Post-Blip Boro Ease Past Fragile Fulham

BORO made a mockery of the pre-match pitch-fork waving with a blistering start and

“No Rhodes – no goals!”  “What’s Downing playing for? He’s rubbish!” “Aitor’s playing for a draw again.”  “All his best players have been left on the bench.” “There’s no creativity”. ” We are throwing this season away….”

But the pre-emptive angst was hurled to the floor and crushed in the jubilant early celebrations as rejuvenated Boro burst out of the blocks to grab the game – and the promotion race – by the throat.

Back from their blip, One point off the top with two games in hand and a golden opportunity to really turn the screw on Tuesday at Blackburn – the rearranged fixture from the Boxing Day postponement – when a refreshed and fired-up Rhodes will no doubt be unleashed against his old club burning to prove a point.

It was a great day out for the travelling Boro fans who had arrived in good spirits, even if Craven Cottage has not always been a happy hunting ground. They had lost four of the previous five and many fans are still haunted by the surreal shenanigans in stoppage time in the crazy 4-3 defeat that ended automatic promotion hopes.

1Lucky

But then, Boro always play well away from home when Jose Mourinho – the Lucky One – turns up to play. Quick, someone get that man a half season ticket.

His last outing was Brighton and Boro seized control from the first whistle there too so he will now think his protege’s team are habitual sprint starters.

The display was bright and confident and full of belief and was in sharp contrast to much to the groaning when the team sheet was unveiled.

And it was two of the players who have come in from considerable cyber-space sniping in recent months that carved Fulham apart for the opener.

There was a flash of vintage Steaua period Stewart Downing – this month’s scapegoat-elect – as he latched onto a neat ball by Adam Forshaw down the left flank.  He wriggled past the flat-footed defensive wheelie bin Stearman to whip a perfect cross to the far post for Albert Adomah – written off in January when the terrace chatter had it “he’ll never play for us again” – popped up unmarked to head home.

1AlbertHead

It was a brilliant start that had the 4,000 or so full-throated beery Boro fans EIOing in wild abandon and revealed that the ‘neutral area’ was anything but.

It was the start of a blistering spell as the assertive team pushed forward with panache and zip.  They showed urgency and crisp, intelligent movement and ambition as they repeatedly scythed through an admittedly shambolic Fulham.

The Cottagers started with three centre-backs, wing-backs and two defensive midfielders in a bid to contain Boro’s top dollar front line but the set up was creaking and leaking like a rusty raft made from oil drums on an primary school Outward Bound course.

After the goal Boro were quick to roar into them.  Adam Forshaw was a study in perpetual motion, buzzing about in midfield and playing perceptive forward balls while showing bursts of speed that  suggested he may get on the end of one of them.

Adomah was tricky, fast, hungry and direct showing that putting him on the naughty step once a month may be the key to unlocking his potential. Downing was staying to the left of Jeremy Corbyn, beat his man and putting inviting balls into the box and Ross McCormack – a supposed arch-Nemesis  and everyone’s ‘daft quid banker’ – was anonymous.

Boro should have been out of sight long before Grant Leadbitter stroked home the second from the spot. They had played some brilliant, liquid stuff – the build up to the penalty was a delight – and a string of potent incursions had ashen faced Fulham rocking.

1grant

Of course, there was the mandatory nervous spell – this is Boro after all – and just before the break Dimi made his weekly wonder save, tipping over an acrobatic effort from Dembele.

And soon after that Ritchie De Laet was well placed to hook a header off the line with an incredible athletic scoop and there were some minor jitters but it was punchless pressure and they never really looked likely to break through.

Boro did a job on them. They stifled Fulham and bundled them into a tactical strait jacket and then methodically buckled it up.  And as Fulham tried to wriggle free Boro look to hit them on the break and could have had a few more late on.

After the early goals Boro were back to their best in a box ticking exercise that announced their return to the title chase in style.

It was a great display going forward with both wingers beating their men and ripping down the flanks and getting the ball in the box quickly and dangerously.

