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Yet Another Year of Embarrassing Circumstances – Notes for Middlesbrough
Friday, 8th Dec 2017 11:00 by HarryFromBath

HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday’s game at the Riverside Stadium by delving into their forums.

“How many times can we say ‘our season starts now’? At what point is it too late?”, “I just don’t have a good feeling about how things are progressing”, “This ‘smashing the league’ thing doesn’t seem as simple as it sounded”, “Forget about us making the top two places, it simply is not going to happen.”

Middlesbrough lie just three points and two places behind Town and firmly in the play-off hunt, but Teessiders are not happy. Seven of their eight wins have been against sides in the lower end of the table, and defeats at home to Derby and at Bristol City have hardened opinion against Garry Monk.

“To make the automatic places we are going to have to beat the better teams and we are yet to do it regularly”, “We play basic football and beat the weaker teams because eventually the quality in our squad shines through. We need to adapt for bigger games against the better and in-form teams.”

“We seem to be the typically expensively assembled Championship side full of individuals who don’t have the team mentality or organisation to ever get promoted”, “Make no mistake. This team should be doing better than it is. The squad simply isn’t balanced towards the formation we want to play.”

“This team is in a serious transition period and we should expect another season of this before we go up”, “I am surprised people don’t make enough allowance for how hard it is to come down and hit the ground running”, “We are what we are, not a bad team but far from being a good one.”

Garry Monk

“For all his talk, Monk fails to deliver again”, “If you have a manager with no clear game plan, that’s a bit of a problem. He is relying on players to win matches through individual efforts”, “I don’t think this squad know what the plan is and how they should play. That is really showing now on the pitch.”

Garry Monk imageGarry Monk

“Monk is a fraud, get him out of this club.” The 38-year-old one-time Swansea boss took over at the Riverside in June after resigning as Leeds head coach. Fans have grown increasingly frustrated seeing a talented squad lacking a clear style of play while being poorly organised defensively and creatively.

“I believe the vast majority of fans have given up on Monk”, “I want him to succeed but don’t think he will. He looks spooked and the players look lost. He can’t organise or drill a team”, “Players look unsure about what is required and this sets them on edge so that they don’t play with conviction.”

“What on earth is Monk doing with the players on the training pitch?”, “He has brought in a dire style of football. It’s nearly as negative as [predecessor] Aitor Karanka’s but at least Karanka could coach his team to defend. Now we are negative with a leaky defence”, “It’s only a matter of time.”

Tactical Confusion

“I just don’t get the tactics”, “There is something awfully wrong with this team and I use the term ‘team’ loosely”, “We don’t press, we aren’t well organised, we have no idea how to attack or defend and there’s no intensity in our play. There is no sense of teamwork, creativity or adventure.”

“Why can’t we play a pass forward? We instinctively look to keep possession and play simple passes backwards at every opportunity. There are times when we can stretch teams with a forward pass but we move it back to retain possession”, “We are losing lots of individual battles on the pitch.”


“Another week, another change of midfield personnel.” Saturday evening’s line-up (above) for the 2-1 loss at Ashton Gate was set out in Monk’s preferred shape. Fans felt that this latest attempt to shuffle the deckchairs once again failed to address a series of imbalances in the squad and the team.

“Monk has built a house without laying any foundations. You build from the back”, “Make the back four work as a single unit, keeping a straight line at all times and stop the full-backs wandering”, “I can’t recall us being so vulnerable to counter-attacks like this for a long time. It’s painful to watch.”

“Our defending again was horrendous at Bristol, we just don’t seem to learn.” Daniel Ayala missed Saturday’s defeat through suspension, but fans have seen errors creep into his play and that of his centre-half partner Ben Gibson. They are often exposed by full-backs marooned high up the pitch.

“We don’t have a midfielder who worries the opposition.” The biggest concern is a lack of balance in central midfield and the lack of a creative playmaker. “We can’t attack through the middle. There’s no outlet to link up play with Adam Forshaw, Jonny Howson, Grant Leadbitter or Adam Clayton.”

