraceful comments after those games that piqued Boro fans. And the Burnley crowd got a bit tetchy and took it as some kind of personal insult when party pooping Boro dared to play well there.


Then there was a lot of unnecessary sniping in the summer from lego lookalike Dyche about Boro and Derby daring to spend and distorting the Championship economy and some pleading poverty despite a £60m Premier League pay-out and £48m in parachute payments. That earned laughter and derision. Then Burnley went out and spent £9m on Andre Grey.  And then signed pompous self-declared football philosopher-king and boo-magnet Joey Barton too. So expect a bit of a tense atmosphere for a big game.

On paper this is Boro’s toughest game so far. Burnley have Premier League quality and have had a steady if not spectacular start. They have a good record away from home  – W3 D6 L1  –  so it will be difficult… although they haven’t won in five and have failed to score in three of those . Boro’s home record is excellent but they haven’t scored many of late:  two in the last three games… and one of those was a penalty.  But they have won seven, drawn two and lost just one at the Riverside and conceded just two goals and that is no fluke.

The stats suggest a low scoring game and probably a draw. The number-crunchers will have it down as another nil-nil. BUT….. BUT….  this is a fixture where Boro generally struggle then someone pops up with a worldie. A Tarmo Kink Exocet. A Luke Williams rocket. A Ledesma low rasping angled effort.  So look out for a Stewie sizzler or a Kike cracker to break the deadlock. And if Boro score that’s it.

Anyway, I’m locked into a 2-0/3-0 combination now and I’ll be sticking to that.

Over to you:  usual drill. Make your scorecasts and predict how the game will pan out then all back here later for celebrations/recriminations.




119 thoughts on “Boro Go Top With Tasty Pick And Mix Selection

  1. Great to get the win last night.

    Nsue was my mom,my favourite right back and now impressive at right wing and a lot more effective and interested than Albert has shown lately when playing there.

    Pleased Forshaw got a start and had a hand in the goal. I would like to think it’s not a one off and he will play more regularly.

    Kike unfairly took a lot of stick last night. Just because he didn’t get a goal people overlook all his other contributions,he’s only had a handful of 15/20 minute the past couple of months,regular games will only make him sharper. I certainly don’t think he deserves the bad criticism

    I hope we ditch the short corners on Saturday,they were hopeless,at one point Grant forgot he still had to participate ball went up the other end and gave Burnley a chance.

    Now let’s hope we can inflict a first defeat on Brighton and stay top of the league and have a good Christmas programme


    1. Never-give-up-on-Boro,
      I know you are going to most – even all? – away matches. When will you be leaving for the Brighton match? Early morning or already on Friday? UTB!

      1. I’m just doing a day trip and leave The Riverside at 5am,been lucky enough to get time off work for this one considering it’s our busiest time and managed to do all this seasons games so far 😄


  2. allan in Saudi –

    Given last nights game was a ‘must have point’ and we got three, how far ahead of the curve are we now?

  3. Time for some stats?

    Our last 7 home league games. 3-0 0-0 3-0 1-0 1-0 0-0 1-0

    I’ve been to 11 games at the riverside v champ opposition this season (I had the pleasure of missing Bristol City) and seen us concede 1 goal. Compared to 3 in 90 mins at the KC.

    Just incredible. Dani Ayala was an absolute rock last night. The steel that AK has instilled in this team is fantastic. Such a pleasure to go to a match and know that if we score, we will win. I was thinking before the match that Burnley might actually come and have a proper game, but a relegated team from the Prem (like QPR I guess, so maybe not so surprising) ditched their usual 4-4-2 for a 4-5-1 to try and stifle us. Their keeper was time wasting from the start. Such a massive show of respect – and yet it didn’t work. Again.

    I can’t remember (or find – so many posts!) what our predicitions were for the run of (potentially very tough) games since the last international break up to the Derby game. Nine games, and I think I said 16 would be par, Ian I recall said 18.

    We have 13 from 5 with 4 games to come.

    Also – we haven’t played any of the top 5 away, and have 5 of the other top 6 to play at home.

    What can go wrong from here??

  4. BoroPhil,

    we’ve played Derby away and Ipswich were top five I think when we played them away?

    **AV writes: And we’ve played Hull away as well.

  5. BoroPhil –

    Your maths is definitely dodgy, out of the top six there are only five to play at home, one of which we played last night, so four more to play at home?

