Following the disappointing defeat to Norwich in midweek, Gazette writer Anthony Vickers gave 5 reasons why it’s too early to panic about Boro’s start to the season. He made some good points, but I thought I would play devil’s advocate and give 5 reasons why we might need to panic.
1. We have 15 points from 10 games
There’s no getting around that this is a slow start for a team aiming for promotion. We’ve taken half the points available and are 8 points from top spot. While I believe that quite a few of the teams above us might fade away, we still have a lot of teams to overtake and a lot of ground to make up. We can’t continue playing catch-up for too long and need to find some consistency sooner rather than later.
2. We’re still struggling to score goals
I wrote a piece last week purring about our attacking options and was getting a little carried away. The Norwich and Preston games aside, we’ve managed to score a few goals at home. Where we’ve really struggled is away. This is not unusual, many teams are less adventurous away from home.
But the best teams find a way to get the job done on the road and at the moment we just look blunt in away games. Aside from at Bolton, the worst team in the division by a mile, we have scored 2 goals in 4 games. Apart from Wolves, none of these have been particularly good this season. The attack needs to click into gear asap, especially with tougher games to come.
3. The defence is looking vulnerable
So far this season we’ve conceded 7 goals and have the second best record in the division, and also have the second highest number of clean sheets with 5. On the face of it, this sounds great, but these stats are often misleading. The defence has kept clean sheets in games against poor teams, but has buckled under pressure from anybody half decent.
Goals have been given away cheaply in matches and the goals have been costly – of the 7 goals conceded, 5 have cost us points. If we were grinding out 1-0 wins and goalless draws at good teams, I’d be happy, but so far that isn’t the case.
4. We’ve struggled against decent teams
So far we’ve played 6 matches against teams currently in the top half. We’ve only managed one win, which was a rather fortuitous victory over Sheffield Utd, and have only scored 2 goals. So it’s clear that the team are struggling against the better sides in the division. Obviously you expect these to be tough matches, but if they are serious about promotion then we need to set high standards and aim to win.
You can’t always read too much into early matches between top teams, as things can change throughout the season. The crushing defeat to Hull in 2015 springs to mind, following that match everybody was writing Boro off and Hull were a premier league team in waiting – but by the end of the season Boro went up in 2nd place while Hull only just scraped into the play-offs. So things can change, and we’ll get our chance for revenge, but so far it’s a worrying trend that needs to be addressed.
5. The team hasn’t gelled
Yes, we have a new manager. Yes, we have a lot of new players. Yes, it takes time to become fully fluid and find top gear. But Boro are not the only side to have made lots of changes this summer. Wolves, Leeds and Cardiff all made major changes in the close season and all have started more convincingly. And the core of this team has now been together since pre-season, so 10 games in we should be seeing more consistency.
It’s a bit worrying that so far Monk does not appear to have figured out his best starting XI or his best formation. It’s good to have different options to change games, but it’s much better to have a solid starting platform each week. Monk has been praised for his substitutions which have helped us turn matches around, but the counter to that is that he has probably picked the wrong team to start with. It is still fairly early in the season, and with the quality in the squad we should improve, but we can’t wait too long to find our feet or we will end up too far behind.