RAMBLE: Wednesday -v- Middlesbrough

After a positive albeit unconvincing result in the 2nd round of the Capital One Cup against Oxford United in the week, it was back to the bread and butter of the Sky Bet Championship with Middlesbrough the visitors to S6.

First and foremost, a quick mention to our opponents in the 3rd round, Newcastle United. Personally, I’m looking forward to it and returning to St James’ Park 6 years since our last visit (a 1-0 defeat.) Dare I say it’s winnable?

They have Chelsea at home the following weekend so could that turn out to be a factor in how they approach the game? Either way, it’s a fantastic opportunity to pit ourselves against Premier League opposition that’s not Manchester City at the Etihad!

Middlesbrough also progressed in the League Cup with a 2-1 success at Burton Albion having been pushed to extra time. They’ll play Wolves at home in the next round.

Secondly, we announced the signing of centre back Michael Turner from Norwich City on a season-long loan on Thursday. He was out of favour at the Canaries and spent the back end of last season on loan with Fulham. A very solid centre back on paper and could prove to be a great partnership with Tom Lees. Time will tell.

PRE-MATCH

Middlesbrough have started the season identically to us: 1 win, 2 draws, 1 defeat and 2 cup wins.

En route to the match, I wasn’t feeling confident. Looking at our recent performances, it’s a cause for concern. A lousy 1 shot on target against Reading in a game where we deserved nothing, a positive result at Leeds but could’ve been worse and Oxford, we weren’t spectacular by any means but we got the job done which was important.

Having said all that, there was a bit of hope in me given our recent results against the team from Teesside. The Owls have won 4 of the last 5 meetings (including the last 3) and 6 of the last 7 at Hillsborough (again, including the last 3.) Not to mention the ever-critical Dave himself opened the scoring in each of those previous 3 games.

It was always going to be a tricky task given the quality of Boro’s squad and with them coming within a whisker to promotion via the play offs last season, they’ll want to go one step better this time around.

Waking up to the news on Twitter that Daniel Pudil had signed on a season-long loan from Watford put a smile on my face. Another good signing made. That’s 5 loanees we now have. Speaking to Watford fans on Twitter, they rate him highly and someone who gives 100%. We can only hope he puts in the same effort for the blue and white of Wednesday.

It was around 2:15 and after grabbing a bite to eat from Norwood Fish Bar on Herries Road (if you haven’t been, I advise you to do so. You won’t regret it), the line-ups were in. For the record, I had a chip butty and it wasn’t greasy if you were wondering. I’m not that kind of person, trust me on that.

SWFC: Price; Hunt, Lees, Sasso, Wiggins; Hutchinson, Lopez, Lee; Wallace, Joao, Matias.

Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Nsue, Ayala, Gibson, Friend; Clayton, Leadbitter; Downing Fabbrini, Reach; Kike.

It was a predictable line up. With Turner (who was on the bench) just arriving and with Sasso playing well, it would’ve been wrong to throw him straight in at the deep end. Hutchinson starting again made me worried given his injury record. Seeing Joao back was pleasing to see. Middlesbrough also lined up very strong.

It was 2:45. After collecting a match day programme and purchasing a 50-50 half time draw ticket (just to try my luck), it was time to enter the ground. I could already smell that match atmosphere.

Hearing whispers that Fernando Forestieri was going to be present at the game were pleasing. Moments before kick-off, he was confirmed as a Wednesday player on a 4 year contract. We’re showing a statement of intent. I, for one, am very excited to see him play, after he’s been unplayable when featured against us in previous seasons.

Mr Chansiri has invested heavily in the squad and deserves a huge amount of credit for that and I don’t think we’re finished yet. We’re still after that goal scoring striker who knows where the net is. Maybe Gary Hooper is next through the door?

It’s such a contrast from previous years, when we could be virtually certain that not much would happen. Now, we can feel genuine hope that we’ll be getting quality players in.

With that news getting me in the mood for the match, the players were out and ready for action.

FIRST HALF

The first thing I noticed was, the band were absent due to the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. I know people hate the band but to be fair, when they’re not there e.g. today, there is no atmosphere and I think there was evidence of that in patches.

The game started in good fashion with Joao getting a shot away only for it to be blocked behind for a corner which came to nothing.

Boro got back into the game after that and looked lively. We were unsettled at the back, mainly down to the inexperience of Sasso. I like him as a player but he does look shaky at times and can be a worry.

A quarter of an hour gone and the predictable happened… Hutch went down injured. After a horror pass, Sasso commits a foul which resulted in a free kick on the edge of the box. I feel for Hutch as he’s a quality player but we have been playing too many games with him in the side.

The lad should’ve been wrapped in cotton wool and saved for future games. The free kick taken by Stewart Downing hit the wall and the follow up went high and wide into the Kop.

