“Predictable”, “unlucky”, “boring”, and a mass of “ifs”, “buts” and “maybes”- there are too many remarks/excuses cited for Boro’s end of season plight as goal drought goes on against Sheffield Wednesday, and shows no signs of stopping…
Middlesbrough can take solace from the fact they have only conceded 1 goal from open play in 557 minutes. However after the frustrating away 1-0 defeat by Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday it is now 705 minutes since the Teesiders have scored.
Defensively Middlesbrough have improved under Karanka and their football can be offensively assuring at times with slick passing a significant aspect of their play. That is until they enter the final third where it really matters.
Some passages of play were manufactured with class against Wednesday but their final delivery was frustratingly dire. The adage “wouldn’t have scored if we’d played all day” could never have been more relevant.
Karanka’s system is evidently cautious with a condensed midfield 5 anchored by Whitehead and Chelsea young gun Nathaniel Chalobah. In front is the impressive Jacob Butterfield who makes the side “tick”. January loan signing Danny Graham spearheads the attack. Graham has found goals a desperately elusive aspect of his game, and it is not for the lack of trying. He has a proven track record but he must start proving doubters wrong after difficult spells at Sunderland and Hull. He has dropped a division; it is time to start scoring goals.
Karanka has bemoaned “effort” and “commitment” problems for his team’s lack of penetration forward. In form winger Mustapha Carayol has been frozen out of the side because of “attitude” problems that have surfaced on the training ground. Supporters are certainly disappointed with this chain of events with fan favourite Carayol an exciting player to watch. He looks a definite on an extensive list of candidates for players to be sold in the summer. Boro fans will have to try to trust the Spaniard’s judgment going into next season.
Carayol was again absent from the team for the game against Sheffield Wednesday with Kei Kamara and the recalled Albert Adomah starting on the wings.
The game was slow and a poor advert for Championship football. Both outfits combined to form nice moments of play but the final product was lacking. Both sides possessed proven goal scorers in Leon Best and Danny Graham- neither stood out on the day.
Middlesbrough should have had an early goal after Butterfield’s low drive crashed off both posts whilst crossing the line in the process. This was as close as Middlesbrough came to breaking their goal duck. The lack of chances Boro created was a fair reflection on how they approached the match- cautiously.
Wednesday were little better. In a similar vein to Middlesbrough’s current plight, they will feel they could and should have done better this season. With some carefully considered summer transfers, Wednesday could challenge next season. Maghoma and Lavery were spritely and endeavored to create for Best who was isolated up front. The inter play was good but their attacking penetration flattered to deceive.
The game had draw written all over it. Upon Karanka’s decision to withdraw Adomah followed by man of the match Butterfield from proceedings, Middlesbrough seemed content to share the spoils. Graham had not won a knockdown all day nor had he any more than one effort on goal. The game plan was skewed as hooked long balls came hurtling back towards the respectfully tight Boro backline.
Much like last week’s 0-0 draw with Leeds in which strikers Curtis Main and Kei Kamara started on the wings, Middlesbrough played narrowly trying to use Graham as a figurehead for ensuing runs around him. Graham operated largely with his back to goal and in stunted spurts Chalobah and Butterfield managed to get round him.
‘Boro’s main outlet was through the countering Butterfield and Adomah and the surprised reaction of both sets of fans as they were substituted was apt. It could be said that Middlesbrough got what they deserved for a painfully reserved second half performance when Whitehead handled on the line to gift Sheffield Wednesday a penalty that Nuhiu smashed home.
The game was lost and Sheffield Wednesday ended the encounter on the front foot. Had it not been for some last ditch defending from Omeruo it could have been worse for the Teesiders. The Middlesbrough coaches urged their side to calm their play down as goalkeeper Osorio continually tried to instigate counter attacks with long throws. The ball inevitably came straight back, a distinct lack of pace an obvious issue. Karanka made changes to try swing the game but his tactics and formation did not change- a lack of a plan B?
In a relatively “nothing” mid-table game it is debatable how supporters can be expected to pay £28. The atmosphere was good for the most however murmurings of discontent from both sets of fans could be heard when attacks predictably broke down. Chants of “we only want one goal” and “Attack attack” could be heard from the Boro end. Karanka and his team would probably want to treat such chants as satire and fan camaraderie rather than the thinly veiled dig at the coaching staff that it was.
Sheffield Wednesday had not won at home for three matches prior to this game and having been knocked out of the FA cup by Charlton in midweek, the home support was cagey. They probably edged this victory, a sorry indictment for Middlesbrough being the electrifying impact Wednesday substitute Jermaine Johnson had on affairs on his introduction. On the contrary Middlesbrough’s substitutes Emannuel Ledesma and Curtis Main did very little bar a bit of mindless running. Kei Kamara, a makeshift winger for ‘Boro, was most guilty of “headless chicken” sprinting and he was a total passenger for the duration of the game. Why he wasn’t withdrawn over Adomah is anyone’s guess but Adomah’s avoidance of Karanka’s handshake and Adomah’s “in and out” role could suggest unrest between the two. Under Tony Mowbray Adomah was the stand out performer along with the recently departed Marvin Emnes. Both prop up the higher echelons of Boro’s assist and goal tallies. Notably Karanka did shake Butterfield’s hand as he came off the field although this might be a handshake of congratulations for a man of the match display rather than an indication of disparities between Adomah and Karanka.
Middlesbrough are not a bad side and they have certainly improved under Karanka. It’s like watching Chelsea only Graham can’t finish and Boro’s hit and miss supporting midfield five rarely get out the blocks. They so desperately need to find their Hazard before next term if this system is to succeed in the future.
A summer of coming and goings has to be expected and early indications suggest a reliance on the loan market. Chalobah and Omeruo, both loan signings, have been impressive since joining ‘Boro. If Karanka can acquire more players of this ilk and remedy a goal-scoring drought that shows no signs of ending they should fair better next season.
Supporter’s trust over the summer must remain in their newly instated Spanish coach despite his tentative tactics. He is a friend of Jose Mourinho so he must know what he’s doing right?…