And with David Nugent working the defensive line relentlessly and Gaston Rameriz adding deft touches to change the tempo and direction of the flow Boro never let Fulham rest.

The engine room was excellent too with Forshaw a study in movement, constantly looking to get the ball forward or out wide and snapping into tackles. And Grant Leadbitter was a human shield in front of the defence, snarling and setting the tone of the display.

The defence were superb too, not least teenager Dael Fry.  Alongside fellow Academy graduate Ben Gibson he helped stifled Ross McCormack – the third best striker in the Championship according to the gaffer – and Moussa Dembele. They looked totally unflustered against the most prolific strike force  in the Championship.

So: a second successive win, a clean sheet, two goals, a regimental display in getting the lead then slowly strangling the game, and a significant step towards the summit.

Job done. Wobble over. Game on. Let’s do this.

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102 thoughts on “Post-Blip Boro Ease Past Fragile Fulham

  1. Simon

    Found it on the Sunday Times but is a subscription website.

    On to something I heard yesterday. Glen Hoddle was summarising on the West Ham Sunderland match and made the point that if you are playing a bottom side don’t get over clever, get the ball in to the box. They are near the bottom because they concede goals, get the ball in to the box and there is always the chance they will create something for you.

    1. Ian

      Whilst I have never been a follower or an ardent admirer of Glen he does make sense with regards to approaching bottom sides. In a Boro context I haven’t a problem retaining possession and keeping things tight against the better sides, patiently waiting to pounce on solitary errors. Away to Burnley in April lends itself perfectly to those tactics but against the likes of MK Dons, Bristol and even Blackburn a few weeks back we should have been looking to get sides like this on the back foot. As Glen said they are near the bottom because they concede goals.

      Blackburn are 18th, Rotherham 22nd and Charlton 24th, lets hope we add insult to their injuries and put them to the sword.

  2. The strange thing about this battle at the top, you have one wonder win and, guess what, next up is another game even more important, only his time the opposition is a fully paid up member of the awkward squad. Born to be trouble with a capital T. If AK can guide us past these particular rocks he deserves a very large medal. Wouldn’t like the job of picking the team, so many great performances recently. In Aitor we trust.

  3. Plato

    John Powls and I were discussing the selection after it was announced. Both of us would have gone with George and Rhodes but ended up with you could argue nugent might be better running the doggies away from home and there are plenty of matches in the next few weeks.

    One thing I would say is that as long as we keep playing with real purpose we will get the benefits of having a defined way to play.

    Players will come in knowing what they have to do. Don’t be surprised if de Pena plays some part in upcoming matches.

  4. I agreed with RR beforehand, I thought Nugent should have played (and would – though I wasn’t 100%), but I certainly expected Friend to play.

    AK certainly doesn’t worry about how his team selections are perceived – there was the typical meltdown on Twitter when people realised Rhodes wasn’t starting, that soon went quiet once we went in front.

    I hope De Pena does get a chance at some point, I thought he played well v Burnley.

    If you have the right type of characters it must keep them motivated, they know they need to play well to stay in the team, but equally if they do play well they will be rewarded. Some will find that puts them under pressure, it will be interesting to see how Rhodes responds – for his former clubs he knew he would start if fit (and perhaps even if not fit) – now he knows if he misses a few he will probably be on the bench next time out.

    Hopefully he is absolutely desperate to get into Blackburn on Tuesday and I’m sure he’ll start.

    Clayton is a guaranteed starter (maybe for Leadbitter) and Friend will play as well I reckon. He might even switch De Laet to right back and we could find the full-backs rotated quite often now? Adomah, Downing and Ramirez played so well you can’t imagine they won’t play again – but Stuani is due a game this week at some point (and a goal or two).

  5. BoroPhil

    I agree with all of that with perhaps a minor concern over de Pena. Against say Charlton and Rotherham he will maybe get his opportunity to make his belated claim.