“It’s alarming that we can’t seem to do anything through the middle”, “All four central midfielders, for the most part, are slow, one-paced and unimaginative in possession”, “They don’t get their heads up, create a yard of space and pick up passes. Support is non-existent when a chance comes along.”

“We just have to accept that we have very little width on the left-hand side.” Cyrus Christie and Stewart Downing have dovetailed well on the right flank but the left side has been problematic. Fabio and Adama Traoré started at Bristol City but this right-footed pairing left the side too narrow.

“We are too slow and ultimately predictable in our build-up play.” Denmark international striker Martin Braithwaite has started as a playmaker, but many fans feel that he is unsuited to the role. “We have a good enough squad but need to be bolder, more aggressive and a hell of a lot faster.”

“We have such an attacking line-up but don’t seem to have any pattern going forward. It makes you wonder what the tactics are. It looks like individuals are just expected to make things happen”, “We struggle to score against any half-organised side”, “Our style of play looks so flat at the moment.”

Up front, Britt Assombalonga has impressed with his industry and finishing, but most fans see him as a danger with the ball played into his feet rather than as a target man. Patrick Bamford is not playing at the level of his previous spell at Boro while many are unsure how Ashley Fletcher fits into the side.

Bristol City 2 – 1 Middlesbrough

“Another glorious defeat”, “A draw would have been undeserved and would gloss over the abysmal display and clueless tactics”, “Thank God it’s over. We are tactically inept and being beaten by bang-average teams who are better organised and who put more effort in. Something has to change.”

Joe Bryan nodded the hosts in front on 51 minutes and the Robins doubled their lead three minutes later when Jamie Patterson finished off a swift counter-attack from an attacking Boro freekick. The visitors pulled a consolation back on 75 when Robins’ Hordur Magnusson headed into his own net.

“Bristol played one-touch pass one after another and our midfield looked lost chasing them”, “Our midfield was non-existent at Bristol. They bossed the middle of the park”, “Every Bristol City player knew tactically where he fitted into the team and how to pressurise our weaknesses whereas ours didn’t.”

Middlesbrough 0 – 3 Derby

“What the hell is going on?”, “Well, this has been a bit embarrassing, hasn’t it?”, “A complete and utter shambles”, “It was the manner in which we lost that alarmed me, a shameful, error-prone display, sometimes bordering on madness”, “It was a comedy of horrors which was beyond belief.”

Matej Vydra opened the scoring with a left-footed drive on 13 minutes after a quick Rams break. He added a second from the penalty spot two minutes after the interval after being fouled by Daniel Ayala, who was later sent off after a second yellow card for a poor challenge on the hour mark.

Vydra completed his hat-trick when he pounced on a mis-kick by Boro keeper Darren Randolph on 63 minutes. Rams had been impressed with how they contained Boro and hit them with three sucker punches, but Teessiders came away from the Riverside fuming at a naïve and error-strewn display.


“This game will really show us who we are and where we are as a club.” The starting XI (above) saw out-of-form Clayton replace the suspended Howson in midfield. Marvin Johnson started on the left wing but was replaced by Traoré on 55 minutes. “That was a humiliating Boro display to watch.”

Middlesbrough 2- 0 Birmingham

“Just back from the game. We played some good football but never really had to get out of second gear”, “Birmingham were awful and there were all sorts of reasons not to bust a gut in a midweek game just three days before another one”, “We were in cruise control for most of the game.”

“A job well done, we have beaten all the bottom six now.” Two Britt Assombalonga goals on 10 and 41 minutes secured the points for Boro in a routine win under the lights at the Riverside. The pattern of the game reflected their wins earlier in the campaign against the Championship’s weaker sides.

“We played well tonight and controlled the game comfortably. The result was never in doubt”, “For some reason we slowed the tempo almost to a stop in the second half”, “The performance didn’t seem like one which would win any game other than against a struggling side like Birmingham.”


