In the words of Dad’s Army’s immortal Corporal Jones – ‘Don’t panic, don’t panic.’ There has been a little disquiet at ‘Boro over the past few weeks, especially after Watford, but following ‘Boro’s best performance of the season at Arsenal things are certainly not as bad as some people – and that particularly includes the national press – are trying to make out.
OK, the Watford match can only be described as abysmal, but it was nevertheless a game we shouldn’t have lost. And if you examine the other seven Premier league games of the season so far you can rightly say that apart from the first half against Everton ‘Boro players have never looked out of their depth.
In reality, we could – and perhaps even should – have beaten Stoke, West Brom, Crystal Palace and even Arsenal so all the doom and gloom hanging around after the Watford game might seem a little premature. We’ve actually lost thirteen points from winning positions so far, a fact that proves how much better off we could have been.
Fast forward a week, though, and the whole outlook of the season was completely turned on its head with the wonderful performance at the Emirates. The only thing missing on that occasion – and indeed the rest of the games – was the ability to convert excellent goal scoring opportunities into winning positions. And that’s why you really can question Karanka’s insistence on playing Alvaro Negredo up front on his own with little or no support. It can be said that the 4-2-4-1 set up at Arsenal proved a master stroke after the Watford performance because Gaston Ramirez finally reproduced last season’s form, Gibson and Ayala played together again and showed why we kept so many clean sheets in the Championship and Victor Valdes finally became a capable ‘Boro goalkeeper.
The real catalyst for the improvement, however, was the first start for Adama Traore who frightened the Arsenal defence to death with genuine pace, great footwork and some wonderful runs into their box. Long may that continue even though at only 20 he probably won’t be able to maintain that kind of performance every week.
That the result could have been so much better is a thought shared by everyone who gave the team such magnificent support in North London, but once again Negredo was unable to make the most of a couple of excellent opportunities. But does he have competition for his place? Not according to Aitor who claimed prior to the game that Negredo was easily our best striker.
Jordan Rhodes didn’t even make the trip never mind the pitch, which confirms he is not in Karanka’s plans, especially after the ludicrous decision to give him two minutes to change the game against Watford. The way he is being treated, in fact, makes it hard to understand why he wasn’t allowed to leave towards the end of the transfer window when a few clubs were apparently interested. But back to Negredo, and frankly he may have convinced Aitor but for the rest of us the jury is definitely still out!
But who am I to question the man who – in less than three years – has fulfilled all our hopes and dreams and – regardless of questions about the current situation – has shown he has the ability to once again confirm us as an established Premier league club. Aitor has proved he has a lot to offer and the best aspect of that is that Steve Gibson has always demonstrated enough patience and belief to give his managers plenty of time to prove themselves.
So let’s hope in the next few games he will create enough space between ‘Boro and the bottom three to allow us to breathe a little more easily. The last thing we want to have to do is call for Captain Mainwaring!