Minutes later, a cross into the box by Clayton found Ayala’s head and Price acrobatically tipped it over. Price hasn’t done anything wrong thus far; maybe he’s not a bad replacement for Westwood after all?

Hutch was struggling with his injury and was subsequently taken off with Jose Semedo replacing him. I, and people around me, thought it was the wrong move. We all expected McGugan to come on and make an impact with Lee dropping deeper into the DM role. I felt like we needed that attacking midfielder who would get the ball and make something happen. Semedo doesn’t offer that, he’s more of a “play it safe” kind of player.

As the game went on, we were getting bossed in midfield and conceding possession far too easily. There were too many bodies in the middle of the park for Boro which made it difficult for us to play through the middle. Matias and Wallace hadn’t really got going either.

26 gone and Ben Gibson went into the book for a late challenge on Joao. Inevitably, fans were calling for the red card but only a yellow was issued. Correct decision.

Our only effort of note came on the half-hour mark with Joao scuffing a weak shot straight at the goalkeeper Dimi, shortened for his first name Dimitrios. Joao has a lot of energy for someone so young; he was determined to make chances for himself. We have a good player on our hands; we just need to look after him in the right way and nurture him.

Boro were significantly on top and carved another opening not long after that when Downing picked out Adam Reach and Price was there again, this time saving with his legs.

It was only a matter of time before Boro would take one of their chances… On 42, a corner from Leadbitter wasn’t cleared and found Reach unmarked in the box to fire home. It was coming but I couldn’t help but feel it was avoidable. Sloppy defending from Wednesday.

0-1

Middlesbrough had confidence and smelt blood. Literally 60 seconds later, Reach was in on net again. A rare mistake from Tom Lees involving a mix-up between himself and Price presented an opportunity only for the danger to be dealt with. By this point, I was thinking how many we’d concede. We weren’t offering much going forward but that was down to how Boro set up in midfield.

Wallace sent a free kick 30 yards out wide of the Leppings Lane goal which was the last action of the first half.

HALF TIME: WEDNESDAY 0-1 MIDDLESBROUGH

I was relieved and happy it was only 1-0. It could and possibly should have been 2 or 3; I wouldn’t have had any complaints either. A very poor first half it must be said and a dominant one by Boro. We weren’t at the races and put ourselves under a lot of pressure. Only a change of system could give us an opportunity of getting something…

A half time sub was made with Nuhiu coming on for Wallace; Dave loves a goal against Boro. We were going 4-4-2! I agree with Tom who mentioned it in the Oxford ramble that Wallace is just like Maguire but he offers more of a danger from a set play and he can deliver a ball into the box on his day. Barring a goal at Ipswich, his performances so far haven’t been particularly impressive.

And no, I didn’t win the half time raffle. I’m sure you were all dying to know that.

SECOND HALF

I was hoping that Carlos and Bully got into the players faces during the interval and it looked like they did. We started the half with a bit of energy. Alex Lopez sent an effort just wide of the goal. Moments later, Lopez took a free kick 25 yards from goal and Dimi pushed it away.

To all the Nuhiu-haters, he changed the game from our perspective. Don’t think anyone who was at the match could slate his performance. He brought the midfielders into play, mainly Matias who was anonymous first half. I’m not Dave’s biggest fan and I appreciate the effort he puts in but is that really enough? It’s certainly open to debate.

By the hour mark, we were attacking with a real purpose and looked the more likely to score. By this point, Boro made a change with David Nugent replacing Kike.

Shortly after, we win a free kick on halfway and Diego Fabbrini, Boro’s 31, seemed to have elbowed Jack Hunt. I missed the incident in live play and having seen a replay, it was a clear elbow. Referee didn’t give anything, surprise surprise. Cue the chant of “We always get sh1t refs.”

A few minutes later on 64, the ball set up nicely for Matias on the end of the box from a poorly-cleared Hunt cross. He fired a shot which took a huge deflection and looped over Dimi into the Kop net.

1-1. OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH MARCO MATIAS!

3 sides of Hillsborough were rocking. It’s just what we needed after the start to the 2nd half. The momentum was with us and we won a corner almost straight from kick-off.

The corner came to nothing and Boro broke away. Nugent released Fabbrini, another player on loan from Watford, down the left with only Price to beat and shot across goal into the bottom right-hand corner. A classic counter-attack.

1-2

We committed too many men forward for the corner. I think we got a bit too carried away.

A swift reply from Boro who could’ve been rocked by our equaliser.

I was gutted. So naïve from our point of view. I think if Boro hadn’t scored so soon after us equalising, we wouldn’t have lost.

Hillsborough went silent. From the ecstasy of an equaliser to despair of going behind within minutes. That’s football in a nutshell.

