The Ipswich Game Will Be A Christmas Cracker - Notes for Middlesbrough
Friday, 19th Dec 2014 10:00 by HarryFromBath
HarryfromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday's game by delving into their forums.
"I woke up this morning with that lovely feeling in my belly, the one you get when you realise that it all wasn't just a dream. It could yet be the best Christmas in a long, long time", "This is glorious", "I love this team, the most exciting Boro side I have seen in years", "So happy and proud right now."
Boro arrive into Saturday's game having won four and drawn four of their last eight league games. Fans were proud of the manner of their 2-0 home win last Saturday over Derby, a result which came on the back of a 5-1 win at Millwall. "I'm so proud to be a Boro fan tonight."
"'We're the Boro and we're going up' rings around the Riverside", "We have been phenomenal today, the best I've seen us play in a long, long time", "I'm absolutely proud to be a Middlesbrough fan today. Watching the game, we outfought, out-skilled and out-thought Derby all over the pitch."
"I really feel we are beginning to peak now and hit our stride", "Week on week, we're getting more assured and convincing", "Today we have sent a message to the rest of the Championship. Boro mean business", "I am so pleased with how we are playing. It's a joy to watch."
"Am I the only person today who thinks the real match-winner was Aitor Karanka? His tactics were absolutely perfect and he really did a job on Steve McClaren. You can see where he has learned from Jose Mourinho. It's so good to have a manager who shows such attention to detail."
Karanka worked with the current Chelsea boss in his previous role as assistant manager at Real Madrid. Boro fans are quick to praise his eye for detail and tactical judgement. "We are clicking into gear now. It seems like AK is starting to realise his best XI and the new players have settled in."
"I trust in AK to set us up right", "If we were to lose anybody in January, Aitor would certainly be the biggest loss. I have never been so happy and confident in a manager. The players carry out his plans to a T. It shows the respect and backing he has from them."
"He knew that Derby were a good passing outfit so he didn't try to match them in that department", "We weren't at our prettiest but that was deliberate. We set up specifically to absorb their goalscoring threat and play to our strengths on the counter. It worked a treat."
"I don't think Middlesbrough have great individual players, but they look a brilliant team. It reminds me a lot of when we played Burnley last year." A visiting Derby fan echoed many Boro supporters' thoughts when making this comparison after Saturday's game.
"We are hard-working and organised like Burnley but comparisons aren't totally accurate. We have more quality in our squad and pass through teams, whereas Burnley were more direct."
"I know Jelle Vossen plays higher than Lee Tomlin, but our formation is still a 4-2-3-1." Steve Claridge described Boro as playing a 4-4-2 system on last Saturday's Football League Show, but some Boro fans see their team playing with one striker slightly withdrawn.
One echo of last season's Burnley side is the strong partnerships evolving in the team. "There are little relationships between pairs of players forming all over the team. When two players can read each other's games, the football can look fluid. Our season will succeed on the strength of this."
Middlesbrough 2 – 0 Derby
"By gosh, we really clicked all over the field in this game", "There wasn't one weak link in that team", "That was the best performance of the season." "It was encouraging to see Derby's praised attack struggle to break us down such was our organisation. The last half-hour was quite pedestrian."
"Tactically we have been spot on without the ball. We're letting Derby knock the ball around their backline and we switch to pressing as soon as they step up to our half. We're sucking them into reducing their space and winning the ball back. This game plan is being executed perfectly."
"The work-rate, intensity and high pressure was excellent", "The intensity of our pressing and the way we hounded them all over the park had Derby all over the place. It was as if the halfway line was some kind of trip wire. The moment Derby crossed it we were on top of them."
Millwall 1 – 5 Middlesbrough
"I get the feeling that if we get one now, the floodgates will open." This comment was made just before four goals in 23 first half minutes from the burgeoning strike pairing of Vossen and Bamford reduced Millwall's defence to rubble two weeks ago. "Millwall couldn't handle their movement."
"When were we last 4-0 up at half-time?" "If we're being honest, it could easily be six or seven", "What a terrific half of football", "The stuff of dreams", "You will not see a better 20 minutes in this division than the back end of that first half."
"That was an absolutely outstanding performance today. We bossed it from the off and looked like we could create goal scoring opportunities whenever we wanted", "We pegged Millwall back and reduced them to poor long-range efforts."
