Never judge a player before he’s pulled on the shirt
Now, I thought long and hard before including this as something we may have ‘learned’ over the weekend. Given the sort of reception Cyrus Christie and Darren Randolph’s signings got, it’s not hard to see why we ought to have learnt our lesson.
I say we, however since George Friend arrived for next to nothing in relative terms back in 2012, I personally vowed never to judge before having seen a player in action ever again. But I know many continue to pass judgement way too early.
Well, Marvin Johnson’s performance against QPR proved once more that it’s a dangerous game to write off what is perceived to be a less than glamorous signing.
Coming away with two assists saw him almost mirror the Adama Traore effect of the week before. The goal-scorers pretty much gone under the radar again given Johnson’s display was so impressive. His pace, ability to beat his man, as well as that vital tool all wide-men require – an end product – saw him wow the crowd on his home debut.
— The Good The Bad The Boro ⚽️🔴⚪️ (@GoodBadBoro) September 16, 2017
Of course we’ve already seen snippets, his goal at Bolton albeit fortuitously found its way past Ben Alnwick, but it showed he’s not afraid to have a pop.
His direct style was a welcome outlet in the Aston Villa, backs to the wall, performance in mid-week as well. The cynical scything down by Henri Lansbury telling you that Johnson was becoming effective in turning defence into attack. We’ve been crying out for a player with pace who can carry the ball forward and deliver; now we have two! Him and Traore offer Monk a wonderful opportunity to really frighten opposition defences.
Going back to Saturday, both of Johnson’s assists were top drawer. His first showing his ability to come inside, gliding away from his opponents before releasing Lewis Baker with a wonderful reverse pass. It showed great vision, especially under pressure, running at speed surrounded by QPR players.
His second was a more of a traditional wingers assist, riding a challenge and getting to the by-line (or over it if you’re of a QPR persuasion), standing the ball up invitingly for Britt Assombalonga to nod home from inside the six-yard box.
It was a promising show on his first outing in front of The Riverside crowd for the former Oxford man, and on this evidence they may have a found a new wing hero.
‘Marvin, Marvin Johnson, Marvin Johnson on the wiiiiiing’ anyone?
A win when perhaps we weren’t at our best
It’s a long hard season, and while we may not have hit top gear just yet, there are signs that we’re getting there.
Of course, though, there will be times where we may have to win ugly, or rely on the odd slice of fortune to claim the three points. Garry Monk’s men were far from their best, in fact the former Leeds boss said so much himself, citing “It’s an important trait to win when you are not at your best”.
When you’re in a league as competitive as the Championship it’s hard to disagree with that.
The sloppy start that saw QPR take the lead, as well the defensive howler between Randolph and Ben Gibson (won’t be often you’ll hear that this season), were evidence that this was a Boro team that may have a ruck or two in them. However, it’s your ability to put that behind you and grind out the win that sets you apart from your rivals, and Ian Holloway’s men were the victim of such qualities.
Holloway will probably have every right to feel aggrieved. They gave a good account of themselves, as well as taking the lead twice, but beaten by some real quality, as well as a contentious decision for the third Boro goal saw him frustrated nonetheless. Arguments over whether Johnson ran the ball out of play won’t change the decision; however it did appear Monk’s men benefited somewhat from a welcome slice of luck.
It was far from a top quality performance, but it was a victory achieving one no less.
Something rare happened – we came from behind to win
How often in the Championship, when going behind, do Middlesbrough go on to win the game? Well, not very often is the answer.
Boro's recent record in the Championship when going behind…
— 📊 ʙᴏʀᴏꜱᴛᴀᴛꜱ™ WC2018 (@boroform) September 16, 2017
That stat is rather dismal in all fairness, so imagine the feeling of doom when David Wheeler put QPR ahead inside two minutes. It very rarely ends well, usually in defeat, but not on Saturday. Even when we went behind again, when Jamie Mackie scored THAT goal, the team refused to give in.
Not only did they get back on level terms rather quickly, they took the lead for the first time in the game and hung on to it.
Another amazing stat that did the rounds, once again courtesy of @boroform, showed that we haven’t come from behind twice and won since 2005! The losers that day were Fulham, but it was their London neighbours QPR that fell victim to the rare event on this occasion.
