Salvage Job: Still Tense After Scrappy Show

THAT was a nervous performance and a ricketty result that will do little to settle the January jitters on Planet Boro.

Boro came from behind to salvage a precious point in a 1-1 draw with well drilled Blackburn and showed signs in the final 20 minutes that they have the ability to turn the screw on teams in this division when they play with hunger and intensity.

But the soporific first 70 minutes was a painful self-imposed tedium that invited trouble – and got it – and which flagged up the problems in the team that the transfer window was supposed to address.

And it was unconvincing and creaky display that did little to ease the bubbling cauldron of tensions among a dizzy fan-base who have been on the waltzers for weeks.


                      New boy “Jason” Rhodes makes a belated entry to the action

It was a tense afternoon at the Riverside, an emotional hothouse at the best of times, that has left question unanswered and the big issues unresolved and left the underlying tensions within the crowd still fizzing and snapping away/

Boro got back down to action after what felt like the longest break ever in a strange and volatile atmosphere.  Even visiting boss Paul Lambert was moved to comment on the pressure that the anxiety brought .  There was a cocktail of trepidation and excitement as the fears fostered by back-to-back defeats and a squeeze in the pack were battling against  the sheer elation of the final feel-good few hours of the transfer window.

Everyone should have been on a high after the well wadded assertive shopping but the doubts quickly resurfaced as the team-sheet for Blackburn revealed Boro’s extensive January re-jig had beefed up the bench but not the starting line-up.

After the defeat to Forest there were plenty of anxious squeals: oh no! Here we go again! We’ve blown it! Typical Boro!  A fortnight to stew on two bruising defeats that ended the long winning streak, home and away, and having the dazzling clean sheet sequence stomped in the mud had shattered the air of invincibility.

Big questions were posed by the wobble: do Boro have enough bite up front? Do Boro have the creativity to by-pass the bus parkers? How will we ever replace George?  But determined Boro set about answering those questions and pointing the tiny cracks in the Teesside psyche with a successful strategic shopping spree.

Early in the window they signed unknown quantity Kike Sola, then secured Uruguay World Cup schemer Gaston Ramirez on a very shrewdly structured loan-deal and then went into deadline day with a series of holes to fill and did it in the full glare of publicity.

Boro finally secured Jordan Rhodes after a frustrating year long courtship, an eleventh hour collapse and a beat-the-bongs resurrection and added solid and experienced top flight defender Ritchie De Laet and Belgian hot prospect Julien de Sart.

Emotions were soaring then. The Achilles Heel up front had been solved in style with the best striker in the Championship said Steve Bruce and every other department had been strengthened too. What could possibly stop Boro now? Nothing. Set the engravers to work.

The build-up to the match was marked with gleeful expectation and swapping of Rhodes pun predicted headlines, especially after midweek results swung the table back our way.

No wonder the match kicked off with a multi-platform praising of Steve Gibson, first with a new banner unveiled by the Red Faction – there can’t be many self-styled ultra groups that hail the owner in such fashion – and then a song roared out with universal pride and gusto.  It was hard to hear if the Blackburn fans responded with a ditty trumpeting the triumphs of the Venkey’s but you suspect not.

But the mood was soon dampened. And not just by the dreary weather. There had been dark grumbling from an hour before kick-off when the team sheet came out an hour and threw in an Aitor Karanka curve ball.

There were two debutants… but not the two most were expecting.  Kike Sola was handed his first appearance – possibly to maintain the integrity of the Karanka La Bamba song – and De Laet was predictably at left-back.  But Sola power was swiftly disconnected at the break after failing to light up the Riverside and looking lost for long spells but De Laet was impressive, slotting straight in and showing some nice touches and good engines.


         Sola eclipsed: new boy becomes scapegoat elect after 45 ineffective minutes

Meanwhile Rhodes and Ramirez – and Cristhian Stuani – were left on what was possibly the most expensive and powerful Championship bench, a selection that Aitor Karanka later explained as being part of his usual outlook, that he sticks with the players who got Boro to the top and it is down to the new boys to earn their place. 

The absence of Rhodes, the source of much of the midweek excitement, turned the buzz right down and made the boss hostage to fortune. It was a big call.

And it looked to be back-firing as the match spluttered and flailed and failed to ignite and as the team failed to generate any dynamic or narrative or atmosphere the fears filled the vacuum during a languid first 45 minutes so tedious that even the most hardened critics were too comatose to boo.

Or still in shock at the exit through injury of defensive rock Dani, Dani Ayala.


         Ayazz! That knacks! Dani Ayala goes down heavily after an aerial challenge.

A lack-lustre display with an absence of intensity, creativity or the ruthless domination that was the hallmark of the team when they had a swagger and were winning – plus worrying signs that they were vulnerable on the break – left some sections very nervous as the game wore on while some had already written off all the new players and the season as a whole. “There’s always next year.”

The Blackburn goal was accompanied by a loud audible “here we go “ groan and much head-shaking, confirmation of the wisdom in wearing the armour of cynicism.  At that stage the shroud of gloom was stifling and you could feel the boos being nurtured, the jeering welling and waiting for the whistle

Then the tempo and atmosphere suddenly revved up.  There was a loud reaction to the goal as fans rallied, the mandatory touchline toe-to-toe as Leo went full radgy with the Rovers bench over a hefty tackle on De Laet,  Rhodes was finally introduced better late than never to a loud roar and Boro became more urgent, assertive and direct.