"I thought we have been as close to perfect defensively all over the pitch as you can get in this league", "As a defensive unit, we are far superior to anything I have seen in our league", "We do need to move the ball from defence more quickly."
"Dimi is so solid. He always looks the favourite to anything that comes looping into the box. He's just an absolute man-mountain." Former Coventry keeper Dimitrios Konstantopoulos "has been solid and commanding as ever this season. He's normally well protected by the defenders and midfield".
The 36-year-old Greek's "handling is solid but his kicking is still suspect", "Dimi got away with one suicidal kick against Derby." He was a doubt before the Millwall game, something which alarmed many supporters. "Bloody hell – please, please do not ever play [Tomás] Mejias [his deputy] again."
"Emilio Nsue has done a fine job filling in at right-back", "He can deputise for
The 25-year-old former Mallorca man's "positioning has been excellent", "A few times Nsue could have been drawn into a two-v-one because Adomah was up the pitch. He kept his discipline and followed the runner, allowing someone else to cover", "He runs is socks off and looks such an able player."
"We have seen some great performances from George Friend this season. He provides additional width when attacking and is a real outlet. His defending is very solid, although his end product isn't brilliant", "He and Adam Reach have an understanding on the left that is starting to reap rewards."
"There has been an excellent upturn in the defending" of the 27-year-old former Doncaster left-back. "Friend was immense, especially dealing with all Millwall's balls in the air", "Gorgeous got a bit cocky towards the end of the Derby game. He nearly gifted them a route back into the game."
Chelsea loan signing Kenneth Omeruo hasn't played regularly, but started in recent games against Blackburn and Millwall. The 21-year-old Nigeria international "played well against Rovers", but "struggled with Gestede when Ayala didn't get to him." "He had the measure of Millwall's forwards."
"It's a question of Omeruo's pace against Gibson's power." Youth product Ben Gibson is "very solid. It excites me to think how young he and Ayala are and what a great centre-back partnership they seem to have. I look at them and think they could be our centre-back pairing for years to come".
The 21-year-old "has more of an aerial presence than Omeruo", "Gibson's a big, strong lad and more physical presence than Omeruo", "He has looked solid although he's not as composed on the ball as Ayala", "His closing down is excellent and he's going to get better as well."
"Ayala has matured so much in the past year. He has been one of our most consistent performers and has turned into one hell of a defender for us", "He has been one of our top three players this season", "He knows when to play football and when to hit the ball into Row Z."
"Does Ayala have a ball-magnet in his forehead?" "This guy is getting better and better. He wins header after header and constantly interrupts things. He takes no prisoners", "He's a man-mountain. His positioning is first class and he sticks to his man like dog muck to a shoe."
Fans have highlighted one small area for criticism with 24-year-old former Liverpool and Norwich centre-back. "He still has a silly booking in him", "The only thing wrong with Ayala is that he has a reckless challenge in him, but that's it. He has been our best centre-back this season."
"The defence look solid and the midfield in front give them an effective shield for the most part", "Excellent passing, excellent shape - we're totally dominating the midfield, giving Derby no space to work with", "Some excellent hustling in midfield."
The two central midfielders are praised for their work without the ball, but fans would like to see them attack the opposition with more urgency. "A lot of the best play came through the middle against the Lions", "Clayton and Leadbitter are slow and a quicker tempo is needed in the middle."
"I don't think Dean is the correct answer as back-up to Leadbitter or Clayton." Former Stoke and Sunderland man Dean Whitehead, a Town target during Roy Keane's time as boss, hasn't featured regularly. The 32-year-old "doesn't have the same mobility and is nothing like Leadbitter as a player anyway", "He's very solid but Clayton is more effective."
"Adam Clayton does a lot of the dirty stuff well. I would like to see him burst forward on occasions and get a couple of goals in", "His work-rate is unreal." The 25-year-old former Leeds and Huddersfield man "makes an outstanding contribution but needs to get on the score sheet."
"Clayton does a quiet and effective job that enables other players to push on", "He works hard and constantly wins tackles", "He's immense in tight areas sat in front of the defence", "What I love about the pairing with Grant is that they are always available for each other, offering an outlet."
"I'm very happy to admit that I was wrong about ol' Lead Boots. He's having a great season and plays well in 90% of the pitch. As long as he stays away from the four corners of the pitch, we'll be fine", "He's our best player of the season. We really do need someone else on corner-taking duty though."
