Following the dreaded international break, where enthusiasm for anything England related seems to be at an all-time low right now, it was a relief to get back down to the nitty gritty of domestic football.
After the damp squib of Preston at home, where Garry Monk threw a bizarre curveball with his team selection, the quicker we returned to action the better to try and erase the 0-0 draw and the memories it left us with.
Whilst not one to panic or call out the manager too early on, after all he’s still getting to grips with his newly assembled squad, I have to admit I was massively underwhelmed by the game against Alex Neil’s unfancied charges. In fact, Neil’s men could’ve come away with all three points had it not been for some top keeping by Darren Randolph. Along with Cyrus Christie, Randolph is fast becoming an unlikely fan favourite, their signings being met with much less fanfare than the other more trendy names acquired during the summer. Fan reaction in some quarters was rather hostile; though there’s lots of humble pie being eaten right now it has to be said.
However, any attention Randolph was hoping to attract after yet another solid performance between the sticks at Bolton will have to wait, perhaps unfairly, although he doesn’t strike you as the type who seeks the limelight. That’s not to say he shouldn’t have any shone on him at any time, however, given a certain Adama Traore decided to put in barnstorming performance rendering anyone else to being a mere footnote, the likelihood of him coming away with significant column inches was pretty slim.
Even two-goal Britt Assombalonga, £15m record signing and all that, had to settle for a support role given Traore’s show-stopping display wowed everyone, Bolton fan’s included.
Usually the assist maker plays second fiddle to the guy on the end of the cross/pass, the striker taking the glory for getting his team on the score sheet; however this weekend was something of which I don’t think I’ve seen in a long time.
Given the attention the former Barcelona & Aston Villa man gets, the Spaniard being the epitome of an opinion divider, the sort of display put in at The Macron this weekend was only going to result in one thing – glowing praise and a huge outpouring of fan enthusiasm – and why not?
It’s easy to get carried away and announce the game on Saturday as some sort of awakening, that Traore is now all of a sudden the player we all wanted him to be, but the signs are there that he’s on the right path.
In many ways it’s a double-edged sword for me.
Whilst he lacked that end product on a very regular and frustrating basis, he still had the ability to change games and put teams on the back foot. He instantly got us 30/40 yards up the field, pushing defences further and further back. He frightened people with his pace. To my mind, him being on the field was exciting enough, knowing what he brought to the party, so what if he couldn’t lay it on a plate every time he attempted a cross? But yet, that did become rather tiresome. Watching many a chance got to waste due to his uncanny ability to excite, only to bore moments later, saw fans tear their hair out (dangerous game for me, haven’t got a lot left as it is). But he was unpredictable, ridiculous and quite frankly mesmerising at times.
We cried out for an end product.
“If he had that, though, he’d still be at Barcelona” we all said rather flippantly.
True, had he got the full package then he wouldn’t have endured relegation at Villa, he’d be lining up alongside Messi, Suarez and co. He wouldn’t have ended up on Teesside for what seems like a snip at £7m in today’s over-inflated market.
It was almost as if we lost our rag with him, yet we’d be loathed to seem him elsewhere. What if he exploded at his next club, realising the potential we could all see? How much of a missed opportunity would that be? Can’t deny you’d be a little disappointed.
However, whilst that end product evaded him there was always a bigger chance of him staying, thus giving him more chance to realise his potential with us. We could get to witness something special in a Middlesbrough kit. Hard to compare him to Juninho, but since TLF have we had someone who got us off our seats on such a regular basis? Struggling to think of anyone who has given me goose-bumps more than Traore since the Brazilian magician graced the hallowed turf at The Riverside.
At Bolton on Saturday, though, the end product arrived – twice. Two assists, both coming after trademark Traore runs. The first was a lesson in determination as well as skill and pace, the winger fighting off what felt like the whole of the Trotters line-up as he barged, harried, hustled and bustled his way to the by-line. The cross was perfect for Assombalonga to head expertly home.
The second involved what we have become more accustomed to. Showing searing pace and the excellent ability to ride challenges, he skipped past two Bolton men, before entering the box and proceeding to glide past David Wheater like he wasn’t there. He slid the ball across without panic, as Assombalonga had the easiest of tap-ins.
That end product, the Holy Grail, had been achieved on multiple occasions. We were being spoilt.
What I found quite telling was that, for both of the goals he laid on, it was he who actually received the acclaim. As well as Assombalonga, the majority of the team directed their celebrations and praise towards Traore. He was the main man. Take a look at the pictures and it actually gives off the impression that he’d scored, players mobbing him. Not that I’m saying he should be denied those moments, but it’s rare you see the assist-maker become the focus of such celebrations.
There’s obviously a lot of affection for him, and maybe the players saw it as their chance to draw attention to him (as if needed) after many doubts over his ability to provide for the team. But with attention drawn, does he now become coveted elsewhere if this becomes a regular thing? Of course there have been rumours in the not so distant past, Chelsea being credited with more than an interest in Janaury, but displays like the one this weekend will surely result in more. You’d have to think so anyway.
This is where the double-edged sword comes into play.
Should he produce week in week out then we’re going to come under intense pressure to sell from those who wish to snatch him away. Big bids will be made, and whilst we’re in no desperate need to sell, this isn’t the sort of situation like Ben Gibson’s was. Traore has no emotional attachment to Boro, he’s more likely to push for a move if given the hint there’s one in the offing, especially if Antonio Conte comes calling again.
It seems laughable, indeed it is, to suggest we’d rather him produce on a more sporadic basis, just so we can hang on to him. In the past he’s almost been like the partner we’ve all had at times, you don’t want them yet you don’t want anyone else to have them either.
We of course want him to become more consistent. Imagine that sort of performance week in week out for The Boro. Put it this way, whilst a one-man team we’re most certainly not, there’s no denying he has the ability to win games all by himself if he reaches his undeniable potential.
In the event of that happening though, we best be braced for a farewell, because ultimately there’s only one place he’ll go with those performances – right to the very top.