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Boro struggling to live up to expectations - Interview
Friday, 19th Jan 2018 11:17 by Clive Whittingham

Things haven’t gone quite according to plan for big spending pre-season title favourites Middlesbrough – Riverside regular James Boothby tries to explain why.

Honestly I thought Middlesbrough would blitz this league this season, why hasn’t it worked out like that?

JB: That is the million dollar question. It could be argued we made too many changes in the summer, and it just took too long for us to make any real progress. Despite spending a lot of money on strikers, we rely massively on Britt Assombalonga to score the goals. Under Garry Monk, there just never really seemed to be a plan of what kind of team he wanted us to be, too many different formations and starting elevens and the players quite often didn't seem to know their roles. That being said, we are still very much in touch with the play-offs so it is not all doom and gloom.

Part of that optimism surrounded the appointment of Garry Monk, who has a very good reputation but lasted just a few months, what’s the story there?

JB: I think most fans, myself included, were cautiously optimistic when Monk was appointed. He tried to play a more expansive style of football but with the players we had it just never worked. We started games too slowly almost every week, and were always capable of a defensive howler or two. A big thing for Monk was that he never really connected with the fans or the area. His press conferences were always bland, stock answers about projects etc. He never really got across his message, and how he would take the club forward. Whilst the timing of the sacking was a slight surprise, it was not a surprise to see him get shown the door.

Tony Pulis certainly divides opinion in football, what do you make of that appointment? How’s he done so far?

JB: I think initially it was a 50/50 split between the fans. He has his reputation for 'direct' football, and we all want to see our teams playing free flowing football scoring three every week. However, I think the discipline he brings is something we definitely needed. We now have a system, and all players know their roles. It might not always be pretty, but it is effective. And despite what people may think, it's not been just lump a ball up to Gestede, we have at times played some decent stuff as well.

Big money spent last summer, who’s been the best and the worst of the signings?

JB: I think the worst would have to be Ashley Fletcher - £7m on a player we did not need, and in his brief appearances has not really contributed. There is a decent player in there somewhere, but I think his confidence is shot and a loan somewhere will do him the world of good. Assombalonga has scored 12 goals so can't really complain at that, whilst Randolph in goal has been consistently good. Christie was having a good season at right back as well, although seems not be in favour with Pulis. Howson had a slow start, but has now found his feet and is putting in some good performances.

Where is the team weak, and is there any indication that more money will be made available this month to correct it? Any transfer targets mentioned?

JB: I think money is available, but Pulis wants to trim the squad a bit before bringing anyone in. Would expect more outgoings than incomings, with Fabio already stating a desire to return to Brazil. Can see Adam Forshaw and possibly Adam Clayton also moving on as well as Lewis Baker returning to Chelsea. We could do with another left back to challenge George Friend, and a bit more creativity in midfield. We have been linked with McGinn from Hibs, but been a bit quiet apart from that.

Who has been playing well?

JB: Stewart Downing has arguably been the player of the season, after starting it training with the under 23s. Is at the heart of all our good work and really stepped up this season after a disappointing time last year. And the enigma that is Adama Traore has had a good run of games. He has sublime skills, and frightening strength and pace but the signs are that he is starting to understand the game a bit more and find some end product.

Do you still fancy your chances of the top six?

JB: We are more than capable with the squad we have, and I would be disappointed if we finish outside the playoffs. It's a tough league though, and we have given ourselves plenty of work to do.

The Twitter @jamesyboz

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simmo added 13:02 - Jan 19
Thanks for the info, James.

Boro a real glutton for managers that play fckin boring football. Karanka and now Pulis... Sheesh. Also seems a shame if they are losing Clayton & Forshaw, they won't be short of takers for that I'm sure.

I quite like Boro but would be disappointed to see them go up purely because it's such a good away day :-) Best of luck after Saturday.

TacticalR added 14:47 - Jan 19
Thanks to James.

The speed with which Garry Monk fell out of favour does seem strange. I took it to mean that Gibson was really desperate to get out of this division, but maybe there was something else to it if Monk couldn't connect with the club. It will be interesting to see if Pulis can get a team promoted (having focused on survival for so long).

Also interesting to hear that it's Stewart Downing, rather than one of the recent imports, who has been player of the season.

Antti_Heinola added 16:38 - Jan 19
Urgh. Assombalonga and Gestede up front. That's not good for us.

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