               Back in it! David Nugent glances the headed equaliser past Jason Steele.

There were a few half-chances, a Stuani header just over and a Rhodes snap-shot saved and their renewed industry forced a leveller through Nugent, the crowd roared them forward for a winner and the final 10 minutes was high-octane, direct and showed plenty of positive signs of being able to force the issue.  That never came but at least people left if not on a high, certainly on the upward slope and with the anger at least partly mitigated.

It is strange – and revealing – that Boro can come from behind after a woeful first hour to salvage the point that took them into joint top spot with games in hand but so many frustrated fans can leave in a barely contained rage.

So, as you were. None of the fears and frustrations have gone and none of the internal tensions have abated but there were some positive signs at the death.  And we have yet to see what impact the new boys can have. And Boro haven’t taken advantage of Hulls’s slip but they have chipped away another point. And they do still have their games in hand cushion behind them.  The the strategic position is still healthy.

So we take our perpetual angst roadshow to MK Dons on Tuesday night where another golden opportunity waits to be grasped or squandered, depending on your perspective. Its torture. It’s going to be like this all season isn’t it?





JUST because Boro have spent a lot of money on him the game is NOT all about Jordan Rhodes. Yes, he was the dramatically scripted eleventh hour big money move that kept the yellow tied hysterical idiots in hyperdrive through the last few hours of the ever more moronic televised showbiz cattle market of deadline day.

Yes, he is Boro’s most expensive signing since Afonso Alves (*shudder*) and one of the most expensive in Europe in January. Yes, his arrival sent the Teesside feelgood factor soaring into the stratosphere as a gold-plated statement of intent slammed down with a thud:  Steve Gibson means business and will give his manager whatever tools he need to ensure promotion.  And yes,  Rhodes will make his debut  against his former club where he has long been a talisman and the one good thing amid the debris, so there is a perfect storm of sentimentality and easy intros and headlines to hand.

But Boro are not just a vehicle for a football fairytale. Not that one anyway. That is not the script that matters. There is a bigger story unfolding that is far more important.



The Blackburn game is massively important for a long list of reasons and the personal tale of the new boy, no matter how symbolic or strategically important, is well down the list. Promotion is the only thing that matters this season.

Against Blackburn first and foremost Aitor Karanka’s side need to bounce back from the rude awakening of  a run of rocky displays and back-to-back defeats (for the first time in 17 months) that have abruptly put the handbrake on what was shaping up to be a procession. The job is not over yet.  Far from it.

Luckily for Boro the wobble has not been punished as the teams in the pack stagger and stumble and show the same lack of cut-throat zeal we demonstrated last season. Especially Derby who are hitting their annual atrophy.  But Burnley drew in midweek and they play Hull this weekend. Something has to give there and whatever the result, it opens a door for Boro to profit.

Boro have come through their first wobble with a gap behind them and a two game cushion. Against Blackburn they have to hammer home that advantage ruthlessly. No mistakes. Victory is essential to regain momentum and regain the initiative, to restore morale and the belief in the inevitability of victory.

Yes, it would be nice for Rhodes to score a debut hat-trick but there are other new boys who will be under scrutiny because other questions need answering too:  can right-footed full-back Ritchie De Laet replace the left-sided fixture that is George Friend better than Fernando Amorebieta did?  Can £12m top flight flop Gaston Ramirez add some spark in the number 10 role as he sets out to prove a point in the Championship?  Will New Kike – big lad, good in the air, add something to the mix?  Can the team get off to the blistering start that will ignite the Riverside with all the explosive ingredients in place? Can they rebuild the impregnable force-field across the back-line with Ben Gibson back?

I know we say this every week, but this feels like the most important fixture so far. I suppose that is what a promotion campaign is made off, constantly cranking up the pressure on every game. And the team delivering.

It’s impossible to second guess Aitor so I suppose the first big question is will Jordan Rhodes start? I think not. But he will come on (61mins) – and then will football’s Inevitability Drive strike and force him to manfully try not to celebrate?  I’m saying yes. He’ll seal it.  I’m going for 2-0.  I think Ramirez will start – he’s had almost two weeks training now (and while he’s a new Dad I don’t think he will have been up doing the two o’clock feed and change).  Stewy on the left with a rocket. Stuani on the right looking to impress his Uruguay team-mate.  Clinical.

Over to you… predict the scoreline and how it will pan out, the crowd, if Rhodes will start or when he will come on, if he scores and how Hull get on against Burnley. Then all back here after the game for a debrief.


259 thoughts on “Salvage Job: Still Tense After Scrappy Show

  1. One thing is for sure Rhodes must start from the off next game. None of this ” fair to the others ” mealy mouthed rubbish. We have bought a recognised striker at this level and to keep him on the bench is nonsense.

  2. ghw –

    I’m sure Rhodes will start tomorrow, It sounds like there’ll be one or two other ‘fresh’ faces also.

    Personally I don’t thnk Rhodes not starting on Saturday was ‘to be fair to others’, I think it was to give him time to settle in a little. I also don’t think Boro would have put in a stellar performance and won had Rhodes played, I haven’t read that Nugent missed a hatful of chances.

    It was a poor team performance wasn’t it?

    Our form will improve and we’ll be promoted.

