2Hot! 2Not! The Kids Are Alright!
It has been a resolute and assuring week for Boro fans this last week or so: after a convincing result against Bolton and a ground out draw at Villa Park last week, it would always be intriguing to see how the side progressed from there.
Now just over a week later, we have had a comfortable, yet confusingly also hard-fought victory at home to QPR and a sound, convincing cup performance on the second visit to Villa Park.
It's time like this when 2H2N wishes it was named something else like 5 Hot! 1 Not! There is lots to be pleased about at the moment: 4 games unbeaten; Ashley Fletcher, Lewis Baker & Patrick Bamford all impressing and scoring; Britt Assombalonga continuing his superb start; Garry Monk’s substitutions changing games, etc, etc, etc!
HOT! Marvin ‘Magic’ Johnson
Now it’s early doors in Magic’s Boro career, however imagine if you can, the possibility that some Boro fans write off a signing before he has even played?!
That is exactly what happened with MJ. There was tangible disappointment about the transfer deadline day rumours of Jota dwindling away to nothing and being replaced by some unknown from Oxford United, but Marvin Johnson has already begun to show why manager Garry Monk was intent on acquiring his services.
Johnson has appeared in 3 games for Boro so far and has positively influenced every one he has featured in; his fearless and direct wing-play has been something MFC have been missing for some time and is causing opposition defenders all manner of problems.
Against Bolton, Johnson came on for 22 minutes and managed to get himself on the scoresheet. Some will say he got lucky with some questionable goalkeeping but he showed he was willing to take the shot and his effort was rewarded. Fast-forward to Aston Villa last Tuesday when he was brought on at half-time: Johnson was instrumental in relieving pressure on the 10 men defending and his direct running prompted Henri Lansbury to chop him down and be sent off, thus evening up the numbers. This earned Magic the opportunity to start the game against QPR and he grasped it firmly with both hands. Johnson was the standout MOTM, was a constant problem for the defence and came away with two superb assists – his first one charging between the lines of the QPR midfield and defence, playing a sumptuous reverse pass for Lewis Baker to open his Boro account.
Again, it’s early doors but Johnson looks a real player. The prospect of him on the left and Traore on the right is frightening and another option to add to Garry Monk’s extensive tactical & personnel arsenal. Boro have had a real problem in identifying and developing lower league gems in recent years (forever?) but signs this season show this is beginning to change. Jota who?!
HOT! The U23 trio
The Boro U23 campaign could not have started in much hotter fashion, they have won their last 5 league games scoring 14 goals and beating several other unbeaten teams on the way – they currently sit 5 points clear at the top of the league. There have been many excellent performers with Tom Brewitt, Patrick Reading, Mikael Soisalo, Luke Armstrong & Mitchell Curry (amongst others) impressing.
This impressive start has been punctuated by the elevation of three young talents to first-team action, with all three making their debut for the side in the last few weeks. 2H2N is of course referring to Lewis Wing, George Miller and previous 2H2N feature Marcus Tavernier.
Wing, the Durham born former Shildon man made his debut against Scunthorpe in the last round of the cup and featured again against Aston Villa this week. The attacking midfielder has started the season well contributing 2 goals and 2 assists in 5 U23 appearances and has shown he is more than ready to contribute to first-team action should it be required.
19-year-old Miller recently left the Bury first-team picture to join Boro and has been integral to the impressive start the U23’s have made, with 5 goals in 5 games, including a hat-trick last game. He made his first-team debut against Aston Villa coming on for Ashley Fletcher, for 8 minutes of first-team action. Miller made himself look busy and it was a shame the game had already gone at this point as it was difficult to truly gauge how much effect he had on the game.
Tavernier has featured in 2Hot! 2Not! before, check out the article for more information on the young attacker, but it’s clear that his ability and upsurge shows no signs of cooling. He was again impressive against Aston Villa in the cup, contributing an assist and came within literal millimetres from opening his Boro first-team account.
