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Five Things: Middlesbrough 2 - 0 Bolton Wanderers

As expected I suppose

Derby County v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

A midweek trip to title chasing, big spending Middlesbrough was always going to be a tall order, but I honestly thought we could get something from this game. It’s games like these, having been universally written off before a ball is kicked, where we end up surprising a few and defying the odds. Last night, however, was certainly not one of those occasions and the manner of the defeat was the most disappointing part. It was a poor display, let’s not pretend otherwise. Middlesbrough were ordinary, they beat us and our good start to the season has long since gone.

I’m struggling after that display, but here are my five things from the game:

1. We concede more often than not

As the Bolton team sheet came out last night, every man and his dog knew the thinking behind it. Stay resilient, pack the defence, pack the midfield, make it difficult for them to break us down and hope we get a chance to nick it at the other end.

Ok I understand the reasoning, we’re away from home and playing a team at the top of the table, but sitting so deep, inviting constant pressure, it is only going to end in one thing and that’s conceding goals.

Over the last 5 games we have conceded 9 goals playing a ‘defence first’ strategy if we’re honest. Now, I know we conceded from an individual error (i’m not counting the 95th minute goal at the end) but that’s my point, the opposition will always get a chance and punish us whether that’s through a mistake or decent play. ‘Boro sat off a bit after going in front and still we struggled to get up the pitch, let alone sustain a goal threat.

It was impossible for Josh and Josh to defend from the front to stem the flow as they were so isolated in our 5-3-0-0-1-0-1 formation. Any long balls pumped forward to relieve the pressure rarely stuck and so the cycle continued. I admire Parky’s confidence to shut the opposition out but I do not share it I’m afraid. I do, however, think we have more attacking options, so we must use them.

2. Players stuck to the game plan

Parky has to take responsibility for the tactical side of that display. I believe the players did exactly what Parky asked them to do and set up in the shape that he wanted, but it was negative in the extreme and unsuccessful. Lessons need to be learnt and quickly.

3. I want to see us have a go, be positive

In the first half last night we didn’t, we trooped out ready for the onslaught, put our own backs against the wall and we lost. Even though I’m pro Parky, I cannot agree with him saying we were terrific in the second half. I can understand why he is saying it, and he will say apart from that error for the goal we could have picked up a point, but the fact is we didn’t, our passing was poor and there was a clear lack of endeavour all round.

Maybe, if we showed more desire and determination to attack we could have won the game. We’ll never know, which is half the problem. I’d rather lose 4-2 if I’m honest and show some fight and have the belief that we are better than that performance.

We need to give the opposition something to think about. Middlesbrough were ordinary, but they didn’t get out of first gear and rarely tested. As the game went on we improved, got into their half and very nearly scored. If we had started the game like we finished it, then we would have asked a lot more questions of ‘Boro. and possibly deserved to get something from the game.

We have better attacking options this year, so let’s go forward or at least try. In the second half when Ozzie came on we played more through the middle, allowing Joe Williams more time on the ball to pick some passes and show some creativity. Joe was probably our best performer on the night and we need to use him more in an attacking sense rather than utilise him in front of the back four or worse still bypass him completely with a hoofed out ball.

4. The lone ranger up top is disheartening

One up front is a fruitless task at the moment. It’s predictable and must be so frustrating for Josh Magennis with the lack of support around him. He was far too isolated and Josh Vela was tasked with trying to cover far too much ground as our midfield sat far too deep. Only last week against QPR, Parky highlighted the problem of going with one up top and not getting men around him. Well this was another case of the same but a whole lot worse.

I have no idea why we are so averse to playing with two strikers. Pulis switched to four at the back for this game as he was so sure we would go with just one up top, he must be psychic. Let’s switch things up, let’s try something new. As the saying goes, if it’s broke, fix it.

5. Away record has gone but it’s still early days

Any hope of going the whole season unbeaten away from home in the league has sadly evaporated. Worryingly, that’s no wins in four matches and performances have dropped considerably. We need to get ourselves out of this poor run starting at bottom of the table Ipswich this weekend. Will we be more attacking at Ipswich? Well if we can’t be more attacking at Ipswich, then we never can be so it will certainly be interesting to see the team selection and formation come 3pm on Saturday.

Let’s just bloody go for it, all out attack a la Kevin Keegan style and bang some goals in