Pace Sparks Spirit As Battered Boro Find Fight

SPIRIT is hard to quantify. It is transient. Ephemeral. It is a special ingredient in any collective endeavour – battle, labour or sport.  And we saw in the 2-1 defeat to Spurs how a sudden change of state in that psychic fuel can transform a game in a flash.

Adama Traore electrified Middlesbrough, the game and the Riverside crowd and suddenly a sluggish season burst into life. Suddenly Boro had zest, zip and some spirit.

Sprint king Traore added quicksilver footwork and attacking intent and his pace petrified the Spurs defence. It pegged them back, pushed play 15 yards further up the pitch and relieved pressure on a midfield that had been minced.

Suddenly Boro were allowed to play, to keep the ball, look up, probe and to pick a progressive pass. They could attack. Game on. Suddenly they looked like a team again.  . They had spirit and purpose. They had a spark. Suddenly they had a chance.


That magical moment brought hope. It isn’t a silver bullet of course. It didn’t win the game or even a point and it certainly didn’t repair the damage of a nightmare first hour. But it offered hope for the big games to come. It turned the volume of the season up. It showed Boro have something in their armoury that can hurt teams and be a catalyst on the pitch. And that they have spirit, which was in doubt for an hour.

Traore and dug-out exile Jordan Rhodes came on just before the hour mark with the game and all that August optimism gurgling down the drain.  Within seconds they had ignited the crowd – fantastic throughout, patient and united and at one point early in the second half a clear man of the match – and their introduction swung the balance of play.

The former Aston Villa man hit the afterburners and wriggled forward from the edge of the Boro box in a balletic swerving run then put in a pass behind the previously underemployed Spurs defence to send Rhodes into the box.

The pass was too heavy and the keeper was out to quickly collect off his toes but that wasn’t the point: Boro had swung a punch. They had offered resistance. They had attacked. Quickly. And that snarl generated something precious. Belief. Spirit.

Soon after Ben Gibson rammed home a goal as the balance of play switched dramatically and a Spurs team that should have been out of sight were suddenly holding on.


The goal brought resurgent hope and patched up what had been a tattered and blood stained rag of morale used used to bandage deep wounds.

Because, make no mistake, silky Spurs had butchered Boro in the first half. There was a yawning quality gap that bewildered Boro slithered through. They scored two. They could easily have had two more. And a penalty. Valdes made two good point blank saves after the defence creaked and fell open. Alli put another good chance over after robbing Chambers. With every easy attack they sliced brittle Boro wide open. It was awful. Even Aitor Karanka was quick to admit that.

The midfield were stretched out in rigid, static  lack-lustre lines with the dynamism of a table-football formation. The defence were in disarray, pierced by pace and movement.

It isn’t a division where novices like Boro can be anything short of fully focused and fired up. If they fall short they will be punished. And, as at Everton, they were.  Collectively, Boro weren’t closing down, weren’t getting tackles in or clearing loose balls in and around the box and were parting like the Red Sea as Spurs swept into the penalty area.

Both goals were loud klaxons: this was a team that not only lacked organisation and cohesion but, it seemed, also belief. Heads had gone down. They were slow to react. They gave up the chase. The basic building blocks broke down. There were signs of internal friction as Valdes and Clayton growled at each other. It was frightening.

Boro were rightly booed off. Not for losing. Most fans accept that will happen plenty in the Premier League. They were booed for failing to put up a fight.

Yes, Spurs were serious title contenders until the death last season and have started this term with the same momentum so were always going to be a tough test. But the yawning gap in performance between the sides was scary and Boro were nowhere near bridging it.

Spurs were faster in feet and thought, were physically stronger, zipped the ball around with pace and purpose and when they attacked it was with cold-eyed intent.

There wasn’t just a quality gap. There was a physical gap: Boro left space all over the pitch to be exploited ruthlessly.  They struggled to get a grips with the slick movement of the Spurs midfield and gave time for them to pick passes into the wide open spaces being left along and between a nervous and rigid back-line.


Frustrated fans were angry at a shapeless, heartless, statuesque first half show in which they seemed to have accepted defeat. Boro were slow. At the back. And in the middle. And up front. Ponderous to react in their own box. Glacial going forward.

You have to feel sorry for Alvaro Negredo. He battled like a Trojan but was isolated and lacked support or service from a flaccid and flat-footed three behind him.

There was a moment early in the second half when Negredo, Ramirez and Barragan tried to pick forward manfully while 30 yards behind them a regimented midfield were dug into a tactical trench strung across the pitch with no attempt to get forward to support the attack.  No movement at all. They were just waiting for the next wave to come at them. That timid approach sees teams relegated.

