I Wonder If Ipswich Might Actually Fancy This On Saturday - Notes for Middlesbrough
Friday, 28th Dec 2018 10:45 by HarryFromBath
HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday’s game at the Riverside Stadium by delving into their forums.
“What a shambolic state we are in”, “I am sick of this miserable excuse for football”, “Professional football is a spectator sport. As such, it should entertain”, “My patience is pretty much threadbare at the moment. We are very predictable and lacking in ideas and flair”, “I don’t like football anymore.”
“How much more of this can be seriously endure?” Boro may be heading into Saturday’s game fifth in the table but fans are far from happy. A Boxing Day defeat at home to Sheffield Wednesday took their league run to one win in six games and they also lost at home to League One Burton Albion in the EFL Cup.
“The atmosphere is getting poisonous and the football is dire.” The underlying reason for the widespread discontent is the brand of football being played under boss Tony Pulis. “I just want to watch some good football. I’m so depressed with this style of play. It’s so slow, aimless and atrocious to watch.”
“Our performances are pathetic and our tactics and set-up clueless. The players don’t seem to be all that bothered about playing for this dinosaur. The results lately have started mirroring the displays”, “There is no enjoyment watching this. We will finish mid-table with an outside shot at the play-offs.”
“As a club designed to smash the league, where are we? Twelve points from the top and fading”, “I am worried, I don’t think it is a blip. We’re finding our level, which is top half of the Championship”, “I’m sad to say this, but I actually couldn’t care less about our results until we get rid of Tony Pulis.”
“Is there anyone who can defend Pulis and this brand of football? Is there anyone who can honestly state, ‘give him the transfer budget and we will be better off’?”, “The only thing he has going for him is that we’re in touching distance of the top two places. Give this another month and we won’t be.”
Muhamed Besic (Middlesbrough) celebrates with Pulis
“The Pulis appointment was like a January panic buy.” The 60-year-old took charge of his ninth club when replacing Garry Monk 12 months ago having previously managed West Brom. “I’m not usually one calling for a change of manager but I am getting sick of this”, “I hate him, he’s killing this club.”
“West Brom fans did warn us”, “Football just isn’t fun with this idiot in charge, please get rid of him”, “It’s the worst defensive-minded football in our history that I can honestly think of”, “He won’t give a damn what we think of his lack of footballing style. He’s a part of the self-preservation society.”
“Pulis has murdered football like no other manager I have known or want to know”, “Where is the tenacity, guile and workmanship this plank was supposed to bring? His football is absolutely toxic to support and horrible for any fan”, “Please get someone in with a sense of attack and creative play.”
Amid this tidal wave of hostility, a tiny minority of fans are urging patience. “Pulis needs a little more time to make the team his. There are positives and some great football and it will all fall into place. We are in the play-offs and one of the promotion favourites, so relax and stop the panic and blame.”
Negative and Boring Football
“The quality in this Boro team is absolutely dire. We must be the easiest team to play against”, “It is the same plodding along, hoping something will break in the opposition penalty box”, “We have one weapon, lofted balls forward. That’s the scope of our manager’s imagination and it is horrible stuff”,
“We are an embarrassment as an attacking force”, “We have no pace and power and we’re so static it’s like Subbuteo”, “We take three touches with a first-time pass is available and we pass back when there is a forward option”, “Static play with no movement, playing diagonal ball after diagonal ball.”
“We are frightened of shadows and it is stifling any creativity”, “Some of our players seem to be going through the motions right now and several look clearly unhappy”, “We have misfiring strikers and a set-piece ‘threat’ that has just disappeared. I have no idea where the goals are coming from.”
“We haven’t got a clue how to attack”, “Anyone who scores first against us knows they are pretty much guaranteed a point. Only Bolton have scored fewer goals at home than us in the league”, “We have no pace at all. When we break, we don’t get through their midfield, never mind the defence.”
