Rudy Sees Red in Boro Away Day Blues
By Rob Nichols
Sunday 04 Feb 2018 11:57:00
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Middlesbrough's away run came to a crashing end at Norwich as Rudy Gestede saw red, Boro withdrew into defence and the Canaries eventually found a way through the red wall. Once our defences were breached we could only hope for a big set-piece moment but we never really looked like converting a corner or free kick all game. It was a long way to go for a 1-0 defeat.

It was a frustrating afternoon in the cold and murk of East Anglia. Boro showed off their new slimmed down squad, with the only out and out attacking option on the bench Britt Assombalonga, replaced in the first team by Rudy Gestede. It was a surprise to see former Canary Jonny Howson on the bench, he was given a good ovation by Norwich fans when his name was read out and on entering the fray as sub.

Boro had their three new signings looking on from the bench, Norwich also had new signings waiting in the wings. Pre-match doubt, striker James Maddison was fit after all and impressed all afternoon long (until a foul by Grant Leadbitter curtailed his game).

Boro started fairly brightly. Patrick Bamford fired narrowly wide on the end of a crisp move. Adama Traore was a thorn in the home team's side as you would expect. But Norwich's son of a Gunn, in goal, wasn't over troubled but then again neither was Darren Randolph for Boro.

Then came the red zone. First there was a booking for Gestede for a high boot although Tettey seemed to make a meal of it. Five minutes later Rudy lunged and mistimed a challenge and was shown a straight red. It didn't look as if he was malicious but from up in the stand he appeared to miss the ball and nailed the man.

Now we were in trouble. Boro reorganised in banks of defenders with Traore up front as a lone the sprinting target man. It certainly wasn't pretty on the eye but it was effective as Norwich kept on knocking on the door but time and again were repelled.

Boro are obviously well drilled for this ten man scenario, everyone knew their role perfectly, staying tight on their man and also knowing when to charge out and put pressure on the pass. In fact it was not until the final five minutes of the half that Norwich got a shot on target.

But any hopes of frustrating the home team until half time were shot down when new contact man, Tom Trybull, fired into the corner of the net and past Randolph.

Boro might actually have gone in level, Traore wriggled free but couldn't find the net and the rebound evaded Bamford. But our hopes seemed to be pinned on a set-piece for the second half. Leadbitter had punted a free kick narrowly wide. Could we do better in the second 45?

Boro kept the same team and followed the same well-drilled team orders after the break. On one break away Traore deliberately played the ball off a defender to win a long throw for Shotton. That seemed to be the game plan, soak up the pressure, hit them on the break and look for a corner, throw in or free kick. We did actually win all three but not even the introduction of Howson and later Britt could give us a cutting edge to convert. In fact Assombalonga looks sadly short of confidence now but we have seen it before one flash and a goal and he is a changed man. Hopefully it is sooner rather than later.

Both sets of fans paused from the heat of the battle to join together in a minute's applause for Michelle Dack, former Norwich fan of the year, who tragically died from a rare cancer at the age of just 52.

As the game dragged on I began to think about my long drive home and hopefully no repeat of the long diversion through East Anglia that actually saw me return to the same blocked road! The Norwich fans chanted their ancient anthem, On The Ball City and Boro fans reflected it is cold in the east.

Not even 3 minutes added on could subtract from our misery. While we had prevented Norwich adding any goals we never convinced that we could break our own growing goal drought.

At the final whistle Boro fans did applaud the efforts of the players that shown such discipline throughout in sticking to the rigid ten man defence. Yet this did not look like a team on the up. We did not create at all in this game.

Winning at home, not scoring away, something had to give in this schizophrenic season. Sadly it was the away record that was shredded first. We will need to dig deep and come out fighting, although not picking up red cards. We will need to do it without Braithwaite and for several games (subject to appeal) without Gestede. Can the new signings bring something positive to the mix? Can they help us find a way to spark some goals?

There were far more questions than answers posed by this damaging defeat at Norwich.

Norwich City 1-0 Middlesbrough

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