Saturday, 16 May 2015

Wembley Beckons For Boro

Middlesbrough    3        Brentford    0 
                           Tomlin  24 Kike  55
                                 Adomah  78
When you flick back through the recent history of Middlesbrough Football Club there are certain games which will live long in the memory, from their League Cup Final victory in 2004 to the memorable European nights from nine years ago, even so few could deny that yesterday’s play-off triumph over Brentford was something very special indeed.

Middlesbrough's Kike celebrates with Middlesbrough's Lee Tomlin
Kike celebrates Boro's second goal of the night
Not since the likes of Basel and Steaua Bucharest visited Teesside, where Boro stood pound for pound with the rest of Europe, has the Riverside been this vibrant. They knew the prize at stake, and now a place back in the Premier League is just one match away.

This was by no means a done deal and despite leading by 2 goals to 1 after the first leg at Brentford, Boro had to earn their place at Wembley in eight days’ time. Lee Tomlin’s audacious strike from the edge of the box on 24 minutes settled a few nerves, 10 minutes after the restart Spanish striker Kike made things safe with a second, before Albert Adomah reeled off with a third.       

It was a night which spoke volumes about the work done by manager Aitor Karanka, who has rejuvenated a club which has spent six years away from the top division. His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, the Spaniard’s name was chanted constantly by packed out Riverside, as was chairman’s Steve Gibson whose commitment to getting the club back in the Premier League has never been in doubt.    

They’re now just one game away from securing a life back in the big time and Teesside well and truly believe that they will. It’s been too long since the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea have visited the Riverside, which has been a fortress for Boro this campaign; losing there just three times all season.

One guarantee is that Aitor Karanka’s side will compete at Wembley Stadium in the play-off final in a week’s time against either Ipswich or Norwich who do battle in their second leg later this afternoon.

Not that Karanka will be too concerned about the opposition; his main task will be to prepare his players in the best way possible, not least top scorer Patrick Bamford who started on the bench due to an ongoing ankle injury.

That was the only difference from the side which started at Griffin Park in the first leg as Kike was preferred upfront. Brentford manager Mark Warburton, who was in charge of his last game at the club before he leaves in the summer, must have been similarly happy with his side’s performance a week ago, as he selected the same 11 players from that game.

Even before kick-off the persistent chats from the home fans were in full swing, and the word “believe” covered the North stand from the red and white cards which had been provided on seats before kick-off.  

It was a sight to behold even if the football was a little cagey early on. That didn’t matter as every tackle, every corner or every blade of grass covered by a Middlesbrough player was celebrated like a goal.

Brentford did what they could to try and take the edge off proceedings by retaining large amounts of possession. But as we’ve seen in the past, that doesn’t always win football matches and Boro keeper Dimi Konstantopulos barely had a save to make.

Like the first leg they picked up a few bookings in the process, as Adam Clayton and Dean Whitehead were shown the yellow card, you wouldn’t expect anything less in a game of this magnitude.  Brentford players protested and at times they had a point, on other occasions they could have been a little stronger, football is a contact sport after all.   

However they could have no complaints about Boro’s opener, Clayton’s swooping pass to the right picked out Adomah who jinked inside of his defender before teeing up Tomlin. Those being hypercritical could have pointed to the fact he was allowed too much space on the edge of the area. In truth few could have prevented the swift touch produced to get the ball out of his feet before the curling shot which pinged in off the post, giving keeper David Button no chance.

Brentford’s only real chances fell to striker Andre Gray, who this time last year was playing his football in the conference. Nevertheless he couldn’t add a 19th goal of the season to his tally, after a weak header on 41 minutes was comfortably held by Konstantopulos. Minutes later Gray failed to make contact with Moses Odubajo’s low cross, those chances aside the striker lacked service for most of the night.

In contrast Boro’s frontline were given plenty to feed off and delivered 10 minutes after the restart. Tomlin turned provider as he threaded a well-weighted pass through to Jelle Vossen, who with defenders around him hustled to get the ball under control. After assessing his options he finally set up Kike whose first touch took him into a shooting position where he couldn’t miss the target.

Jubilant scenes followed, the task was almost complete. But there was more to come 12 minutes from time, as Tomlin, Vossen and Adomah combined to create a tika-taka like goal inside to Brentford penalty area. It finished with an Adomah side foot off the underside of the bar, which found the net and sparked the sarcastic chants “we only score from set pieces” aimed towards Brentford defender Harlee Dean who had been made to eat his words.

The visitors went close to a consolation but substitute Jon Torel slide his effort wide. But this was Boro’s night, Boro’s dream and Boro’s journey to Wembley. The history books may have to be updated in a week’s time, the glory days may not be too far away.  

