Boro Bid For Happy New Year at Preston
By Rob Nichols
Sunday 31 Dec 2017 16:18:00
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Middlesbrough fans will see in the New Year at Preston hoping it is a brand new start for the club and one of going forward again. I don’t think any Boro fan will be disappointed to see the back of what has been a pretty disastrous year. Let’s hope we can turn over a new leaf and start a new chapter by taking 3 points from the Lillywhites at Deepdale. Kick off 3pm, New Year’s Day.

I suppose it was just asking too much that we might end the rubbish year of 2017 with a third successive win. The home match against Aston Villa marked the start of the Tony Pulis era heralded by a real damp squib of a game. It was certainly no Craig Liddlesbrough performance.

New managers always seem to lower expectation by taking a defeat for the team in their first game in charge of Boro. Am I right in thinking that you have to go all the way back to Bryan Robson to find a manager that struck gold in his first game? Add to that the fatigue factor. I have always thought that the packed festive programme is at best of dubious value to fans. Sure it is great to have big sell out crowds but no matter how much teams and squads are rotated, the fixtures invariably catch up with you sometime during the fortnight. If not then they will probably be your downfall afterwards. I would trade a very poor December 30th game for a post-festive slump any season.

Tony Pulis is trying to take a look at all his players whilst trying to maintain standards and take points. No easy balance. It will also take time for players to get used to new roles and demands. Obviously, we hope that long throws, free kicks and big hoofs from the back don’t become the new default but in truth there is always far more to Pulis teams than this. They are physical and hard working but he has had plenty of exciting and skilful players thriving under his stewardship before.

There was so little to light up the performance v Villa. Traore surging back like an Olympic sprinter to snuff out a Villa counter attack was one of the few highlights. Against this Albert Adomah came back to haunt us for Aitor Karanka’s utter folly at selling. How can you possibly not love a winger that provides assists from either side, chips in with goals and plays with a smile on his face?

I was talking to punk poet Attila the Stockbroker the other night. A big Brighton fan, he books his gigs around their fixture list, a man after my own heart there. Thinking back exactly 12 months ago and we looked to be in a similar position to Brighton, anchored well above the immediate relegation zone. Exactly a year ago today, Grant Leadbitter scored for us at Old Trafford and we were in dreamland. We were minutes away from a remarkable victory or at least it seemed a point. But as 2017 moved immeasurably towards 2018 so did Boro say goodbye to the good times and eventual lock into a death dive back into the Championship.

The sale of Albert Adomah was the first sign of a string of terrible decisions by the man in charge as he increasingly staked everything on Gaston Ramirez. What a mistake to make.

It is a new era now and a new year is dawning. It will be a difficult start against a team that have just toppled Cardiff in Wales and after currently enjoying real forward momentum themselves. We of course have history with manager Alex Neil, with that very unhappy Play Off final defeat to Norwich. It is not going to be easy making it back to back away wins.

You have to wonder if Grant Leadbitter’s legs are suffering. I did think he was struggling to combat Villa in the second period. Could this be the window of opportunity for Adam Clayton to come in and impress the new boss?

I hope Stewy Downing can keep the high standards up. Patrick Bamford may be refreshed from his 60 minutes on the sidelines and it was notable that we didn’t see the true Britt out there v Villa (I have been waiting to say that!)

Traore’s cameo could be maybe extended. People say he plays for himself or doesn’t have a football brain but I witnessed one burst through the centre draw a free kick in a good area. Two other Traore breakaways on Saturday ended with really promising final balls that might have been assists had Assombalonga and Bamford been on their toes. Can Pulis move his starting position closer to the opposition box and then he is going to draw free kicks and even penalties as defenders can only foul him to stop him.

Anyway, it has been a bad year. But can we begin to put all that behind us with a winning start to 2018 at Preston? Can we finally announce a new Pulis era with a statement of intent about this club rising once again as a force to be reckoned with.




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