“Birmingham were a very poor side but they all need beating.” The starting line-up (above) included former Town midfielder Grant Leadbitter. Teessiders have noted that the one-time Sunderland man seems to have lost a yard of pace this season and has regularly been substituted after the interval.

Goalkeepers and Defenders

“Darren Randolph has made some absolutely top quality saves.” The 30-year-old former West Ham keeper “was massively underrated at the start of the season. He’s confident, commanding and is a great shot-stopper”, “He looks strong coming out for crosses and has made many fantastic saves.”

Darren Randolph imageDarren Randolph

“Randolph gets himself into trouble at times, choosing to pass out from the back with forwards high up the pitch”, “He’s a liability with the ball at his feet and he isn’t trusted to distribute the ball. Even going long, he should roll it to Gibson”, “He should not play the ball with his feet under pressure.”

“Cyrus Christie is good going forward but not a good defender.” The 25-year-old July addition from Derby “is a constant thorn down the right side and his partnership with Stewart Downing is working well”, “He’s one of our most effective options going forward even if he does lack an end product.”

“Christie worried me handing space and territory over to Bristol City”, “He was unaware of his man and didn’t come inside to cover him”, “He was getting caught out of position so often that his centre-half had to decide which attacker to cover”, “He is ineffective on the attack and defensively unaware.”

“I don’t think George Friend can do it any more.” The 30-year-old ex-Doncaster left-back “gets caught out so many times that opponents are targeting him as a weak link”, “He looks well off the pace and makes poor decisions attempting interceptions and marking. He lacks both mobility and awareness.”

“I wish every player had Fabio’s heart.” The 27-year-old ex-Manchester United and Cardiff full-back “tries to drive the team on and get us up the pitch”, “Most of his good work comes when he cuts in and supports the middle. He doesn’t provide a great deal of natural width when on the left flank.”

Fabio imageMings v Fabio

“With Fabio, at what point does it go from heart to stupidity? He squared up to Tom Huddlestone in the Derby game after he had already been booked and didn’t stop giving him evil looks for a good five minutes. He was shocking, out of position and not one bit of him was focused on the game.”

“Dael Fry is definitely not the answer, especially coming into a side that is struggling.” The 20-year-old centre-back and youth product “is still young and not physically up to dealing with the likes of Bristol City’s Aden Flint”, “He looked shaky at Bristol and as though he wanted it to be all over.”

“Daniel Ayala is commanding one minute but rash the next.” The 27-year-old former Canary “is a solid centre-back. He wins every header and doesn’t mess around with the ball, getting rid of it when needed”, “He suits the no-nonsense physicality of this league and sticks his head on everything.”

“Ayala pretty much sabotaged the Derby game with his red card. He’s a good defender but is too hot headed at times”, “He has been a walking time bomb in recent games, running around like a bull in a china shop with no game intelligence”, “His Derby performance was built on months of frustration.”

Ben Gibson

“Gibson is having a nightmare again.” The 24-year-old youth product “reads the game very well and has a half-decent turn of pace, but the physicality of the Championship has caused him problems”, “He has been shaky at times but his distribution is decent. He’s not playing with much confidence.”

“The number of times Gibson tries to clear the ball but shanks it into the air or completely misses it is worrying”, “He has shown a lack of composure on a number of occasions”, “I thought he would be a class above in this league after last season, but he is not nearly as solid and has underperformed.”

Central Midfielders

“Adam Clayton was slow and ponderous when losing his man for Derby’s first goal.” The 28-year-old former Huddersfield midfielder “wastes possession and doesn’t influence games, they seem to pass him by”, “I forgot how slow he was doing everything. His passing range is basic but he rarely gives the ball away.”

Adam Clayton imageAdam Clayton

“As much as I have admired Grant Leadbitter, the sad fact is that he legs have gone and you can see the energy draining out of him in the second half. Once he starts to slow we lose our impetus and hand the initiative to our opposition”, “He has no pace and he carries no attacking midfield intent.”

