Bread and butter and pivotal window - Boro run in has potential for pain
Unity – the state of being united or joined as a whole. Not really how you’d describe the current situation amongst the Boro support right now – then again, when is it ever?
There’s always divisions, of course there is, football is a hive of opinions. The beautiful game is just that because we can all offer our two-penn’orth on the many talking points, and when it comes to fans of the same side you always find factions who have differing views.
However, right now there’s a clear divide and it’s only getting wider.
Bread and butter
Following the dismal draw against League Two Newport County at the weekend, where a last minute effort from former Boro Academy graduate (naturally) Matty Dolan forced a replay, the issues of home form and lack of ambition at The Riverside were brought into even sharper focus.
Of the last 14 home games, starting with the stalemate against Swansea back in September, Boro have managed to win just four of those games in all competitions. By contrast, in the eleven away fixtures in that time Tony Pulis’s men have come away with five wins (six if you count the penalty shootout success in the Carabao Cup at Preston), losing only once in the drab encounter down at Loftus Road in December.
It’s long been considered that away from home Boro tend to prosper in comparison, but when it comes to your bread and butter, your absolute staple throughout any campaign where promotion is the target; it’s your home form that is key.
The Boro side that gained promotion in 2015/16 were well known to be pretty comfortable on their travels, picking up ten wins, but it was their home form that really impressed. They made The Riverside a fortress, amassing 16 wins, that’s 48 points.
In the 14 league games played so far in front of the home support, only six times have Pulis’s side picked up three points.
Its form that’s similar to that of away from home (six wins from 13), but when it comes to putting bums on seats it’s what happens at home that dictates season card renewals.
And that’s why, despite being generally supportive of Pulis this season, I’m now starting to question him more and more as the weeks go by.
When you attend an away game, by its very nature you’re already expected to be up against it, be on the back foot perhaps, the home side taking the game to you in front of an expectant support. You can pretty much accept that for the most part you’re going to be the team answering the questions the opposition is asking.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t be demanding good form on the road, and as stated above our form away from The Riverside is very good, but it’s at home you really want to see your team excel.
Quite frankly, that just isn’t happening.
You see, Middlesbrough fans are expectant too, like any other teams home support, they want to see their team on the front foot, asking the questions. However, what they’re getting at the moment is anything but.
Whilst I’m not one for booing, it’s hard not to understand fan frustration as Pulis sets up his team in a way that wouldn’t look out of place if you were the underdog at a divisional rival. That’s not to say that the team he puts out isn’t capable of perhaps making more of the game then they have been, they’re not absolved of blame when it comes to examining the poor home record, but the onus lies with Pulis to set his team up to take the game to the opposition.
He’s often been heard throughout the season that we’re short on width, as well as the ability to unlock defences, and whilst that might be true, in a game such as Saturday’s in the cup we did have some width in Marcus Tavernier and new recruit Rajiv Van La Parra sat on the bench.
The sort of players who need game time, Van La Parra more so to get fit, yet whilst Tavernier only saw ten minutes of action, Dutchman Van La Parra failed to make it onto the pitch.
I’ll defend Pulis the best I can as I do genuinely feel like he’s got the Club’s best interests at heart, but I find it hard to defend the lack of use of two players who can make a difference in a game where we hardly looked menacing.
And let's not forget, this was against a side two divisions and 56 places below us in the football league pyramid.
But as the transfer deadline looms we find ourselves with that familiar feeling of dread. That we’ll miss out on top targets once more, that we’ll once again have to do without the width and creativity we can all see we’re lacking.
Potential for pain
As we all know, the last few days of a transfer window are a mighty scramble, especially in January where poor decisions are aplenty. Prices are hiked as clubs try to hang on to players, and in a climate we’re faced with at Middlesbrough, where we’re told money isn’t exactly flowing from the coffers, our hopes of getting the targets we require hang in the balance – a real knife edge in fact.
A lot of importance has been placed on this window, not least by an expectant fan base, but also by Pulis who’s pointed to January as a time where replenishment in attacking areas is essential if we’re to maintain a promotion push. Failure to deliver in that department could paint a potentially painful final few months of the season.
Our away form will no doubt continue to tick along nicely, but when the pressure is really on, when stepping out on home turf with the hopes and expectations of an increasingly restless crowd on their minds, do the players we have currently possess enough to bring about a miraculous upturn in fortunes?
Pulis seems to think we don’t have enough to maintain a promotion push with the players we have currently, a train of thought that hardly inspires confidence in those that he's able to call on presently, never mind the supporters.
If we can’t add what we need, then things could take a real turn for the worse.
I fear if things don’t improve rapidly at home then the atmosphere could well become problematic, more so than it has already.
Whether it’s right for fans to boo, whether it’s about some of them lacking perspective, at the end of the day they pay their hard earned money and demand a little more purposeful football than what’s been on offer of late. The longer we go without it the bigger the divide between the 'Pulis In' and 'Pulis Out' camps.
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In a transfer window that’s become absolutely pivotal to our seasons hopes, and at a time where unity seems to be but a distant memory, Grant Leadbitter’s departure seems almost symbolic given his peak years were at a time where unity and togetherness stood front and centre at The Boro.
Right now, those sorts of feelings couldn't be any further away.