Player Ratings

Dimi Konstantopulos   6.5- Had a few routine saves to make

George Friend   7.5- As passionate as ever running up and down the left flank

Daniel Ayala   7- Took no chances at the back, in truth didn’t have a great deal to do

Ben Gibson   7- Read the game well to stifle the Brentford attack  

Dean Whitehead   7- reliable and calm head, made the right decisions nothing too complicated.

Adam Clayton   8- Obtained loose balls and rarely misplaced a pass, very tidy performance

Grant Leadbitter   8- Was box to box throughout the game winning tackles and holding midfield

Albert Adomah   8- Provided a great outlet on the right which Boro used affectively

Lee Tomlin   9- Was the catalyst behind Boro’s attack, scored stunning opener and was the main creator throughout  

Jelle Vossen   7.5- Another tireless performance leading the line

Kike   7.5- Held the ball up well and brought others into play, second goal sealed the tie


Adam Reach – Came on for the last 18 minutes, not enough time to give a fair rating

Adam Forshaw - Came on for the last 8 minutes, not enough time to give a fair rating

Jonathan Woodgate- Came on for the last minute, not enough time to give a fair rating

My Boro Man Of The Match: Lee Tomlin

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Stalemate Leaves Boro Waiting For The Playoffs

Middlesbrough    0        Brighton    0
If things had gone differently, this could have been the afternoon which reignited spirits on Teesside and ended Middlesbrough’s 6 year wait for Premier League football. it could have been the game which sparked jubilant scenes at a packed out Riverside and begun celebrations which would last long into the early hours of the morning. But that day will have to wait.     

Kike in action against Brighton
Boro fans knew prior to kick-off that this wasn’t going to be the anticipated promotion party which many have dreamt of in the past few months, that scenario vanished last weekend after an away defeat to Fulham. Even so a dreary goalless draw at home to Brighton wasn’t what they had in mind.

Boro fans now have a new date to place in their diaries, May 25th the play-off final at Wembley, although that could still be a long way off. First Aitor Karanka’s side will have to take care of a two legged semi-final against one of the leagues surprise packages Brentford who snuck into fifth place on a dramatic final day of the football league. 

Dramatic at most grounds. Not at the Riverside where Boro’s stalemate saw them slip behind Norwich who acquired third place with a victory over Fulham and will now take on close rivals Ipswich who ended up sixth despite losing away at Blackburn. The first leg ties will take place next weekend with Boro making the trip to West London for a Friday night kick-off.

It took the final result and permutations at the full time whistle to remind Boro fans that they had indeed reached the play-offs; it was a comforting reminder because there was little to shout about after this performance.

Karanka’s side were poor and didn’t show the sort of form which has seen them challenge at the top for the majority of the season. Some may point to the fact that top scorer Patrick Bamford was rested and not risked due to a niggling ankle injury. Player of the season George Friend, who received his reward before kick-off, was also suspended, but this is no time for excuses and other players need to step up especially with promotion still hanging on the line.

Scenes before kick-off were considerably more promising as over 33,000 fans, a sell out for only the second time at the Riverside this season, set the tone for a thriving atmosphere. However the action on the pitch did little to sustain it.

"We were expecting an amazing game with the fans behind us. We have another game at home to thank our fans for this season. We have to prepare as well as we can,” said Karanka after the game "It's been an amazing season and we can't forget now we have to prepare well and be more together than ever to go into the play-offs in a positive way. Promotion is in our hands."  

From the outside it appeared the Boro manager had set up a little negative considering his side were playing a Brighton team who had scored just 44 goals all season. 

Central midfielders Grant Leadbitter, Adam Clayton and Adam Forshaw all started while Kike was recalled upfront in place of Jelle Vossen who dropped to the bench. At the back Dwight Tiendalli replaced Ryan Fredericks and Fernando Amorebieta came in at left-back for Friend who was serving a one-match suspension.

It proved anti-climactic afternoon for what has been an overall gripping campaign. Brighton had a decent shape about them but had no persistent threat going forward, was it really any wonder when their top, scorer Lewis Dunk with 7 goals, plays as a centre back.   

Visiting manager Chris Hughton made three changes from the Brighton team which lost 2-0 at home to Watford last weekend Christian Walton replaced David Stockdale in goal, elsewhere Rohan Ince and Kazenga Lua Lua started instead of Bruno Saltor and Mustapha Carayol, who took up a place on the Boro bench after his loan spell expired.

The strong support produced an energetic atmosphere; however that was as good as it got in a dreary first half. Brighton were the first to threaten when a third minute corner caused problems inside the Boro penalty area before it was eventually scrambled to safety. After that the visitors enjoyed some decent possession without threatening the Boro goal.

On 18 minutes Albert Adomah tested Walton when he cut in from the left but his low shot was saved, minutes later the Ghanaian winger linked up well with Tiendalli on the right but Adomah’s eventual shot was deflected wide.

The only other chance of note in the opening 45 minutes came when Amorebieta acquired possession in an attacking area and caught Brighton on their heels, with space to run into he charged towards goal before electing to square the ball back to Kike, however the Spanish striker’s touch was well off  and the chance went begging.

