Sixer’s Soapbox: Middlesbrough inflict capital (one) punishment

Malcolm Dawson writes: There were other things to do on Tuesday night. As storms lashed the Jersey shore, M Salut, celebrating a wedding anniversary, walked like a man to see The Jersey Boys. Reading v Arsenal’s 12-goal thriller was on the telly in The Kings Arms, Deptford where the pre match Timothy Taylors was in fine fettle and West Auckland beat Birtley Town 5-4 in a penalty shootout at Darlington Road, after sharing six goals. Pete Sixsmith did what he usually does and pitched up at the Stadium of Light. He left thinking his £15 might have been better spent elsewhere …

I'd rather be having colonic irrigation

Well, we saw Plan B in operation last night. It wasn’t very good. It was as ineffective as Plan A – and that wasn’t very good either.

For those lucky enough to be doing something else (watching The Jersey Boys, thrilling to Reading v Arsenal, cutting your toenails), Plan B was a change in midfield and the introduction of a second forward.

Both David Vaughan and Louis Saha have been promoted by this writer as possible answers to our problems. Both have looked useful whenever they have appeared. Both were seen as players who could seize the opportunities they were given.

After last night, where they were the most mediocre of mediocrities, they should be thinking very carefully about where they would like to go in January, because they failed to seize that opportunity and now can be seen as players who were never quite good enough (Vaughan) or, regrettably, past their best (Saha).

They were not the only ones and on the journey home I thought about the 15 point season and drew some comparisons.

Is Adam Johnson any better than Andy Welsh? Is John O’Shea’s distribution any improvement on Gary Breen’s? Is Carlos Cuellar any quicker than Danny Collins? On last night’s showing, is Steven Fletcher any more effective than Andy Gray?

All are rhetorical questions, but the fact that I was even thinking them is a serious cause for alarm, for believe me, this was as dismal as the F A Cup losses to Brentford and Notts County and made worse by the facts that we were comprehensively outplayed by local rivals.

A bright opening with Sessegnon jinking down the wing soon faded as Middlesbrough’s midfield two, Grant Leadbitter and Nicky Bailey seized the game and ran it. Both are good Championship players who have found the top division hard work in the past, but they were far better than Cattermole (ran around a lot, didn’t foul, passed the ball sideways) and Vaughan (ran around a lot, didn’t foul, passed the ball backwards).

Once they had established control, they used the ball, bringing their big barnstorming centre forward Ishmael (was his mum frightened by a great white whale?) Miller, who created the goal by running at Jack Colback and going on and on and on as Colback back pedalled.

A sharp cross to the near post and Scott McDonald was ahead of Cuellar to turn it in. From that moment on, we huffed and puffed but never looked like blowing the Boro house down.

The substitutions made little difference. Campbell came on and looked lightweight. McClean came on and looked as he has all season – poor. The ball was lumped forward in desperation, hoping for a Demba Ba moment but it was not forthcoming and the players departed to deserved booing, jeering and catcalls.

The manager was straight down the tunnel, presumably to collect his thoughts before speaking to the media. I would imagine that a darkened room and a cup of hot, sweet tea would have been necessary before he could face them and try to give some kind of explanation for what was a performance of such ineptitude that seasoned watchers were comparing it with the (very) dark days of Lawrie McMenemy.

We are in desperate need of a couple of wins. The more we draw, the more we slip down the table and the bottom teams are bound to start a little surge sooner or later. They can score goals – we can’t and the longer this drought goes on (a Sunderland player has not scored for 5 games) the more pressure is heaped on the defence. If we go a goal down, that is the end of the game because we create so little.

At times my frustration was vented on Adam Johnson, our marquee signing and the man who, it was hoped, would propel us to the heady heights of the top half of the table. He was pursued assiduously, welcomed as an almost prodigal son and has been a flop.

He cannot get past a man and last night, this current England player, was marked out of the game by Justin Hoyte (from the 15 point season!!) and a £150,000 signing from Doncaster Rovers, George Friend, who had a cracking game. Once again, Johnson was substituted and once again 30,000 people were left wondering what all the fuss is about.

I though Middlesbrough were excellent and played some very good football. It was neat and tidy, sharp and penetrative and at times it flowed beautifully. They are an effective Championship side and Tony Mowbray has done well to fashion such a good team from the rubble of the dismal Strachan experiment.

Do we have a Plan C now that A and B have been seen to be ineffective? We face another set of strugglers on Saturday (albeit strugglers who can win tricky Capital One Cup ties) and it is very much to be hoped that something can be done to give us some spark, some push.

Gardner in midfield? Meyler involved somewhere? A place for McFadden? He must have sat on the bench last night and thought “Thank goodness I am only here until January”.

So, more doom and gloom and I have probably annoyed some of the readership. If the O’Neill experiment fails, I do not know where the club will go. We need to keep our nerve, nobody more than me. But I go to football to enjoy the experience and come out with a buzz. That has been absent this season.

The siren call of the Northern League is getting ever stronger.

