Last Gasp Goals Gets Aitor Off The Hook

BORO salvaged a point with a stoppage time leveller from £9m new boy Jordan Rhodes.

The looping header somehow nudged Boro to the top of the Championship table after a frustrating and deeply unsatisfactory display against a team of basement battlers.

And the goal at the death got Aitor Karanka off the hook.


Had Boro not scrambled to a second scrappy successive draw the dam of fans’ frustrations threatened to break and the gaffer would have got pelters.

Supporters have been through agonies in recent weeks as the once healthy cushion has been slowly and steadily eroded behind them and momentum fizzled out. A string of soul-sapping performances have been poor. Turgid. Timid. Laboured. Predictable. Disjointed. Nervous. Woeful. Dull. And deeply worrying.

And for the fans who have watched it the nerves have grown taut and the dark fears in the collective psyche have grown steadily and eaten away into self-confidence. The swagger of six weeks ago is a distant memory.

Boro are not bossing teams, not grabbing games by the throat, not bullying opposition into a tactical strait-jacket then ruthlessly squeezing the life out of them.  Now they look pale and impotent while the aura of impregnability at the back has fractured too.

So the pressure – and a coherent minority counter-position overtly opposed to the manager’s tactics and philosophy – has been building. Every set-back strengthens that current.

All the talk has been about how to categorise the current spell. Is it a just blip? A more sustained wobble? A shaky blindfold teetering along the edge of a cliff? Could Boro be about to go on a slide of Mogga proportions.

The undeniable evidence of the table suggests not. The quality of the squad suggests not. Every pundit, manager and neutral observer insists Boro are still the best bet for promotion and probably the title.

Yet, something deep inside has spooked supporters.

And at MK Dons it felt like that accumulated anxiety was about to erupt. The atmosphere was fretful outside the ground and the doubts were doubled when the team sheet was announced and Rhodes was on the bench. Again.

And once MK Dons scored the frustration was tangible. You could feel the waves radiating from the top shelf behind the far goal.  There were yelps as balls went astray. There were screams in anger and angst as attacks broke down. And some sections edged, slowly, reluctantly, towards open hostility.

After the break – and with no changes – it seemed there was a battle of wills as the crowd (and cyberspace) built layers of ever louder demands for the new striker to help out a flaccid front-line and the boss stuck rigidly to his plan.

Fans called repeatedly for Jordan Rhodes long before he peeled off his tracksuit. And they offered pointed tactical advice and chanted “attack, attack, attack.”  It felt, as the whistle loomed, that defeat would usher in open season on the manager, his tactics, his selections, his entire ethos. It felt like battle lines were being drawn.

And then Rhodes scored, he celebrated with glee and the fans punched the air wit ha mixture of joy, relief and total incredulity. But many joy. A last gasp leveller always feels almost like a win. Almost.


The goal, the point, the inching to top spot have all helped to relieve the pressure – for now.  But it was a deeply frustrating and unsatisfactory performance from a side who looked laboured and blunt and rarely managed to impose themselves.

There can’t be many more of them. The pack are closing fast and the game in hand won’t protect that narrow lead if it is cashed in as cheaply as that one was.

In the eyes of many, the manager has got out of jail.

Had Rhodes not scored the fact that he was on the bench would have been a weapon to beat him and a crime that would not be forgotten. It could yet come back to haunt him.

I understand the logic behind it: Aitor likes to get his signings up to speed with the style and shape of the team and in tune with the philosophy and mentality and has taken that approach from day one.  And, as he had always stated, the players in the shirts keep them so long as they are doing the business and David Nugent worked his nuts off and scored to salvage the game against Blackburn.

And there is next to no chance of a change in shape. The gaffer has spent two years hard-wiring the formation into the team. He’s not going to change it now.  Why would he? The shape has taken the team into the promotion spots and has yielded the golden ration of two points a game this term.

But that is hard to sell to the fans. Especially after a the January jitters, just two goals and two points in four games and the team crying out for extra ooomph as they look to find Championship escape velocity.

And especially when Rhodes is well versed in this division. He is not an import who could fall through the football culture gap.  Rhodes has rattled in 11 goals for Blackburn this season. Standard.  Leaving him out made the boss hostage to fortune.

So once again it was a big call for the gaffer. As were his changes at Wolves.

Once again he got away with.