Boro’s urgency went up a gear after the restart; Tomlin teed up Forshaw on the edge of the box however his shot was straight at Walton and the deadlock quickly reapplied itself.  A better chance fell Brighton’s way on 69 minutes when Greg Halford’s cross was turned over the bar by Chris   O'Grady.

The introduction of Vossen and Emilo Nsue added some extra bite in the Boro attack. It was Nsue’s cross ten minutes from time which picked out Kike however the striker’s effort was saved by the foot of Walton.

This was an afternoon which promised so much but delivered so little. Boro’s day could still come at Wembley in three weeks’ time; on the other hand it could just be another case of what could have been.     

Player Ratings

Dimi Konstantopulos   6- Was a spectator for most of the game

Dwight Tiendalli   5.5- Still looked like he was getting accustomed to his new team mates

Ben Gibosn   6.5- Swept up most danger

Daniel Ayala   6.5- Comfortable afternoon at the back

Fernando Amorebieta   5.5- Looked unfamiliar at left back and got sucked out of position at times

Adam Clayton   6- Provided security in front of the back four

Grant Leadbitter   6- Couldn’t influence the game and often found himself in deep positions

Albert Adomah   6- Got into some good positions but delivery was poor

Lee Tomlin   6- Floated around but rarely threatened the opposition goal

Adam Forshaw   6- Struggled to link up play in position behind the striker

Kike   5.5- Couldn’t hold the ball up with any great effect


Emilo Nsue   6- Added an outlet from right back

Jelle Vossen   6- Wanted to get on the ball and try to affect the game

Adam Reach- Came on for the last 15 minutes can’t give a fair rating

My Boro Man Of The Match: Ben Gibson

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Boro Click As Promotion Charge Continues

Middlesbrough    2        Wolves    1
Vossen  3 Bamford  12                                          Sako  53
Albert Adomah lay flat on the floor, there were 12 minutes still to play and Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka had just one substitute left in his hand; however Adomah was cooked and needed to be replaced. 
Patrick Bamford celebrates Boro's second goal
On came, centre back Fernando Amorebieta, Karanka’s mind-set was clear. Defend. Defend as if your life depends on it. That may have been Adomah’s last intervention but his commitment to this cause was unquestionable and as a consequence his body had deserted him.

The Ghanaian winger had been superb and one of the main reason’s Boro led this gripping encounter by 2 goals to 1 courtesy of goals from Jelle Vossen and Patrick Bamford. He had taken hit after hit blow after blow and run himself into the ground, to be fair so had the rest of his teammates and it was no surprise that they were now running off sheer fumes and encouragement from a raucous crowd.

The Riverside was bouncing, buzzing and brimming with energy as fans checked their watches, bit their finger nails before attempting to roar their team over the line and starting the process all over again. In the end it worked, just, and Karanka’s side can now look forward to at least a play-off place, if not more with three games remaining.

As the cliché goes “it takes two to tango” and Wolves played their part in what was a pivotal game at the top of the league, even so for the first twenty minutes it was Boro who well and truly dominated. The intensity was high, the passing slick and the finishing clinical; two goals up with just 11 minutes gone, starts don’t get much better than that.

Wolves may have fought and probed but in the end Bakary Sako’s second half goal proved to be in vain as Kenny Jackett’s side lost their second game in succession to drop three points outside the play-off places.

They couldn’t live with Boro early on and one can only wonder just how much energy Karanka’s high pressing, energetic game plan took out of his players considering they face promotion rivals Norwich on Friday night.

They will have to do it without Jonathan Woodgate who limped off after an hour; likewise Adomah’s condition will be monitored after he was stretchered off, Daniel Ayala didn’t even feature but this was a night for other players to stand up and make their mark.

Adam Forshaw, starting his second successive game in place of the suspended Grant Leadbitter, was outstanding, man of the match, as he acquired loose balls in midfield and rarely misplaced a pass. Jelle Vossen worked his socks, as he often does, George Friend was fired up like he was ready to do battle and that’s without mentioning the often spoke about talents possessed by Lee Tomlin and Patrick Bamford.

Karanka will know automatic promotion remains out of his side’s hands and that he will need either Bournemouth, two points ahead, or Watford, two points behind but with a game in hand to slip up somewhere. That is also providing Boro take care of Norwich, a point ahead of them, in a few days time before a trip to Fulham and a home fixture against Brighton.          

Nevertheless a surge of momentum could pave a route to promotion even if it leads to the play-offs, with that in mind Karanka made just two changes from the side which beat Rotherham on Saturday as Woodgate came in for Ayala, whose ongoing injury wasn’t risked. Upfront Vossen replaced Kike allowing Bamford to move central while Tomlin was shifted to the left.

