The catalyst is either that dreadful first half against Millwall on the first day of the season or the subsequently negative remarks from Tony Pulis after the transfer window closed, but there’s a widely held belief among many ‘Boro fans that the bubble that’s seen us take an excellent ten points from twelve will burst any time soon.
To be fair, most of us expected it to happen against Bristol City as our recent history against them hasn’t been great, but ‘Boro’s display was as strong in that game as in any away performance we’ve seen for a long time. So do we really need loads more players as Pulis suggests or have we actually got a decent enough squad to maintain the great start we’ve already seen?
Certainly the next two games (West Brom (h) and Leeds (a)) will give us a good indication, but by the end of those two games the loan window will also have closed and if we haven’t attracted anyone else then that’s it.
We’ve already had the snub from Yannick Bolasie who preferred the West Midlands to the North East, but – in contrast – Mo Besic has returned and we already know what we’re going to get from him. Lots of work at both ends of the pitch, plenty of forward movement, but sadly – unless his single goal in his ‘Boro career to date is not an accurate indication of his scoring prowess – not many goals! Looking at the midfield he’s about to join, though, he’s not as important as he was when he arrived last season. Our midfield looks good with ex Shildon boy Lewis Wing showing exceptional ability, though it would be too much to expect the youngster to be able to maintain that form throughout the season. In that case an extra wide man would certainly be of benefit. Having scored eight goals in four matches, however, the strike force is performing well and we still haven’t been able to call on either Jordan Hugill or Rudy Gestede. Martin Braithwaite, on the other hand, is looking like a real goal scorer. Let’s just hope we can hang on to him.
Ironically, our great start to the season could well have a lot to do with the loss of both Adama Traore and Ben Gibson because apart from that rusty first half against Millwall the combination of Dael Fry and Aden Flint has looked extremely strong with three clean sheets in a row. In the background, of course, we still have Daniel Ayala to call on once fit. Perhaps the biggest gain, though, is that we are a lot more balanced going forward now the midfield isn’t constantly having to look for Traore to work miracles. The result is much better forward movement and many more scoring opportunities. I’m personally pleased to also see Stewart Downing back to his best, which is possibly another benefit we’ve gained from Traore’s departure.
It’s definitely been an encouraging start – including that great performance from the kids against Notts County – and it would be good to see a repeat against Rochdale. It was great to see them so enthusiastic about being involved in the penalty shoot-out, a great sign of the confidence that’s being instilled into them. So once again we can admire both the legacy of Dave Parnaby – and indeed the new regime under Craig Liddle – that the academy is still creating huge potential for the club.
I must admit that the great start to the season could be a wonderful sign of things to come, but the West Brom and Leeds results will be a great indication.
Come on the ‘Boro!