Corner-kicks aside, fans are full of praise for the 28-year-old former Sunderland and Ipswich midfielder. "Grant must have a back-up generator, with the amount of running he does", "It was great getting him tied down to a new contract", "To lose him from this team would be disastrous."
"The intensity of our game when Clayton and Leadbitter are on the pitch is tremendous. They are both nippy, industrious and can pick a pass. Both are prone to putting in meaty challenges", "They are a brilliant pair at closing down space. The number of interceptions they make is fantastic."
"Grant still ponders on the ball a little at times but he has been the best player in our squad." His eye for picking a pass has been regularly praised. "Grant played one great through ball to release Bamford against Derby", "What a ball from Leadbitter to Reach. Some of his passes are sublime."
"We seem to have more attacks and assists on our left flank", "Our right side isn't great defensively".
Supporters are happy with the threat the team offers on the left wing and also accept that their right wing is a work in progress.
Some fans think that their wingers are playing within themselves to maintain the team's balance. "The way we play relies heavily on wide midfielders defending, so we are a bit restricted as to who we can play", "If we want to improve going forward we will have to sacrifice a little at the back."
"Yanic Wildschut is still a bit of an unknown quantity to most opposition managers. One day he'll be thrown in from the start and tear it up like he did at Rotherham." The 23-year-old ex-Heerenveen left winger "has pace and power to hurt opponents when they push their full-backs up the pitch."
"Adam Reach has started to look more of an attacking threat", "His game has moved up a notch since the first art of the season. He is far more aggressive with the ball and is no longer content to lay it off or play safe. He is willing and able to go at opponents and provide an end product."
The 21-year-old youth product "has a great game against Millwall. He's proving that he can beat a man and get in behind the defence. His crosses got past the first defender, maybe because he has two forwards to look for", "Reach has taken a huge leap forward and improved with each game."
"Albert doesn't have the same defensive work-rate as Reach." The 26-year-old ex-Bristol City winger "is a funny one. What he does well, he does really well. When it goes wrong, he looks bit rubbish", "He hasn't been bad by any stretch of the imagination, but he has been very indifferent so far."
"Adomah is at his best playing right-wing. He does okay on the left, but his direct goal-threat from taking players on and getting shots off is minimal. Some of his crucial crosses have created key goals", "He's excellent in flashes. He links up play well with Nsue and works hard to cover for him."
"Albert works well defensively, but he's a winger and has offered little in attack", "We don't know if Aitor is asking him to be more defensively-minded. If his job was to tie up Derby's left-back, he did it well", "He has taken on defensive responsibility, giving us balance and making us to penetrate."
"Our passing in the final third was poor at times. We beat Derby without as good an attacking performance as we have seen", "We have come on in leaps and bounds in the last few games, but we need to be more clinical in front of goal", "All that is lacking is chance conversion."
"We have looked much better going forward with the ball with Vossen and Bamford up front", "There's something special brewing between them", "With these two, we look to play the ball to feet with tidy passing and we very rarely hoof the ball up-field. These are our strengths."
"We have a much better shape going forward without Lee Tomlin", "Playing with two forwards rather than Tomlin in behind is far better. He drops too deep and leaves the striker isolated", "We look a better side without Tomlin in it. I can't see where he will fit in."
The 25-year-old former Peterborough frontman "is an excellent player whose movement takes him into threatening positions more often than not. I wish Tomlin would play closer to the striker rather than getting the ball directly off the back four and occasionally getting his backside into the box."
"'Kike' Garcia Martinez is fantastic at holding the ball up, but we rarely have anyone to support him. His good work goes to waste." The 25-year-old ex-Murcia striker "works hard hustling defenders", "He can collect, hold the ball up and play a neat pass", "He's strong and can mix it away from home."
"As Kike's not particularly quick, he needs to give defenders a lot more hassle than he has been", "He does a lot of good running to close defenders down", "His all round play can be very good. He seems a little inconsistent and hasn't been as red hot as he was at the beginning of the season."
"Vossen's header hits the post and it crosses the line, but isn't given", "I really feel for Vossen. I'm sure one will go in for him soon." When the Dutch striker's header was incorrectly ruled out early in the game at Millwall, Boro fans wondered just what he needed to do to open his account here.
"Vossen gets his goal!!!", "That's how you score your first goal." Shortly afterwards, the 25-year-old Genk loan signing scored "a screamer" and before long he was going into the half-time team talk with a hat-trick under his belt. "I have never been happier to see a player score."