“Kill me”, “Nope, you can suffer with the rest of us.” There was widespread incredulity when the line-up (above) was announced for their Boxing Day game against a Sheffield Wednesday side which had conceded 22 goals in 11 away league games this season. “What a dull team, it’s set up not to lose.”
“Our line-ups are strangely defensive”, “Five at the back with a holding midfielder at right wing-back and a left wing-back with no legs, protected by a sitting midfielder behind a midfield three and a sole lone striker. This is at home to a side sitting 17th in the table, conceding goals and with no manager.”
“What has happened to our impregnable defence?” Darren Randolph is widely praised for his agility in goal. Centre-halves Daniel Ayala and Aden Flint are solid defensively but they have struggled to be the hoped-for threat at attacking set plays. Dael Fry is the most comfortable defender on the ball.
“If Paddy McNair and George Friend were allowed to actually get forward then it just might be okay. Come on lads, have you never seen the Christmas miracle?” The lack of width in the squad is shown by using three mainly defensive players, with right-back Ryan Shotton an alternative, as wing-backs.
“It’s so embarrassing for a team full of midfielders to have no control over the midfield”, “What’s the point in changing midfielders? All we do is lump the ball past them.” Pulis has not found an attacking dimension through the centre. “The biggest problem is getting players to drive into the final third.”
“There’s an imaginary brick wall between the centre circle and the opposition box.” Adam Clayton is a recognised holding midfielder, while Jonny Howson and Lewis Wing have led the team’s assists to date, but Muhamed Besic, Stewart Downing and George Saville have frequently flattered to deceive.
“At the moment we lack wingers, so Pulis seems to have taken to the idea of sticking as many central midfielders in as possible.” The club have used teenage winger Marcus Tavernier as a substitute, but they have been in advanced talks to sign Huddersfield winger Rajiv Van La Parra on loan in January.
Striker Britt Assombalonga is praised for his industry and athleticism, although many fans think that Jordan Hugill is a less technically capable but more suited target man for Pulis’s direct style of play. He is seen as offering greater strength and mobility although his finishing is much less consistent.
Middlesbrough 0 – 1 Sheffield Wednesday
“In the past few weeks we have been turned over by shoestring QPR, League One Burton Albion and now managerless Sheffield Wednesday”, “We were awful today and lacked any attacking threat, one up front and just park the bus”. “A well-deserved win for the Owls and they never looked troubled.”
“That was a tough watch.” The visitors won this game when former Boro winger Adam Reach coolly slotted home the only goal on 20 minutes, latching on to Barry Bannan’s through ball. “We were fine for the first 10 minutes, but after they scored we could have played for hours and still got nothing.”
“We never controlled any part of the pitch, and for a home team that’s worrying”, “We didn’t test their keeper. Sheffield Wednesday played a patient game and we were atrocious. Having most of the ball isn’t necessarily the same as being the better team. We were really lacklustre and it was scary.”
It’s also worth looking at Boro’s final XI (above). Pulis switched to a 4-4-2 at half-time, removing centre-half Fry for striker Hugill. The addition of midfielder Wing and Tavernier out wide added extra energy and urgency to their play, and Pulis may try this against us.
Reading 0 – 1 Middlesbrough
“Three points, but again that was awful football”, “It could have been a lot more comfortable with even the slightest bit of adventure from the start. At times we were hanging on against the worst side I have seen play against us this season”, “Luckily for us, Reading were absolutely horrendous.”
“Reading were objectively bad, but we were awful in a different way, more negative and boring.” George Friend gained Boro an unconvincing win by slamming home a winner on 77 minutes after being set up by substitute McNair, who had earlier replaced the injured Shotton.
“As Pulis a team as possible, five at the back and two defensive midfielders”, “I burst out laughing at the sight of that starting line-up [above]. The man is a serious troll”, “That was a good result but it was a very uninspiring performance”, “Reading barely laid a glove on us but we were nervous too.”