Although coming from behind twice to win shows determination, the fact that we managed to do it will surprise many a Boro fan considering our lack of ability to do so in recent times.
Cardiff at home in early 2016 represented the last time we’d managed to win from a losing position; Fabio’s thunderbolt for The Bluebirds was the prelude to a Boro onslaught that brought three goals in reply.
But maybe with Monk we’ve now got something that Aitor Karanka’s Boro didn’t have – a team that’s given the freedom to express itself, to push the opposition when it’s needed the most.
With the array of attacking talent on show nowadays at The Riverside, it’s hard to see a Monk team sitting back, playing safe in times of great need.
We have a goalscorer!
With the past two wins seeing Britt Assombalonga on the scoresheet, his exploits have gone slightly under the radar given the performances of those who’ve laid his chances on. However, in Assombalonga, Boro have finally got a bona-fide, out an out goalscorer.
His record at Nottingham Forest was almost one every two games (30 in 69 appearances), with his Peterborough record being even more impressive (33 in 58 appearances).
However, given his proven Championship track record, and the market being what it is today, £15m seemed like a sound figure for someone who offers what the 24-yr-old does.
Those who have followed The Boro for as long as I have will remember the days of Bernie Slaven, a man who regularly broke the 20-goal-a season mark, yet we haven’t had someone do that since Fabrizio Ravanelli in the 96/97 season.
he White Feather notched 31 in all competitions, but nobody since has reached that magical 20 mark.
Yakubu and Mark Viduka came tantalisingly close with 19 in the mid noughties, as did Patrick Bamford more recently in the 2014/15 season, but not one has managed 20+. Now I know there’s no massive importance on one man scoring upwards of 20, we got promoted in 2015/16 with Christhian Stunai topping the Boro charts with 11 in total, but on Teesside we love to see a star man making the net bulge on a regular basis, who doesn’t?
In fact, even though Bamford got 19 that season, he often played out wide so wasn’t really an out an out striker. In Assombalonga, though, we have that man.
His five goals in eight league games so far shows great promise, hope that we may finally see a striker in a Boro shirt break that 20 goal barrier once again. He’s got a natural instinct that, given the right service, will see him score more often than not.
A willing runner, who will play the channels when needed, really comes alive when in the box. He’s explosive, powerful in possession, with a wicked shot to boot offering a frightening prospect for any opposition defender.
If he carries on his early season form, it’ll take a brave person to bet against him achieving that 20+ figure.
Bamford’s out in the cold – again
Much talk before the game was about how Monk might replace Traore in what was the first of a three match suspension for the Spaniard, with many speculating that Patrick Bamford could return to the fold. The former Chelsea man hasn’t started a game since the away day defeat at Nottingham Forest.
In fact, he’s appeared as sub just twice, whilst also missing out on the squad altogether in the cup win at home Scunthorpe. The first of those appearances came in the 0-0 draw with Preston, when he replaced the lacklustre Friend just before the hour. In a bizarre afternoon, where Fabio started on the left wing, Bamford will have counted himself rather unlucky to miss out from the off, but things have got little better for him since.
A 15 minute cameo at Bolton followed, but he’s since failed to get any minutes in the two games after, with the latest being Saturday.
Had you said he’d find himself out in the cold this early on just a few weeks back you’d have been laughed at, especially given the start he’d made. Some credited him with turning the game around at Wolves on the opening day, replacing Ashley Fletcher in the second half; however he now appears to be below Fletcher in the pecking order.
His performances in the home wins against Sheffield United, where he’d set up the only goal, and the one against Burton had fans purring, yet in the Forest game he was far from his best.
Monk will say that it’s a squad game, and he’s right, he’s got an impressive array of talent at his disposal, yet Bamford will take little comfort from that.
His well-documented struggles in recent seasons will be weighing heavily on his mind once more you feel, and he’ll be looking at Villa in the cup tomorrow as a perfect chance to stake a claim once more, providing Monk picks him.
Right now, though, it looks as if Fletcher is Monk’s go to man from the bench, his decision vindicated after his goal on Saturday. Doesn’t bode well for Bamford, mind.