Call me old-fash­ioned but Boro must adapt

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - Adam Virgo

BARELY a month ago, Mid­dles­brough were eight points clear of third place and set­ting clean sheet records all over the place. The ti­tle looked nailed on. Five games and a ma­jor wob­ble later, the Teessiders trail Hull and are back in the thick of a pro­mo­tion scrap. For Ai­tor Karanka, th­ese are wor­ry­ing times. So what’s the prob­lem?

De­fen­sively, Boro are su­perb. Dimi Kon­stan­topou­los, along with David Stock­dale at Brighton and Tom Heaton at Burn­ley, has been among the best goal­keep­ers in the divi­sion.

Daniel Ayala and Ben Gib­son are good, solid cen­tre-backs. Th­ese days, peo­ple love a guy who can play out from the back, but de­fend­ers are there to de­fend. Over the years, peo­ple seem to have for­got­ten that. They bark on about Adams and Bould and Ke­own at Arse­nal, but those guys weren’t ball-play­ers. They kicked it, headed it, made tack­les.

Tack­les

I al­ways re­mem­ber when I was at Celtic and Gor­don Stra­chan said to me: “You should have the fewest touches on the pitch. The minute you get the ball, give it to some­one bet­ter than you. Petrov or Len­non – that’s your first pass.”

Cen­tre-halves aren’t there to play. They are there to keep clean sheets. Boro pos­sess that and it’s their big­gest strength. But even the best de­fend­ers can’t be per­fect all of the time. If you aren’t scor­ing goals, the boys at the back will even­tu­ally feel the heat.

David Nu­gent isn’t scor­ing as they’d hoped. Cristhian Stu­ani hasn’t net­ted in eight. Jor­dan Rhodes has joined from Black­burn for £11m, but you can’t just ex­pect him to come in and keep scor­ing if you don’t give him chances.

Jor­dan is a goalscorer, one of the best in the busi­ness. But he isn’t Ross McCor­mack.You don’t see him drop deep, turn on the ball and run at de­fend­ers be­fore belt­ing it in the top cor­ner.

He isn’t Benik Afobe, who is big enough to hold the ball up and quick enough to run in be­hind. He plays in the 18yard box, wait­ing for crosses, pounc­ing on re­bounds and de­flec­tions. That’s when he comes alive. But, with­out ser­vice, he can go miss­ing for three games at a time.You won’t even re­alise he’s touched the ball. If Boro want Rhodes to fire, they have to load the bul­lets.

Per­son­ally, I think Karanka’s per­sis­tence with one up top works against him. I’ve seen a lot of con­ti­nen­tal man­agers and they tend to stick to their guns.

In Europe, 4-4-2 is widely seen as ar­chaic and very rarely will a man­ager de­vi­ate from one up top. But, some­times, you must adapt to where you’re play­ing. In the Cham­pi­onship, de­fend­ers make more mis­takes, and play­ing two up front gives you a chance to cap­i­talise.

Burn­ley do it. Brighton do it. Le­ices­ter are lead­ing the Premier League with what most peo­ple would call an ‘old-fash­ioned’ 4-4-2.

Rocky

It does send a mes­sage of in­tent. As a cen­tre-half, I’m not happy see­ing Nu­gent and Rhodes tak­ing the kick-off. I’d much rather have one to mark than two. It also lets you de­fend from the front, giv­ing the back four a breather.

What­ever Karanka does to ar­rest this slump, con­sis­tency is key. I don’t think peo­ple who haven’t played can ever un­der­stand the in­ten­sity of the Cham­pi­onship. Over the course of a sea­son, ev­ery­body will have a rocky patch.

What counts is how you re­act. When Boro were on that phe­nom­e­nal run of nine clean sheets, the team looked set­tled and that fos­tered con­fi­dence. Now, the man­ager’s started to jig­gle it around, try­ing to find the best for­mula.

Derby did that last sea­son. Fly­ing in Fe­bru­ary, they hit a brick wall of bad re­sults.

From that point on­wards, Steve McClaren was fid­dling with his team, try­ing to make some­thing hap­pen and, in the end, they com­pletely fell apart.

Karanka must avoid that mis­take, but also find a way to cre­ate chances.

With fix­tures against Ful­ham, Black­burn, Wolves, Rother­ham and Charl­ton com­ing up, the next month is when pro­mo­tion will be won and lost.

PIC­TURE: Pro Sport

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SER­VICE, PLEASE! Jor­dan Rhodes needs help

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