  3. Just back and still feeling pretty fed-up. That was the most woeful 70 minutes I have seen from Boro this season.

    I am also just catching up on the posts so only a quick one.

    Agree with BoroPhils assessment and also NGupOB. However I do think it is about time some changes were made. I think Kike2 was a mistake and given his strength is “in the air” I did not see him win one? SD still continues to frustrate me, especially as I would not have signed him. For that money I believe, there were as good Championship players available with a sell on value if need be.

    Interesting piece in a weekend paper about Leicester and their rise to the top. First eleven games did not concede a clean sheet, changed the two full backs ( one. de Laet) and bingo clean sheets galore. I thought he, de Laet, was part responsible for their goal. Hope the Championship is easier for him. Disappointed for Husband, does not seem to be AK´s plans?

    Mind you we could not of complained if we had lost 1-3.

  4. Looking forwards and not backwards to tomorrow night I am hoping for a severe reaction. I’m not looking for a dreary “backs to the wall” lets “hope we nick one” performance because our defence now well and truly has a ruddy big hole in its bucket.

    Tomorrows game brings us level on games played with Hull. A victory or a draw puts us top. A victory by 3 or more clear goals restores the GD with Hull. I don’t expect any team in this league to roll over for us but seeing the state of the MK defence against Chelsea and the goals they conceded against Burnley in their 5 goal romp I am not in the mood to hear about stubborn resistance or our first attempt on target coming in the 79th minute.

    A line in the sand has to be drawn, the past is the past and tomorrow we move forward and finish the week in top spot three points clear with our GD restored to equal or better the Tiger’s. That has to be the only objective, anything short or less is abject, pitiful, woeful and unacceptable.

    Our regular Back 4 will be missing George and Dani. Whoever plays will do their best but it is not our solid bedrock. We cannot build on shifting sands so play 3 at the back, ensure we put pressure on to keep them from our backline and in doing so we must attack.

    I don’t want to hear, “I don’t recognise this team” nor do I want to hear “5 or 6 players didn’t perform”. I want all 11, motivated and salivating at KO to get tore into MK, if not they shouldn’t be on the Team bus let alone the squad.

    Rhodes has to start, stick either Nugent or Stuani up front with him. Rest one of the yellow peril in the middle, Grant or Clayts, give Forshaw a start. No dithering over consideration of de Pena or Kike II. Tomorrow night is an opportunity, the rot has to stop and a team in the bottom 4 is as good a place to start as any.

    My four change, back 3, gung ho, never say die, faith restoring, belief building, line up would be:


    Kalas, Gibson, de Laet,

    Nsue, Clayton, Forshaw, Downing,


    Rhodes, Nugent.

    I want us to start the way we finished against Blackburn, get at them from the whistle and start banging goals in. No excuses, no regrets. I want our Bus parked in their 18 yard box with the hazard warning lights on and horn blasting!

  5. Interesting piece in the times today, subject Leicester, they have only won by more than one goal about twice. Turns out the boffins now think that their defence is super, particularly huth and his partner, plus their two defensive midfielders shielding them. Remind you of any team that you know.

  6. Hi Redcar Red

    I love your match reports and analysis, they’re one of the best parts of the comments section.

    But I don’t quite think our defence is as leaky as you seem to believe it to be.

    With the exception of Hull, Reading, Burnley and Everton, we haven’t leaked more than one in a game all season. A recent average of one goal conceded per match is worrying by our standards, but it’s hardly cause for panic. I would think, then, that the current issue should purely be with attack: we now have a mouth-watering array of talent, so why not use it?

    I would second your starting line-up but with Stuani in place of Nugent – I think he has more to offer in a supply striker role next to Rhodes.

    1. Simon

      I agree about our goals conceded not being bad and one (or two in the case of Burnley) per game is not disastrous except when we can’t hit a cow’s backside with a banjo whilst we are conceding them. All things relative and all that.

      Conceding was against our psyche but it has slipped by our own imperiously high record setting standard. No Ben then no Friend and now no Dani makes me feel it is unlikely to suddenly become impervious any time shortly.

  7. Don’t panic over results everyone,I’m having another foot op on 4th April and will be in plaster for the last seven games.

    Last season when I was in plaster for seven games we won six drew one so as long as we are there or thereabouts we are going up


    **AV writes: A noble sacrifice. Thank you. Are any other readers ready to put extremities on the line?

    1. NGUB

      Won six and drew one you say.

      Hmmmm….so say if you accidentally had both legs in plaster we could be on for winning twelve and drawing two.

      Be careful you don’t slip or trip out there 😉

      Just saying like (as Spartak would probably say).

  8. I am sure what to expect tomorrow, other than the weather is going to be quite bad I believe. Skippy surface, slips and mistakes?

    Whilst I agree with RR in the main, MK did get a good result against Cardiff, so no pushover.

    However I think that whilst there will be changes and we will see Rhodes from the off, I also think AK will be conservative in his selection worrying about the missing Ayala and Friend. So Clayton and Leadbitter again.

    Possibly his only concession will be Ramirez at 10. He will still want to keep it tight so I would not be surprised to see Stuani and Adoma included for their defensive skills , unless hit fits in Nugent. On the bench for SD.

    Second guessing AK is like trying to guess the lottery numbers……no chance

  9. ‘There’s something fundamentally wrong when a group of players as talented as Boro’s find it nigh on impossible to create goalbound shooting chances.The name of the game is scoring goals and the more shots on target you have, the more likely you are to score – simples.