QPR 2 – 1 Middlesbrough
“One the way back from the game, soaked and freezing. We had no tactics or game plan, a centre forward started down the wing and we couldn’t even defend”, “It was a diabolical performance”, “We have been sussed once again. Get a quick goal against us and you will beat us in most games.”
QPR went ahead on four minutes when Pawel Wszolek scored from close range and they dominated the first half. However, Boro levelled on 51 from Saville's volley from the edge of the penalty area before Hoops’ Nahki Wells scored the winner on 61, tucking the ball in from Wszolek's cross.
“Not good, we’re slipping down the table rather rapidly”, “Another game where we started second-best and seemingly got our tactics wrong and were wide open at the back”, “From the second we equalised, QPR turned it on and scored again. We barely bothered them for the rest of the game.”
“Two strikers!”, “No, Assombalonga is actually on the left, what the hell?” The initial excitement on seeing the teamsheet turned to weary groans when the players lined up in formation for the kick-off (above). “Even when we play with two strikers, we manage to balls it up playing one out wide.”
Goalkeepers and Central Defenders
“If Darren Randolph left the club, we would be well and truly screwed. He is one of the best keepers in this division.” The 31-year-old former West Ham man “has phenomenal reflexes and his reactions to shots which come through crowded areas are excellent”, “I feel reassured with him in the goal.”
“You just expect Randolph to save everything that isn’t well hit into the corner. He’s poor at kicking but fast on his feet. He’s a great shot-stopper and excellent at one-on-ones”, “I always criticise him for his distribution and being too calm at times”, “He’s also the king when it comes to time-wasting.”
“Danny Batth is comical defensively at times, but when you set up with a team of nine defenders it can make the most average centre-backs look decent.” The 28-year-old loan signing from Wolves “is nowhere near Ayala’s level defensively”, “He can be a suspect defending with the ball at his feet.”
“How the hell did Aden Flint score so many goals last season?” The 29-year-old June purchase from Bristol City came with a reputation for scoring from set pieces but has found the net only once this season. “He struggles to get more than a single chance from set pieces in the entire 90 minutes.”
“In no way can Flint be described as a footballing centre-half”, “He’s terrible defending when the ball is on the deck and gets dragged out of position”, “He seems to have forgotten how to head the ball. He and Ayala get in each other’s way attacking the ball and our poor deliveries haven’t helped him.”
“Dael Fry could be the cornerstone of our defence in the future.” The 21-year-old youth product “is good at bringing the ball out of defence and taking us into the opposition half”, “He can be caught out failing to clear his lines but he makes such a difference against teams who sit back and defend.”
“Central defence is Fry’s strength but he’s no more than an okay back-up playing as a wing-back”, “His crossing is okay when he has time to stop and look up, but he’s slow as a wide outlet and he will struggle to overlap”, “He creates holes in midfield drawing players to him as he brings the ball out.”
“Ayala is a proven no-nonsense centre-back.” The 28-year-old former Canary “is a quality defender but he is prone to mindless errors or reckless challenges”, “On the days he is Dr Jekyll, he is way better than anyone else, but on his Mr Hyde days he’s a ticking time-bomb waiting to be set off.”
“If Ayala is fit, he plays”, “He looks like he’s being controlled by a FIFA game player hammering the tackle button”, “He tends to give away nasty fouls or argue with the referee or opposition”, “He is not comfortable bringing the ball out of defence and has a habit of just carelessly give possession away.”
Wide-Playing Defenders and Midfielders
“Ryan Shotton was the best player against Reading before he went off with a knee injury.” The 30-year-old ex-Birmingham man “is composed with the ball at his feet but he’s defensively suspect as a right wing-back”, “He does his best in an unfamiliar role but his crossing and passing are shocking.”
