It was fitting that Middlesbrough were forced to wear last season’s yellow and black away strip at Selhurst Park this afternoon, after putting on a performance worthy of a team heading for the championship.
Boro were dealt a slice of bad luck 24 hours before this must-not-lose game. An injury to George Friend on Friday caused Karanka to switch to 3 at the back. I think Karanka at times suffers from the same trouble Roy Keane had as a manager, where he simply can’t understand why his players aren’t able to do the things he was able to do as a player. Karanka played alongside Zidane, Ronaldo and the rest of the Galácticos, where I imagine switching to a radically different formation was probably no big deal. But to a struggling Boro team short on confidence, it was a horror show, as no player seemed to know where they were expected to be. Cristian Stuani is not Luis Figo no matter how much Karanka believes in him.
In theory the 3 at the back should have given more options going forward. But Middlesbrough sat so deep in the first half they weren’t able to create anything. Negredo was barely ever within Wayne Hennessy’s sight, I think he was supposed to be playing a kind of false 9 coming deep to let Stuani play off him, while Ramirez played a roaming no.10. But it was a confusing mess, while the ‘wing-backs’ in Fabio and Downing were never confident enough to get forward and provide any width. On this performance I wouldn’t be comfortable having Downing playing wing-back on my Sunday League team, dodgy all afternoon at the back and could easily have conceded two penalties.
These days whenever Middlesbrough go a goal down I ask myself whether there’s any point watching the rest of the game. And unsurprisingly van Aanoholt’s goal 10 minutes before the break was enough to give Big Sam the points.
Gestede replaced Negredo at halftime and Middlesbrough were more direct in the second half, managing to create a few half chances. But an equalizer looked a long way off. Considering the importance of the game the last 10 minutes were particularly painful to watch. You’d have thought Middlesbrough were 4-0 down with the intent they were showing going forward at the end.
In an interview last week with Daily Mail Karanka revealed he had an 80 -page dossier on each Premier League team. You don’t need 80 pages to know that Adama Traore was crying out for start against a team that only 3 weeks ago shipped 4 goals at home to Sunderland. In the end Traore came on with 10 minutes to go, replacing Stuani in whatever role Stuani was supposed to be playing in.
Awful, awful, awful day for Boro.
But, it still only February. We’re still (somehow) out of the bottom 3. We’re probably going to win the FA Cup. Ramirez needs a game or to get going and he’ll be flying. It’s fine.
Stoke away next weekend, lovely.