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Middlesbrough 1 Watford 1 (25/10/2014) 26/10/2014

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.
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1- “Uncle Will, is this really the best trip you’ve ever been on?”

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It’s been a tough week, all told.  Tuesday night’s draw with Forest was sacrificed in favour of an open evening at one of daughter 1’s possible schools next year… by Thursday I needed something to get me through the challenges that Thursday and Friday were going to vomit into my path, and this was it.  Not just a trip to Boro, but a trip to Boro with daughters 1 and 2 (aged 8, 5), an epic and reckless gamble with their fledgling enthusiasm built up as an adventure, a road trip.

Two days and minimal coercion later we’re at the Riverside, whose empty stretches of seating tend to lend it an air of moribund discontent – even when, as today, the home fans make a fair amount of noise in response to a positive home performance.  Daughter 2 in particular is disconcerted by the unfamiliar imbalance in the stands, accustomed as she is to Watford’s support being dominant.

This is her first away trip, and daughter 1 has only ventured away from the Vic for the play-off final so there’s much at stake here, much that can go wrong.  On the pitch, too…  an away trip against strong opposition should really come under the heading of “grab what you can get” at this stage of the season, relatively low pressure and no hair to be torn out if the worst happens (see also Norwich), but that’s without the context of Nottingham Forest.  No, I didn’t see the game… but dispatches suggested that disappointment at a home draw was alleviated by the quality of the attacking play, the promise of what’s to come.  That’s fine and dandy, as long as it leads somewhere.  Today’s match might determine whether there’s momentum building or whether we stay in third gear, chugging along at a reasonable pace without really realising what we can do.

2- It’s a bright but cautious start. Two opponents sparring, getting the measure of each other without leaving themselves exposed.  Significant in the Hornets line-up are the two changes, one of which late and both enforced; Bond in goal for Gomes, injured in the warm-up, and Anya a slightly surprising choice in the midfield three for Abdi.  Surprising, only in the sense that in playing a three in midfield, particularly away from home, you kinda want physical presence… I love Ikechi to bits, but it always felt like a big ask this, much as injuries to Abdi and McGugan and the not-quite-fit-to-startness of Andrews limited our options. Murray, for all that he has struggled in this formation, would have brought a bit more grit;  my brother was all for swapping Fernando and Ikechi around.  Either way, Boro soon take control of the game and swamp us in the middle of the park.  Our attacking play is bright enough; Vydra, a skulking ninja, springing out from nowhere to fling a near-lethal shot low towards the bottom corner, Konstantopoulos diving to his left to push wide.  Increasingly however it’s Boro with the possession and the pressure, exposing the lack of width in our formation to isolate Paredes against the constant overlapping threat of George Friend.  The home side dominate the final half hour of the half;  for all that, Bond only has a couple of saves to make – one a fabulous reflex stop when Bamford should perhaps not have given him any chance at all – but we owe our clean sheet at the break to the foreheads of the excellent duo of Bassong and Ekstrand,, and the diving blocks of the likes of Munari and Tözsér.  It’s a successful rearguard action and owes a little to luck, but more to guts and determination in contrast to the slightly sullen atmosphere amongst the team… backs to free kicks, heads down, little communication for all of deputy deputy skipper Tözsér’s encouragement and cajoling. Nil nil at the break, and we’re grateful for it.

3- We look for a change at the start of the second period, frankly.  Something to tip the balance back in our direction… a change in formation perhaps if not personnel.  There’s no evidence of anything changing in our approach however, and Boro are keen to finish what they’d started by howling out of the blocks.  The goal when it comes isn’t particularly elegant, Kike seizing on a loose ball in the box to finish well but it’s been coming long since.  It is difficult to see any other outcome from this point than a Boro win, it’s so evident that what they’re doing is working and that our occasional rapier counter-attacks are a weapon, but aren’t adequate.  I begin to turn my mind to how to support my daughters through the realisation that a cross-country trek for a defeat, perhaps a heavy defeat, is a joyless pursuit but a rite of passage.  I’m wondering how much credence “days like this is what makes the wins good” will get from a five year-old, albeit a five year-old who has spent both pre-match and half-time engrossed in the Boro match programme.

4- Much credit has been given to Troy Deeney’s introduction in changing the game.  Certainly Daughter 2 is delighted… players being injured in general is a source of concern, having been at Bournemouth Gabriel Tamas’ knee is a frequent topic of discussion and she’s fully appraised of Deeney’s hamstring injury.  There’s no doubt that he gives the team a lift;  accounts from Forest suggested that he looked unfit and immobile but here, whilst he certainly looks heavy, he brings a bullishness and a physical presence and buckets of personality to our attack.  Odion Ighalo had done a very decent job as a target man in the first half before fading in the second, the ball had stuck to him and he provided an outlet… but he’s still not intimidating in the way that Troy is.