Jordan Graham v Ryan Shotton
“Shotton is certainly not a potent wide creator but he has held his own”, “He racks up lots of crosses and passes but few of them are telling or progressive. He’s a good player but never a wing-back”, “I think that Pulis likes his defensive physicality but he does get caught out after venturing forward.”
“Paddy McNair was brought in to be an offensive midfielder, so give him a run there to see if he is good enough.” The 23-year-old summer buy from Sunderland “has struggled to establish himself in the side”, “He’s a baffling signing, and playing him in such an unfamiliar wide role blows my mind.
“I don’t think McNair is an awful player. I just don’t see what position he has been brought in to play. His poor positional sense in a wide role has been evident but his running and industry are spot-on”, “He has been decent enough at right-back or playing in midfield but he is being poorly managed.”
“George Friend is still our best option on the left of defence.” The 31-year-old former Doncaster left-back “has been frustrating again. His first touch is awful and whenever he plays the ball he ends up losing possession and putting us on the back foot”, “He needs back-up on the left side of defence.”
“Friend seems to have lost his attacking prowess. He used to trick his way past a full-back and get in the penalty area but seems to have lost either his pace or his confidence”, “I like his willingness to get forward but he’s like a boxer that has lost every round as he keeps on trying to push forward.”
“Marcus Tavernier can inject some pace down our left side.” The 19-year-old youth product “is one of our few players with creativity and imagination. He genuinely has been very effective when he has played”, “He has shown more bravery on the ball than many of his more experiences team-mates.”
“Tavernier is excellent at moving into the box at the right time. He’s a good technical player and he’s a decent finisher. He has an excellent engine but what I haven’t seen from him is an ability to drive at defenders and take them on. He’s almost like Downing, playing it safe when the ball is at his feet.”
“Downing helps us keep shape and plays the occasional nice cross-field pass.” The 34-year-old one-time Villa and Liverpool man “offers little when it comes to ball-winning and competing. He always has to cut inside when playing on the right side but he is just too slow now to attack down the left.”
“Downing has some neat touches but he’s never on the right flank to take a pass. Sometimes he’s sat by the centre-backs to pick the ball up like Andrea Pirlo”, “You cannot fault his commitment, but he’s too lightweight and not industrious enough for a central role and too slow and pedestrian out wide.”
“Lewis Wing gives us some real energy when he appears and makes very quick, clever runs.” The 23-year-old was picked up from Northern League club Shildon in 2017. “He’s a great set piece-taker and one of the high points of the season so far”, “He gives us real energy and urgency when he appears.”
“Wing can be a bit naïve at times but you can see how much he loves playing football”, “He can get pulled out of position and leave holes for opponents to attack”, “People think he’s a huge star in the making, but I think it’s more a case of our team performing better as a whole when he does play.”
“The Reading game was the first time I have been impressed by George Saville. His work off the ball was great.” The 25-year-old arrived on loan from Millwall in August with the deal made permanent in January. “He has been anonymous at times, but may be a better player than we have seen so far.”
“Saville was billed as a box-to-box player, strong in the tackle and good at bringing the ball forward, but in his earlier games this season he seemed quite weak”, “He has seemed afraid. He offers little positive. He has been clogging up the midfield, lacking any drive to do better and impose himself.”
“Adam Clayton is superb as a covering defensive midfielder.” The 29-year-old ex-Huddersfield man “is very important against teams who use energy and movement to bring the ball forward through midfield. “He’s effective at breaking up opposition moves as an out-and-out defensive midfielder.”
“I really like Clayton as he’s the best in the division at nicking the ball and breaking up an opponents’ drive and strength. When he does win the ball, he’s too slow and waits to pass it to defenders”, “He isn’t infallible, but if you take him out for a creative player you lose an essential cog in the team.”
“I really liked Muhamed Besic when he first came here, but he’s now a walking fault machine.” The 26-year-old Bosnia international is on a second loan spell from Everton, having first arrived last January. “He’s a confidence player who is greedy as hell. He’s not a team player in any form.”
