Middlesbrough 4 Yeovil Town 1
by Dave Hearn
It’s a strange feeling to come away from a game in which your side has won 4-1 courtesy of some really lovely football, with countless shots at goal(twenty-two, as it happens), registering their first home win of the season in the process, and not feel entirely comfortable with what you’ve just watched but that’s exactly how I’m feeling at the moment. Chuffed we’ve won, chuffed with most of the attacking play and chuffed we didn’t buckle after yet another horrendous start but the state of the defence at the moment is providing ample reason to worry.
We went with what was a genuine 4-3-3 system, with Emnes in for Carayol and Kamara shifted to the right-hand side with Adomah moving over to the left. Admittedly, when I saw the team-sheet I was surprised to see Emnes in ahead of Jutkiewicz and I did do a little moan in my head but I was more than prepared to wait and see how we started the game before reaching any conclusions. The immediate difference, for me, was that the midfield was further up the pitch from the very start of the game and that allowed to players on the flanks to be right up alongside Emnes. The early exchanges were very tame but at least we weren’t allowing Yeovil Town to strut around the pitch and feel their way into the game like we did with Bournemouth and Huddersfield Town.
The two or three minutes of satisfaction I felt at this change in mentality, however, were soon shat all over when Rhys Williams inexplicably allowed an innocuous-looking punt forward to bounce instead of putting his foot through it; Liam Davis pounced on the loose ball to race clear and tuck away without too much fuss. There was a bit of booing in the stands, like people feared the worst, the absolute worst, but the players deserve a lot of credit for fighting their way back into it so quickly after what was a truly dreadful goal to concede.
We soon equalised through Grant Leadbitter and went on to pretty much dominate the half, indeed we went on to dominate the game really, to all intents and purposes, though for all of the good stuff we were playing we were still all-over-the-show at the back. Again. Without being disrespectful to Yeovil, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that a side possessing a touch more quality would’ve had a field day against us. And it’s hard to get too excited about the victory, the performance as an attacking unit, when your defence is as bad, as sloppy, as ours is. It’s the same issues, time and again, and if we’re serious about making a real go of things this season then the manager has to sort it out and he has to do it soon. We seem to say it every week.
Not long after we’d forged an equaliser, Dean Whitehead, for a split-second at least, allowed himself to be possessed by the spirit of Xavi and threaded a quite exquisite through-ball down the left flank for George Friend to gallop onto. Friend burst into the area and was brought down to give us one of the most blatant penalties you’ll ever see. Again, though, the feelings of dread returned upon seeing it was Grant Leadbitter who picked the ball up to take the spot-kick. Unsurprisingly, he missed it, with Wayne Hennessey tipping it onto the post, but fortunately for us Adomah was on hand to stick away the rebound and make it 2-1. It was a bit more open that it should’ve been, from our point of view, after that but we went into the break with a 2-1 lead in the bank and on the back of creating two or three other decent chances to add to our lead.
The second-half was almost a carbon copy of the first; an early goal, this time courtesy of a lovely strike from distance from Man of the Match Jacob Butterfield, put Boro in a commanding position but still the defensive frailties meant we were never as comfortable as our attacking display ought to have merited. Yeovil plugged away and struck the post themselves, and credit to them for continuing to try and play football, but we looked like scoring every time we went forward and Kei Kamara put the icing on the cake when he got his nut firmly on the end of a Muzzy Carayol corner and sent not only the ball into the net but Hennessey as well. It was the least Kamara deserved, having hit the woodwork in the first-half and been a constant threat to the opposition throughout. From then on, we saw the game out, we looked like we were enjoying ourselves in possession and we could’ve had a couple more goals if we’d been slightly more ruthless in-and-around the box.
From an attacking point of view, we were very good. Very good indeed. After going a goal down so a early, and given our current circumstances in terms of form and confidence, it would’ve been pretty easy for the players to buckle under the pressure and not take responsibility for getting us back into it. The way we fought back and won the game was impressive. But, as I said earlier, we can’t go on defending like this and it’s a shame to leave a 4-1 win and worry about what’s going at the back instead of being able to fully enjoy what’s going on up front.
Rhys Williams was as poor as I’ve seen him; he’s making really basic mistakes and he’s making them with alarming frequency. Frazer Richardson doesn’t know what Williams is going to do both with and without the ball, meaning the opposition can slide stuff between them, or play stuff in behind them, any which way they like to be honest, almost at will at times and they look ragged as a pair. George Friend was his usual self; lovely to watch marauding forward towards the box but caught out by simple balls either down the flank or inside him. Dean Whithead is supposed to offer us more ‘protection’ but he seems to struggle to know what his exact role is sometimes. Butterfield and Leadbitter play more advanced roles, meaning Whitehead is sometimes expected to do the work of two or three men simultaneously as a move breaks down for whatever reason. There is no cohesion, leadership or organisation back there and it’s going to ruin the season if it isn’t addressed immediately. Even Jason Steele was shaky too, not collecting relatively straight-forward crosses and not seeming sure of himself generally.
Despite the criticisms of the defence, it’s worth pointing out that Ben Gibson had another very solid game at centre-half and did absolutely nothing wrong at all. In fact, it is Gibson who seems to be taking it upon his young shoulders to be the organiser, the talker, the one who takes real responsibility when it comes to making sure the defenders around him are doing what is required of them. But the worry with him is that he will miss out when Woodgate is back fit because the gaffer won’t leave Williams out. If that happens then it would be a big shame, not just for Gibson but also for the team as a whole. To be frank, I’m not sure Williams’ form merits him a place in the side at the moment so him having the captaincy is something that becomes more and more baffling with every passing game.
Anyway, a win was imperative and we got it, and all we can hope is that the manager either rectifies these defensive issues by way of a well-timed loan-signing or by having the lads in for extra training sessions in the afternoons. I’m not really too optimistic about a loan-signing as the gaffer doesn’t really seem to be seeing what everyone else seems to be seeing with Williams; maybe it’s time to take him out of the firing line and move him into midfield, or sit him on the bench for a few games and let him have a little think about things.
I think the last little segment should go to Jacob Butterfield; we are certainly seeing why he was considered such an exciting prospect when at Barnsley, with his range of passing, his first-touch and his handful of tricks and step-overs, his always being prepared to play the ball forwards and for his fearlessness when it comes to taking the initiative for his team. I have a feeling that he is going to become a very, very important player for the Boro in the coming years and long may his good form continue.