    I have harped on long enough about the back line being sorted but our sharp end looked dysfunctional. Now Adomah, Downing and Ramirez have to be nailed on starters and then pick one from three out of Rhodes, Nugent and Stuani. Like you I have a hunch that Stuani if given a run out would notch a brace especially with Adomah, Downing and Ramirez supporting.

  6. Fascinating week as well, all 4 of the main challengers are on TV and we all play without any of the others playing at the same time.

    Brighton at Leeds tomorrow
    us v Blackburn on Tuesday (not TV)
    Hull v Birmingham on Thursday
    us v Wolves on Friday
    Burnley v Blackburn on Saturday lunch time

    then Brighton the only team with a 3pm Saturday KO v Preston

  7. Is it a twitter only recap of the glorious day at Cardiff?

    **AV writes: No there will be all sorts on the website. There’s a dedicated live blog. Pictures, match reports and quotes later.

  8. Had an interesting afternoon spectating from among the Fulham fans in the Riverside stand along with 2 first Liverpool then Boro supporting friends from Switzerland.

    From my seat close to the pitch in block T I could see the match was played in a sportsman like fashion.

    My Swiss friends commented:

    “the Boro team really play for each other”
    “there’s only one team on the pitch and it’s not Fulham”
    “the only way Fulham can score will be by chance”

    The only slight criticism was they thought we started dropping a bit too deep midway through the second half.

    I was particularly impressed by Ramirez and Fry.

    It now looks as if Aitor’s machine is running smoothly again. However Blackburn was always going to be a tough assignment. It will be interesting to see how Aitor decides to nullify their physical pressing game.

  9. Excellent result at the weekend!

    I’ve watched the highlights back and forward a few times, and I doubt Feynman or Einstein could explain how De Laet kept that out! It defies conventional physics! Must be something to do with those new fangled gravitational waves…

    Anyway, De Laet is looking like an absolutely inspired signing. Were it not for Gorgeous George’s almost messianic-like status up our way, De Laet would be well on for blossoming boro bromance status. With Kanstopalotofshots in goal, De Laet and George we’re in danger of bursting some proud-Teessiders ample chests with pride and bromantical love for the lads in red!

    I digress.

    Excellent result. Despite the calls for 442, and despite the playing with a Nugent-Rhodes attacking duo, I believe we’re now seeing the settled Plan A of one or the other. However, we do now appear to have settled on a Plan B, which is to play both of them, largely within the same formation, but at the same time. When we’re chasing a game, or needing a goal, I expect this to be AK’s go-to tactic. Otherwise, the formula isn’t broken, so why fix it? Yes, it got a little sticky, but it seems to have been wiped down with the magic sponge and running smoothly again.

    Aside from De Laet, great to see Albert and Stewie playing like proper wingers, like. It could be a total coincidence that this coincides with the excellent Forshaw popping up in midfield, it could indeed be down to Ramirez, but it’s encouraging to see. More regular viewers than I may care to venture a theory as to why our wing-play appears rejuvenated.

    Blackburn up next. One defeat won’t get me wringing my hands, so it’s not quite a must-win, but it would be great to take us top of that table and leave our fellow challengers under a bit of pressure. I still think Brighton will crack first, but you can’t deny Hughton has done an excellent job, and seems to be a genuinely likeable and solid bloke. Hull look to be in better shape than Burnley, who seem (weekend result aside) a little wobbly away from home. Burnley’s home form is cracking though, which gives us food for thought for our upcoming dust up. I don’t think they concede many at home, so it’s going to be a tricky balance. History dictates that this will go the way of Bournemouth, Watford and Hull – we huff and we puff and get blown away 2 or 3 to nil, but we’ve got a decent record against Burnley so who knows? I’d like to be in a position where we aren’t relying on points from that game though…

  10. Smoggy

    I think that in Albert’s case he is just happier playing on the right. What he does comes naturally hence he is more comfortable and just plays. On the left it isn’t so natural so the edge is taken off his game.

    It could be as I posted earlier he may be a player who needs to be taken out of the squad for a game or two to be reinvigorated.