    “In their last three Championship fixtures, Boro have achieved a total of six shots on target, scoring once. Is it too much to expect significantly more goalmouth action from a gifted group of players? No, it isn’t, quite frankly.’

    OMG! What sort of lunatic fringe, crazy off his head person could make such an appauling comment. Surely this provocateur must be lookin for ‘bites’. Doesn’t he understand that EVERY team goes through periods of low performance? Surely, even such a crazy person must know it’s only a blip. I mean come on ‘something fundamentally wrong’, is this guy straight off the moon or what? Needs a headcheck I’d say!

    **AV writes: Who’d have thought a publication could support a wide range of opinions.

    1. Ave a word with him AV go on for the greater good of the Boro and all:)

      **AV writes: We “have words” all the time. It is a perspective. He is one of those romantic liberal types who wants to unshackle individual creativity and take risks I am a dour pragmatist who wants to champion labour and maintain the integrity of the collective. And that is just over making the tea.

  10. I think there is a strong possibility Leadbitter or Clayton will miss out if they are both one away from a suspension – in this position last year, AK didn’t play them together in case they both got suspended at the same time.

    I’d go with






    and can I just say I would absolutely love a binary, scrappy 1-0 win with a goal from our first shot on target in the 79th minute!

    1. I agree with most of your front four but I’d probably go with Downing back at number ten and in midfield I think Clayton would edge it over Leadbitter for me – though if he gets booked I’m not sure I’d want him to miss the Leeds game so it probably doesn’t matter which of the two plays.

      What’s left of the defence basically picks itself at the moment but since we all got so used to Friend being ever-present you’ve probably overlooked his injury (unless I’ve missed his sooner than expected recovery) so de Laet will no doubt continue.

      I think you’re probably right to think Ramirez will get his debut on the left rather than at number ten – especially given the Kike Sola shenanigans at the weekend and Adomah is looking like being benched.

      Although I’d settle for 1-0 too, I think the team probably need something a bit more convincing to lift them out of their hesitant slumber.

      1. I’m still unsure about Downing playing ten if Rhodes becomes the permanent number nine as Stewy often drifts into a deep position to get the ball and then will Jordan could become isolated unless the wide players support him under such circumstances – it could work but it may not.

      1. I mean 7 games without a win and you’ve spent how much? Surely you’d want to keep the guy in the job. Just a blip really! Can’t understand it. Hang on, wasn’t there some nutter on ere earlier sayin somert about yer only as good as yer last six games. I mean really, what an idiot! Straight out the funny farm that guy LOL

  11. Haven’t bothered to comment since Saturday because it seems I just tend to repeat RR’s mantra. We just see things the same way. Hopefully, AK will use his newly acquired assets to bring about a change in fortunes, so that we can breath a bit easier.

  12. Derby County – cannot understand the decision. Wasn’t it the chaiman who interrupted the team recently? So happy we have Gibbo at Boro! UTB!

  13. Hold yer horses! We’re on 196. Len and Ian have been dead quiet. They must be hovering about somewhere with talons sharpened. Maybe Allan in Saudi is sculking about ready to lanuch a swift assault from the cool desert sands as he munches on his mid winter barbequed rib in the deserted quarter!

  14. Any win will do me tomorrow, it’s away from home.

    What I want to see is a solid performance , no goals conceded and one or more scored. What we need is the Boro that was rampant through December back, we don’t need a new style of play.

    2-0 to Boro.

  15. Nigel

    What I want to see is intensity. Impose ourselves and we should be too good for all the teams.

    As I posted earlier, it seems like we were expecting results. You get chuff all without earning the right to play. If it is true for Bayern Munich and Barcelona it is for us.

  16. Can someone explain what is going on with Husband and the extended deal at Huddesfield. Does this mean that Karanka just doesn’t rate him or is De Laet just a better option.

  17. It appears that the Derby chairman is a fair-weather friend – he just couldn’t cope with those inclement showers.

    Luckily the club said promotion wasn’t a priority this year as they seem to have made a decision to help meet their targets. Does their board have a strategy other than sacking managers until they find one that develops a winning mentality?

    In theory they could be one point behind Burnley after the weekend’s games – who maybe will be regretting giving Sean Dyche a new contract on that basis!

    Anyway, I wonder how many games Darren Wassall will get to prove he’s the right man for the job? surely ten should be enough to come to another decision? OK six games if he doesn’t win any of them.

  18. I fully agree that we’re not attacking well enough but I think we’ve overcome that throughout most of the season. I think that pressure is the main reason why we’ve had our recent problems. We hit the top of the league with games in hand and anyone with any interest declared us certainties. Understandably.

    We had a fantastic run against the other top sides. They were games where we weren’t nailed on to win and we found a certain freedom in that.

    Naturally we were then overwhelming favourites against sides like Bristol City, Forest (despite their own decent run) and Blackburn and the expectancy got to us. It’s something we need to get over and the sooner the better.

    AK and his coaching team are said to be meticulous in their preparation – micromanagers. I assume this means detailed plans for each game with insights into every aspect of the opposition’s game.

    I think it would be wise to try and take some of the pressure off by just letting the players play for a game or two. Try something a little different and show trust in the players.