Blink and you might have missed it, three minutes gone and the hosts were ahead. Some high pressure from Wolves early on saw them caught up field and Boro were quick spring in behind. With the visitor’s defence stretched a pass forward to Bamford appeared ominous, on the edge of the box he had time to look up and square the ball to Vossen who slotted the ball into the open net.

Eight minutes later Wolves were breached again, a fluent eye catching move saw Adomah slide a nicely weighted pass through to the on-running Tomas Kalas on the right flank, after advancing further Kalas’ low cross picked out Bamford who exquisitely flicked the ball up, turned and volleyed home with his opposite foot. That alone was worth coming to see.

Spirits were up and the fans were in good voice, it seemingly couldn’t get better. Yet it almost did on 18 minutes when Adomah demonstrated his memorising skills to skip past two players before cutting in from the right and curling a long range shot which clattered back off the crossbar.

Boro also had a faint penalty appeal turned down when Bamford appeared to be shoved over inside the area, that came before another Adomah effort was deflected wide. Wolves’ only threatened when Boro keeper Dimi Konstantopulos tipped away Sako’s corner, but at 2-0 a single goal could still swing things.

Eight minutes after the restart it did. But not after Boro had the chance to clinch a third when Kalas’s low cross from the right was jerked over the cross bar by Vossen.

This time a swift a Wolves move forward caught a couple of Boro players out of position and the visitors abruptly capitalised. A sweeping attack from right to left saw David Edwards pick out Sako, who had been Wolves’ main threat, in space and with  time to shoot he cannoned a left foot shot low past Konstantopulos.

Boro had begun to retract and needed to gain some ground back before it was too late, the loss of Woodgate and then Adomah didn’t help. Vossen was also withdrawn but substitutes Kenneth Omeruo, Emilo Nsue and Amorebieta all know their roles pulled their weight.

In an attempt to salvage something, Jackett introduced striker Nouha Dicko with half an hour to go, the visitors came closest when Rajiv van La Parra emerged at the back post to strike a hanging volley onto the bar from a right wing cross.   

Boro were now doing the majority of defending but still had chances as Tomlin flashed an effort wide before Bamford lobed Wolves keeper Carl Ikeme but hit the bar.

Another win, another tight win at that, Boro certainly don’t do things the easy way but that’s eleven wins out of twelve at home and a top two place remains in touching distance.   

Player Ratings

Dimi Konstantopulos   6- Didn’t have any difficult saves to make, got a hand to the goal

Tomas Kalas   7.5- Was a good outlet once again from right back, assisted second goal

Ben Gibson   7- Held his own and swept up danger when it arrived

Jonathan Woodgate   7- Needed to go off with half an hour remaining, was a worthy replacement for Ayala

George Friend   8- Pumped up, energetic in attack and defence, showed his passion

Adam Clayton   7.5- Picked up loose balls in midfield and broke up play well in front of back four

Adam Forshaw   8.5- Took his opportunity with both hands, rarely gave the ball away was cool under pressure and distributed the ball well, man of the match material

Albert Adomah   8.5- Was unplayable for 20 minutes, Wolves marked him a little tighter after that but he never stopped

Lee Tomlin   7.5- Made some clever moves inside from the wing to link up with midfield and cause Wolves problems

Jelle Vossen   7.5- Got goal early, worked incredibly hard as Boro applied pressure from the front

Patrick Bamford   8- Took goal very well but also rolled his sleeves up and put a shift in for the team


Kenneth Omeruo   7- Didn’t put a foot wrong after replacing Woodgate with 30 minutes to go

Emilo Nsue   6- Helpped see out danger with 16 minutes to go

Fernando Amorebieta – Only on for the last 12 minutes not enough time to give a fair rating

My Boro Man Of The Match: Adam Forshaw


Saturday, 11 April 2015

Boro Keep The Pressure On At The Top

Middlesbrough    2        Rotherham    0
                     Tomlin  49  Bamford  66
It was the calm before the storm as Middlesbrough recorded their fifth straight victory at the Riverside Stadium. They beat relegation threatened Rotherham by 2 goals to 0 on a sunlit but chilly afternoon; in all honesty they were expected to and had to if they wanted to keep alive their hopes of automatic promotion.  

Lee Tomlin opens the scoring for Boro
Goals from Lee Tomlin and Patrick Bamford meant Aitor Karanka’s men stayed fourth in the table with four games left to play, on Tuesday night they’re back on home turf to face eighth place Wolves, before a tasty looking trip to third place Norwich on Friday evening rounds off another pivotal week.

As for this afternoon’s event’s it wasn’t a classic, far from it but Boro got the job done. They may not have moved up the table or back into one of the automatic promotion spots, but at least behind them results went their way and without any calamities they should finish in the play offs due to their seven point buffer over seventh place Brentford.

Leaders Bournemouth are still only two points better off than Karanka’s side with Norwich and Watford sandwiched in between, after a weekend where the top four teams all triumphed.