Sometimes it is just as important to be a lucky manager as to be a good one.




What I said before…. hostage to fortune.


NEW club. New ground. New start? Boro need to kick-start their promotion push quickly. A wobble of four points and just two goal from four games has seen their lead eroded and the pack close in while some sections of supporters have got the jitters.

These stumbles happen in every promotion campaign to every team. At this stage last season Bournemouth went six without a win. Under Bryan Robson in 1995 ‘nailed on’ Boro got battered twice in a week and leaked nine goals in a sustained slump before Uwe arrived as a catalyst. It happens.

It is not necessarily terminal and we should be wary of projecting our own dark fears onto the situation and the team and predicting doom. Now is the time to get behind them. It is in these moments the team need unconditional support to give them a shove



          Go! Rhodes ready for  a sprint start to the second phase of the promotion push

And Boro are well placed to reboot the season.  They are not trailing and looking to play catch-up. They are joint top and with games in hand. Victory at MK Dons would transform the dynamics and put them clear with a healthy cushion and a game in hand over third.

They have also had a healthy injection of fresh blood during the transfer window. They have signed the Championship proven prolific striker they have courted for a year and a creative midfielder with a great pedigree (though he may be ring rusty) as well as adding bodies in every other department.

Just a few weeks ago everyone was talking about Boro being the best balanced squad and best organised team in the division working to a coherent tactical framework that was being applied clinically.  They had the best bench in the league too packed with talents that would walk into the first team of almost any other team . The pundits were gushing. Opposition managers were in awe. The national press sat up and took notice. None of that has changed. Boro remain well equipped and placed to push on.  And it starts here.

Boro go to franchise outfit MK Dons – cynically spirited into the league at the expense of the real Wimbledon – looking to get back into gear. The last 20 minutes against Blackburn suggested that if they up the tempo and apply some pressure then they can be creative and potent and have the punch to beat a struggling side who have plateaued.

With added ‘Jason’ Rhodes and possibly Ramirez and Stuani too, Boro should have the firepower and if they can match the focus and work-rate they had before the clean sheet magic aura was broken they should have too much for MK Dons.

Ben Gibson is back now – his absence shouldn’t be ignored when looking for the cause of the creaking –  but Dani Dani Ayala is out now as well as George Friend so the defence still looks a bit makeshift,  however although Tomas Kalas and Ritchie De Laet look to be more than competent deputies. But will have to be sharp. And the midfield anchor pair will have to up their performance and resume their roles as human shields to protect them.

But it is up front where Boro need to perform. The quality on call is amazing. The options are staggering. The price-tags are eye-watering. Now results have to match that.

I haven’t collected for a few weeks but I’m sticking with 2-0/3-0.  Over to you. Usual drill. Predict the score and the plot-lines and then we’ll regroup later to swap notes.


388 thoughts on “Last Gasp Goals Gets Aitor Off The Hook

  1. I thought Tomlin had something in him that teams couldn’t read, he could look bad, but then pull something out, maybe this is were Karanka falls down, seeing that different take on the game ,I still don’t see anything different on the bench that can give the opposition an uneasy feeling if they come on.

  2. gt…..I was always a fan of Tomlin and Vossen, and believe we have not really replaced them with better creative players in the number 10 position they normally operated in.

  3. Ironically our defence is getting all the plaudits and cost peanuts and the front four which have let us down and not lived up to their hype this season have cost over 20m!!

  4. Not too bad with Hull winning but Burnley drawing.

    Weird results with Derby losing to MK Dons. I posted a few weeks ago I was glad we had already played Wednesday twice, they are coming with a run. Brighton squeeked home against Bolton.

    Up to us to get a result at the Dirties

  5. Brighton closing right up and more if we do not get a result on Monday, then the pressure will really be on. Sheff Wed looking quite good now also….as somebody posted, glad we have played them.

    1. No need to imagine as you probably know we went seven games without scoring about two years ago in Karanka’s early days and Steve Claridge was adamant that the players didn’t understand how to play 4-2-3-1 – oh how we laughed!

      Still I feel the bad run is about to end on Monday as Boro extend their unbeaten run to three games and return to the top – I also see Hull play Brighton in Midweek, so I’m hoping it’s a draw.

      To be honest I’d written Brighton off but four wins on the bounce in the Championship catapults any team up the league and they’ve probably got their confidence back – though I think they concede too many goals to finish in the top two.