But if the first hour was a sobering and frightening experience the last 30 minutes were far more encouraging.  If Boro can bring that battle, spirit, pace and willingness to attack into every game then they can flourish in a division where there are plenty of teams down in the lower reaches that have problems and weaknesses of their own.

They need to demand higher pace, tempo and intensity from each other and sustain if for the full 90 minutes and the results will come. We’ve seen it in flashes: 20 minutes here, 20 there. Boro need to keep their focus and fitness and punch for whole games.


And if they show the spirit and attacking intent they did in the last half hour then they will carry the crowd with them. The way the Riverside supporters responded so passionately to the change in the dynamics on the pitch showed that.

The fans were fantastic. They were patient when the pressure was on, righting critical at the break then turned it up to create a sonic boom in the second half. Even Pochetinno was moved to mention in post-match. The crowd started the fightback before the team did.

We will need more of that in the games to come too. October is a massive month with games against West Ham, Watford and Bournemouth looming. Teams that are not ‘out of our league’ but very much our rivals. Huge games.  We need the team and crowd united.


And here’s my “you’ve been too harsh”/”you’ve been too soft” player ratings. I know you love them. He may have come off the bench and put in a few wayward balls but I gave Traore a 7 for his dramatic impression on the game. You can see how your favourites/scapegoat elect got on here…   













272 thoughts on “Pace Sparks Spirit As Battered Boro Find Fight

  1. Our next match after West Ham is on the Sunday 16th October. A poor result tomorrow could see us well and truly in the bottom three by the time we KO against Watford. Accepting that it is a long Season regardless and that one match isn’t going to make or break that Season, psychologically it will put additional pressure on the players and the fans and the tension at the Riverside will be tense. Not the best of scenarios to play a game of football which in itself is going to be beamed live around the world.

    Tomorrow should be viewed as an opportunity to stop the rot with a convincing win and kick start our season. If we play to keep it tight and offer no penetration then I despair of what could happen on the day especially after the uplifting 30 minutes against Spurs showed that it is possible to take the game to the opposition in this league. AK needs to give his team an outlet, somewhere and someone to relieve the pressure. My heart yearns for Rhodes and Negredo paired up front, my head tells me I will see Stuani on the right.

    1. All in the lap of the gods RR!

      Perchance even now as you eagerly digest the words in front of you the dice have rolled and the Rubicon has been crossed – the Fates will have their due.

      The question is will Senor Aitor be bold or will he remain fixed in habit as suggested by one well respected PT of Gazettelive fame ‘What are the odds?’ On his decisions alone rests the reactions and playing style of the team.

      Carpe diem!!!


  2. RR….I am still not convinced just how good the scouts are. De Pena is a big bobo, and I think some of this seasons choices will do a dive.

    At the moment, for me the jury is out on just how good the system of recruitment is. It has had plenty of hype.

    1. I would love it if Carlos proves us all wrong and becomes a Riverside legend. The likelihood though based upon what has been seen to date is that Ledesma or Tomlin offered more. Settling into a foreign country with a different culture is always difficult and I’m sure the lad will have had bouts of homesickness. We have even seen it with players who don’t like it up North let alone the opposite side of the world.

      On the scouting side of things I have to say that with all the technical data and analytics that are available along with player profiling etc. the end results to date seem more akin to a 12 year old with an Xbox.

      To be this far into the Premiership Season with at least 4 players out of a squad of 25 that are likely deemed surplus or last ditch isn’t great. granted I’m sure we couldn’t sign everyone we would have liked but i struggle to see the methodology in scouting dovetailing with our style of play and the managers game plan.

      There seems a bit of a disconnect somewhere or put simpler our scouting is underwhelming despite alleged contacts and previous experience. As the Financial industry keeps reminding us “past performance is no guarantee of future results and the value of the investment and the income deriving from it can go down as well as up”. Conversely is it that our Scouting are right and its the Manager that is wrong? Either way there doesn’t seem to be much joined up thinking.

  3. Redcar Red

    You know my views, I am not a lover of Stuani on the right. He doesn’t provide the pace or guile that Downing and Adomah offered nor does he track back well. His track is to the six yard box.

    You are probably fed up of me saying play with pace and tempo, the formation is less relevant than the attitude and intent,

    Gaston should be up, around and beyond Valdes, the wider players should be pressing and defending but around their box not ours. You can play Rhodes up there with Vlades because one striker will drop deeper in to space, that is the way it has always been with 442, the no 10 is only a withdrawn attacker, 4231 is only a variation where you should see the three pushing on.