Out of the four it’s Boro’s goal difference which is inferior to the rest, with more adventure they could have added more goals here and after a frustrating first half, thankfully for the 19,000 home fans the hosts finally clicked into gear.

There were alterations from the side which lost at Watford on Easter Monday; the most notable one was a recall for Spanish striker Kike, whose inclusion meant top scorer Bamford was moved out to the right where the Chelsea loanee was fairly ineffective for most of the game.

It may be the lack of fire power upfront which eventually costs Karanka and his team, especially in the bigger games, however at the back they are the sternest in the league. That is in no small part down to imposing centre back Daniel Ayala who returned from an ongoing injury to put in a dominant defensive display alongside Ben Gibson at the back.

Boro’s other changes saw Tomas Kalas and Adam Forshaw come in as Fernando Amorebieta and Jonathan Woodgate dropped to the bench while Dwight Tiendalli, Adam Reach and the suspended Grant Leadbitter missed out altogether.

Rotherham manager Steve Evans made two alterations after beating Brighton on Monday, as Jordan Bowery and former Boro loanee Adam Hammill came in. Ex-Boro midfielder Richard Smallwood was also included and received a warm reception from the home fans before kick-off.

They didn’t have much more to cheer about in a first half which served up few goal scoring opportunities. With nine minutes gone Ayala tried an audacious overhead kick after a half cleared set piece however Rotherham keeper Emiliano Martínez saved comfortably. Minutes later stand in captain George Friend slipped a pass through to Bamford on the left however the strikers cut back across goal missed a finishing touch.

The hosts may have dominated possession but Rotherham’s defensive set up with two banks of four was proving difficult to break down and Martínez was rarely tested. The same could be said for Boro keeper Dimi Konstantopulos who was all but a spectator at the other end, the next chance fell to Albert Adomah however he couldn’t hit the target when Kike picked him out on the left.

Boro finally cranked up the pressure after half an hour when Adam Clayton’s corner was turned goal bound and had to be parried off the line by Martínez. The Rotherham keeper was called upon again, twice denying Adomah from distance in quick succession after a Boro corner. The clearest chance came eight minutes from the break when Kike squared the ball to Adomah after a neat Boro move, however the Ghanaian winger failed to make significant contact and the ball was scrambled to safety.

Four minutes after the restart Boro’s vast possession was finally rewarded and some wary Rotherham legs may have been a factor. Lee Tomlin, who had been anonymous, for most of the first half received the ball on the edge of the Rotherham penalty area and with defenders in front of him he skipped into the box where space opened up allowing him to slot a shot low into the bottom right corner.

There were chances for a second, Kike headed Kalas’ cross over the bar before the striker had a shot blocked by defender Kirk Broadfoot, but it wasn’t until the 66th minute when Boro finally put the game beyond any doubt.

Scorer of the first, Tomlin again showed just what he brings to the side as he drove into the Rotherham box, on arrival and under pressure he knocked the ball back to Bamford who side footed the ball low beyond Martínez. The points were as good as safe.

Rotherham, still not mathematically safe from relegation, only briefly threatened when Hammil and Lee Frecklington tried their luck from range but both failed to hit the target.  Boro had a golden chance to add a third when Kike won a penalty late on, but after some debate about who should take it, Martínez made a low save to his right to deny Bamford.

It didn’t matter as Boro kept up the pressure on the top three in the race for promotion.

Player Ratings  

Dimi Konatantopulos   6- Was a spectator for most of the game

Tomas Kalas   7- Battled hard on the right hand side wasn’t afraid to make a challenge

Daniel Ayala   7- Dominated at the back and won everything in the air

Ben Gibson   6.5- Swept up the danger in defence

George Friend   6- Got in to some attacking positions but final ball let him down

Albert Adomah   6.5- A bit sloppy in possession but produced some decent attacking moves

Adam Clayton   6.5 Took a while for him and Forshaw to get to grips with each other, in the end sat deep and broke up play

Adam Forshaw   6- Slow start but improved gradually    

Patrick Bamford   6- Was on the fringes of proceedings until his goal

Lee Tomlin   7- Frustrating at times but ultimately produced two match winning moments

Kike   6- Struggled to hold the ball up long enough to receive support


Jonathan Woodgate   6- Replaced Ayala with 20 minutes to go

Emilo Nsue – Only on for the last few minutes, not enough time to give a fair rating

Dean Whitehead - Only on for the last few minutes, not enough time to give a fair rating

My Boro Man Of The Match: Daniel Ayala

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Boro Back On Top With Six Left To Play

Middlesbrough    1        Wigan    0
                                           Bamford  20
It is becoming more and more likely that Patrick Bamford will one day find himself playing in the riches of the Premier League. Whether that is with his current club Middlesbrough or not, the next few weeks could decide.

