DUNLAVY: Boro bore me but they will go up
BEN AINSLIE is a fine sailor. I admire his achievements unreservedly. But do I want to watch him ply his trade? No thanks. Sailing may be skilful, but it is crushingly dull for spectators, a snail-paced procession deservedly consigned to midweek afternoons on Eurosport.
Same goes for Garry Kasparov. The fella was a strategic genius but you didn’t see 70,000 people flocking to watch his showdown with Deep Blue.
Achievement and aesthetics are a rare combination in sport. Try watching Middlesbrough under Aitor Karanka.
Do they win games? Absolutely. Can they defend? Better than anyone in the division. And, when it comes to shape and organisation, they make Kim Jong Un’s marching troopers look like a primary school play.
The Teessiders are a coaching manual on legs. But excitement? Inspiration? Go somewhere else.
Boro don’t so much play with the handbrake on as barricade the garage door and refuse to leave the house. It’s why they recently went 921 minutes without shipping a goal.
Karanka, a former Real Madrid defender, learned from Jose Mourinho and is a disciple to the tips of his toes.
Caution and control. Discipline over daring. Two sitters, one up top, keep it tight and grind, grind, grind. The Spaniard even has the same mirthless demeanour and sour delivery.You’re top of the table – crack a smile for God’s sake!
For the neutral, it’s frustrating. Bournemouth showed last season that attractive, attacking football and promotion to the Premier League are not mutually exclusive. The Cherries scored 96 goals and passed opponents off the park.
Karanka may argue that Eddie Howe had ball-players. He is simply wringing the best from a squad high on technique but low on pace and invention. Maybe, but he has done precious little to rectify those issues. He was the one who signed Stewart Downing, Cristhian Stuani and David Nugent, all either nudging or the wrong side of 30.
He was the one who replaced Lee Tomlin – the cavalier spirit Boro had – with Diego Fabbrini and consigned him to the bench.
He is the one who persists in playing two holding midfielders at home against even the most modest opposition.
It may sound harsh to dig out a guy whose side sits second in the table, especially one in such a perilous profession. But I believe a manager has a duty to entertain. Howe crafted an entertaining side. Karanka has not. That is a straight choice.
So what, you might say. If it wins promotion, who cares? Certainly not the Riverside regulars aching for an end to six years of top-flight exile.
Yet Karanka’s conservatism cost Boro promotion last season. And, after seeing a five-point lead in the Championship become a one-point deficit, alarm bells are jangling again.
Forest played their opponents like a fiddle last weekend. Dougie Freedman knew that, if his side sat deep, forced the ball wide and nullified Downing, Boro lacked the pace, invention or personnel to do anything about it.
He knew that Karanka wouldn’t deviate from his tried and trusted formula.
What’s most infuriating is that Boro can play.The 2-0 destruction of Derby was a perfect display of attacking football.Their players were like greyhounds let off the leash.
I still believe Boro will go up. That back four is simply too good. But they won’t win many hearts along the way.