Monk has work to do, but is it really as bad as it looks

After the way things had gone against Norwich and Brentford, it was fair to say that the international break had come at a good time. Usually there’s frustration when the latest round of international fixtures come about, especially given the general apathy for England right now.

Monk has work to do, but is it really as bad as it looks

However, the feelings of frustration this time were centred on Boro’s failings, repeated ones at that, so perhaps the break was a welcome one?

I know I’d seen enough activity on social media to recognise that fans, positive or not, had lots to say about Garry Monk’s performance so far, as well as his players’ too. As usual, there’s already a split forming, and whilst it’s not quite reached the level of last season’s fall out, there’s definitely some debate to be had out there.

After this weekend’s draw at Barnsley the talk among fans has only intensified.

Reality check

Now, I’m not one for preventing debate, or shouting down others who choose to have a differing opinion to mine, but I’ve got to admit I’m already finding it a little tiring. We’re a quarter of the season in, hardly critical where we find ourselves, but I find myself seeing posts from fans calling for “Monk out” or the equally comical “he’s not up to the job”. One even said “the jobs too big for him” – I mean, come on, too big? I know we don’t see ourselves as some two-bit, tin pot club, but how anyone can say the job or the club is too big for him is beyond me. A reality check needed.

This is a manager who took over at Swansea in difficult circumstances, as a rookie, saved them from relegation, and then led them to their highest ever Premier League position in his only full season in charge. Depending on your viewpoint regarding time and how much a manager deserves to turn things round, you could look at his sacking as terribly harsh. But there are those who say his sacking was fair, as well as pointing out how Leeds fell away last season under him, which won’t surprise you that these are the same fans who aren’t convinced by him at Boro either.

To me that, right now, it’s a case of his face not fitting - at least for some anyway.

I know we’ve become accustomed to promotion challenges, winning games regularly (well at least at Championship level anyway), as well as that briefest of stints in the Premier League, but let’s not kid ourselves, we’re not invincible. Nor should we have ever thought we were.

I’m a little bored of reading about how much we’ve spent and how that means we’re seriously underachieving right now – yes, we’re not doing as well as anyone expected. I’ll be honest, I at least felt we’d be sat in the top six right now, but as it happens we’re not. We’re sat in mid-table, but like any other Championship campaign that doesn’t mean we’re miles off the pace; looking at it right now we’re just three points from 6th place where Monk’s previous club Leeds currently sit. They’re on a run of three losses in a row after what was a promising start, just shows that things can change.

As it happens, we’ve only lost one game in the last 10, not disaster form that’s for sure. Yes, there’s too many draws in there, we’ve not won for a month, doesn’t sound great, but we’re still in touch with what’s above us.

Time and perspective

Without a doubt Monk has issues to iron out, namely what’s his favourite formation, get it working and stick with it. The glaringly obvious slow starts, falling behind too often and giving ourselves a mountain to climb, that’s got to stop. Fans have absolutely got a right to call the manager out on those sorts of things, as well question what the players are doing in allowing it to happen time and time again, would never deny that. But to boo like the other week (albeit only small sections were guilty of that) as well as questioning whether Monk is right for the job? Do me a favour.

It’s all about time and perspective for me.

Time needed for Monk to get things right. I know he’s probably just about exhausted the honeymoon period, but it’s been a big summer of change at The Riverside. We’ve gone from a completely different regime, and whilst the core group are there from the 15/16 promotion campaign, there have been plenty of personnel changes on and off the pitch. Some mention the money spent and I agree it was huge, but so was the amount brought back in too. Plus, we all know prices are seriously inflated these days, so it’s unfair to assume a player ought to hit the ground running due to his price tag. I’ve often said this; the players don’t agree a fee for themselves, the clubs do, so it’s unfair to judge someone on their fee, at least this early on anyway.

There have been injuries and suspensions that have disrupted team selection, all seemingly coming at inopportune moments. Rudy Gestede looked to be on the way to establishing himself before picking up his freak leg injury. Martin Braithwaite’s impact since he’s returned tells you all need to know about how much he’s been missed, Monk clearly seeing him as integral to his plans.

Much talked about Adama Traore’s red card at Aston Villa came at a time we all thought he’d got to that ‘penny dropped’ moment, so once again Monk had to rethink his way of playing and look at rejigging his line-up.

Unsettling in defence

I guess it’s in defence, where we’ve been rather charitable at times so far this season, where you could possibly call Monk out on what’s happening there. He doesn’t look to have made his mind up on who gets to partner Ben Gibson, with Dael Fry looking to have made the second centre back spot his own until his gaffe against Norwich. Harshly perhaps he’s been left out since, with Ryan Shotton making his debut against Brentford. A less than convincing display from the former Birmingham man saw Dani Ayala return at Barnsley, his first appearance in the league since the opening day, where he too dropped a clanger. His performance on Saturday was far from assured, so where does that leave him? Monk has to get this sorted, and fast.

It’s been rather unsettling to see us concede, especially in the manner that we have too. We’ve become accustomed to being hard to break down and very, very tight at the back, but right now we’re anything but. However, we knew that under Aitor Karanka such football came at cost; a lack of entertainment. Monk is obviously trying to change that, but we’re in the midst of that change, mistakes will be made. I wonder how many who found Karanka’s defensive football dull are the ones now moaning about Monk and currently overreacting? It’s a tough job to alter the mentality of a club and how they play the game, especially one that had been so radically pursued over the last few years.

I’ve often found myself calling for perspective at varying times throughout the last few seasons, and once again I think it’s needed now.

Realigning of expectations?

Do the current issues such as the sloppily conceded goals and slow starts give cause for concern? Absolutely yes, of course they do. To deny that would be a classic case of rose-tinted behaviour.

However, like I’ve already touched on, we’re only three points from the play-off spots, just 12 games in and with 102 points still to play for. Is it really a time to panic and doubt whether Monk is the man for the job? Absolutely not, it’s just simply too early for such talk.

This is a new era on Teesside. After the Karanka years it was always going to take time to change the whole ethos of the club. I hesitate to use the word, but ‘transition’ springs to mind. I know it tends to be a byword for reigning in expectations, but perhaps that’s what we need to do. Promotion has got to be the aim, that shouldn’t change, but maybe our view of how it should be played out ought to be changed a little.

Will we win the league at a canter? Some would say we should, but this league is tough, gruelling and long, with current evidence suggesting that won’t happen. Should we expect to finish in the automatic spots? Perhaps not. It’s definitely achievable, of course it is, but we don’t have a divine right to be there, even if we do have a squad that’s the envy of the league.

At the end of the day, we’re in among a pack of 12-14 clubs whose wish is to get out of this league, and given we took seven years before finally making it out in 15/16 perhaps we need to be a little more realistic about what our expectations are.

I know some will think I’m doing my best to make excuses for what has been an underwhelming start, there’s no getting away from that, but I honestly don’t think it’s as bad as it looks. However, there’s no getting away from the fact that Monk has to get his team firing on all cylinders sooner rather than later.

Keep the faith.
UTB.