'The Corridor of Uncertainty'

Month: March, 2014

Craig Hignett – Supporters’ Club Q&A

This is the ‘condensed version’ of what was said by Craig Hignett at Monday night’s Supporters’ Club meeting at the Riverside Stadium. It’s a shame I can’t post the whole thing and all of the detail but I think, in this instance, it’s fair enough to respect the feelings of the people who run the supporters’ club and the work that they do as an organisation. It’s not as if this is a post exposing corruption within the upper echelons of JP Morgan, perhaps, or something that could bring down the North Korean government from the inside, it’s just Higgy talking about the Boro so I’ve agreed to scale it back and do something more general this time around. Hopefully this one will survive the night…

Hignett started off by talking about how the job came about and what it entails, what his role will be alongside Karanka and what the Head Coach expects from him. He will provide something of a buffer between the boss and the players, someone they can go to if they’re not happy with something or need to have a chat somewhere along the line. He said he was immediately impressed by Karanka and talked about how professional he is, also talking about how Karanka has been trying to drum into the players the importance of playing as a team and not a bunch of individuals, which he thought was the case when he first took the job on.

Questions were then asked about the way the team is being set up – Karanka is adamant about the 4-2-3-1 formation and will buy players who fit into that template. Karanka realised very quickly that you need pace and power in this league so that’s why he went out and signed Ayala and Omeruo, to give him the physical presence you need in both boxes. Hignett said he doesn’t think what you do in between the boxes matters too much, you can play it long or play football through it, it doesn’t matter because in this division it’s all about what happens in both boxes and if you take care of that you’ve got a good chance of doing well.

He was asked about Leadbitter’s set-piece delivery, and set-pieces in general, and defended Leadbitter a little bit because he says that some of the players don’t make the runs they’re supposed to make, so if Leadbitter puts the right ball in and nobody moves for it it looks like a bad ball – he also stressed that Karanka sends the front four players out with complete freedom in terms of attacking and playing football but they’ve not been doing it lately and Karanka is incredibly frustrated by it. He was apparently fuming after Bournemouth on Saturday because the players didn’t show enough effort to play and didn’t do what was required of them.

The biggest thing Karanka had to do was instil a proper team spirit into them and get them taking pride in the team and the results instead of focusing on their own jobs so much – he reckons we’ve built a good team ethic now and the players in the side take great pride in keeping the ball out of our net. Ben Gibson was singled out for praise at this point, and complimented on his approach to defending generally. Karanka isn’t satisfied with draws and wants wins because it really matters to him and he is very passionate.

Karanka was annoyed about the number of individual errors that were being made when he first arrived and was surprised at how some of the players didn’t take responsibility for results at that time, so he had to put that right and it took time to do it but now we’ve got a good team spirit going on and everybody is taking pride in the team.

Hignett then talked about the way the team sets up – some supporters had suggested the team was too rigid and that we weren’t getting enough bodies into the box at times, and that the striker was isolated too often. Hignett generally agreed with those comments and said they’re working out how put it right, he reckons Tomlin will be a very important player for us because he is a clever player who can link the play up for us. He was full of praise for Danny Graham and it seemed to be the wide players that are the biggest source of frustration for the coaching-staff because they’re not doing what they’re supposed to be doing and not taking responsibility. They seem to be trying to work out whether to play Tomlin as an advanced midfielder of whether he should play off the striker, and I think they’ve come down on the side of the latter and we’ll see Tomlin playing pretty high up the pitch.

As for the lack of goals, Hignett says he’s excited about the summer and about what will happen next season – apparently they already have a clear idea of what needs to be done, which positions needs strengthening, who will be leaving the club and who they want to bring in. He said Karanka has drilled into the players that they can’t afford to think that far ahead because some of them might not be at the club if they don’t do their jobs between now and the end of the current season, and he also said that the players have been reminded that supporters have already paid their money for this season so they need to go out and win the eleven remaining games and see what happens after that. He talked a little bit about how much the players earn and said supporters would be shocked by some of the wages, but not in the same way some were when Mowbray arrived, more because some of the wages we pay these days are very low in comparison to the rest of the league.

And that was that really. As I said earlier, it’s a bit of a shame we can’t have the whole thing to read over but I’ve tried to get the general gist of what was said across because Hignett was very honest and provided some good insight into how hard it is to run a football team at the level we’re at. I think there could be some exciting times ahead if we’re patient with things but Hignett wanted to stress that Karanka has not given up on this season and won’t allow the players to give up on it either.

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Middlesbrough 1 Nottingham Forest 1

Nottingham Forest at home under the lights is one of those games that still has a certain appeal about it, like playing at home to Liverpool in the eighties perhaps, or Sheffield Wednesday in the early-nineties even, and last night was no different in that respect as I strolled down to the stadium in fairly high spirits after Saturday’s routine victory over Ipswich Town. The signs were good as I settled into my seat and heard that the gaffer had named an unchanged eleven and confidence grew further when I noticed that a thirty-eight year-old Jonathan Greening was going to be playing in the middle of the field for Forest. Surely our lads would have the beating of old man Greening, wouldn’t they?