    I’d go for:

    Nsue Kalas Gibson De Laet
    Adomah Forshaw Clayton Downing
    Nugent Rhodes

    Tell Forshaw to get forward and support. Encourage Adomah and Downing to have a real go at their fullbacks and get crosses in. Have a right go.

    If it doesn’t work we’re still second. If it does then we get some confidence back, hopefully a few goals and go back to the top with a smile on our faces.

    1. I agree largely with the team, Andy. But I would replace Albert – my favourite player, but not in top form recently – with Stuani. UTB!

  19. This has been a great thread with solid, impassioned and articulate arguments on all sides of the debate.

    The only thing I disagree strongly with is the idea that people should “stop moaning”.

    This blog is all about critical reflections on the latest episode in the Boro soap opera. Those who can’t bear to read views with which they disagree should simply stop reading it. A cogent, well-argued view will get my vote every time, whatever angle it takes. And there have been plenty of those.

    Redcar Red has put the case for taking off the brake with admirable clarity. We have to get three points tomorrow, and we have to be on the front foot from the outset. MK looked very vulnerable in defence against Chelsea, but not half bad when going forward. The worst thing we can do is to hand them the initiative.

    But it won’t be plain sailing. We need to see Ramirez asap. But with a two week old child, working so far away from his family, and, I assume, travelling long distances whenever he can,the conditions for a speedy and successful integration could scarcely less favourable. He and Rhodes have hardly been introduced, so we cannot expect them to hit it off as a partnership for some time yet.

    I was not really surprised by Paul Clement’s sacking. When we played at Derby, the match was billed as being between, not two teams, but two Real Madrid alumni. Clement v AK.

    If anything the game itself proved the exact opposite: either team could have won had it not been for their coaches.

    Derby were awful in the first half. Playing “possession football” under instructions, they passed the ball around between their back four without offering the slightest threat for 40 minutes, making no use at all of the considerable midfield and attacking talent that they had at their disposal. It was a sad display by a team attempting and failing to put into practice their coach’s pre-formulated system.

    We came out in the second half and threw away two points by making no attempt to get out of our own half and no attempt to kill off the opposition with a second goal. What killed us was the coach’s philosophy of staking everything on hanging on to our fragile lead.

    My takeaway from the match was that either side could have won had they kept the game simple and played to their strengths, rather than subordinating these to some kind of tactical master plan.

    The situations at Derby and the Boro have a certain symmetry. There is,rightly or wrongly,a feeling amongst supporters at both clubs that the talents of an expensively acquired squad are not being fully exploited by the tactical formations favoured by their pedigree coaches.

    The comparison really ends there because we do not have the misfortune to have a Chairman who charges into the dressing room to dress down the team in front of the manager. And Aitor has proved himself, so far, to be the best organised and most thorough coach we have ever had. He has got us to where we are, and that has been a minor miracle in its own right.

    But to my mind the modern game elevates the role of coaches to such an extent that it is almost inevitable that the vast majority will crack sooner or later. The team and the players become less important than the man who fronts them.

    Tomorrow night the Boro will be playing MK Dons. It’s not Karl Robinson versus Aitor Karanka. Football is and always has been a game between two teams. It is only with saturation media coverage of the game that it has come to be predominantly represented as a personalised conflict between two individual tacticians.

    I think that it is important for the well-being of coaches themselves that they don’t fall for this. The structure of their week makes this very difficult. They have to front a once or twice weekly presser. They are interviewed both before and after the game. They pick the team and decide the tactics. And every nuance of their body language in their technical areas during the game is scrutinised for tell-tale signs of stress, emotion, jubilation etc. It’s little surprise that they themselves, begin to believe in their own supreme importance in determining the fate of their clubs.

    Derby have taken the bull by the horns by getting rid of the man from Madrid, and turning to Darren Wassall, a really good down to earth ex-pro. It’s a move that says the club is going to rely on a common- sensed approach which will seek to harness the talents of the players rather than subordinating them to some kind of tactical master plan.

    Harnessing the talent given to him by Steve Gibson is also AK’s task. As RR has well argued,the message from the Ipswich and Brighton games is that this might be best done by loosening the tactical straightjacket and encouraging the lads to take much more initiative and responsibility for their own performances.

    1. Len,

      It’s interesting that you say AK to be the ‘best organised and most thorough coach we have ever had’.

      On reflection, while we’ve had better coaches (Charlton and Rioch are my faves), I think you’re spot on. I would argue though that these traits have led to a paralysis of sorts where not stuffing up triumphs over risk every time.

      We forget maybe that AK has only 18 month’s experience as top dog and such his often negative approach is perhaps understandable in this context.

      But he needs to change, and mature, as a coach and quickly. The difference between Paul Clement’s sacking and AK, is probably just a few points and a chairman. Patently, and rightly, we won’t go down this route but I suspect the discord at Derby was not much more than we have seen in recent weeks.

      Intriguing times.

    2. Excellent post Len – in full agreement about the modern Cult of the Manager.

      The biggest beneficiary is surely Mourinho, a man with the confidence and bravura to draw all under his magnetism. It works when he starts with a club, but football is full of personalities, and if you fancy yourself as the next superstar dripping with endorsements (Eden Hazard) then perhaps you get a bit stroppy when the manager takes all of the press attention.

      Similarly, those without that natural media flair, Benitez for example, are hung out to dry in their bad patches, and so much of their successful work forgotten. Although, by extension of your argument it is not so much their successful work as the teams.