“On his day, Leadbitter controls games and spreads the play well.” The 31-year-old ex-Town man “is a calm head who makes good interceptions and cleans up others’ sloppy play. He moves the ball to where it is needed more often than not”, “He doesn’t shirk responsibility but won’t influence play.”

“Adam Forshaw carries the ball well, makes quite a lot of interceptions and plays some nice through balls.” The 26-year-old ex-Wigan man “was much more positive at Bristol and supported the players further forward a bit more”, “We need a player who is more capable than him to perform that role.”

Adam Forshaw imageAdam Forshaw

“Forshaw could provide a faster, snappier, more forward-thinking option if he recaptured his from last season”, “Too often he plays the safe ball when you want him to carry or move the ball forward. It’s frustrating because he has the skills in his locker”, “A glimmer of hope in the Bristol game.”

Jonny Howson

“We signed Jonny Howson this summer when he had three identical players at the club.” The 29-year-old ex-Leeds and Norwich man “should be on all set pieces and further forward when we are on the attack. His long-range shooting and his forward passing can both be dangerous threats.”

Jonny Howson imageJonny Howson v Skuse

“Howson has been ineffective, he doesn’t take control of games that are made for him”, “He seems to exist on the pitch rather than doing anything that stands out”, “I suppose he is a bit more box-to-box but he seems to be playing too deep to chip in with goals and assists. Are these Monk’s tactics?”

Wide Midfielders and Wingers

“I’m not sure what Marvin Johnson does to warrant starting over other people.” The 27-year-old was signed on August deadline day from Oxford United. “He often gets into good positions but it looks as though he closes his eyes because his crosses don’t hit any Middlesbrough players”, “He’s useless.”

“Johnson is a poor player but you can’t fault his effort”, “We might be able to convert him into a left-back because he is never going to be a winger at this level”, “He has been so poor and looked lost at times since his initial purple patch”, “He should do more against tired legs coming off the bench.”

“For all his intent. Marcus Tavernier is not a particularly threatening player and hasn’t shown enough as a winger to provide width, crosses and pace.” The 18-year-old youth product “is a very tidy player and keeps his positioning well, but I want him to be a bit braver and take his man on more often.”

“Adama Traoré is an unpredictable luxury player who adds raw offensive play. He gives us drive by the bucketload going forward.” The 21-year-old former Villa winger “is astounding one minute and leaves you swearing the next. Some great dribbles ruined by absolutely shocking decision-making.”

Adama Traore imageBailey Wright (Bristol City) v Adama Traore

“Pass the bleeding ball, Traoré!”, “He hurtles at speed without any thought, much like the rest of his game”, “He drags opponents out of position and it takes three people to mark him. He’s an enigma who frightens other teams”, “He has got to be the most frustrating Middlesbrough footballer ever.”

Stewart Downing

“Downing is a player who wants to make things happen.” The 33-year-old former Villa, Liverpool and West Ham man “is the best of the bunch. He makes things happen, looks comfortable and is often our biggest threat”, “He’s calm on the ball and has been a shining light operating on the right flank.”

Stewart Downing imageStuart Downing v Toumani Diagouraga

“Downing creates space for crosses and wastes little in possession”, “He gets in decent crosses and contributes to our control over possession. He picks up good positions, passes the ball well and helps us control games”, “His role beside Christie on the right side has been an assured part of our game.”


“Ashley Fletcher is not a versatile forward, he’s a poor man’s Britt Assombalonga.” The 22-year-old summer addition from West Ham has appeared off the bench in recent games. “He’s quick, can beat a man, has an eye for team mates and finds good positions, but we are using him as a target man.”

“Fletcher needs to learn how to use his physical presence far more effectively”, “He’s big and fast but not very effective”, “I feel sorry for him in attack. He just gets long balls pumped up to him with no support, even though he tries his best to put himself about”, “He was a naïve signing by Monk.”