Those feelings of confidence and optimism lasted for about seven minutes, however, as it became obvious that Forest were very adept at keeping the ball with Greening, 45, being allowed far too much room to play his simple little passes from side-to-side. In fact, Boro started the game in very poor fashion and there was no sign of the pressing game that Karanka favours, no tempo to our play, no urgency about what we were doing and lots of sloppy passing going on, with Omeruo, Chalobah and Leadbitter being particularly wasteful in possession. By the twenty minute mark, Forest were firmly on top of things and Greening, 49, seemed to be enjoying his return to the Riverside as he orchestrated most of their good stuff by way of providing a link between Djamel Abdoun, Jamie Paterson and Marek Majewski across the middle of the pitch. Boro’s best hope of creating something of interest was getting it out to Muzzy Carayol and letting him have a run at their full-back but, as the half wore on, he quietened down and Forest started to work a few chances at goal; Simon Cox’s feeble header from six yards was the best of their chances, with everything else they did being relatively tame and causing Konstantopoulos very little bother.

From our point of view the half petered out, the best we could do was a header from a corner that needed clearing off the line and also a shot from Carayol from outside the box that rolled past Karl Darlow’s right-hand post. We’d resorted to just lumping it in the vague direction of Danny Graham by the end of it and Ledesma couldn’t get into it at all. Losing Lee Tomlin to injury just after half-an-hour didn’t help us, certainly, though he’d barely had a kick before being replaced by Albert Adomah. So it was a very poor forty-five minutes for us and it was clear Karanka would have to get stuck into them at half-time. The way we started the second-half suggested that Karanka had indeed got stuck into them as the defence was pushed much higher up the pitch and the lads, Graham, Leadbitter and Ledesma in particular, began to press Forest and disrupted their rhythm to the point where we actually got on top of them.

Muzzy Carayol broke away down the left and cut inside his man before unleashing a splendid curling effort into the far corner to put us 1-0 up and the lads didn’t stop there, they kept the tempo up and pressed Forest’s centre-halves into playing several aimless balls straight onto Omeruo’s bonce. Dean Whitehead came on for Ledesma and made us more solid in the middle of the pitch, showing exactly why he should always be selected ahead of Nathaniel Chalobah, though it was frustrating to watch Leadbitter trundling around the place trying to play the ‘no.10’ position when he clearly isn’t capable of it. The central cog of Forest’s decent first-half showing, Jonathan Greening, 56, had disappeared from the game and the Boro pushed on for a second, with Carayol breaking away down the left once again only to send the latest effort, which actually looked a little easier than the one he scored from, sailing past Karl Darlow’s left-hand post. Forest then made some changes; barrel-chested play-maker Andy Reid replaced Jamie Paterson and the big daft lump Darius Henderson and that young boy who always scores against the Boro, Matt Derbyshire, came on for Simon Cox and Djamel Abdoun respectively.

Those substitutions brought with them a feeling that it was only a matter of time before Forest would equalise and, for me anyway, it was no surprise to see a goal slide past Konstantopoulos to make it 1-1. The big Greek bloke was furious with Forest’s goal though as I was at the other end of the stadium it was difficult to know exactly what he was so upset about(it’s only when I got home and saw a Vine video of the goal that I realised that we’d been the victims of some appalling cheating on Henderson’s behalf, what with him using his forearm to tuck away a cross into the box). Feeling somewhat aggrieved, the lads tried to rally and find a winner and we almost pinched it via a stabbed effort from Danny Graham that came back off the post. Graham then scuffed a left-footed shot past the post when he perhaps should’ve done better, though a 2-1 win would probably have flattered us really.

A 1-1 draw was probably a fair result and it’s a decent point for us when you take into account the fact that Forest were one of the better teams we’ve seen on Teesside this season and are obviously fifth in the table for a reason. It’s also satisfying to take a point from a game in which we’ve played so poorly for long spells, with the passing from the back alarmingly out-of-sorts and the two central-midfielders, Chalobah and Leadbitter, being so underwhelming throughout. I left the stadium feeling a bit disappointed with things but looking back now it feels like a decent return for us, though knowing that the referee and his assistant(s) have missed one of the most blatant handballs you’re ever likely to see only adds to the feelings of frustration because we really should be talking about a 1-0 Boro victory right now. But these things will even themselves out, as they say.

And, in a break from tradition, I’ve put some player ratings on this one just to see what happens.

Konstantopoulos 6, Varga 6, Friend 6, Omeruo 6, Gibson 6, Chalobah 5, Leadbitter 5, Carayol 7, Ledesma 5, Tomlin 4, Graham 6. SUBS: Adomah 5, Whitehead 6, Kamara 5.