He is praised for his touch, his movement and his vision. "Vossen's touch and his ability to kill the ball dead before releasing a pass is brilliant", "He's a real team player. His passing is top drawer and he works his socks off", "He played a beautiful pass to Bamford for the penalty [against Derby]."
"I love Bamford. His touch is sublime and he has a real finish on him", "He's one of those strikers who will hit the target no matter where he shoots from", "He's so much happier playing up top with another player close to him so he can link up", "I'm so pleased he came back to haunt Derby."
"He worked his socks off and really got up the noses of the Derby players. I love his arrogance. You can really tell he believes in his own ability", "He's a clever player and his movement and pressing cause all sorts of problems", "He couldn't get a game earlier this season but has been on fire lately."
The 21-year-old is on loan from Chelsea until January. "The most important thing for us is to extend Bamford's stay. That is absolutely critical", "It's our number one priority", "He's a class act in this league, and it makes perfect sense for him to stay for the whole season."
"If he adds a bit of muscle, he will do well in the Premier League", "He'll be a real player when he puts a stone or two on in a few years", "It seems like he's in the form where the ball will hit the net as long as it's on target", "I couldn't have been more wrong about him. The guy's a God."
Boro Supporters' Thoughts on ITFC and the Game
"Don't get too excited about Christmas. Ipswich away is pretty much always our worst game and performance of the season. This season they have the best home record too. It's the hardest game by far on paper and by history. I'm still looking forward to it. I must be mad."
"I think next week will be our biggest test", "Ipswich will be a much tougher game than Derby", "We hate going there, and their home form is class at the minute."
Despite everything positive that has gone before, Boro fans are not taking anything for granted on Saturday. "We won't be winning this game like the last two", "I agree that we shouldn't fear anyone in this division but we must certainly respect a team like Ipswich."
Most would welcome a point. "I would absolutely snap Ipswich's hands off for a draw. We've a terrible record there and they have the best home form in the division", "I would settle for a draw as it would be a good result", "This is a tough match and I would definitely take a draw now."
"Ipswich will be thinking exactly the same about us given our fantastic away record, the ridiculously low number of goals we have conceded and the goals we've started banging in", "We're due a win there", "Winning there really would instil a fearful mentality into other teams."
Their optimists are relying on momentum. "I've got a good feeling about the Ipswich game. They are playing well and it's not normally a lucky ground for us, but we're exceptional this year compared to the last few", "It will be 1-0 to the mighty Boro, with Karanka to pull off a tactical masterclass."
"I bet Mick McCarthy is watching the Derby game and trying to come up with a different scenario", "It's a credit to Mick McCarthy what he has done with the side. Very similarly to Pearson with Leicester he made them first into a solid Championship side and now real promotion contenders."
"The crucial thing for me against Ipswich is controlling the midfield. Their midfielders are every bit as tenacious and they like to play with three. If we go with two up front they can very easily dominate the centre of the park. We should play a sole striker as Ipswich certainly aren't shy of scoring!"
"Leadbitter will play an absolute blinder against his former club. He was a polarising figure there. Not too many were happy about spending big money for him only for him to let his contract run down. He'll have a point to prove there and hopefully show them what they were missing out on."
"Is Murphy the lad who was terrible while playing for Sunderland?" There was plenty of comment about our leading goalscorer. "Murphy has scored more than a third of Ipswich goals, so we really have to keep him quiet. I have no doubt that our defenders can do that though."
"They seem tight in defence and have two quality strikers in McGoldrick and Murphy, Murphy especially. I would like to see Leadbitter munch Murphy early on to get fear in Murphy's eyes", "Keep Murphy quiet and three points are there for the taking."
"Ipswich seem organised similarly to us. Their set-up in the big games is a solid one with a draw coming before win, a bit like us. I can see them playing our own counter-attacking game", "Ipswich aren't afraid of going direct and we have an almost identical style without the ball."
A number of their posters have popped over to our message board. "I'm having a quick look at the Ipswich forum. Their fans sound like an honest and realistic bunch", "I just popped onto the Ipswich board for a nose and I cannot believe how genuine those guys seem - realists as well as optimists."
"Ipswich fans seem like a good bunch, not a group of raving egotists like the Derby forum. Cautious optimism seems to be the order of the day on there - a bit like for us really", "They are very down to earth and full of praise for us." I hope we're all feeling the love.
Photo: Action Images
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