You can look at the first eight games of the season and definitely conclude that the meagre reward of 9 points should have been considerably better.
Without a woeful penalty attempt and two dreadful refereeing decisions, for instance, the first two games should have yielded six points instead of one. Add to that our failure to hold on to a single goal lead at both Millwall and Bristol City for the last quarter of an hour in each game cost another four points.
You don’t need to be a mathematician to see that the season so far would have a completely different complexion if we’d demonstrated more consistent professionalism. The real optimists among us – and normally I would include myself in that category – would say that those additional seven points would have put us in the play-off positions and just one point behind Leeds and Swansea in the top two places. It has to be said, however, that in view of the performances so far that would have been a bit flattering.
The best way to demonstrate that is to point out that the optimism created by a very good display at Bristol City evaporated in an equally poor show at Cardiff where a totally unnecessary own goal from Ashley Fletcher gave the points to Cardiff when, in fairness, neither side created anything worthy of winning the game. In which case that was yet another point lost that should have been in the bag.
Unfortunately, the conclusion that has to be drawn from all this is that we don’t have the depth of quality in the current squad to genuinely maintain a consistent challenge for the top positions, though the youthfulness of the squad overall suggests that there is plenty of room for development and improvement. That will require the younger players to gain more experience, a bit more strength and the ability to choose the right ball at the right time. Currently there are far too many passes either going astray or the choice of recipient is completely wrong. But that can be addressed on the training field as Jonathan Woodgate continues to promote his attacking philosophy and can hopefully give youngsters like Dijksteel, Brown and Bola a better conception of what he wants.
By the same token it’s also vital that the more experienced players in the squad continue to take his ideas on board and develop a consistency that will lead to even more creativity. Although the ‘goals for’ column could have been much better with more accuracy there is no denying that apart from the Cardiff game the team have been producing a number of good opportunities that have sadly not been taken.
Hopefully things will improve in time and while I can understand Jonathan Woodgate clinging on to the hope that Middlesbrough can emulate Norwich’s performances in the second half of last season they are going to have to start very quickly. Things can change, of course, with two home games against Sheffield Wednesday and Preston to come. Personally, though, I don’t see either as being particularly easy. Six points from the two games, however, would be a tremendous return and could once again have the optimistic juices flowing.