Bamford's finish secured all the points for the hosts
The Chelsea loanee was on target yet again to score his 17th goal of the season in Boro’s 1-0 victory over relegation threatened Wigan; it’s a victory with sends Aitor Karanka’s side back to the top of the pile in what has been the tightest of Championship promotion races with just six games left.

Bamford will take deserved credit as he often does, but this is far from a one man team. Boro weren’t at their best had to dig their heels in to claim all three points, however keeper Dimi Konnstantopulos was rarely tested as the hosts prevailed.

Overall this was a far more compact and disciplined Boro side than the one which was torn apart at Bournemouth before the international break. Jonathan Woodgate, back in the team after missing the trip to the South coast, was invaluable as he read the Wigan attacks like the back of his hand. That boded well for Tomas Kalas who was allowed to return to his natural right back position and looked like a player transformed from the centre half who was tormented a fortnight ago.

Further forward Jelle Vossen’s recall gave Boro options upfront; it was the Belgium’s miss-control which set up Bamford’s goal after twenty minutes. That may not have been deliberate but there is something about Vossen’s graft and relentless work rate which appears to get the best out of the headline grabbing Bamford.

Top of the table for now then, but this is no time for Boro to rest on their laurels, on Monday they must travel to fourth placed Watford, who Boro leapfrogged due to the hornets 2-2 draw at Derby, that game comes prior to back to back home games against Rotherham and Wolves before a trip to promotion rivals Norwich who currently sit just two points behind Karanka’s side.

In all likelihood it will probably be drawn out right to the wire, it would be fitting of a promotion race which has simmered with excitement and uncertainty throughout the season. 

Karanka can take solace from the amount of fans who returned to the Riverside yesterday afternoon, just over 24,000 watched this second tier encounter and there are signs that the Premier League vibe lost six years ago is slowly returning.

In contrast Wigan’s fall from grace couldn’t be more concerning for the fans who watched their side lift the FA Cup trophy in 2013. With six matches left to play they remain locked in the clutches of the relegation zone, six points from safety, and a sudden drop to League One is becoming a real possibility.

Their side did have quality Kim Bo-Kyung, James McClean and goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi were some of the few who were playing in the Premier League a few years ago however Malky Mackay’s experienced side went down with something of a whimper here.

There were only two changes from the Boro side which were outplayed at Bournemouth, however they were significant ones as Woodgate and Vossen replaced Emilo Nsue and Lee Tomlin. New loan signings Fernando Amorbieta and Dwight Tiendalli started on the bench.

It took until the 20th minute for the first real chance to arise and when it did there were no surprises that it was Bamford who opened the scoring.  Albert Adomah was the main catalyst as he skipped past his fullback before curling a low cross into the box from the right flank. At full stretch Vossen couldn’t bring the ball under control, however his touch knocked the ball back to Bamford who had time to set his sights and curl the ball beyond Al-Habsi from the edge of the box.

Two minutes later Bamford almost doubled his afternoon tally, but Al-Habsi was able to push the striker’s left foot shot wide of the post. Boro’s only other opportunities before half time came through the adventure of George Friend on 31 minutes the full back’s low cross into a crowded penalty area was eventually cleared, minutes before half time Friend set up Adam Clayton from a similar crossing position however the midfielder’s shot was blocked.

Wigan’s only real chance of note came from a free kick situation when Konstantopulos appeared to be fouled when coming off his line to collect the ball, nevertheless the Boro keeper recovered well and made himself big enough to block Leon Clake’s consequent shot.

Boro created chances to seal the result after the break, Vossen diverted Reach’s cross into Adomah’s path, however the Ghanaian winger flashed his effort wide from inside the box.

 With just over 20 minutes to go substitute Tomlin flicked Kalas’ low cross towards goal however Al-Habsi made an impressive save with his outstretched leg , Boro also had their keeper to thank when Wigan forward Marc Antione Fortune demonstrated good control in the area and forced Konstantopulos to tip a fizzing effort wide.       

In their bid for survival Wigan attempted to throw caution to the wind late on, McClean’s pace was their biggest asset but Boro made sure they kept a close eye on him. In the end the final few chances fell Boro’s way as Al-Habsi saved Bamford’s bobbling effort before Tomlin fired wide after going through one on one with the keeper.

1-0 it stayed as the Championship promotion race took yet another turn. Boro back to the top of the league, until Monday at least.