And much as Troy gets the goal and makes us more potent, the real accountability for the change in the game rests with the home side.  Whether intimidated by Deeney’s arrival, exhausted by their high-pressing game or simply the victims of a catastrophically bad tactical decision Boro, having had so much success (and been deserving of more) on the front foot suddenly step off and give us space.  The most immediate beneficiary of this is not Deeney, but Ikechi Anya…  once, at the end of the first half, he found enough space to do his thing and wriggle off with the ball like a hyperactive eel.  More generally he has been forced backwards by Boro’s midfield into an unnaturally contained role.  Now, suddenly, he’s unleashed and we’re very much in the ascendancy before the irrepressible Scottish international skips down the left and lays back for Deeney to knock in.  Both daughters go completely ballistic as the players head towards the away corner.  On the pitch its a remarkable turnaround, and we’re forcing our advantage home.  Andrews comes on and stiffens up that midfield, Anya is permanently unleashed.  Tözsér’s free kick finds Ekstrand, his brilliant reverse header back across the face of goal crashes off the post.  Boro are in danger of losing everything here.  It’s not the reverse of the first half… we’re never that dominant and Boro have chances themselves but it’s them  on the break now, on the back foot and Deeney, every inch the leader, is leading the charge.  Paredes, too, reminds us why he’s such an asset, having had a tough first half he is now a powerful, rampaging pain in the arse on Boro’s left flank.  Tözsér comes close with a low, ripping free kick that’s again pushed round… we’re unable to judge from side on along the goal-line quite how close that was, but we’re on our feet and finishing the game with positive energy.  The game ends with Boro fluffing a chance themselves, as if to remind us that we really shouldn’t lose perspective on what is a very good point.

5- We’re drawing a lot of games, you’ll have noticed.  Five of our last seven having not drawn in our opening nine fixtures.  Needs to be borne in mind of course that there are all manner of mitigating circumstances… rule number one of Statistical Process Control, as you’ll no doubt be aware, is that you don’t try to draw any conclusions about a system that isn’t stable and we’ve been far from stable in the context of which two league defeats so far isn’t such a bad thing.  One of those defeats was at Charlton, whose supporters harboured concerns as to whether their glut of draws would evolve into wins or defeats, concerns now looking well-founded, but in our case we continue to pick up results from difficult situations and difficult positions.  Middlesbrough were terrific, our own limitations exposed by this rather than the cause of it, and we still came away with a deserved point and looking forwards.  We got away with that first half, but played some part in that outcome too. I’m more optimistic than those Charlton fans were.

As for the girls, the journey home was interrupted by a prolonged stop at Wetherby services – you can’t hurry two young girls with fish fingers and chips.  We pulled in at home in Bedfordshire at 10pm to a tutting from the girls’ mother.  Daughter 1 had just about lasted the distance, Daughter 2 was roused from sleep to be carried inside.  Despite which, blinking and half-asleep, she responded to enquiry as to the best bit of her big adventure with a grin and a twinkle in her eye.  “Troy Deeney’s goal”, was the response.

A very decent result all round.

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Comments»

1. Norwayhornet - 26/10/2014

Glad your girls didnt have to suffer a negative awayday ,makes your chances of a repeat more certain I hope:) Of course after making it up to the girls mum !!
On a sidenote watching on stream and listening to Marksy we were battered in that 1st half ,I for one an well happy with a point.

2. Roger Smith - 26/10/2014

Thanks Matt for another very human report, as much as what it means to be a fan as of the match itself.

I don’t think it was Deeney’s fitness that made him so ineffective against Forest, although he may well have lacked his old sharpness; more it was that we abandoned the push and run style of play that has reinvigorated Vydra in favour of high balls down the centre half’s throat. And on the odd occasion when Deeney did win the ball in the air, there was no-one around to feed off the knock down.

I was confident that Jokanovic would latch onto the problem and sort it. That certainly seems to have been the case. I think your Nos 1 and 2 can look forward to many more joyous momemts.

3. Lincoln Hornet - 26/10/2014

Great as usual Matt and I read with interest your account of the girls first away trip. I have two girls myself who are now 17 and 18 but their first away day was at Forest some 13 years ago when Mycah knocked in a couple for a two nil win and that was it, they would always be yellow. Trips together have become much less frequent and we hadn’t been to a game together with Mum also for about 7 or 8 years (Apart from play offs) until they got me tickets to Sheffield Wed last week for my birthday. The lads came up trumps with a great performance and 3-0 win. I looked at them following Vydras fine third to find them high fiving all around them and joining in the singing for the remaining minutes. On the way back to the car I asked Bex the oldest if she had enjoyed the game. ”I loved it Dad, it gave me a right buzz when we scored and I love the singing”
I couldn’t have asked for a better game to confirm that they will never stray to the Manures, Chelskis or Gooners of this world, or even Forest where one of them is at Uni now, no I am happy that once again it is confirmed they will always be Yellow just like Dad. Make sure you keep takin your girls mate.

Matt Rowson - 26/10/2014

great stuff. Remember that Forest game… “total football”…

4. Simoninoz - 27/10/2014

I am pleased to say that my girls (then 10 & 8) saw a game at the Vic in 2005, during their only visit (as yet) to the Old Country. They still sometimes come with me to see Sydney FC (my Southern Hemisphere team) and do their best to keep me calm, although they aren’t always very successful at that I’m afraid. What fantastic fathers we are!

5. Paul - 28/10/2014

On the next home match report could we have some nice photos of the new main stand from Occupation Rd for we expats?

Matt Rowson - 28/10/2014

Wasn’t a lot to see last time I was there Paul, narrowed to accommodate building work/barriers and not obvious how it will look when “ready” but will do my best Saturday. Not been since Brighton.


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