      Either way, there are 11 people on the pitch kicking a ball around for each team – and very rarely are any of them also the manager.

  20. Never Give Up…

    Best of luck with the operation.


    I always enjoyed your own blog, so it’s great to have you contributing to the debates on this one.

    1. Thank you Len. Agree or disagree, your posts have been inspirational to me.

      I will be back blogging again more regularly soon. Things have just been rather busy lately.

  21. As a coach your damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

    Anyone who has watched football for a number of decades knows British football was loved because of its blood and thunder approach to the game ,we have the ball ,you have the ball, attack, attack was the mantra. However teams that went into Eoropean Competitions, especially the National team were always picked off,and lost games more than won.

    This was because when your playing at a 100 miles an hour you are susceptible to make mistakes, over-hit passes, shots and crosses wide of the mark, getting caught out of position, tiring quicker. So to minimise these mistakes the continental coaches philosophy was a more patient game, shorter passing less low percentage ones, keep ball and be strong towards the end of games.

    This of course is not what the fans here want to see, but if your players are top notch they have the ability to do it and entertain. And that’s the question. I don’t think any team coached by Tony Pulis will ever be like that because he doesn’t look for players who can, and won’t set them up for it. Stoke had to make the change for the long term.

    AK I believe is trying to introduce a culture that will last, but of course fans want promotion now and we must do it beating everyone out of sight. It may not happen yet. Don’t forget ,Burnley and Hull went up and came back down, its not easy.


  22. Great post, Len. Yes, I did skip a lot of the early posts after Saturday. Cannot see the point of panic at this stage of the season. We have just bought well and the players need time to settle.

    BTW, how many managers have been dismissed during the last twelve months in the Championship? Must be around 15 at least which is crazy. Must show something about the ability to hire a amanger or problems in the organisations as such.

    Up the Boro!

    **AV writes: We are up to 13 bosses gone in the Championship now.

  23. AK said “There were players here who were trying to leave, thinking about leaving, others were arriving, and that was the problem.’

    AK said “I thought I had players who wanted to leave,” he continued, “I couldn’t use them and those who were playing knew they were going to play because I didn’t have a replacement.’

    AK said “For that reason I couldn’t use the players from the bench, so those who were playing I couldn’t take off if they weren’t performing.’

    Spartak said ‘ A ‘manager professes that he can’t manage under ‘circumstances’. Players are motivated to leave (why? Isn’t everyone a big happy family all pulling together for each other?). And he is ‘forced’ to play players who aren’t performing.’

    The conclusion is ………

    1. Spartak

      I have just read the same article and hope that something is lost in translation surely.

      All 72 clubs in the league plus all the Premiership teams were in the exact same scenario and not only that but I have a prediction that it will be exactly the same next January and the one after that, ad infinitum for every single club and not just those in England.

      I don’t believe that Kike wouldn’t have tried or Fabbrini for that matter or whoever it was he was referring to. If things were that bad then why on earth were those players selected for the bench, has someone nicked his naughty step?

      A team heading in the right direction at the top of the table and players allegedly don’t want to play? Sorry don’t believe a word of it, what better way of being in the shop window to get the move you want and a few more grand besides. Like I say this surely has to be lost in translation otherwise I’m stunned by it.

      Either way I don’t buy into it or remotely accept it. Uncomfortably if it is true it confirms that there is more to it than just a dip. Are some of those players still here? Very likely that they are.

      **AV writes: I think he got lost somewhere along the way in the sentence. All he had to say was that maybe the transfer window was a distraction and left it at that but he wandered off in circles.

      1. Redcar Red

        There are a number of posters on this ere blog who have been flagging up what they consider underlying ‘issues’ and have been dismissed in various ways.

        I concur with your good self. The statement is dubious to say the least and downright damning if the full conclusions are to be released.

        OFB, I believe it was, just recently asked if AK had lost the dressing room. I myself had my sanity questioned by others for even suggesting it, but I don’t think such an idea is so far from the truth and one win, lose or draw tonight isn’t going to swing that around.

        Ultimately, SG will be aware of the dynamics in the dressing room and any loss of confidence within the MFC group (although never openly admitted) will be known to him.

        Only time will tell how things develop but the strain of a promotion chase where a high intensity, error free game is expected and punished if not produced, can go some way to explaining why players want out or have simply decided that enough is enough and too much is being asked of them.

        Just saying like! 🙂

        1. Yes I did ask the question if AK had lost the dressing room?

          I hope not but as we know the stakes of getting promoted to the Prem have never been higher and AK to his credit takes the responsibility seriously.

          As the Boro are away for next few games perhaps a team building session away for a few days might help the team to bond.


  24. Interesting post Len

    I suppose you can’t blame coaches these days from wanting to micro-manage every aspect of the game as the average tenure in a post seems to be getting shorter and shorter as the stakes get higher.

    I don’t think if they left it to the players to develop an understanding naturally over a period of months they would still be around when they eventually clicked. Clubs now almost expect success in the first year of the manager starting.

    But I agree at some point coaches need to let the players think for themselves and accept it’s inevitable mistakes will be made – you can’t prevent mistakes, it’s just a fact of life in any sport.

    Perhaps the fear of giving the ball away in a possession-based style leads to the pursuit of the safe option first – which is probably easier to defend against.