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21 thoughts on “Sixer’s Soapbox: Middlesbrough inflict capital (one) punishment”

  1. Can’t see Ji as the amswer at all from the little we have seen of him nor Whickam,we just need our dynamic 3 back on line…..Sess,Johnson and McClean….no team can prosper with their 3 creative players going awol.How to put that right is the key.Cloughie aways had Peter Taylor and however great Cloughie thought he was he knew he was rubbish without him…..maybe MON needs his sidekick too.

  2. Great blog as usual Pete. It really begs the question – why did we get MON in the first place? He wins the league cup twice with Leicester, many moons ago now. He wins a mickey mouse league with one of the best teams. Fair play he took Villa to 6th twice, but spent the Kings Ransom to do it, and now we are getting the wisdom of his negative, dull tactics. In the main, Villa fans were delighted when he left, due to the sheer boredom he imposed on them every other Saturday. To top it all off he is now using Steve Bruce’s excuses every press conference. The MON experiment needs to end and end now. Would have loved it to work Martin, but it just isn’t. Man motivator? I don’t see much motivation at the SOL!

  3. The John Robertson factor was heavily discussed over our post match pints last night. Just how influential was he on the success O’Neill has had?

  4. I didn’t have the distractions of Jersey Boys even, last night. Goldy said “Miller had the ability to do was get his head down and run in a straight line.” I can’t be the only one who is wondering whether we could actually do this, ie just run at people from the front.

    If MON is this generation of managers Lawrie Mackemenemy, then lets hope he is followed by this generation’s Denis Smith and Marco.

    In answer to Pete’s question about Plan C, this will presumably be just a reversal to already failed Plan A. Why in the current circumstances he doesn’t at least give Ji or Wickham or even Noble a run God only knows. Maybe he is sitting there thinking that such a response would look like panic. There’s only one response worse than panic as far as the fans are concerned is to make changes that don’t work and resort to the already doomed Plan A.

    The problem we have is that anything other than Plan A involves Frazier Campbell. Even in the current crisis he shouldn’t be figuring in anybody’s plans.

  5. Maybe MON needs to bring in his pal John Robertson now. After all, (I think) the Assistant Manager’s job was kept open; perhaps waiting for something like the current situation to develop?

  6. Great write up of an appalling performance.MON is in trouble here and I cannot see how he can lift them now.Confidence will dip even further.

    Won’t mention the R word yet but there is just no pleasure to be had watching this lot,MON has squeezed the life out of any ambition.I am not happy at all with this season so far, but was afraid that it would be this way towards the end of last season when the rujnes were not looking very good.

    Sorry to be so pessimistic but that was a totally inept performance from all our so called top class players.We need a big reaction come Saturday or something is seriously wrong in that dressing room.

  7. Think back to this time last season. After a dismal ending to the previous campaign we started badly and hardly looked like winning a game.

    Everyone on here was calling for Steve Bruce’s head (except myself – though I won’t say I complained when it eventually transpired).

    Why is MON not getting the same treatment from everyone now? Is this not proof that Bruce was always considered too much of a geordie to be trusted. We look less likely to score at the moment than we did at this time last season – and despite our defence being well organised, it feels that the best we can hope for in games is for the point that comes from a clean sheet.

    Personally, I think the attack will click soon enough. I think MON is the right man for the job. I honestly believe that we will finish top ten this year.

    I would like to know why so many of our fans are so inconsistent in their own judgments though. This run is on a par with Bruce’s timid departure – where are the boo boys calling for MON’s head?

    KTF. FTM.

    • Simple. It’s too soon. Bruce had time, brought in his own players, many of whom were a waste of time and money and it became obvious that tactically he’d run out of ideas. It was nowt to do with him being a Geordie.

      MON came in, with goodwill and a good reputation. He is still working to a large extent with players he inherited and he will get a fair crack of the whip from Sunderland fans. But that’s not to say that they can’t see the bleedin’ obvious and that the team isn’t producing the kind of performances we were hoping for.

      But the manager will have a while yet to turn things around and Villa, QPR and WBA at home give him an opportunity to do that. But if by the time Chelsea visit the NE, we haven’t got a couple of wins behind us then I should think there will be a few murmurs of discontent amongst those in the ground.

    • The difference is in track records, which are clearly incomparable. Bruce would have took us down, O’Neill won’t. It’s only right that O’Neill be given plenty of time to start winning games, but he can’t dine out on it forever, nor can he ignore the next transfer window;
      We’ve gone from doing transfers at 100mph to about 10mph. Why can’t we motor along nicely at sixty? You’d think he’d have been, and still will be, chomping at the bit to get stuck into getting better players in?

    • I’d like to add that Bruce had 14 celebratory pint-less games in his first year and no-one called for his head. In his 3rd year he’d spent a fortune, we were crap and going down; For the record I don’t believe Bruce set us up to be tactically defensive, that would imply there was a tactical plan to begin with.