Player Ratings

Dimi Konstantopulos   7- Didn’t have many saves to make but made impressive save to deny Fortune

Tomas Kalas   7.5- Looked far more comfortable at right back, defended well and provided good outlet

Jonathan Woodgate   8- Read the game exceptionally, averting any danger which came his way

Ben Gibson   6.5- Appeared more assured alongside Woodgate’s experience

George Friend   7- Defended well and added an attacking option, it’s what everyone has come to expect 

Albert Adomah   6.5- Started move for the goal and battled hard on the right

Grant Leadbitter   7- Controlled the game in the first half, forced a little deeper after the break

Adam Clayton   6.5- Came close to getting his first goal for the club but shot was blocked wide

Adam Reach   6- Appears to be lacking confidence to take a defenders on, improved in second half

Jelle Vossen   6.5- Worked very hard for the team, unlucky not to be rewarded more

Patrick Bamford   7.5- Took goal well as he received, looked like scoring whenever he received the ball close to goal  


 Lee Tomlin   6- Denied by an impressive Al-Habsi save late on

Kike- Only on the pitch for last 2 minutes, not enough time to give a fair rating

My Boro Man Of The Match: Jonathan Woodgate

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Prolific Boro Hit Four Past Ipswich

Middlesbrough    4         Ipswich    1
                                     Ayala  4  Adomah  30                                           Murphy  10
                                       Bamford  64 ,79

Earlier this week Middlesbrough fans were fuelled with excitement when their club was linked with a possible loan deal for Blackburn forward Jordan Rhodes, this afternoon it was another loan striker who stole the limelight as Patrick Bamford showed why Boro’s attack is in no desperate need of recruitment.

Albert Adomah celebrates putting Boro ahead
Bamford scored twice as his side crushed promotion rivals Ipswich by 4 goals to 1 at the Riverside Stadium moving them briefly back to the top of the Championship in the day’s early kick-off. Perhaps even more significantly they are now eight points clear of Ipswich in 7th and have built a healthy buffer inside the play-off places with nine games to go.

The run to the finish is far from straight forward though, Boro now travel to fellow high flyers Derby on Tuesday night before a clash with Bournemouth next Saturday in a seven day spell which many labelled the week of destiny.

When asked further about Rhodes after the match Boro manager Aitor Karanka responded by saying “I don’t want to speak about speculation” It may just turn out to be a rumour, but with Bamford in this sort of form Rhodes may be better off staying put.

After only scoring once in his last five games, Bamford stole the show with an accomplished second half display. Following first half goals from Daniel Ayala and Albert Adomah, the England under 21 star secured the game with two composed finishes, supporting the claims that he should receive his chance in the Premier League.

Nevertheless this victory wasn’t just about Bamford’s youth and exuberance. At the other end of the pitch Jonathan Woodgate, still going strong at 35, never put a foot wrong after replacing the injured Ayala on 24 minutes. Adomah was a constant threat and looks close to rediscovering his form from last season, while in midfield Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton improved as the game progressed.

For Ipswich and manager Mick McCarthy this was a major blow to their dwindling promotion hopes, they arguably looked the better side when the Championship’s top scorer Daryl Murphy drew them level after 10 minutes however when they fell behind they gradually ran out of steam.

Karanka made three changes from the side which lost at Nottingham Forest last weekend, deploying an evident change of system in the process. 4-2-3-1 was altered to 4-4-2 as Jelle Vossen replaced Kike to join Bamford in attack, Adam Reach returned on the left as Lee Tomlin was left on the bench.

Ayala’s return meant he started alongside Ben Gibson at the back, with Tomas Kalas moving to right back after Ryan Fredericks’ injury at Nottingham Forest made him unavailable. McCarthy made one change from Town’s 1-1 draw with Brentford as Teddy Bishop replaced Richard Chaplow.

Within four minutes the visitors were behind. A short Boro corner from Leadbitter to Clayton was swung into the Ipswich box where Ayala connected with a firm header which thundered into the net. The impact did have an effect on Town goalkeeper Dean Gerken who had been clattered to the ground in the mix up, after a lengthy delay he left the field on a stretcher, to applause from both sets of fans, and was replaced by Bartosz Bialkowski.

However Ipswich’s pain was short lived and when the game continued they immediately equalised. Jonathan Parr was allowed too much space to turn and thump a powerful shot from the right which Boro keeper Dimi Konstantoplos parried in front of him, the ball soon spun away to Murphy who couldn’t miss from close range.

For a good quarter of an hour the visitors had momentum and came close to taking the lead when Jay Tabb squared the ball to Murphy from the left hand side and Boro were let off the hook when the striker’s deflected shot rebounded off the post.

Boro’s back line could have been unsettled further when goal scorer Ayala limped off after 24 minutes and was replaced by Woodgate, but instead of hindering the hosts it appeared to add an element of composure to their game and after the half hour mark they took the lead.

An almost identical corner to the one which led to Boro’s opener was played out as Leadbitter passed to Clayton; the initial low cross was cleared but only as far as Adomah on the edge of the Ipswich box and the Ghanaian international lashed the ball home.

From there Boro took control and could have had a penalty minutes before half time when Bamford was brought down by Town defender Christophe Berra inside the area but referee Mike Jones waved play on. The visitor’s only chance of note came when Bishop tried his luck from distance but Konstantopulos held his effort.

The next goal would be decisive but with two organised defences on display it was going to take a moment of quality for either side grab it. That moment came on 64 minutes when Vossen threaded a fine pass beyond the Town defence for Bamford to chase, with the keeper to beat Bamford showed no signs of nerves selling Bialkowski the dummy before rounding him and slotting the ball into the net.

