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Carrick finding Boro going more difficult second time around - Interview
Friday, 8th Mar 2024 09:43 by Clive Whittingham

Michael Carrick could do no wrong in his first season at Middlesbrough but has found 23/24 much tougher amidst a hectic fixture list, extensive injury problems, and poor recruitment - Dana Malt from the Boro Breakdown Podcast and James Boothby are our oppo fans this week.

How's the season gone for Boro so far?

JB: It's been a disappointing season. Going into January it would have been a very different answer - three points off the playoffs at that point and whilst we had been inconsistent there was hope we could push on and mount a challenge at least for the last play-off spot. A poor January (on and off pitch) followed and only Rotherham have taken fewer points than us in 2024. Whilst I think (hope) that talk of us sleepwalking into a late relegation battle are wide of the mark, a win sooner rather than later is needed. Our away form has actually not been too bad this season - it's our home form that has been absolutely shocking.

DM: It’s been probably the most frustrating season I can remember following Boro. I came into it with a lot of hope, and last season’s scintillating football set a notable marker of expectation. Some idiots (totally not me) even predicted a top two finish (LFW curse strikes again – ed). To say we’ve disappointed is an understatement. The season has been influenced by a conveyor belt of injuries - and that you can’t get away from - but even so, I’m not convinced with complete availability that we’d be significantly better off. Simply put, we’re just a worse team than last season - a case study in how losing your best and most influential players really does the damage that every half-arsed football pundit thought it would.

Boro in the league so far…
Boro 0-1 Millwall Esse 79
Coventry 3-0 Boro Godden 11, Wright 70, Lenihan og 90
Boro 1-1 Huddersfield Hackney 61 – Fry og 47
West Brom 4-2 Boro Kipre 22, Swift 28, Thomas-Asante 47, Sarmiento 90 – Latte Lath 29, Forss pen 85
Boro 0-2 QPR Dozzell 43, Colback 71
Blackburn 2-1 Boro Szmodics 31, 49 – Crooks 55
Sheff Wed 1-1 Boro Musaba 38 – Lenihan 53
Boro 2-1 Southampton McGree 44, Howson pen 66 – A Armstrong 17
Watford 2-3 Boro Bayo 19, Hoedt 52 – McGree 5, 12, Coburn 63
Boro 2-0 Cardiff Jones 56, Lath 84
Sunderland 0-4 Boro Greenwood 56, Crooks 60, Jones 72, Forss 90
Boro 1-0 Birmingham Rogers 88
Norwich 1-2 Boro Rowe 90 – Greenwood 46, Silvera 90
Boro 0-2 Stoke Rose 8, Leris 37
Plymouth 3-3 Boro Mumba 34, Azaz 38, Whittaker 77 – Coburn 23, 60, Greenwood 64
Boro 1-0 Leicester Greenwood 83
Bristol City 3-2 Boro Gardner-Hickman 37, Conway pen 45, Sykes 67 – Vyner og 50, Crooks 52
Boro 4-0 Preston Jones 16, 37, van den Berg 26, Bangura 90
Leeds 3-2 Boro James 5, Summerville 7, Piroe pen 38 – Lath 3, 45
Boro 0-2 Ipswich Chaplin 36, Hutchinson 67
Boro 1-2 Hull Lath 6 – Delap 69, Tufan 82
Swansea 1-2 Boro Lowe 59 – Greenwood 43, Silvera 78
Boro 1-0 West Brom Rogers 40
Rotherham 1-0 Boro Bramall 72
Huddersfield 1-2 Boro Helik 60 – Coburn 54, Howson 84
Boro 1-3 Coventry Coburn 31 – Sakamoto 34, 69, Wright 58
Millwall 1-3 Boro Bryan 10 – Engel 38, Jones 58, Forss 90
Boro 1-1 Rotherham Forss 82 – Cafu 59
Boro 1-1 Sunderland Forss 61 - Rusyn 83
Boro 1-2 Bristol City Silvera 90 – Knight 16, James 17
Preston 2-1 Boro Miller 23, Riis 60 – Azaz 57
Leicester 1-2 Boro Vardy 85 – Azaz 24, Silvera 37
Boro 0-2 Plymouth Sorinola 7, Hardie 31
Stoke 2-0 Boro Jun-Ho 40, Baker 71
Boro 3-1 Norwich Forss 37, Lath 43, Engel 62 – Barnes 17

A win at Leicester, but then defeats to Plymouth and Stoke (cheers), what's occurring here?