“Patrick Bamford is a more intelligent player than Fletcher. He’s a better finisher, he links the play better and he is technically better.” The 24-year-old signed for Boro permanently in January, having previously had a highly successful spell on loan with the Teessiders in their 2014/15 play-off season.

Patrick Bamford imagePatrick Bamford

“Bamford links play brightly and runs intelligently off the ball”, “He’s not the long-term answer as a playmaker but could be a short-term improvement”, “He knits the midfield and attack in behind the striker. It baffles me that this seems to be Monk’s preferred style of play but he won’t use Bamford.”

“Rudy Gestede is a lump of wood but he will outmatch any centre-back.” The 29-year-old ex-Cardiff and Blackburn man came on as a substitute at Bristol after being absent since August with a thigh injury. “He is the only striker we should consider using as a target man to receive long-range punts.”

“Rudy is a right handful and we have missed him badly”, “He isn’t pretty but he will score a load and create havoc in the area for us”, “From what we have seen in the early season, Rudy is very effective in this league. He causes problems”, “Style over substance? No thank you, I will take Rudy Gestede.”

“Martin Braithwaite looks class on occasion but I’m not sure he’s a link-up man. He looks lost and is anonymous when the intensity of the game is high.” The 26-year-old summer arrival from Toulouse “is the nearest thing we have to a playmaker but he hides away from doing the job too many times”.

“Braithwaite is a classy player with a tidy touch but he didn’t pick up the gaps in Derby’s midfield and lacked the mobility to create options”, “You can see he’s a good footballer but he’s not a number 10. He drops too deep and doesn’t find space to get on the ball, although once on the ball he’s lovely.”

Britt Assombalonga

“Britt works defenders and has the opposition fans writhing. He really puts himself about and tries to set up chances for colleagues.” The 24-year-old former Peterborough and Forest man “is lethal on his day, the best striker we have had in years. His finishing is terrific and he pressurises defenders”.

Britt Assombalonga imageBritt Assombalonga v James Chester (Aston Villa)

“Nothing stuck for Britt at Bristol and he was dominated by their big centre-backs. He runs off the shoulder well but more often than not the ball escaped him or didn’t come”, “The way we are using him, he ends up playing with his back to goal and trying to led the line which doesn’t suit his game.”

Teessiders’ Views on ITFC and the Game

“I think we will struggle to beat Ipswich on what I saw of their win over Derby. They are solid at the back and do create chances going forward. They are certainly a better team than we are at the moment even if individually they are about average for the Championship.”

“Given Ipswich’s turn in form and our mediocre displays, I can only see a loss again.” Boro message boards don’t run prediction competitions but Teessiders are apprehensive about Saturday’s game going by their comments. Many sense that the home crowd will turn on Monk if things go badly.

“I don't see Monk being gone by the weekend but if we lose to Ipswich on Saturday it will be hard to see how he can continue”, “It feels as if this game could be a real watershed moment for the future of Monk and our season”, “It could be one of the most important and pivotal games of the season.”

“If we lose, I can see the atmosphere becoming toxic, lots of ‘you're getting sacked in the morning’ chants etc, and it may well force [owner] Steve Gibson's hand. If we win, it will buy Monk some more time, possibly a few more games.”

“I've got a feeling Gibson really doesn't want to sack Monk and is just hoping now that things will come good”, “If the application isn't 100 per cent from the players, I could honestly see another 3-0 home defeat on the cards. Ipswich will be lumping balls to our back post all day long.”

“The Ipswich players I have seen could be good but wouldn't be much different to what we have, like David McGoldrick, Cole Skuse and Dominic Iorfa. Going by their last game and his statistics, Bersant Celina would be my transfer target. He's plays left wing and has scored six league goals this season.”

There was also some familiar recent discussion about our manager. “To be fair about Mick McCarthy and Ipswich, they might not pull up any trees consistently but they did deservedly reach the play-offs in the same year as us. Norwich did not find it an easy task to get through to the final.”