      Boro could be back on formidable form by the end of the month with the first choice back-four available and the new strikers nicely settled in – we just need a few wins to keep us in pole position in the meantime.

  6. In spite of the weight of comments on this blog, I think that our problems are defensive. Yes, I know we have lost the services of, Ayala, Gibson, friend, for various matches, but in my opinion there have been times in all those matches when we have introduced a midfielder and taken off a midfielder, quite wrong, in my view. we should have left on the field all our midfielders and removed a forward, thus giving us more control at the end of the match, after all our forwards were not going to score late on, they couldn’t even hold the ball up field to give our defenders a rest and see out the match.

  7. The results get stranger and stranger. Derby must be devastated and suddenly Brighton look to be a bigger threat than Burnley. If we can pull off a win, we’ll be back in a strong position again.

    Interesting to see the preferred team on the website is the 4-4-2 that we’ve all been talking about. I admit to having picked exactly the same combination with Rhodes playing off Nugent.


  8. As I wrote earlier, who would have really thought AK would switch to 4-4-2 as soon as Rhodes was bought. He and the team will need days on Rockcliffe to hone the system.

    But it has worked well when we have used it after Rhodes came on. I agree with AK that the current system was not worth abandoning as it had taken us top already. AK philosofy is correct not to loose.

    Mind, I will expect to see a few 3-0 and 4-0 wins when we get back to the normal level. Our normal level is over 2 points per game this season. Watch this space.

    The Leeds game is live on TV also in here. Just gona enjoy the ride now. Up the Boro!

  9. Reasons to be cheerful ..

    We’re unbeaten in two.
    We’ve come back from behind two games in a row.
    JR is off the mark already.
    We’re still in a promotion spot after yesterday’s games.
    If we beat Leeds tomorrow we go top.


  10. Thanks to Sky I will miss the Leeds game but with a bit of luck I might catch the first half on a telly somewhere sat in an Airport departure lounge. I just hope work appreciate my sacrifices!

    I’m not bothered what the formation or line up is as no doubt AK will do it his way regardless and I’m pretty sure I won’t agree with it anyway. What I don’t want is to read afterwards of how we had 6 shots with only 1 on target and what a donkey Nugent/Rhodes was for missing it. Leeds are where they are in the league for a reason and we now more than ever need to start beating teams in the lower echelons of the Championship.

    Hull ran Blackburn ragged yesterday at Ewood Park yet we managed to make them look like promotion contenders at the Riverside and don’t start me on Bristol. If AK wants to win by passing sideways so be it, but win. Tomorrow night is a great opportunity to throw a gauntlet down to the rest of the division, I hope we don’t throw another sheepskin muff down instead.

    I watched a bit more greed football than normal yesterday with us not having a game. Chelsea in particular struck me what a Team can achieve by sitting deep and having a quick pacy striker on the half way line just waiting to pounce onto a cutting through ball down the middle. Hiddink needs to be told he needs to slow it down, pass it out wide, then back, then through the middle with a pedestrian midfield and then out wide again to eventually hump a hopeful ball into the box. Fast, slick, pacy football, pah! what does Hiddink know?

    I just wish we had a Striker to utilise that option with, someone with pace and afterburners who runs their socks off to chase a ball through the middle instead of the corner flag. I hope Grant and Co. were also watching in the hope that someone may try an offensive pass rather than “lets wear them down and hope one or two of them commit themselves”.

    Stay compact, sit tight and Boro will just pass it around their own half making themselves dizzy and we can pick them off from set pieces and on the break will be Steve Evans team talk. AK needs to get his team believing rather than obeying.

  11. RR, pity you miss the game. And we won’t get the excellent report.

    But think about the 90 Norwegian Leeds fans who flew over to see the match. They are returning today. Shame on the Sky.

    Next season I have to pay about 40 % more to see Premier League on TV over here. Not because Boro are there next season, but for the TV money. So someone needs to pay for the better deal for the clubs.

    Up the Boro!

  12. I understand AK went to the Blackburn Hull game. I’d be interested to hear his thoughts on why Hull were winners and we weren’t

  13. A cold shiver went down my spine this morning. had to drop Mrs G off at Heathrow this morning. As we went down the M1 she asked why there were so many coaches on the road.

