What a difference a week makes (well…9 days)! Whilst I don’t think anyone was in full panic mode after Wolves last week, there were a few typical murmurings being heard around message-boards and social media.
Fast-forward nine days and two games later and suddenly things are much more rosy: we’ve won back-to-back home games and there’s a very distinct positive feeling in the air as Garry Monk’s new system starts to find its feet at Boro.
Often imitated, never rivalled (that one is for you AV): 2Hot! 2Not! returns for a look back at the previous week of all things Boro & reveals those all-important hot & not spots. In a week when Boro’s fortunes on the pitch have been reversed; the Hot/Not thermometer has been in overdrive!
There are SO many players who could have nailed those hotspots this week and they get honourable mentions throughout (I promise it’s not personal Cyrus!) however there are two names on all Boro lips at the minute…
Indulge me if you will for a moment…we’ve all seen the script before: Boro sign a formerly reliable striker who works hard in his first few games but goals don’t really come, something doesn’t quite click (see also: Afonso Alves, Kike, Jordan Rhodes, Jelle Vossen, Bartholomew Ogbeche – the last one was a joke but you get the picture!)
Our protagonist in this story however, seemingly hasn’t got the memo regarding Boro being (generally) the final resting place for scoring records: Britt Assombalonga has been nothing short of magnificent since joining Boro. He featured last week for his all-round play - so I won’t bore you with the details again – but now he’s beginning to add goals to that. Paraphrasing a Garry Monk quote I heard not too recently, “Britt Assombalonga can be anything he wants to be, he has it all.” I’m sure Garry is delighted to learn that he absolutely has 2Hot! 2Not!’s backing on this one – he is looking every inch a £15m record signing should.
Many Boro fans were concerned about Britt’s positive contributions elsewhere on the pitch leading to a lack of opportunities in front of goal but he demonstrated that good strikers find ways to score goals, opening his Boro account with a tidy brace against Burton. His first goal akin to those we’ve seen in the Youtube clips and games for Forest: a run into the box, 1-on-1, with a lethal finish. Surprisingly, he then missed a very similar chance before doubling his tally with a tricky first-time effort. Britt demonstrated that his confidence in front of goal isn’t hampered or destroyed by one missed chance or even two games without a goal – but that his hunger for goals (check out his post-match interview if you haven’t already) and assuredness in his ability means he is ready to oblige when necessary.
I genuinely don’t believe that we have seen a striker as good as Assombalonga at Middlesbrough since the Yakubu/Hasselbaink/Viduka days and given his start and what’s at stake this season: possibly one not as important in even longer.
Undoubtedly the second name on everyone’s lips at the minute is Patrick Bamford although, honourable mentions here must go to: Cyrus Christie, Rudy Gestede & Darren Randolph. Not to mention Adam Clayton, who - for me - should be given the captaincy if Gibbo leaves.
I’ll try not to be as gushing in praise as for Assombalonga above, but Patrick Bamford has very quickly become a very important player for Boro. We’ll all agree it is far from ideal that MB10 is out of action for four weeks because of a hamstring strain, however I think all Boro fans want Bamford to get his chance and after his exploits in pre-season, want him to feature and do well this season. If it wasn’t for Braithwaite’s training injury, he may not have got the opportunity he has so firmly grasped in the position linking the attack.
Many Boro fans had identified this as a problem from the Wolves game, the midfield defensively sound and the strikers potent, but with no connect between the two. Whilst the addition and forthcoming inclusion of Lewis Baker will no doubt help with this, Bamford has gone in and shown exactly how it should be done. He has been masterful in Boro’s attacking play over the last week, finding space behind the forward-line and dictating play from there. He was many people’s MOTM against Sheffield United and it was his audacious chip over the defence that ultimately led to Rudy Gestede’s winner.
2Hot! 2Not! has already eluded to this being a huge season for Bamford personally and whilst it seems that goals will come from a variety of players in the team, I think this position in this system reduces pressure on Bamford to see goal-scoring as his only way to have a successful season…it’s almost like this position has the potential to redefine him as a player. I am certain he will score goals this season - but if he keeps up his current instrumental form, there aren’t many Boro fans that won’t be defining his season as anything but a success either way!
Not-spots were incredibly difficult this week as it is difficult to pick too much fault in anything the coaching or playing staff have done: it’s clear to most that progress is being made.
I am not, therefore, going to spend too much time dwelling on this first Not-spot.
Through no real fault of his own, the first Not-spot goes to Martin Braithwaite (sorry Martin). It is incredibly unfortunate that the player who arguably caused the most impact with fans off the pitch, suffers an early-season injury and is ruled out before he has chance to make an impression on it.
Braithwaite has only missed 16 games in his career through injury and none of those have been hamstring related, so breathe easy Boro fans, this is not a recurring problem. It’s very easy after two wins when all is positive but it did make me question how he finds his way back into the current Boro starting line-up: Patrick Bamford is owning the #10 spot; Lewis Baker is on the bench raring to go; Ashley Fletcher may find his feet in this time; Rudy Gestede is scoring winners, etc. Also, with players adjusting quickly to the new system, how much of this will Braithwaite miss? How out-of-touch might he be on return?
I suppose it is very much the kind of selection headache Garry Monk doesn’t mind having: how to fit your £9m player back into a team that is performing so well that he finds it difficult. Again, I am by no means saying Braithwaite shouldn’t or won’t get back in to the team, but it shows our incredible strength in-depth in this department.
Only time will tell.
Get well soon MB10! We all hope to see you in the Red & White as soon as possible!
I really thought about how best to put this and opted against discussing the details or hearsay of the incident and instead opting to offer a straight condemnation.
Frankly: the fact that women, children, elderly and other match-goers were caught up in violent scenes such as Saturday, in 2017, is abhorrent. The fact that a police officer has been sent to hospital because of football fan violence, in 2017, is disgusting. It is not the 1970’s and this has no place in our game and at our stadium.
The videos on social media point towards Sheffield United fans being instigators and those involved should hang their heads in shame – they won’t, because these people never have any humility or decency, otherwise they wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. I find the opposing rumours highly unlikely – that Boro fans antagonised away supporters only to run away and leave children fighting their battle – however home fans should also be encouraged to carefully consider their actions.
Hooliganistic behaviour is not big and it’s not clever.
I hate to end on a sombre note but that’s all for this week! As usual, let us know what you think through the usual channels. 2Hot! 2Not! will return on Wednesday the 25th after the Carabao Cup game against Scunthorpe. On to Forest away in the Championship on Saturday first though!