It would be easy to point to the statistics of ‘Boro’s first nine games and suggest they are a testament to the often criticised defensive tactics that Tony Pulis is frequently labelled with.
While nine games with only three goals conceded is a superb way to build a strong winning foundation, however, only eleven scored in the same period suggests that we must have been playing very, very defensively. That’s simply not true, though, and there have been numerous spurned opportunities that would have seen us almost out of sight in the league had they been taken.
The worst aspect of the figures to date is the one that shows blank sheets in three of our last four games. Could it be coincidence that eight of our goals came in the first four games when Pulis was forced to abandon his favoured 4-4-2 formation and play with three at the back, because things have obviously changed since he reverted to that preferred format. Perhaps the other thing that has changed since that great start is that he has also stopped using the young lads in favour of the signings made in the late stages of the transfer window.
Only one win in the last four games doesn’t make great reading yet we are still joint top with Leeds at the time of writing and that is certainly something we would have taken at the start of the season. The optimist in me says that the new players will take time to bed in and Pulis has tinkered with the starting line-up as he tries to find the winning formula from what he now admits is a squad that has strength in depth.
George Saville has already looked a great acquisition but with such strong numbers in the midfield department we are still playing with only one striker up front on his own. Perhaps the most irritating thing about that is that when we are chasing a win in the last quarter of the game we always see a second striker waiting to be introduced only to find he is actually replacing the first so the safety first status quo is maintained.
But looking ahead to the October fixtures definitely gives us a great chance to keep up our promising start to the season. Home games against Forest, Rotherham and Derby and visits to Hull, Ipswich and Sheffield Wednesday can’t possibly fill anyone with dread as none of those teams have shown any consistency so far this term.
On the other hand we visited Norwich when they only had one win out of six and entertained a Swansea side that had only won once in seven and the result was a single point. Norwich have since gone on to win their next two games as well so It shows that in this league you can’t take anything for granted and the team has to put in the hard miles to get the kind of results we all want.
It’s always said that an average of three points at home and one from away games will see you pretty much up there at the end of the season and so far we’ve just about managed to do that. It’s amazing how much difference two wins in a row make, though, so let’s hope that can be achieved over the next few weeks.
This week we are heading to Preston for the next round of the EFL cup and once again that will give Tony Pulis the opportunity to give the new boys a run out. Hopefully, though, he will still give some of the younger element the chance to again show how much potential they can offer us. And while this particular competition may not be a real priority in a season where promotion is the most vital target, who can forget that fantastic afternoon in Cardiff when we picked up the first – and only – bit of major silverware in our history? We can but dream!