  6. Yeah, sorry that wasn’t amazingly clear – of the other top 6 teams not including us (ie positions 2-7) we have only played Burnley at home. So, Brighton, Derby, Hull, Ipswich, Cardiff to play at the Riverside.

    My point is we have played most of the top teams away and most of the bottom teams at home. So we have an easier 2nd half of the season? I think.

  7. Great to see you guys all thinking along the same lines as my spread sheet.

    I am not updating the projections until after game 23 but so far based on the positions of 3 weeks ago we are looking good.

    We dropped a point against Birmingham but picked up 2 against Burnley so we have moved up on last months target by a point and ar most likely to end up with 92 points this season.

    Against Brighton we are not targeted to get anything as points from the top 2 away are unexpected. and against Blackburn 2 points are required – so a point a piece is the reality.

    At the halfway mark we should have 45 points.

    Games 24 to 46 inclusive the situation is as follows based on last months table positions –

    Against the bottom 6 home or away we must get 18 points – but then as champions that is what you’d expect. Against the top 6 we must collect 5 points and against the remaining 12 clubs we need 24 a total of 47 points.

    45 plus 47 equals 92.

    On the telly at the Rugby Club in Bahrain on Saturday if any other ME supporters want to cross the bridge for the afternoon – at least 3 of us going.

  8. Of course something can go wrong but we should keep a positive attitude. If we think negatively, surely things happen to work that way.

    My biggest worry is that we lose AK to Chelsea and end up with a Special one at Riverside. Aitor would do a great job at Stamford, but let’s hope they go for a more experienced one instead.

    Other than that we are safe. Looking forward to the visit to Brighton. UTB!

    1. Jarkko

      My big fear is the special one goes back to RMadrid taking AK with him!!

      Hope you are feeling better now it’s warmest December here since 1948 so it s certainly not Baltic .

      Apparently it’s also a great Irish saying for cold weather


      1. Cheers Bob.

        No it’s not Baltic in here either. In the Northern part of the country we have half a meter of snow, but half of the country haven’t seen any snow yet. Winters are totally different than they used to be. Some animals are changing their colour to white for winter in here but now they don’t have snow where to hide. So big changes in nature and we will lose some creatures over here. At least we got a start at Paris for an improvement on global warming prevention.

        I hope you are getting better. I worked already today but didn’t feel good when I took our cheltie out for a walk. Plus two celcius and raining.

        I don’t think AK is leaving Gibbo for an assistant coach job anymore. I hope he does not take over at Stamford Bridge now nor next ten years. Let’s hope they find somebody more well known instead.

        Up the Boro!

        1. I reckon guardiola will take over at chelski!!

          Hope you are right about AK as Real Madrid are calling the special one.

          Wish I got 45 million quid when I left to retire.

          Feeling a lot better but still in bed this is 4th week!!
          Making sure I’m well for Xmas day

          Looking forward to watching the Boti v Brighton on TV Saturday lunchtime.


  9. Watched the Hull/Reading game last night and thought it was an entertaining match. Felt sorry for Reading and the two points gained by Hull.

    Also thought Hull were quite “robust” and the referee far too lenient. Was that evident when we played them?

  10. Just got back from my travels. Brilliant result. Surprising selection but in fairness to AK his rotational tinkering worked for him. A few pleasant problems, can he drop Forshaw? Should he keep Nsue wide right? Are Kalas and Nsue now the best combo on the right side (never in a million years did I think I would have ever typed that sentence). Nsue is rapidly emerging into potentially becoming this seasons player of the year at his current rate of improvement.

    On a negative the fans need to support Kike and get off his back. He offers a lot more than he gets credit for. His goals to minutes played on the pitch ratio despite not running around like a Jack Russell is as good as Nugent and Stuani’s.

    A tough game on Saturday but what an opportunity for the players. The fixture timing couldn’t be better

  11. Redcar Red

    To be fair, the worries about Kalas and Nsue have been when the played as the right side of the defence but who knows what they would be like having played more time together.

    Nsue is having a good season, I think he is basically a better footballer than Albert but is not going to shred defences like Albert can.

    Talking of points targets, I will continue to want three points a match, the target is 118 points. Wont get them and 92 will be fine.

  12. Is anyone else having issues with Boro+? I haven’t been able to log in for a week…error message says ‘communications issue”.

