Written by Tom Flight

In football there has always been tension over which way to play the game, whether to focus on style or pragmatism. The Brazilians call it futebol d’arte or futbol de resultados. Aitor Karanka definitely embraces the latter style. Even when we had one of the strongest squads in the Championship, Karanka maintained a resolutely cynical approach to every match, where containing the opposition was the priority. It wasn’t pretty, but it got us promoted (thanks to goal difference). The issue with Boro’s Premiership run is, while they have continued to be solid at the back, going into today’s game Boro had scored just 17 goals in 21 games. They had more points than goals. And that simply isn’t good enough to keep you up.

Karanka knows Boro need to try and find new ways to score goals, and today he tried a vaguely more offensive approach to the game. And it backfired. While it was nice, after two dour 0-0 games so far in January, to watch Boro in a vaguely watchable match, it was yet another frustrating afternoon. It was the defence, who have been so reliable all season, that let the team down. Apparently someone needed to warn Bernardo Espinosa that when you are marking Andy Carroll on a set-piece, it’s important to stay on him. And a goalkeeper of Valdes’ talent and experience should not be palming parries straight out to grateful strikers like he did for Carroll’s second.

In between those two goals Stuani nicely finished off a lovely move, showing the world that Boro are actually capable of playing football. But other than that there were little more than a few glimpses of hope for the home team.

Adama Traore is wonderful going forward, I haven’t seen a player in Boro shirt capable of beating players so easily since Juninho, and he even showed he’s capable of a good cross occasionally. But he offers no coverage in defence, leaving Calum Chambers to cope with Lanzini and Cresswell on his own for the first half, before Traore was switched over to the left in the second half. Negredo was, as usual, isolated for most of the game. And for a team that creates so little, you would think Boro would prioritise dead-ball situations. Apparently Adam Forshaw was the best dead-ball specialist on the pitch and he didn’t produce a remotely threatening ball all game. Chambers, who put in a MOTM performance at both ends, provided the biggest threat from out wide and provided the assist to Stuani.

But you never really believed Middlesbrough were capable of scoring another, and a scrappy goal by Calleri at the end, from yet more dodgy defending, made it 3-1 to the Hammers to kill the game off. Most disappointing were the comments by Karanka after the match, saying the players “deserve more respect,’ from the fans. Now I’m aware that Boro fans, in general, have far too high expectations from this team, but Karanka should really be more careful with his words. He said that the home faithful must have more “perspective.” But Karanka needs to remember that Boro fans have been acknowledged all over the country for their strong away support, and the Riverside has seen its stands filled regularly for the first time in over a decade. It is Karanka who needs to have a bit of perspective and realise how fortunate he has to have such a strong backing from this town, and really it’s he that needs to show the fans some respect.

Boro fans, do you agree? Will you stay up? Let us know in the comments below!

featured image by Paul Hudson