    Most sports psychologists try to tell sportsmen to forget about the mistakes and move on – if you know you made a mistake then it’s already something you’ve learnt.

    Though it’s still difficult to marry the drilled organisation required for defending and the creative spontaneity that unlocks defences and creates chances.

    It seems a long time since Boro were creating around 20 chances a game – though it’s actually less than a couple of months – maybe the pressure of holding on to something ultimately leads to a mentality of risk-aversion, especially in an environment where making a mistake is frowned upon.

    Though natural selection in a culture that requires perfection will probably see the players who are more spontaneous either conform or be moved on – hopefully we’ve got some new blood now to ignite the spark once more.

  25. Interesting thoughts, they had the football panel debating coaching on radio 5 last night. The subject of micro managing and coaching was discussed. Even Sean Dyche sounded interesting, clubs needed to move away from being nanny’s and get youngsters playing as they would in the streets so they could make decisions for themselves.

    Lots more than that but the view was that from a young age players were trained rather than coached.

  26. AV. Just read your bit on the managers “methodology” Sorry but I disagree with all of it.

    The main reasons players are recruited is because they are deemed better than the ones you already have. That being the case they should start, and the sooner the better!

    **AV writes: Maybe, but since Day One that has been the way Aitor has worked. He isn’t going to change something if he thinks it is the right way to proceed.

  27. Spartak and RR:

    Agree, though I was even more surprised by the idea that our problems were arising from the fact that we were not playing enough games. That excuse is original, if nothing else.

    My heart sank a bit when AK said that he knew what the problems were after Bristol and Forest and that he would be working hard to remedy them over the next two weeks.

    That suggested to me the possibility not so much of a more open, spontaneous and creative approach, designed to inflict damage in the final third, but an even more intensive dose of defensive drills designed to identify and eliminate mistakes.

    If that were the case then we need to look no farther in identifying the cause of what AV called the self-imposed soporific tedium of the first 70 minutes last Saturday.

  28. Spartak

    Read summary of AK’s presser but couldn’t find the comments you referred to, must be a different article. Any chance of a link.

      1. Staggering. If he had posted that on here as Sombrero Smog he’d have been laughed off the blog.

        Equally staggering is that our incumbent journos didn’t pull him up on it or ask pertinent questions or are the akaratchiks toeing the party line?

        **AV writes: Where do you thinks the quotes came from. He didn’t walk in and read out a prepared statement. They are answers to our questions.

  29. AK’s comments highlighted by Spartak, if true, are worrying. They speak directly to a lack of trust in the players that I and others have commented on. RR correctly dissects the comments: taken at face value they sound like a load of nonsense from AK. I hope they are not true or are some sort of misunderstanding.

    At the risk of repeating myself, I do not share all of AK’s footballing ideals but I still believe him to be fine manager with a big future. We moan about the lack of creativity and how he has not got the best from a group of expensively assembled attacking players but we are not nearly as forthcoming with our praise about how he has transformed the team and individuals at the back. Dimi, Nsue, Ayala, Gibson and Friend did not arrive with large price tags or reputations. Look at them now.

    There is an idea I heard on some training course or other that if you give someone a blank sheet of paper with a small, solitary black blemish on it, the person will concentrate on the blemish. The idea is that we tend to focus on the small number of negatives and ignore the many more positives. I think there is a touch of that right now with AK’s Boro.

    That does not mean that problems should not be highlighted, analysed, discussed and worked at. But that should happen in the context of the bigger picture: that AK’s methods have us second with a game in hand to go clear at the top.

    1. ‘Aitor Karanka pinpoints the reason why Boro have stopped scoring’

      These are the words from the horses mouth Andy. AK is the guy making them. Perhaps there is a need for AK to sit back and enjoy the fruit of his labors over the last part of the season.

      He said himself that he would be the one responsible if we don’t get promo. I agree. I also think, given he is not replaced (all manager’s jobs in football are temp – ask P Lambert), that he will be the one responsible if we are promoted and all credit should be given him but I think he’s got one big challenge in front of him and that’s not simply the opposition teams the Boro must face.

      The philosophy of ‘it’s my way or the byway’ only gets you so far until there’s no one let but sycophants for you to name in the team and they don’t guarantee results. Further it’s a results business and they are the true arbiters of success. If the results don’t go your way they poke the fat lady in the arse and she begins to sing.

      1. I agree that ultimately Karanka will be responsible for how our season pans out.

        Perhaps I have misinterpreted your general comments on the blog. The impression I have, rightly or wrongly, is that you believe we are in the automatic promotion places in spite of AK’s methods, not because of them, and that it is only a matter of time before we fall away. I cannot recall reading anything from you giving credit and responsibility to AK for helping us into a position where we are on course for automatic promotion.

        You comment that it is all about results. Fair enough, most would agree with you. But before our recent slump I recall you commenting that the football wasn’t entertaining enough. I think you have a point there but it doesn’t sit comfortably alongside your current view that it is all about results.

        And if it all about results, why do you want Karanka sacked when tomorrow morning we will be either first or second in the league?

      2. You invest 20 million UKP into a football club and you suggest you don’t want promo? If you want promo you invest and you expect results. You don’t expect yer manager to say ‘Well due to circumstances I couldn’t manage!’

      3. Who doesn’t want promotion?

        I’m lost. You say it’s all about results and here we are in first/second depending on tonight’s result. But you also say the league table doesn’t matter (ask van Gaal or something).