    Downing did brilliantly last year in the top flight but had more time and space to operate. West Ham sat back a lot and attacked on the break with a couple of attackers up front. The role of no 10 is probably slightly different at Boro.

    What is good is that the attacking three look to be able to interchange but spend a good part of the game in their nominal positions.

    It just could be we were not playing well but brought in better players than left in the window, have had a break and are now up and running.

    Proof will come in the next few games.

  11. Carling Cup win

    Struggling to find somewhere to watch it but settled for our local. Full of old fogies having there Sunday roast in the tables so miles away from TV.

    Gradually made our way closer swooping like vultures as they finished eating.

    asked the bar man to change the channel because dirty Leeds were on. Switched on to the wrong channel and got to the game as the ball was switched out left to Bolo. Phew!!

    1. Carling update….

      Found a pub in Patong showing Newcastle so we persuaded them to switch to the Boro. 2 goals up and we went to the Dogs Bollax down a dingy back street and then don’t remember much. Got some good photos of a transvestite with an iguama and some English money tucked down his/ner bra.

      What a night. – the missus having a massage in a beauty parlour somewhere…..

  12. The recruitment of Gaby Ruiz shows the continuing commitment to put a sophisticated scouting network in place that will enable us to exploit the European market. There does seem to be a focus on people with knowledge of Spain, but presumably there are or will be other experts with knowledge of other European leagues such as Ligue 1 in France.

    Ruiz seems to have begun a pretty significant Spanish media job in the summer, so there must have been something very attractive to him on the table to draw him to north-east England. I suspect that apart from a very exciting and competitive league, the Sky TV money will convince many that England is the place to be unless you can be in one of the absolute elite clubs in Europe.

    I wonder what happens to all of this if we don’t get promoted this season? We will no doubt need this sort of expertise if we have many millions of pounds of TV money available, but if we remain in the Championship will such heavy backroom investment be justified? I find these developments encouraging because it suggests that AK and others are here for the duration, and will be continuing to drive the club forward even if we miss out on promotion this year (not that I expect that to happen).

    Further to what Ian says about Stewy, DS makes a good point in his Gazette article today: ‘No longer can opposing sides afford to double up on Downing or any other Boro attacker for that matter, for there are too many dangers elsewhere’. The fear of what Rhodes, Ramirez and Nugent may be up to should mean Stewy and Albert have a little more room to work in. Though no doubt opposing managers are all studying the videos and trying to work out how to counteract our new atatcking options.

    It is interesting to wonder if the recruitment of Rhodes and Ramirez would have happened if we hadn’t had the wobble / slump, maybe it was the slip-ups which convinced Steve Gibson to dip into his pockets yet again. In other words, maybe the wobble was a good thing???

    1. Mark

      Even Aitor said it was a good thing we had the wobble when we did as we could put it right in the transfer window if it had been later we couldn’t have signed the right players.

      Perhaps AV of reading this can point is to the interview when he said it…..?

      FatBob

  13. My memory is bad. I think this blog was started exactly two years after Cardiff and that win. When did the Gazette go on-line?

    Ian was one of the first posters in here, but I cannot really remember when I started to follow Boro on the internet. As far as I know there was no internet when the Boro bug hit me in the 1970’s …

    Up the Boro!

  14. Jarkko

    John Powls was the first but hasnt been on for some time. I was a post or two later, a bit of an old lag on the site, probably posted more than most.

    The most important thing is supporting the Boro.

  15. With the last two games and Brighton’s first half tonight, I get the feeling that the final stage of the season has really begun. I wonder if it will be similar to last year with the top four putting together runs of victories and games between them being really important.

    It would be nice to think that we could have promotion more or less locked away before we play Burnley, Ipswich, Birmingham, and Brighton in our last four games.

    UTB

  16. Please don’t take this as a foam-handed forecast but ten points out of the next twelve against teams in the bottom half would see us at 74 points going into the Hull game with ten games left to play. That would make things a lot easier. It doesn’t mean that we can’t get automatic promotion if we do less well but it represents a very real opportunity for us to pull away.