“Besic has more natural quality than our other midfielders. He can play some great balls in behind a defence and he gives us the odd special moment, but he needs to make an impact most of the time instead of occasionally”, “He isn’t willing to pass the ball, but he could be hampered by our tactics.”
“Jonny is good enough with the ball but has been too restricted by our tactics.” The 30-year-old ex-Norwich man “hasn’t scored many but has assisted a fair number of goals. He’s a decent, technically-able footballer who scored some great goals for the Canaries and can pass or link up with a striker.”
Tristan Nydam v Jonathan Howson
“Howson has been wasted in a negative defensive system that doesn’t allow midfielders to get close to the strikers”, “He has made some smashing runs and is our most forward-thinking midfielder”, “I think his form has picked up in some key games, but he has often gone missing in every other one.”
“I would be happy to see Ashley Fletcher given a run in the side.” The 23-year-old ex-West Ham man has been used as an occasional substitute. “He’s hungrier than our other strikers but he lacks quality. He has the same physique as Assombalonga but he is also capable of making some very clever runs.”
“Get shot of Rudy Gestede.” The 30-year-old ex-Aston Villa man “has been a total passenger, hardly moving at times when he has played”, “The only good thing about him is that he’s apparently good in the air. He should leave”, “It’s horrible to say, but I usually feel relieved when he goes off injured.”
“Jordan Hugill is great at holding the ball up from long punts and he generally puts himself about to good effect.” The 26-year-old loanee from West Ham “works tirelessly but his goal attempts can be poor”, “He brings people into play and is good at winning freekicks, but his finishing isn’t top class.”
Jordan Hugill (Preston)
“Hugill is one of the worst footballers I have seen. He’s better in the air than Assombalonga and he’s more mobile than him, but his technical ability and finishing are poor”, “He’s better at inviting those around him to create chances, but he needs team-mates to get closer to exploit his knock-downs.”
“Britt has struggled as a lone striker and not held anything up. I starting to wonder what he is.” The 26-year-old ex-Forest man “is lethal in the penalty box but someone has to support him”, “He has struggled under Pulis and has often defaulted back to his useless mode and not getting stuck in.”
Britt Assombalonga (Middlesbrough) v James Chester (Aston Villa)
“Pulis likes physical players and for all Britt’s athleticism he’s not that type. He’s a poacher who will sniff out chances like Jordan Rhodes and bury them with support”, “Anyone who has seen him play knows he’s useless outside the box. Using him as a winger to carry the ball forward is just madness.”
Teessiders’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“Ipswich are our next opponents, they are currently 3-0 down at QPR. It makes you wonder how Pulis will go about that game. I believe he will be finished if we lose to them”, “The Ipswich game must be Pulis’s last chance, otherwise the fans will walk away in droves.”
Boro fans have had little to say about Saturday’s game, but fans fear a backlash should they lose or should the game follow the pattern of recent encounters. “The Ipswich manager will ensure that his team comes out quickly against us to try and get an early goal, that you can depend on.”
“Good news! Ipswich are reported to be in for Gestede on loan”, “He will be back after one game when he breaks his glass legs”, “Ipswich don't have a pot to pee in do they? Could they even afford his wages as he's on decent money?”, “Maybe we could arrange a swap deal for Jonas Knudsen.”
There was also this interesting post when discussing who might replace Tony Pulis: “Mick McCarthy please. Ipswich fans did not know how lucky they were to have him so complained about finishing mid-table. They are now sitting bottom and without a hope of staying up having got rid of him.”
“Seriously, give Mick the money because he knows how to find gems and get them playing as a team instead of the individuals we have at the moment.”
The busiest Boro message board is the very polite and knowledgeable oneBoro Forum. Boro highlights are available on the Multimedia menu as well as Ipswich Town and for the whole of the Championship and other EFL leagues.
Photo: Action Images
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