        Sometimes results are not good enough for you, sometimes it isn’t the the result but the way we play.

        I mean, eh?

        It’s all descending into a farce! Anyway, new blog, another match, on we go.

  30. **AV writes: We are up to 13 bosses gone in the Championship now.

    The game’s afoot:
    Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
    Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

    Basically speaking managers are going at the rate of two a month+. Those that succeed will be those who has the spirit and the wherewithal to produce the goods.

    Scan the field compadres – who do you think at this stage will carry off the glory!

    Oooooh it’s exciting!

    **AV writes: ON the 2nd Karankaversary (back in November) I worked out that 45 bosses had gone in the Championship while he had been in charge. It worked out at one every 14 days.

    1. Indeed AV, indeed!

      I honestly hope he is still with us as we climb back into the Premier League. But to do that he is going to have to overcome serious challenges in how the team (who are not robots) achieves that!

  31. Spartak

    Read the article and have no problem with it.

    Transfer window with players not getting in to the team, loan players leaving, squad players leaving, singings and loan players coming in. Sounds like January

    So what?

    What sort of manager do you want?

    1. A one that says he can manage effectively! How’s that?

      Don’t see Leicester or Burton having ‘issues’. Don’t read about successful managers sayin they’re struggling and the team have, what is it? 5 shots on target and 1 goal in the last 3 games. Don’t see others (apart from the ones ‘released’) who are being asked about lack of creativity.

      Questions, questions – a storm in a teacup, a crisis in the making – time will tell and I’ll be sure to get back to you 🙂

  32. Spartak

    Asked questions, answered them. No problem at all.

    I would be more surprised if there weren’t players wanting to leave because they are not in the team.

    Probably too honest for his own good because the vultures want to pick over every word.

    Time will tell and I am sure there are some who would rather he fail despite protesting otherwise.

    Such is life, just saying like.

    1. I’m pretty sure of what I say and what I say I’m pretty sure of. If some scurrilous rogue wishes to infer otherwise because they dislike my opinions or conclusions then that’s not my problem.

      Just sayin like

  33. Andy said ‘is that you believe we are in the automatic promotion places in spite of AK’s methods, not because of them, and that it is only a matter of time before we fall away.’

    I believe that ultimately there was never going to be much chance that the players would be able to deliver ‘high intensity- error free football’ throughout the season. I believe, and I’ve said this many times before, that there is a schism between AK and his squad or at least members of it (see his own comments). AK has a vision but as can be seen by the release of some players throughout the season, he requires 110% commitment all the time to realise it. BTW this is all he has shown upto date with regards to tactics. Occasionally it will come off wonderfully and we do very well but as the last games have shown it is not sustainable, that’s why he needs new blood to achieve what he’s set out to do.

    So no, I don’t believe we will necessarily fall away. He has his new players, new blood and it still may work but if it doesn’t you need a plan B. And IMHO that means a new manager because upto now AK hasn’t shown he can produce something different.

    Still we have MKD tonight and we will see how it goes. But success is managed over 6-7 matches that’s the crucial series normally. With SG, well given the amount of money invested, it could be 8-9 maybe 10 because the fans will be the ones howling at the Riverside.

    Is that OK?

    1. I’m just trying to get my head round it, Spartak.

      Is this below fair in summing up your position?

      1) You believe that AK’s tactical plan is unsustainable without a high turnover of players

      2) You believe that AK is tactically inflexible

      3) You believe that, in most cases, only the previous 6-7 games should be considered when accessing the suitability of the manager to continue in his post

      4) If results have not been good enough in those previous 6-7 games, the manager should be replaced

      If that is fair then, for what it’s worth, I would only consider point 2 to have any legs. Even then, that would need to be balanced against the idea that if you maintain the same framework, you reduce the risk of confusing your players.

      1. Ok Andy, I’ve read it twice just to make sure of my position and in all honesty I would say YES to all 4.

        Yes, that’s about it. I may give said manager a bit more time at the beginning of his tenure as he may have to take up players that he’d prefer not to but in effect any manager really worth his salt ie B Clough and friends, then he should be getting wins within that time. If not, he’s outta the door.

        The key is of course, like when you’re buying players is to spot the manager with the ability to do the job. I don’t think meeting them in a motorway service station is necessarily the best option. Southampton FC go through ALL the applications for manager with a fine toothcomb. Three out of the last four have win ratios of over 45% the other, well he’s managing Tottenham at the moment and I think they’re second in the Premier League just behind Leicester.

        Steve Gibson I am not!

        Hope that’s good for you!

  34. “…..but when the blast of war blows in your ears, stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood, disguise fair nature with hard favour’d rage, then lend the eye a terrible aspect……..” It’s not the players, it’s the mentality. That changes tonight. Absolutely. Completely. How brave will AK be? How well will the team respond? Time for rhetoric is over, only action will do now! UTB

    1. Read the whole article Ian and the one before. Blakey was one of the mainstays of On the Buses even though he didn’t get much more than 3-4 mins in each show and the lines he was given he would probably end up saying in his sleep – but no one forgot him and he helped to keep those buses on the road 🙂

  35. Not a lover of on the buses but I find Harry Pearson a good read, he seems to articulate a lot of the views we all share, he should contribute to this blog. Maybe he does!

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