You could tell that we were badly affected to going behind again. Players’ heads dropped and we were back to square one. We attempted for an equaliser but didn’t really creating anything meaningful. The only effort worth mentioning is when Tom Lees headed wide from a corner on 79. At this point, Sougou was on for Lopez.

I was shocked and surprised at the amount of booing – it’s just selfish and does nothing to help the team! People who pay the money to go to matches have a right to an opinion of course but booing the players will do the players confidence no good whatsoever.

Boro were in control and always looked a threat on the break. They were rewarded with 4 minutes to go. Again, we had too many men forward and Nugent, who was a real handful since coming on, was again the provider with sub and new signing Christian Stuani smashing it in from the right hand side of the penalty area into the far corner. Given our second half performance, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

1-3

This was greeted by thousands of fans heading for the exits.

It was mentioned in the Leeds Ramble last week and I can’t help but agree that left back is our weakest point. I know it’s only been a few games but Wiggins fills me with no confidence whatsoever. I haven’t been impressed by him. Hopefully Pudil changes that.

It could’ve been 4-1 in stoppage time but sub Adam Forshaw’s header was palmed away by Price and onto the post.

And that was that.

The full time whistle went to boos from the Wednesday fans, which was expected.

FULL TIME: WEDNESDAY 1-3 MIDDLESBROUGH

A summary of the game and my thoughts on the match:

First half we were very poor and lucky to be 1-0 down. Second half, we went 4-4-2 and we were a lot better. I’ve been saying it after the last few games that 1 up front isn’t working, particularly at home. We also need to up the tempo more. We missed McGugan in the middle; he would’ve given us that attacking impetus. Yes, he’s just become a Dad but the point stands.

Kieran Lee gets my MOTM, best player on the pitch (for us at least).

Apart from the first 20 minutes in the second half, we were completely outplayed and outfought by a good Boro outfit. This has been a side who’ve been preparing to get back into the top flight for a number of years whereas we’ve just started.

As it’s been said before, we’re a work in progress; only 3 of our starting XI were at the club last season (Lees, Lee and Hutchinson.) A lot of work still needs to be done before we’re a settled side.

I think people also have to remember it’s not been an easy start to the season. 2 of the 5 teams we’ve played finished in the play offs last season. 5 points from 5 games isn’t disastrous. Forestieri will offer much needed support going forward and Turner gives us that experience at the back. At the end of the day, it’s going to take time for players to gel.

The international break has come at a good time I feel, we need to get the new signings gelled properly and take it from there. We have a lot more quality in the squad now compared to last season and the players needs to work hard, adapt to our style of play and put things right. We have seen glimpses of what we are capable of, just not consistent enough. Once we hit that consistency, we’ll be hard to beat. We’ve got to show a little bit of patience.

It will take time for CC to find what his best team and formation is. Some of our fans expectations are too high at the moment. I don’t expect top 6 but I want us to be at least challenging/having a go and seeing where it takes us.

We’ve scored in every game so far which is a positive. Matias is finding his form after 2 goals in as many league games and Westy will hopefully return after the break. The sooner he’s back the better.

Finally, transfer deadline day is fast approaching. I’m really disappointed that the transfer window slams shut at 6pm this year rather than the usual time of 11pm. I don’t know what you think but that ruins the fun of it. I’m used to staying up late watching Jim White on Sky Sports News (with that infamous yellow tie of his) and seeing deals that have either gone through or collapsed.

At the time of writing, we’ve just had a TEN MILLION POUNDS bid for Ross McCormack rejected by Fulham. Paying that amount of money doesn’t guarantee success. Fulham paid £11m for McCormack last summer, getting 17 goals and finished below us in the final league standings. They haven’t started this season well either.

If you’re asking me, I hope we don’t sign him as I’d prefer Hooper/Vydra. I think we’ll be getting better value for money. More so with Vydra who compliments Forestieri well.

Darryl Lachman must be wondering why he signed a 2 year deal. Not yet given a kick and now pushed further down the pecking order following the arrival of Turner. It seems very bizarre, not to mention he was our first signing!

One player made available for loan is Stevie May. He splits opinion and mine is that he deserves the opportunity to show what he can deliver. If he is to temporarily leave, I hope he comes back a better player. It’s a shame to admit it but I think his Hillsborough career is over regardless. It just hasn’t worked out for him and these things happen.

Onto Burnley in 2 weeks, the first of 4 away games in September! Hopefully, we’re more refreshed.

This was my first ramble article for Owls Alive. Hopefully there’s more to come.

UTO!

Liam Kelly
Owls Alive
E-MAIL: admin@owlsalive.com
TWITTER: @OwlsAlive or @LiamK2292


One Comment

  1. Good stuff ,well done.

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