It’s clear that Garry Monk is comfortable with placing his trust in the youth, giving more first-team debuts in his short time with the club than Aitor Karanka did in 3 years! It is also clear to these players that their U23 performances are recognised and suitably rewarded by the Boro boss – there is a clear progression plan. This should stop youngsters from becoming jaded and disillusioned and will only succeed in fostering and maintaining competition for places and competitive team spirit. Long may it continue.
If you want to catch the U23’s in action, they play their home games at Heritage Park, Bishop Auckland. Tickets are usually free to Season Ticket holders and £3 for non-ST holders. Their next fixture is at home to Stoke City U23’s on Friday 22/09/17, kick off is 7pm.
NOT! Steve Bruce & his excuses
Very hard to pick two Boro NOT!’s this week so we’ll start with the under-fire Aston Villa boss.
As football fans, we all know that refereeing decisions will come & go and will generally even each other out. Steve Bruce however, has obviously seen questionable officiating as a crutch with which to bear the increasing pressure he feels on his shoulders as Villa boss, repeatedly blaming officials and making comments to attempt to excuse his team’s inability to perform and win football matches.
After the first game, Bruce made seemingly deliberately misguided comments about each sending off: Traore was dangerous and cynical, but Lansbury’s sending off was ridiculous and never a red. Having gauged Aston Villa fan reaction, they were as astounded as Boro fans that Lansbury’s red card was then rescinded (something which Bruce claimed was justice) and Traore’s was upheld. It is the common view that either both were red or both were yellow. Serious foul play or not, the message Bruce (& The FA) sends with this is dangerous: it is now perfectly acceptable to swing a leg and kick a player from behind just because you can’t tackle them legitimately. That is NOT the type of tackle that needs to be acceptable in the game.
Steve then had another little moan after the Carabao Cup game, bemoaning his rotten luck as Tommy Elphick’s goal was disallowed. However, even Nana Bruce didn’t have the gall or audacity to complain about Elphick’s eventual red card for hauling down Paddy Bamford for the Boro penalty.
Steve, do us all a favour and stop moaning? Focus on your own inadequacies instead of deflecting it onto anybody and everybody else. Your inability to score a goal in the 60 minutes you had a man advantage wasn’t James Linington’s fault, similarly, the fact the Boro second-string comfortably turned you over on your own patch is no one’s ‘fault’ but your own.
NOT! Individual defensive complacencies
Again, a difficult week for picking NOT! performances and a stark contrast from last week when the back 5 featured as HOT! This week 2H2N wants to highlight the one problem blighting the otherwise impressive Boro rearguard.
Boro have conceded 5 goals this season and it could be argued that each one could have been stopped by one player correctly performing their job (Friend at Forest is the harshest on the individual but still).
Daniel Ayala gifted the opener to Leo Bonatini at Wolves in an otherwise drab affair. George Friend was out of position for Nottingham Forest’s first goal and Ben Gibson fouled Ben Brereton which led to a penalty being awarded for the second. At The Riverside last Saturday against QPR: Fabio was caught on the wrong side of David Wheeler, who ghosted in and slotted home to make it 1-0 to the R’s. For the second Rangers goal: Ben Gibson allowed the ball to travel 15-20 yards when he should have just cleared the ball away, this subsequently forced goalkeeper Darren Randolph to feel he had to come and resolve the issue, only confounding the mix-up further, kicking the ball against Gibson, allowing Jamie Mackie to run through and pass the ball into an empty net.
Boro showed excellent resolve against QPR to eventually come back and win the game but Wolves and Forest are the ‘ones that got away’. Boro still look a formidable defensive unit and whilst having that type of resolve to respond to falling behind is definitely positive, ideally, we would cut out the individual errors and make our lives much easier.
- Is Britt Assombalonga’s time at Middlesbrough coming to an end?
- Lewis Wing’s future at Middlesbrough uncertain
2H2N will be back next week as usual, Fulham is a huge game and a massive test of this recent resolve and unbeaten run the club are on.
2H2N predicts: Fulham haven’t started as well as some would have thought but still fancy them to score regularly. They’ll score again on Saturday but ultimately think Boro will have too much for them, we’d take a draw but will optimistically plump for a 1-2, 1-3 or 2-3 Boro win.