    **AV writes: It sounds just like dealing with the press office!

    1. Kooka, I had no broblems with seeing the extended highlights from the Burnley game. Nor with the interview with Ben Gibbo.

      I am not able see the videos on Boro+ with my Samsung tablet, but they work well with my wife’s iPad and my PC. I always thought this was because Chelsea had Samsung as a sponsor but the problems still continue this season, too. Not bothered to find out why my tablet is not compatible, though.

      Up the Boro!

  13. Looks like Karanka may be getting a few calls from his special friend now that he’s unemployed with time on his hands – though I suspect counting the dough from his compensation package will keep him busy for a few months.

  14. Technical director, how on earth is that going to work ? AK knows his team, the team knows him, AK knows their best positions, scratching my head with this one.

    1. I think this is planning for next season using his contacts to search and identify potential players

      AK says he knows him personally and would not form part of the coaching team.

      Perhaps he already has a January target to help get us over the line


  15. Werdermouth,

    I understand the special friend is already on Teeside for talks with the Boro hierarchy over taking a major role at the club, apparently AK feels that after the advice and loan players we had from him in his time at Chelsea, we have a debt of honour to repay.

    It seems a new role at the club will be created for the ‘Special One’, to match his current status within the English game.

    I can’t reveal my sources, but the word is that chief assistant to Roary, with a special logistical role (lollipop distribution management) is under active consideration, although senior support officer (cheerleading department) for Mark Page is also thought to be on the table.

    If his wife is happy to move to Teesside…

    1. It’s possible that with the busy festive schedule ahead there may be an opening as a personal assistant to Holly – he’s seems particularly well qualified at rattling cages and appears very sensitive to smelling the presence of a rodent where others wouldn’t detect anything untoward.

  16. As I write, Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, is holding a press conference in the Riverside car-park to deny ‘in the strongest possible terms’ that the Special One is to accept one of the rumoured roles at Boro which are ‘well below the expectations of such an esteemed and prestigious figure from the world of football’. Mourinho is in fact holding out for a ‘position of responsibility’ in the ‘hands-on, football-related side of the club’ and this is believed to be a senior executive role (football retrieval and redistribution section).

  17. It’s quite amusing to read the considerable number of people on this blog who are having a crisis of confidence, what with screaming in frustration when AK actually makes changes, and this is without anyone being injured. Then they win and it’s egg on face time, then they. All rush to tell us that he must drop so and so and pick so and so because he’s better. Try to think logically, it helps.

  18. With Mourinho gone it may well be much harder for us from now on to get loanees from Chelski. I doubt very much that Bamford will be returning, for instance. Perhaps it’s a good job that Kalas is on a season-long loan.

    1. Clive

      Its unlikely a Championship side would lend Players out to a Premiership side so I wouldn’t worry too much about that.

      In fairness however and for old times sake I would be happy to lend them Muzzy, Husband and Reach etc. next season and maybe even Rhys to help with his rehabilitation and comeback, enabling him to get some game time replacing Terry in the heart of their defence.

      1. RR

        Nice one! Hadn’t thought of that. Personally, though, I hope they finish 17th, so the Geordies and the Mackems go down. I’d like Chelski to go down, of course, but with Villa certainties for the drop, I’d rather save the last two places for those two showers up the A19.

  19. To be honest I would prefer for Chelski to go down than either of the bar codes or the mackems. Better to have local teams in the same division as us so we can look forward to having 12 points nailed on …

  20. Tomorrow lunch-time is getting ever closer. I am a little anxious about this one. A great opportunity for us to get clear on top for Christmas, but Brighton will be a tough nut to crack.

    I’m going to stick with my reverse logic and opt for a 2-1 reversal with Seagulls flying back to the top.

  21. Allan

    100 isn’t worth the effort.

    Anyone know if the gazette mobile has set off?

    I need a cunning plan because I have just found out we are going to my daughters tomorrow, She lives in Nottingham, I am sure Mrs G and her will want to go shopping. I might just volunteer to give them a lift the couple of miles because I am a kind soul. There will be somewhere I can watch the match near where she lives.

  22. I can certainly see where plato is coming from. We’ve had hysterics in here for weeks from certain posters (one in particular who wanted the manager removed who is conspicuous by his absence) about the team, the setup, the tinkering etc. Yet, we are now top and the blog is strangely quiet.

