Despite the Forest league defeat, not all is doom and gloom Boro fans! The system is still showing signs of progressing and we are 1 point better off after 4 games than under Karanka during the promotion season. There’s lots to be optimistic about.
With all that in mind, I’ll keep you waiting no longer! The 2Hot! 2Not! thermometer has been casting its beady eye over proceedings. Here are your HOT and NOT spots for the previous week.
HOT - Rudy Gestede
Six weeks ago, I can’t imagine there would have been many Boro fans that would have turned down £6m for the Beast from Benin, however those saying ‘accept’ to the recent Leeds transfer offer are now firmly in the minority. After a difficult opening spell to his Boro career, Rudy Gestede has really begun to turn his Boro career around. Having not started at Wolves and with many seeing him as surplus to requirements, what’s changed?
After the training ground injury to Martin Braithwaite, Garry Monk opted to stick firmly with his system of 3 strikers up front, giving Rudy the opportunity to actually start some games, something which he’s struggled to do since joining from Villa in January. It was an opportunity that the big fella would seize with both hands when he capitalised upon some sketchy defending to give Boro 3 points at home to Sheffield United. Although he hasn’t hit the net since - with Britt Assombalonga taking most of the headlines and plaudits in that department - Gestede has contributed in more subtle ways. He assisted Assombalonga’s first at home to Burton and semi-assisted the second. He was one of few players to come away from the City ground with their head held high after an industrious and effective performance as one of the front 3 and if it wasn’t for Assombalonga squandering chances, would have had a few more assists.
Rudy is showing us a different player from the “poor man’s Andy Carroll” we all thought we’d signed: he’s settling into Monk’s team well with clever movement, good link-up play and ability with the ball on the deck. In hindsight, I honestly don’t think we should have expected anything else…in hard times for the club and with many not covering themselves in glory (see: Marten De Roon, Gaston Ramirez, Antonio Barragan, etc); Rudy has consistently gave maximum effort without any fuss, he’s kept his head down and got on with whatever job his manager at the time has given him…he’s been an absolute model professional and deserves this chance. The change in Boro fans’ attitudes towards a bid for him is the proof in the pudding.
HOT - Marcus Tavernier
It was revealed in early July that Tavernier had been invited to train with the new manager Garry Monk’s first-team squad - clearly Tavernier had something which Monk wanted a closer look at. Perhaps this wasn’t overly surprised considering Tavernier - who was originally a left-back but now primarily plays at left-wing - had scored 13 goals in 29 appearances through 15/16 and 16/17 at youth level.
Tavernier has thus far survived the pre-season loan cull that has seen other promising youngsters Harry Chapman and Callum Cooke head out of the club temporarily. He was impressive at left-wing in preseason and featured in three first-team games against Oxford, Chesterfield and Rochdale.
Fast-forward to last week and the U23’s continued their fine, 100% start to their season with a convincing 4-0 win at home to Norwich. Unsurprisingly - perhaps due to his inclusion here - Tavernier was the star of the show, netting a first half hat-trick to take his total for the season to 4 goals in 2 games.
As I write this from my hotel room in Chester, I see his Instagram post and subsequent teamsheet confirmation of his first-team debut against Scunthorpe in the Carabao Cup. Tavernier has been consistently excellent for the U23s with a goal return from the wing that would suggest he’s ahead of his peers in terms of development. In a squad that finds itself short on effective wide players and with a manager who trusts in youth, this could be a breakthrough season for Marcus. One thing is abundantly clear: he is very much on the radar of the Boro boss and is doing everything he can to keep it that way.
After Scunthorpe addition: I can’t say I’m overly surprised to see that Marcus has put in a quality performance from left midfield and although he didn’t score, managed an assist. Scunthorpe are a tidy League One outfit considered to be in the promotion hunt this year and Tavernier has again demonstrated he is capable above U23 level, I really hope this momentum is harnessed.
NOT - Britt Assombalonga
In a harsh reversal of fortunes: the Boro record signing’s fortunes have been plunged into an ice bath this week, with a nervous performance away at his former club Nottingham Forest, seeing his two week HOT-streak come to an abrupt end.
The stage was set with two goals at home to Burton in midweek; the Boro account was open, the pressure was off; surely a return to the City Ground couldn’t have come at a better time?!
Unfortunately for Britt and Boro, it wasn’t quite the return we were all hoping for. A forgettable day at the office to say the least saw Britt pass up several gilt-edged opportunities in a game of the finest margins. We can all argue the penalty was soft, the offside was debatable and whatever else (the ref was generally awful), but if Britt converts like we (and they) know he can, we’d have resoundingly beaten Forest and none of that would have mattered.
It’s not that the sole pressure for goals in the team rests on Britt’s shoulders, it was just the perfect storm of circumstance with multiple chances falling his way and him failing to convert any of them. The home fans jeered and booed his every move from warmup and it was just too much, too soon for him - he almost tried TOO hard. Mark Warburton talked Assombalonga up after the game and I’m certain he’ll be back with a bang. Chalk it off and go again.
NOT - Adam Forshaw
Now 2Hot! 2Not! doesn’t want to be accused of any bandwagon jumping, however the second NOT-spot this week goes to Adam Forshaw.
The social media and messageboard piranhas are circling on Forshaw rapidly and some might say they’re already feeding. Forshaw has been highlighted as a weak link in the 4 games so far, with many lamenting his ‘careful’ approach (that’s putting it politely). 2Hot! 2Not! agrees there’s certainly some cause for complaint.
Last season saw the stark realisation that our midfield was too negative and this seems to be continuing despite revolution elsewhere on the pitch: Bob Mortimer tweeted recently that only 2 of Howson, Forshaw, Clayton & Leadbitter should ever play at one time due to similarities and general lack of creativity (Howson is arguably the most creative but hasn’t shown it at Boro yet). Many fans complain that Forshaw kills attacking momentum through sideways & backwards passes and with Clayton nailed as a starter; Howson being the midfield summer signing and Lewis Baker’s attacking abilities coming in, it’s easy to see how Forshaw easily loses his starting place.
Only time will tell on this one and Forshaw is a very useful player, the unfortunate thing for him is that he's currently third in a list of four, for - what many see - as two positions in midfield. It's clear that Baker has come from Chelsea to play and he brings a separate skill-set to our other midfielders. Once he settles, he'll likely assume the third position in a midfield of Howson, Clayton & Baker.