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Shot-shy Boro beset by injuries - Interview
Friday, 8th Nov 2019 16:06 by Clive Whittingham

Just two wins so far this season for Saturday's opponents Middlesbrough, who haven't scored in their last four games and have a catalogue of injury problems. Respectful silence please for our Boro regular, James Boothby.

With hindsight, what did you make of the business done over the summer?

Business was pretty poor – none of the incomings have held down a place in the side. They were young players coming in with potential, but unfortunately they have struggled in a struggling side and mainly have to make do with making the bench in recent games. We did not really resolve any of our major issues from the last couple of seasons – main one is scoring goals.

Ins: >>> Anfernee Dijksteel, 22, RB, Charlton, £1.9m >>> Marcus Browne, 21, AM, West Ham, £200k >>> Marc Bola, 21, LB, Blackpool, Undisclosed Tomas Mejias, 30, GK, Nicosia, Free

Outs: >>> Martin Braithwaite, CF, 28, Leganes, £8.8m >>> Aden Flint, 30, CB, Cardiff, £4m >>> Luke Armstrong, 23, CF, Salford, Undisclosed >>> Stewart Downing, 34, LW, Blackburn, Free >>> John Obi Mikel, 32, CM, Trabzonspor, Free >>> Andy Lonergan, 35, GK, Liverpool, Free >>> Dimitrios Konstantopoulos, 40, GK, Released

Dire start to the season for Middlesbrough, what’s been your assessment so far?

Really poor start to the season, I think much worse than many people anticipated. The season actually started off ok. We were playing some decent football, and certainly in the early games maybe did not quite get the rub of the green. Brentford in particular stands out where we played well and had two good goals ruled out. But since those first few games we got found out a bit. We have had to change our tactics to tighten up a bit as we were conceding too many goals. By and large we now look more solid, but are really struggling to score goals. Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher are both very low on confidence, and are making missing sitters an art form. With a squad as thin as ours is, we don’t have a lot of options past our first 11 so it’s key we get them firing otherwise we could be adrift by January.

Results so far…
Luton 3-3 Middlesbrough (Bradley 17, Cranie 24, Collins 85 – Fletcher 7, Assombalonga 37, Wing 68)
Middlesbrough 0-1 Brentford (Watkins 54)
Blackburn 1-0 Middlesbrough (Graham pen 25)
Middlesbrough 1-0 Wigan (Assombalonga 23)
Middlesbrough 1-1 Millwall (McNair 70 – Bradshaw 76)
Bristol City 2-2 Middlesbrough (Palmer 44, Rowe 81 – Moore og 64, Assombalonga 68)
Middlesbrough 1-0 Reading (Johnson 60)
Cardiff 1-0 Middlesbrough (Fletcher og 2)
Middlesbrough 1-4 Sheff Wed (McNair 19 – Clayton og 2, Iorfa 6, Reach 23, Fletcher 34)
Middlesbrough 1-1 Preston (Assombalonga 42 - Harrup 40)
Birmingham 2-1 Middlesbrough (Villalba 33, Bailey 89 – Ayala 87)
Middlesbrough 0-1 West Brom (Kanu 82)
Huddersfield 0-0 Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough 0-0 Fulham
Derby 2-0 Middlesbrough (Lawrence 22, 84)

Why has the club declined to this position so quickly from being in the Prem just a few years back?

It’s hard to put your finger on one particular thing. The Premier League season was just a horrible season which I think affected the club massively. It unravelled for Aitor Karanka and his time was definitely up, but to replace him with Steve Agnew was essentially accepting relegation. Then Garry Monk game in and spent a massive amount of money but no real plan of what he wanted to achieve. I think it was a total of £50m spent that summer, but just as importantly we were offering big wages which has crippled us ever since. We have players on big, big contracts which we just can’t get rid of. Pulis came in, and despite what he tells the press, still spent a good amount of money on pretty poor players: £7m on Aden Flint who lasted one season, £8n on George Saville who has been incredibly average, £5m on McNair who he then did not play is still good money for a Championship club. Essentially the money has now run out if we are to comply with FFP.

I heard Woodgate saw the results don’t reflect the performances, which sounded a bit desperate – any truth in that? No goals for four games!?

The league table never lies – you don’t get points for good performances. I think in a couple of games he is right, we have played well and just not been able to hit a cows arse. We have definitely had the chances to put games to bed. In other games though we have been very, very poor. His press conferences and interviews after games have already become a bit confrontational which is never a good sign.

Boro’s league goalscorers >>> Britt Assombalonga 14 (1) apps, 4 goals >>> Paddy McNair, 15 apps, 2 goals >>> Daniel Ayala, 12 (2) apps, 1 goal >>> Ashley Fletcher, 11 (3) apps, 1 goal >>> Marvin Johnson, 10 (4) apps, 1 goal >>> Lewis Wing, 11 (3) apps, 1 goal

How long’s he got? What’s the mood like towards him? Bit too much for him first job? Who else would you want?

He was never really the choice of the fans, as he was seen as the cheap option, but I think most wanted to see him succeed and still do. I think he is definitely under some pressure now, but I think fans also realise that it’s hard to blame Woodgate for some of the chances the strikers are missing. I think most people accept it is very unlikely the club will sack him, but I think some experienced help behind the scenes is something that should be looked at. Robbie Keane, Leo Percovich and Danny Coyne are all fairly inexperienced in coaching and we maybe need that little bit of know-how in there.

Stand out players and weak links in the team?

I think by far our two best players this season have been Darren Randolph and Paddy McNair. For my money, Randolph is the best keeper in the Championship by a mile and without him I dread to think how many points we would actually have. He is out injured for the next few weeks, but his replacement Aynsley Pears has done pretty well in his place the last two games. McNair has been a revelation. After only playing for Pulis as a right back, he started the season off in his favoured midfield role and has been excellent. Unfortunately the injury to Ryan Shotton has seen him play as one of the three centre backs in the last couple of games and we really miss his influence in midfield.

The one glaring weakness is attack. We just can’t score goals. And we have no real options to change it. There has been a clamour to see local lad Ste Walker get a game, he has impressed for both Boro and England through the various age groups but I’m not sure the club are keen to throw him into a struggling side and see his confidence suffer as well.

Realistic hopes and expectations for the rest of the season?

To be honest at this point – the hope is just to make sure we are still in this league next season. Only two wins so far, and hard to see where the next win is coming from at this point. I would expect us to have enough to survive, but I’m sure Sunderland fans would have said the same as well.

Links >>> Official Website >>> Teeside Gazette – Local Paper >>> FMTTM – Message Board >>> One Boro – Forum

The Twitter @jamesyboz, @loftforwords

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Antti_Heinola added 16:17 - Nov 8
oh god. this sort of interview always results in one thing...

TacticalR added 17:44 - Nov 8
Thanks to James.

It sounds as though a lot of Middlesbrough's problems relate to yoyoing between the Premier League and the Championship. Because teams like Burnley and Norwich have handled the transition relatively well it's easy to forget that a lot of other teams come down to the Championship with an almighty hangover.

Agree with Antti. Every time an oppo fan tells how terrible their team is we get done!

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