    The midfield should be hounding the opposition 20 yards further up the pitch, the defenders should also be further forward.

    That is when you will see Valdes at his best. The best way to defend is keep the ball and present the opposition with problems.

    It isn’t easy but that is the type of game these Spanish trained coaches play. That is probably the way AK wants to play. If we don’t at least try to push further up we will just get rolled over.

    1. Freudian slip there perhaps Ian. Is Vlades the Spanish spelling of Vlad?

      Vampires and Boro keepers have been synonymous in the past!

  4. AV

    You should have directed ‘John’ to Trinity Mirror bods, they must have got the gazette website from some dodgy bloke behind a pub.

    1. Its the modern day equivalent of the old dial up internet connection from 20 years ago. That said its the same for all the Trinity Mirror group sites. They take an eternity to load even with adblocker (which may make it worse but I downloaded it in an attempt many moons ago to hopefully make it quicker). I usually click on something else and then go back to the Gazette page in a few minutes if I remember. A shame really because if they loaded quicker I would access them more often, a self defeating prophecy from their IT dept.

      I wonder what has happened to the “Team Predictor” today, has it been shelved, forgotten about or dumped because of controversy over the most popular 11 or is it that its just poorly signposted and I simply can’t find it on the site?

  5. My continuing problem, and as Ian said, you are probably fed up of me saying. But, eleven players brought in, but only three/four in the team.

    It is obvious now that we are short in certain areas and some players are struggling to make the jump up. This should have been catered for a little better in the recruitment.

    We have far to many projects that (hopefully) may come good in the future, problem is we need them now.

  6. Redcar Red

    It is the modern day equivalent of the unwanted und unsolicited cold calling without the ability to block the nuisance calls.

    **AV writes: It is the price you pay for reading the paper for free.

  7. Pedro

    It is bit like the comment we bought defenders, that was because we had players who had left and players who were injured.

    We cant play two keepers so that is one. Espinosa and Fabio are coming back from injury. Mcghee was brought in for the academy..

    That leaves Valdes, Barragan, Gaston and Negredo every week plus de Roon occasionally.

    AK does like his players to bed in but if we don’t get something out of Traore and Fischer soon we may be struggling amongst the dead men.

    We also need the core of the team to gel. Tricky times, a good result tomorrow would help.

    Interesting weekend of sport, Ryder Cup, Wigan in Super league – I worked n Wigan and made good friends there, the Grand prix and of course the Boro.

    Europe 4-0 down against the USA in the Ryder Cup is not a good start.

  8. As told earlier I am able to Boro’s all matches with HD quality on TV now we are back on the PL.

    Today I even realised I can see the same TV matches on my mobile. So if travelling, I can still see all Boro matches. Great!

    Also I can listen live to the BBC commentary on Boro+ where ever I am via my mobile. Even when driving in my car and through the car audio system.

    And just been to the UK to see the last two matches Boro played. Both matches were sold out with terrific atmosphere.

    If I add this blog, the Gazette articles on the web and the twitter, it has never, ever been better to follow Boro than now.

    Just going to enjoy the ride. Where ever we will finish. And I will trust AK to lead us to safety this season. Just tighten the defense back to where we were last season. And stop giving silly goals as per the last three matches.

    I love this season. Up the Boro!

  9. Same here in Oz. all games can be seen live. The only problem is the time difference and it’s about to get worse. So, after this weekend it will be a case of watching it in full when I wake up on Sunday morning.

    Personally, I’m hoping for a 4-4-2 today with the middle two being a mixture of attack and defence. Maybe DeRoon and Forshaw/Ramirez. Downing and Traore out wide and people on the bench to lock things up when we get far enough ahead. Negredo and Rhodes up front.

    Who partners Gibson? No idea. That’s up to AK.


  10. Well spoken Jarkko.

    And I intend to get back to full on football blogging as soon as possible. There is much to be said.


  11. Just enjoyed watching Everton 1 Palace 1. Two very good sides, and for me it’s not a disgrace in Boro losing to both of them. Two things struck me:-

    1. Both sides have great pace and switch defence into attack very quickly. It was noticeable that Palace, in particular, usually managed to get 4 or 5 players into the box with virtually every attack.

    2. Both sides really got stuck in. Both pressed high up the pitch and gave the opposition no time at all on the ball. Nobody gave players space, but instead tackled like fury.

    I think we’ll need to emulate both of these qualities to a degree if we are to survive this season. I’m sure we can achieve number 2. Much less certain about the first one.

    I hope the lads prove me wrong tomorrow. I’d play Traore from the off, and give him 65 minutes to tear them apart.

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