    UTB

  17. A win tonight would be fabulous and really put pressure on the rest.

    A draw would not be disastrous because that would take us top with a game in hand over Burnley, a point clear of Hull and two points clear of Brighton with a game in hand

    Win tonight and one thing to remember is that despite our wobble if we do the business one of the others will have been on a wonder run because in the current situation they HAVE to beat us when we play them.

    Any win please.

    1. I’d take a draw now. I think Balckburn are improving but by bit under Lambert whatever their league position. It will be tough.

      A win would be superb and there’s every chance we’ll get it but I won’t be disappointed with a draw.

    1. I’ll go for a sloppy draw myself, Nigel. But I’m hoping for a mud splattered, Blackburn one player sent off, soaked to the skin 2-0 win!

  18. Looking out of my window here in the north-west this morning, and conditions are pretty atrocious after 14 hours of heavy rain. And still pouring.

    Worst conditions since…oh… Boxing Day.

    The forecast says that the rain should be stopping around mid-day, but I suspect that it may be a night in which grit, determination, and the will to win will trump fancy football and superior ability.

    I don’t think it will be a night in which we see the best of our more creative players, but we have enough professionalism and experience in the team not to be cowed.

    In view of the likely conditions, I’d like to see both Leadbitter and Clayton in the team. Foreshaw doesn’t deserve to be dropped, so I would play him as well. An additional midfield battler will do us no harm at all.

    According to all reports Adomah was outstanding on Saturday, whilst both Downing and Ramirez had excellent games. Tough to drop any of them. But I would be tempted, for purely tactical reasons, to sacrifice Downing for the extra midfielder, bringing him on for the last half hour, when things have settled down.

    Counter- intuitive for a game that we have to set out to win. But on this occasion, AK’s inclination to keep things tight, avoid mistakes, and hope to grab a goal on the counter-attack may be exactly the way to avoid a potential banana skin.

    1-1 for me. A re-run of the game at Derby, where we take a first-half lead, and just fail to hang on in a second half barrage.

  19. The last thing we need is a postponement. But of course it was worse on Boxing day. I was told they were also afraid the river bank could collapse. I didn’t see the pitch but it was bad also. Still gutted having travelled over 1000 miles to see the original match.

    I expect at least a point tonight. I think we are the better team and we are improving. So a 0-0 or 0-1 win for me. We won’t concede a goal tonight.

    But as Len said, the pitch will help Blackburn. It will be interesting to see if AK will change the personnel to the conditions.

    Up the Boro!

  20. If there is one player who knows the Blackburn Rovers pitch better than any other it’s Jordan Rhodes.

    May I humbly suggest that whatever the conditions he gets to play from the offset..

    J.J.J.Just sayin like!!!!!

  21. Muddy pitches, you would think they were a thing of the past.

    What is interesting is that we were led to believe that the conventional wisdom was then enclosed grounds like Derby and the Riverside would always have problems with grass because of the lack of light and airflow. Both are immaculate.

    Traditional grounds such as Wolves have all the advantages such as open corners but the pictures on Saturday showed even I am better thatched than it is.

    I remember having a problem due to parasites some years ago, worms not agents, well worms that live in the ground then. Didn’t they have to totally strip the ground out?

      1. It was the pitch that was suffering from worms, the parasites I have are aged 26 and 30.

        Not forgetting my wife’s M&S and Next cards. And HMRC.

        Clever lurking around for the ton when everyone went off to the new thread but they all count. It is what it says in the paper tomorrow.

  22. Funny, I was actually thinking that De Laet and Friend might both play with Nsue finally getting a rest. It’s a battling team to do a job on a wintry night in Blackburn. Forshaw rewarded for his performance and Clayton to come on if Leadbitter gets booked. Also plenty of other options on the bench. I see this as a kind of 4-4-1-1 to start with and then pick them off from there.

    I’m looking forward to a hard-fought 2-1 win with inevitability striking at some stage and JR scoring. However, a draw would be far from a disaster .

    UTB

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