2Hot! 2Not! The Luck O’ The Irish!
Boro head into the first international break after a disjointed and lacklustre performance at home to Preston. It’s clear that there is still some work to be done but by the time we reach Bolton on September 9, the transfer window will have closed and we will know our final squad-list for the first half of the season.
Not only this but Garry Monk will have had two weeks to digest the Preston game, work on the training ground and be ready to bounce back with a very winnable game at Bolton - no doubt roared on by a large Boro contingent.
Despite the underwhelming performance, there is still business at hand: the show must go on! Despite the pretty slim pickings for HOT-spots, 2Hot! 2Not! will still attempt to condense the previous week’s Boro action into those all-important four spots.
HOT – Darren Randolph
Despite his considerable international experience, previous position as a Premier League starter for West Ham and his stellar contribution to Birmingham City’s fortunes last time in the division, Randolph has still found himself under scrutiny from a (small) portion of Boro’s supporters. Perhaps it’s because goalkeeper has often been a bit of a problem position for us – Dimi & Schwarzer aside – or perhaps it’s because, some (and I stress that word) Boro fans are seemingly never happy or satisfied with transfer business!
Whatever the actual reason, Randolph has been nothing but solid since taking the starting spot at the beginning of the season and certainly saved us points on Saturday against Preston, with a string of fine saves. He has defied West Ham fans’ criticism of “not commanding his area” and has gained in confidence each game and now looks assured as our last line of defence. He has kept 3 clean sheets in 5 games thus far and is part of (currently) the joint third stingiest defence in the league – it would have been 4 clean sheets if not for Dani Ayala’s misplaced back-pass at Wolves. Now I am not suggesting that Randolph is solely responsible for the defensive solidity, however on Saturday he kept us in the game and saved us a point. If that’s not the reason why you sign a goalkeeper, then I don’t know what is.
Randolph has again been called up to the Ireland squad for the international break and will likely start both WC qualifiers against Georgia and Serbia. Something to look out for Boro fans!
HOT – Cyrus Christie
Another man recently called to the Ireland international setup makes it an all-Green 1-2 in the HOT-spots this week. After several weeks of being on the cusp of appearing in 2H2N, he’s finally made it!
There’s not too much to say about Christie really…I like him as a player and think he’s endearing himself to Boro fans with a series of good performances, stemming right back to the Augsburg friendly. I’d argue that C-Squared (CC, get it?) has been one of Boro’s most consistent performers thus far and looks an absolute snip at £2.5m. He is forward-thinking, he can beat a man and he can deliver a cross. Three attributes which are valued, but often lacking in a full-back.
Garry Monk has said that his is a “squad by design” and many questioned the capture of Christie early on but if GM is to play a high full-back system as we have seen (with Adam Clayton dropping in to provide cover) then it’s clear to see why he was so keen to bring Christie in to play there.
NOT – Garry Monk
I must confess, I was away again when I read the team-sheet for Saturday’s game and I could not figure out what the manager was planning. It’s now Tuesday morning and I am still trying to figure it out.
I think it was 3-5-2 with Friend at CB but other local journalists viewed it as 4-4-2 and had other views. What’s plain to everyone post-Preston is that it was a bit of a mess and no doubt contributed to the performance.
Let me preface the next section or two by saying that I agree with what Monk is trying to do and I know our net spend is only £6m give-or-take.
All that said, we have still spent £45m on new players and are still lining up with three full-backs on the pitch and having to resort to bringing on Stewart Downing, who was – up until a week or two ago – completely out of first team plans and training with the U23’s whilst the club were trying to broker a transfer.
All this rests at Monk’s door. In 2H2N’s opinion, the team selection was wrong. Dropping Patrick Bamford, not including Grant Leadbitter and shoehorning an out-of-sorts George Friend in were all questionable. It must also be far from ideal for Monk that he firmly set his stall out on Downing and has now been forced to retreat. If this is down to lack of numbers for a particular system, then again, this rests with the manager.
The next few days are going to be massive for Monk & Boro as the transfer window creaks shut. Preston showed there are some gaps which still need filling and some question marks hanging over other areas of the squad. Priorities are obvious: keep/adequately replace Ben Gibson, strengthen further at centre back and bring in an attacking/wide player or two that can inject a bit of creativity. There are rumours of lots of clubs circling for Gibson; Ryan Kent choosing a loan spell in the Bundesliga and Boro-fan transfer favourite Jota possibly opting for Fulham or the Premier League before Boro. With options and time running low, it could get a bit panicky come Thursday evening. One thing is for certain, it will be a huge test of Garry Monk’s strategy and mettle.
NOT – Jonny Howson & the Boro midfield
First and foremost, this spot should go to Adama Traore, but thankfully it seems he is finally on his way out of the club after apparently storming out after not being selected at the weekend (perhaps this was why Downing was involved?) so seems a waste of a spot. Traore is an absolute myth of a footballer and him spitting his dummy out is nothing new, yet still completely ridiculous. He previously refused to play at Villa and seemingly still has a sense of entitlement that far outweighs his 2 assists and 0 goals in 34 Boro appearances.
2H2N doesn’t want to dig the boot in too much at Boro new boy Jonny Howson however there needs to be an improvement sharpish. Adam Forshaw featured in a NOT-spot last week and Lewis Baker struggled against Preston. It’s clear there are issues in the Boro midfield. Forshaw has been lambasted by fans for failing to positively influence games and now he has been left out, it’s clear the Boro hoards have rounded quickly on Howson as the next target. For the most part, the midfield looks confused and Howson is struggling to get into games. His creative figures from previous clubs are solid and he has a respectable goal and assists return which would suggest he can turn his form around. He did have trouble finding his form at Leeds in 2008-09 before becoming an important player for them so chances are he is still just finding his feet (hopefully!).
I think the solution to the midfield problem however is very simple and his name is Grant Leadbitter. Grant put in a quality performance against Scunthorpe but more importantly is a leader, on and off the pitch. He is a blood-and-guts performer who will not accept mediocrity or lack of effort from anyone and as such, should be able to pull struggling/younger players like Howson and Baker up by the bootstraps. He will give the midfield identity & character and showed last time in the division is no stranger to getting forward and contributing in an attacking sense. The Bolton game on September 9 is the perfect opportunity to allow Grant to showcase this.
2Hot! 2Not! in its original guise will not feature next week due to the international break however will be back on September 13 to review the Bolton and Aston Villa away games in the Championship.