“When Tony Mowbray left in 2013, I wanted Mick McCarthy as a manager. It had a mixed reaction when I told Boro fans on here. If Monk was to go I would be open to that again. McCarthy knows the league and has consistently done a good job with the little money he has been given.”


The busiest Boro message-board is the friendly and knowledgeable oneBoro Forum Additional discussion and comment can be found on FMTTM.

Photo: Action Images

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DJpatrovers1 added 11:08 - Dec 8
Thanks Harry, another great read.

My dad and brother are boro fans and are getting very frustrated with Garry Monk. I like the guy but he doesn't seem to be making the impact the boro fans expected..

Off form and low on confidence, let's set up to go and win and see how we get on!

ericclacton added 11:37 - Dec 8
Hello Harry, Superb column. I think the biggest problem they have is Mr Monkey, it has to be because the team on paper are very good, to me he comes across as a.... I used to manage in the league above. Anyway things are looking so much better for us at the moment and the team has really gone up a couple of gears, could well pinch something off them. lots of upthetowens.............Eric.

BobbyBell added 11:39 - Dec 8
We MUST attack them from the off and get the home crowd against them. This is not a game for worrying about them and how good they are and how they're in a false position. No cagey first 15 minutes or they will grow in confidence, Just attack them and if they score attack them some more!! We just have to be positive against sides like this.

GrahamHarbey added 11:43 - Dec 8
Lovely pic of Clayton :)

TR11BLU added 11:45 - Dec 8
Great read as ever Harry.

I have been feeling quietly confident about this game all week, now Im off to the bookies to lump on!!
Wow the smoggies arent happy!

itfcserbia added 12:04 - Dec 8
"We are tactically inept and being beaten by bang-average teams who are better organised and who put more effort in."

Sounds like we have a chance. :))

ArnieM added 12:26 - Dec 8
If McCarthy goes up there to play it safe first, we will get beaten. Have the courage to attack the opposition man ffs!

Len_Brennan added 12:46 - Dec 8
Their description of Monk's weaknesses are reminiscent of what it was like for us under Keane. No ability to put a balanced side together, signing an expensive player he knows from his previous club despite been well covered in the position he plays & spending heavily on a striker, but not setting up to give him the service he works best with when playing him.
Funnily enough I had seen Monk as an interesting option to replace MM before he took the Middlesbrough job. It's a funny old game.
Great report Harry.

DanLyles added 12:50 - Dec 8
A great read as always Harry. I'm hoping that their full backs being caught 'marooned' up field will leave space for the pace of Ward and Celina on the counter attack. Their centre backs sound fragile and will not like the physicality of Garner or Waghorn either, so lots of chinks in their armour for us to expose. Would normally be happy with a draw at the Riverside but reading this it sounds like they are there for the taking. COYB's!

Pilgrimblue added 13:20 - Dec 8
Great read, top man. Looking at their team you'd wonder how on earth they're not top of league. I agree with attack from the off and compete in midfield otherwise they'll overrun us with possession.
Same team with Chambo replacing Iorfa.

vanmunt added 14:05 - Dec 8
The quality of these previews every week is outstanding. I look forward to reading this article every week, genuinely great work Harry.

Hiltzkooler added 18:17 - Dec 8
I’m surprised at how poorly Monk is perceived .....I thought that he would been comfortable being at Steve Gibson’s club after Leeds...but looking back at the comments from Leeds fans there are parallels with the ‘Boro fans observations. Like others, I would have liked Monk at Town at one stage but not now, I think he has been found out, sad really, because I would have liked him to succeed.
One would like to think that ‘Boro can be exploited this weekend but that is a good side of individuality and Gestede always seems to be a right pain to us!
As always Harry, an excellent read, thank you...

Warkys_Tash added 21:53 - Dec 8
Harry top marks once again, thank you!

I was feeling good when we went to Hull a few weeks back so I am not going to get carried away as we know they have very good individuals lets Gestede & Assombalonga who can turn a game in an instant.

However, agree with other posters on here lets go and attack them from the off, get an early goal and make there crowd turn! COYB!!

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