Three points & a clean sheet, but victory against Bolton lacked bite

The two games after the international break have arguably seen our two worst performances (first 75 minutes against Millwall aside).

And whilst the victory last night wasn’t as bad as the loss against Norwich, it was still a difficult watch to say the least. And it was a seasons-old problem that has plagued us in those two games – lack of ideas in the final 3rd.

The defence, barring a the odd spell in the 2nd half, was solid. The midfield industrious and energetic as ever – a hallmark of our play this season so far.

The forwards cast adrift being linked by a tiny strand of silk that is Martin Braithwaite.

Let’s be honest, Braithwaite is a cut above a lot of what we have and probably what a lot of the league has to offer also.

While Jordan Hugill gave his usual terrier-like performance for little reward, it was Braithwaite that was trying to create something in the final third.

It wasn’t one of his best performances, but whenever he got the ball with back to goal or on the half turn, you knew he was going to get at defenders, or have the quickness of thought to play it round the corner and bring others into play – and that got the crowd going at times.

Jonny Howson had another great display and a very comfortable George Saville looked like he’s been here for a few years.

But when we regained possession and crossed the half way line, we were slow and ponderous, allowing Bolton to get back in to their shape.

With a bit more zip, we could have carved them open. Our wingers/wing-backs have been excellent this season but teams are starting to wise up and are strangling the supply.

There were two or three men every time we got down the wing, and whilst we did get the odd quality ball in to the box, it was slim pickings for Hugill.

Braithwaite, and at times Downing, are the only players who seem to be able to receive the ball on the half turn and make the transition from midfield to attack so much quicker. Everyone else seems to stop and ponder when confronted with the opposition in front of them.

Rather than playing through the opposition, it’s side to side with no thrust. And I understand that you can’t always play through teams, but at times we seem unwilling to try. And when the wide supply is getting throttled, we look toothless.

If you to try to go central, then it gives the opposition another quandary and allows you to free up the wide players while they try to solve it.

More: George Saville content with ‘important’ victory and first Boro goal

As frustrations grew in the second half and the crowd and the team wanting the second goal to kill the game, the long passes began to go astray and and the performance strayed from the scruffy type into ugly.

When the style we play doesn’t quite hit the marks, it is not pretty in the slightest.

People will say “well, we got the job done”, but our first goal came from an error, caused by the presence of Hugill and coolly finished by Saville. The second came while Bolton were stretched looking for an equaliser.

I would like to say that I was pleased for Britt Assombalonga.

He came on and got his goal with a neat finish after being benched following the Norwich game.

He was so isolated, and there was barely another Boro player anywhere near him for a majority of the game at Carrow Road and he was one of the undeserved fall guys.

So in short, the first goal was two defensive errors and the second would probably not have happened had the first not happened.

If we continue to play like that against better teams, we won’t be so lucky and will probably be punished.

Teams are wising up to our wide play so we must be smarter through the middle when the wide option is sparse. And Braithwaite is key for that.

All that being said, we are up to second again, with another clean sheet under our belts. The base of the team is very solid and teams will always find it difficult against us.

Now if we can get Braithwaite singing and find some extra  flair and creativity from somewhere (youth ranks maybe?) then the train will keep on rolling.

Another three points should be ours on Saturday, and hopefully a much better performance.

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