    • The murmurs of discontent have begun – but very few seem to be directed at MON. The tired line of “it’s not his squad” doesn’t cut it for me – you work with what you’ve got and we saw glimpses of what we have after he took over last season. The players we have in attack ARE good enough to terrify defences, but so far this season they have barely troubled any. It’s his job to get those players performing to the best of their abilities, yet so far this season it’s hard to say that they’ve had one full half of competency.

      I reiterate that I, personally, would not think of asking for MON to leave the job whilst we are still in the top-flight – but we also need to be asking a few questions of him.

      I know that no-one likes the questions being posed – he is a very popular figure amongst all of us – but I can’t see any semblance of an answer to our problems as yet, and judging by the posts on here I’m not the only one.

      I did have one article on here defending Steve Bruce last season though, so let’s hope that this blows up in my face in the same manner as MON leads us to a Villa-esque sixth place…

  8. The Jersey Boys is a quality production to be fair. I have the best of Frankie Valli on constantly while driving. My mates think it’s odd.

  9. It hasn’t looked good at any point so far this season. But let’s not be fooled it didn’t look too good for the last 2 months of last season either.

    In theory a good purge into the transfer market was what was required and that should see the makings of a good team . In reality we have overpaid for a striker who has stopped scoring. an Aston Villa reject and a fringe player at Manchester City who looks likely to inherit the tag of most useless overpriced SAFC player ahead of Flo.

    I have serious concerns about the way things are going. When you have been subjected to as much dross as I have over my many years watching this game there are signs that are easy to pick up that suggest all is not quite right.

    The fact that the players are under-performing, lacking belief and urgency are surefire signs that all is not cosy in the dressing room.

    Last nights defeat was bad enough as it saw an end to a decent opportunity for some silverware but the way in which we lost seems to be most concerning. The stats suggest that Boro had 14 shots at goal to our 7.Totally unacceptable when playing a team in a league below us at home in a cup.

    I enjoyed 3 days in London last weekend being entertained by a Bond premiere, the brilliant Jersey Boys and a concert by the funkmasters supreme Level 42. What have I got to entertain me this weekend I wonder ? Yes the delights of us huffing and puffing and desperately trying to blow ( unsucessfully no doubt) Aston Villas house down.

    Abject misery awaits.

  10. Like i said after the Wigan game we were lucky the team is not good enough there is no creativity in the back four or in the middle five we were terrible again last night and what a shambles at the ground to get in we did not get in till thirty mins after kick off as turnstiles were not operating properly there was ten thousand people all with tickets could not get in it was again a shambles of a club in the premier league operating as a none league club I wish they locked us out for the rest of the game because it was like watching paint dry like I said before colback oshea Vaughan bardsley Johnson SESS were the best I can say terrible I fare the worst and I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel what are they doing in training not one player can put a decent cross in the best ball that went in the box last night was when in the 88 th min Westwood dribbled to the half way line and a big boot get your selves sorted out or the BOOS will get louder I am paying my hard earned cash to watch.this rubish and stop going through the MOTIONS.!!!!

    • Didn’t have any problems getting in myself. Had a couple of pints in the Kings Arms, left at 7.00 ish, walked over to the ground and queued for maybe three or four minutes. Got straight in and was sat down by 7.35. Didn’t see any long queues outside the ground but maybe loads all turned up just before kick off?

      Unlike last Sunday when with still 20 minutes to go queues were doubling back on themselves and I only just got in as The Mags opened the scoring. I wonder if people thought it was an 8.00 pm kick off?

  11. He must be as frustrated as us, Bill. Maybe he’s too old for this managemant malarkey………………

  12. “We need to keep our nerve…” we do indeed. This is turning into a Steve Bruce-season — concentrate on defence and let the front end take care of itself, which it isn’t. And SB’s favourite word, “disappointed,” is starting to crop up all too regularly.
    I’m not comparing MON with SB — not yet, anyway — but, defensively minded as he is (and we knew that when he arrived), he needs to drag his and the players’ feet out of the mud.
    We know the players can do it. We’ve seen Sessegnon, McClean, Johnson, Fletcher etc. at their best. The fact that we’re seeing them at their worst now seems to me more a matter of attitude than anything else. Lump Vaughan and Saha in there, too. I’m not prepared to write either of them off yet.
    I remain, in spite of myself, optimistic. I’ll be predicting a win yet again for the lads. Inside what we’re seeing now, is a top team trying to get out. O’Neill just has to figure out how to get the knot untied and open the bag…

  13. Colback was awful for their goal. It was clear to all that all Miller had the ability to do was get his head down and run in a straight line – which he did. I’d be annoyed at my under 9’s for being beaten that easily by a predictable piece of play like that.

  14. very well written and some salient points, so far MON has failed to deliver a decent goal scoring team, we lack the competitive edge and need a couple of strikers who know where the target is.

    It is going to be one long season again

  15. It was one of those games that makes you wonder if it (the years of effort, expense, and sacrificing other things) has all been worth it.from a fan’s point of view. Like you say, Pete, we go for a bit of excitement and a few thrills – entertainment, you might call it – but this just left me feeling flat. Bishop v Shields tonight might be an antidote.

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