    1. It’s the calm before the storm…..

      I and I hope most of us on here think that AK is the best man for the job.

      I’ll go for a 0 0 tomorrow


    2. If you doubt that people are pushing for changes, look no further than our captain, and penalty taker. I’ve lost count of the bloggers who state with absolute certainty that forshaw must have a place in the team, or Ak has’nt a clue. That means Ledbetter out. Remind me again about the stats our wonderful defence is racking up, thought so, now why would we even consider disturbing that defence, no matter who is covering for them. Football is a cruel game, someone right now is cover for Ronaldo, I wonder if the fans of Real are saying over their pints, ‘ Pablo must have a place in the team, doubt it, somehow.

  23. 7am kick off for me. Will be up and pacing early. Would be nice if we could hammer in a few early goals just to set my nerves straight abit. 4 – 0 to us at half time would be really nice.

    1. Acklam

      I doubt we will see 4 Boro goals in 90 minutes let alone by half time but it would be nice. AK seemed to be acknowledging in his interviews this week that last season we didn’t turn up at some of the big televised away games. So be it tactics, tinkering or even attitudes lets hope he has the team focussed and ready from the off to win, I suspect he will.

      Its going to be a tough game and I wouldn’t be surprised if we turned it on and won but equally I wouldn’t be surprised if we lost this one either. My heart says a Boro win by two clear goals but my head says it has a draw written all over it which in the scheme of things wouldn’t be a bad result.

  24. I’ll be happy with nil nil. I’ll be overjoyed with them nil, us something. I suspect it will be first goal the winner. Cautiously optimistic.

  25. It’s probably the most difficult match this season so far to predict I think. Brighton’s run is pretty amazing and must be a huge psychological advantage that they do not know how to lose right now.

    I reckon it’s similar to how Leicester are in the premier league in terms of consistently being written off but still getting the results. Chris Hughton is doing extremely well but so is Aitor..

    But we’re not far behind, in fact in front, on goal difference, so what’s gonna happen? I don’t know. So instead I’ll guess, 1-3. We are due to score a few sometime soon but Dimi can’t keep out goals forever. Hope we win, it would be a huge morale booster to go top outright. Good luck to all the Boro lads whoever plays.

  26. Plato

    I am struggling to see where you are coming from. I have been busy so might have missed the posts you are referring to.

    I recognise the ‘Aitor comes from close to Santander rather than Saltburn’ sentiment at times but in general people are supportive.

    We may question selections but this blog is the virtual navvi, where else can people from afar discuss the Boro. It is across time zones so some don’t know what is happening.

    Anyway I have jinxed the season, tickets booked for Blackburn away along with my lad. Mrs G said if you are going to football Emma and I are going shopping!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Quelle surprise Rodernee. They always were, Boxing Day, ladies in my family and sales are compulsory.

    1. Ian

      I seem to be reading blogs pretty often which say that Forshaw is brilliant and cannot be kept out of the team. Last time I looked, our defence was so brilliant that no one could get into it. I mean that sentence to be taken seriously, nothing and nobody should disturb things because that defence just might carry us home come the end of the season. That being the case, everyone saying he must have a place in the team must by definition be oblivious to the reason for our great results so far. And that is frightening.

      To be clear, we have a fabulous defence, settled and done with, and that does include the two holding midfielders. The front end is a work in progress, and it is making progress, thankfully. Witness today’s frightening performance.

  27. allan in Saudi **** “Actually 100 doesn’t count, 200 is now the new line”
    Ian Gill “100 isn’t worth the effort”
    Thanks for bigging up my occasional success guys !
    As the cliché will have it, you can only post on what is in front of you.
    A typical Boro mentality isn’t it, rising to the top and then not enough interest to blog because the wheels are not looking like they might wobble on, let alone fall off the waggon, so it doesn’t really count to scrape the blog over the centurion line, even when posting with a healthy time differential to allow fair play for all comers, instead of the more typical monosyllabic entries in rapid succession … No, its OK, I’ll not take it badly
    Wanders off into the night sad and dejected …

  28. Strange how long a week is between matches, it certainly drags. Hope the players aren’t getting wound up, we need a calm and considered performance from them on Saturday, because Blackburn will not be calm and considered, more like up and at em and the devil take the hindermost. By the way, another team with a great record against us, both home and away. We must have had an awful team for some years to accumulate all these bogie teams.

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