Boro fans endured a torturous Tuesday night at the Riverside with the frustrating loss to Norwich. On the rare occasions that Boro did rouse themselves, they could not find a way through the yellow wall erected in front of the Norwich goal. It is the latest setback in a stop-start beginning to Monk’s reign, and I can’t help but wonder if in trying to pull the blanket up to cover his head, Monk is exposing his toes…
1. Slow starts and screw-ups
Nobody wants a return to a Karankanncio style of football, but is Monk guilty of discarding some of the good habits cultivated by Aitor?
To make matters worse, this is often compounded by a defensive error (Ayala at Wolves, Gibbo/Randolph against QPR and Fry on Tuesday) which leaves us with a mountain to climb.
Under Aitor, everyone was left in no doubt; don’t eff about with the ball in dangerous areas. Perhaps a re-adoption of this safety first policy should be back on the agenda, at least until such a time as Boro realise that the game starts in the 1st minute, not the 41st.
2. Tactical Tinkering
Gone are the days when every Boro player (and every opposition manager) knew exactly what to expect: 4-2-3-1, with the wingers doubling up as secondary full backs and two defensive midfielders stationed right in front of the defensive line.
But in developing a Plan B and Plan C, has Monk neglected his Plan A. The 4-3-3 employed earlier in the season was just beginning to fire, then there was the formation change against Preston which left us lucky to pinch a point.
The 4-2-3-1 with friends Clayton and Leadbitter reunited was beginning to fire, only to see a more orthodox looking 4-4-2 introduced against Fulham.
Is it any wonder that the players are starting slow when they have to get to grips with a new set up every other game? Having different options is great, but let’s get Plan A nailed down first.
3. Squad Shuffling
Visit social media when the Boro line up is announced and you will be met by a series of Boro fans screeching about the squad strength: ‘look at that bench; those seven players would walk into most Championship first teams’ and so on.
To be frank, what good is it having a strong bench if your first eleven has you sat 9th in the table. Some changes have been enforced through injury, such as Gestede, or suspension, in the case of Traore. Some have been unnecessary.
Bamford was our most effective attacker until he was dropped for the somewhat flaky Baker.
Leadbitter introduced more bite in midfield and reignited his partnership with Clayton but was dropped after the QPR game. Monk needs to decide his strongest starting line up and get the best from them, without that, it doesn’t matter how strong the bench is.
Despite these issues, they have been encouraging signs that things are starting to click into place and the new attacking verve is most welcome. But unlike Karanka, who inherited a bargain basement Mowbray squad, Monk has been handed a promotion squad supplemented with the full force of Gibson’s cheque book. Some patience is required, but repeats of Tuesday night cannot be endured too often.