JB: In one sense, you could describe that as typical Boro. But in truth we changed the system against Leicester, played five at the back and tried to hit on the counter which worked really well. We seem to be struggling p against sides where we may have a lot of the ball, but at the moment doing very little with it. Injuries have played a part sure, but it feels like the stubbornness of trying to play the 'Man City' way with players who are just not capable is really biting us. Let our defenders/central midfielders pass it amongst themselves and at some point they will make a mistake and gift you a goal.

DM: The go-to answer would require only two words: typical Boro. Looking into it a bit deeper, though, and I think here’s a case to be made for Boro’s stagnant setup. At Leicester, Michael Carrick switched to a back three/five, which is understandable right? Block out Leicester’s tippy tappy nonsense and try to hit them on the counter. Well, it worked. But there’s an irony in it, because when teams set up like that AGAINST us, we struggle to break them down and look weak as piss at the back. To beat us, you just need to do the basics right.

I know you guys have had injuries all season really, and a lot of games to squeeze in because of the cup run, is the team just knackered or is there more to it?

JB: Injuries to key players have definitely not helped - and it seems to have affected our pacey players more leaving us very one-paced. Jones/Bangura/Lath have all had long spells out and we look very pedestrian without them. And I do think the 6-1 defeat v Chelsea was very damaging. It's a fairly young team and I think that shattered the confidence somewhat. And possibly an element of 'being found out' - we generally do only have one style of play and whilst I think it is admirable to stick to principles, we have shown that when we do mix it up a bit (like at Leicester) it can provide results.

DM: I do think that Chelsea second leg has ruined us. We got absolutely schooled that night. It was incredibly uncomfortable to watch in the away end, so I can’t imagine what it was like to play in. I think we’ve massively lost our way since and our form doesn’t exactly refute that. Just one win in six.

What's the general consensus on Michael Carrick?

JB: I think he has certainly found things tougher this year, but I think the majority are still behind him. I would like him to sometimes be a bit more pragmatic with style of the play when the situation calls for it. And I think both his timing and manner of the substitutions leave a lot to be desired - almost always like for like and 10 minutes too late. He will come out of this spell a better manager for sure - apparently close to signing an extended deal so unless things go horribly wrong over the next few weeks I don't see any danger of him leaving/being sacked.

DM: I’d say a lot of people are losing faith in him and a lot of people are pretending they’re still backing him because they don’t want to admit that they’re losing faith in him. He’s still got a little bit of credit in the bank for me based on last season, but it’s quickly running out. He’s been guilty of overcomplicating things - for example, instructing the team to play predominantly centrally, starving us of width and making us easy to defend against. He’s made strange personnel decisions too, benching Riley McGree at the beginning of the season and playing Luke Thomas instead of Lukas Engel recently. He’s more reactive than proactive, which has been quite the point of criticism on the BBC Tees post-match phone lines too. If we’d lost to Norwich midweek I think he’d have been under added pressure, from the fans anyway, especially if we then don’t get three points at yours.

What was done in January? What was left undone?

JB: A really poor window for us really. Started off well with the capture of Finn Azaz who had been performing well for Plymouth. Has had a slow start to life at Boro but has been showing signs of settling down and has got himself a couple of goals. Injuries in both full back areas also saw Ayling and Thomas in from Leeds and Leicester. I thought Ayling seemed to fit the bill with his experience, but has been really poor so far and feels like his legs are gone. Thomas very underwhelming. We then lost Rogers to Villa, which was great business for the club, but has left us looking a little bit light in creativity. And then Crooks left for the MLS. We went into January crying out for a goalscorer, but ended up not only not bringing one in, but losing two players who were capable of getting us goals. Felt very much at that point that we were waving the white flag a little bit and keeping our powder dry for a push next season.

DM: We signed Finn Azaz from Aston Villa, which I still think is a good signing even if we haven’t seen an awful lot of good from him yet. We also made two ‘necessary’ full-back loans to remedy injuries. Luke Ayling, who started well but has looked pretty poor of late, and Luke Thomas, who is just, erm… crap? We also got Morgan Rogers picked off us by Villa, which was nice of them to do. Oh, and clutch man Matt Crooks left for the MLS, so there went another goal threat. The biggest problem of January is that we didn’t sign a striker, again. It was unfinished business in the summer and it was unfinished business in February too. With Latte Lath and Josh Coburn out injured for varying periods this season, we’ve seen the following makeshift strikers up front: Matt Crooks, Morgan Rogers, Sammy Silvera and even Riley McGree. Seny Dieng will be up front next, but at least he can score.