    I told it was Leicester fans on the way to play Arsenal, I then said imagine what it would have looked like with 40,000 Boro fans on the way to Wembley.

    Then I went quiet, sat driving along thinking that could have been us on the way to the Emirates.

    Hey ho, and Vardy has scored

  14. Very quiet day on here today, hope we are not being lulled into a false sense of security. Judging by the lack of comments perhaps we are all collectively girding our loins.

    Should be interesting tomorrow night as the Leeds fans have had a two and a half grand whip round to stage a protest against their chairman and benefactor Cellini. Just a shame he won’t be there apparently. I thought they were organising a Sky Boycott but it appears they are either staying away or attending just to protest. Hope we take advantage of the septic atmosphere and turn it to our benefit.

    Just wondering what the Dirties fans have in store to the tune of £2,500 that they can smuggle into Elland Road, a big banner, flares or tennis balls perhaps? They may have been better advised to put it in a slush fund for a Right Back. Stewy or Albert should enjoy their evening facing the square pegged Wootton, everyone else has this Season it seems.

    1. Why? He is my favourite player but I must admit he has played terriblyin recent matches and needs a rest. We have such a good squad at the moment that not everyone can be garantead a place in the match day squad. We could easily field to competitive teams in the Championship.

      Up the Boro!

      1. Jarkko

        Re Albert there’s a difference to playing badly or not looking interested and wanting to be somewhere else. Unfortunately Albert hasn’t looked like he wants to play for Karanka and I think the comment that it is the last we have seen of him could be correct he may go out on loan.


  15. Suarez and Messi, it’s not big and it’s not clever. Henry and Pires messed it up and we all laughed at them.

    Off down The Gambia River to find a telly showing the game.

  16. Is it too early to predict the result for today’s game? I will go for a 1-3 win today. AV cannot be right with a 1-0 win again and someday AK must get a result from Elland Road. I think Stuani is due a goal or two. J. Rhodes to start with Nugent. UTB!

  17. There’s a lot of , if this,why that,what about ,,why can’t, there’s a somewhat reluctance to question Karanka.
    But I think it’s time some players should be called out, are they scared to do certain things, not taking responsibility, watching games in the prem the one thing that sticks out is movement off the ball when in possession, are our players either not thinking , lazy or its just too easy to keep ball.
    Often when our midfield/ top end can’t move the ball quickly is because players are not so much standing around but not working harder to get open.

  18. Jarkko/ghw

    AK’s comments the other day sounded like Albert could be involved tonight and there was nothing sinister about him being left out v MK Dons. I did say I thought people had over-reacted a bit. It wasn’t that long ago he scored the winner in one of our best performances of the season v Derby.

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he started, along with Rhodes and Clayton (for Stuani, Nugent and Leadbitter).

  19. Borophil

    I fear Albert is a useful stick to beat Aitor with. There are so many conspiracy theories I suspect we have a grassy knoll at Rockcliffe.

    As for the result tonight I wonder if AV’s #daftquidkitty is empty yet?

    I would love a win but a draw and decent performance wouldn’t be the end of the world. Fancy us to sneak it but it wont be 5-4.

  20. If we go 4-4-2 with Nugent and Rhodes, then we won’t see Stuani. And how about Leads, then, or is it still TWO defensive midfielders. Adomah could start, too.

    If it is 4-2-3-1 it is easier to predict. The question is then who will drop: Stuani or Adomah. And who is playing in the nr 10 position.

    We have too large squad! At least the defense picks it self up as long as Friend and Ayala are injured. Or as well when they are fit, I would imagine.

    Up The Boro!

  21. I still think Nugent could play no.10, I’ve said it before but I’ve seen Leicester fans describe him more as one of those than an out-and-out striker. AK has played forwards there before (Vossen last year and more recently Kike2) so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. I’d like to see him given a go behind Nugent but I’m guessing Downing/Ramirez are more likely, tonight certainly.

    There almost are too many options though. I bet if you asked everyone on the blog for their preferred team tonight you wouldn’t get too many the same.

  22. Borophil

    I will repeat it again, few teams have two strikers up front. One tends to drop back to pick the ball up or draw a defender out and the other pushed up. They are not fixed together with steel rods like a table football formation.

    If Kike2 can play there so can Nugent, he is a clever footballer and quick.

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