Summer Ins >>> Emmanuel Latte Lath, 24, CF, Atalanta, £4.5m >>> Seny Dieng, 28, GK, QPR, £2m >>> Lucas Engel, 24, LB, Silkeborg, £1.5m >>> Tom Glover, 25, GK, Melbourne, Free >>> Jamie Jones, 34, GK, Wigan, Free >>> Alex Gilbert, 21, LW, Brentford, Free >>> Morgan Rogers, 20, LW, Man City, Undisclosed >>> Rav van den Berg, 18, CB, Zwolle, Undisclosed >>> Sam Silvera, 22, LW, Central Coast, Undisclosed >>> Lewis O’Brien, 24, CM, Forest, Loan >>> Sam Greenwood, 21, AM, Leeds, Loan

Summer Outs >>> Chuba Akpom, 27, CF, Ajax, £12m >>> Grant Hall, 31, CB, Rotherham, Free >>> Luke Daniels, 35, GK< Forest Green, Free >>> Marc Bola, 25, LB, Samsunspor, Undisclosed >>> Joe Lumley, 28, GK, Southampton, Free >>> Darnell Fisher, 29, RB, Released >>> Matthew Hoppe, 22, CF, San Jose, Loan >>> Liam Roberts, 28, GK, Barnsley, Loan

Winter Ins >>> Finn Azaz, 23, AM, Villa, £2.5m >>> Luke Thomas, 22, LB, Leicester, Loan >>> Luke Ayling, 32, RB, Leeds, Loan

Winter Outs >>> Morgan Rogers, 21, LW, Villa, £9m >>> Matt Crooks, 30, CM, Real Salt Lake, £1m >>> Hayden Coulsen, 25, LB, Blackpool, Loan

Stand out performers this season?

JB: Tough to pick too many out to be honest. Rav Van Den Berg has been excellent at the back for us - captained us against Stoke at the age of 19. Feeling is he will not be here too much longer. Hackney had an excellent first half of the season, but a couple of injuries has put a dent in that. Lath has looked good in flashes up front, but again has spent more time on the treatment table than on the pitch. McGree probably the other main standout - I actually think he is probably our best player but another not long back from injury and Asian Cup and not quite got back into the swing of it yet.

DM: Rav van den Berg. Wow, what a player he is. We signed him from PEC Zwolle in the summer and he’s been signing of the season for me. Just 19 years old, but plays with the quality and maturity of a seasoned pro. For context, this is a player that turned down the likes of Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan and AS Roma to join Boro. Off the back of that I’d say we’re massive, but it’s more that he’s just smart. He’s got the gametime he clearly wanted this season, and he’s been immense. A modern day defender; good on the ball, intelligent, far from a slouch, and has a good pass on him too. He’ll go very far. Cue several mistakes and an own goal on Saturday.

Weak links in this team?

JB: Defence has been a problem all season - full backs have not been great and not being helped by a midfield including Barlaser in a deep role which he just is not built for. Without Jones there is a lack of width/pace although talk of him potentially being back in time for the weekend. If you press us fairly high and press Barlaser in particular you will create chances - feels like we seem the same goals scored past us week after week.

DM: As much as I have rated Dan Barlaser, he is undoubtedly the target for other teams at the moment. He’s just too slow on the ball to advance Boro’s build up play from the back. He’s usually the first pass from Dieng, and as soon as he’s pressed he comes unstuck.

Revised expectations for the rest of the season?

JB: To be honest, I have no expectations for the rest of the season. Get another win or two to give us a bit of breathing space, and it feels like starting to prepare for next season.

DM: Finish as high as we can, which is a far cry from most pre-season expectations. Maybe we can keep a clean sheet before the season ends too.

Links >>> Middlesbrough Official Website >>> Teeside Gazette — Local Paper >>> FMTTM — Message Board >>> Boro Breakdown – Podcast >>> One Boro — Forum >>> Bonkers for Boro — Blog >>> Boropolis — Podcast

The Twitter @jamesyboz, @DanaMalt, @Boro_Breakdown, @loftforwords

Pictures — Action Images

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TacticalR added 21:58 - Mar 8
Thanks to Dana and James.

Despite two wins over Leicester, it seems this season is a write-off for Boro because of all the injuries. Fortunately for them it looks like they have enough points on the board to avoid getting sucked into the giant relegation swamp that is developing at the bottom of the table.

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