His second, fifteen minutes later, was equally as impressive when Leadbitter sliced a pass through the Town defence and Bamford spun clear. His job wasn’t done, as Berra scrambled back to try and block the shot. He didn’t, and the Boro striker curled the ball beyond Bialkowski at the keeper’s far post.

Bamford could have sealed an impressive performance with a hat trick but fired over when Adomah set him up with four minutes to go. Nevertheless he took the plaudits and was awarded the SkyBet man of the match, he’ll be hoping for something similar against his former club Derby on Tuesday night.

Player Ratings

Dimi Konstantopulos   6- Couldn’t parry early shot to safety which led to an Ipswich equaliser

Tomas Kalas   7- Defended professionally and looked comfortable at right back

Daniel Ayala   6- Scored the opener but was forced off with an injury, hopefully not too serious

Ben Gibson   7- Cleared the danger with no nonsense

George Friend   7- Couldn’t get forward as much but defended well

Adam Reach   5- Indecisive in possession and lost his balance when in good areas

Adam Clayton   7- Struggled early on but improved as the game progressed, deliveries lead to the first two goals

Grant Leadbitter   7- Gained control of midfield in the second half

Albert Adomah   7.5- Was quick to win the ball back and run at defenders, took goal well

Jelle Vossen   6.5- Put himself about and set up Bamford first with a clever flick on

Patrick Bamford   8- Two great finishes demonstrated his quality and importance to the team


Jonathan Woodgate   8- Won headers, tackles, you name it after replacing Ayala in the first half, experience played a part

Adam Forshaw   6- Came on with 20 minutes to go to tighten up midfield

Emilo Nsue – Came on with three minutes to go not enough time to give a fair rating

My Boro Man Of The Match: Jonathan Woodgate   



Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Impressive Victory For Boro

Middlesbrough    3        Millwall    0
                             Bamford  26  Kike  30 
                                     Vossen  78
It was an attacking move which almost completed the perfect night on Teesside, as Middlesbrough full back George Friend threaded the ball through to team mate Albert Adomah before charging into the box for the return pass, sure enough it came, only for Millwall keeper David Forde to deny Friend a deserved goal. Nevertheless substitute Jelle Vossen was on hand to tap in the rebound. 3 goals to the good, 3 points and a spot at the top of the league. You can’t really argue with that.

Bamford and Kike were both back amongst the goals
The only thing which could have improved this comfortable 3-0 victory would have been if Friend had smashed the ball home when it fell to him on the edge of the penalty area to end a robust performance on the scoresheet. Moments later he drove forward again, taking on several Millwall players in the process, before returning to his orthodox left back position with a rich applause from the home fans ringing in his ears.

Of course Boro fans won’t really care about the nature of their goals as a win over a relegation-threatened Millwall side was all that mattered here. In fact Vossen’s goal capped off a good days work from the Boro strikers following first half goals from Patrick Bamford and Kike.

From the outside this appeared a game Boro had to win, at home to a side at the wrong end of the table. Their victory may have moved them to the summit of the Championship after Derby’s shock defeat to Brighton; however there remains just six points between Aitor Karanka’s side and 7th place Ipswich Town who are currently outside the play-offs.

A slip up here would have been unthinkable, especially after recent defeats to Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday had threatened to derail Boro’s push for promotion.  In truth Karanka’s side never looked like coming unstuck once Bamford fired them ahead and they can now move on to trickier away fixtures at Nottingham Forest, Derby and Bournemouth with heads held high.

It was simply a case of back to basics, as Karanka made four changes from the team which lost to Wednesday at the weekend and reverted back to his traditional 4-2-3-1 formation. 

That included a return for Friend who was relentless all game, Leadbitter who added stability in midfield with regular partner Adam Clayton and Lee Tomlin whose presence added an extra punch to the attack. Right back Ryan Fredericks also returned and with the exception of the injured Daniel Ayala it could be agreed that this was Boro’s strongest side.

Despite his team’s position Millwall manager Ian Holloway named an unchanged side from the one which lost at Rotherham on Saturday and had things been different his side could have taken the lead here, when striker Lee Gregory burst through the Boro defence to latch onto a loose ball but his low effort was saved by the feet of Boro keeper Dimi Konstantopulos.

That was the only real highlight for Holloways’ side, seconds earlier Kike had headed a chance straight at Forde and on 26 minutes Boro moved in front. A flowing exchange from the left saw Adomah knock a pass inside to Tomlin who send a low cross into the box, a clever dummy from Kike left Bamford free at the back post and he made no mistake, side footing a first time shot high past Forde.     

Boro sensed blood.  And four minutes later they doubled their lead however there was a little more fortune when Kike finally bundled the ball over the line. With half an hour gone Bamford showed astute judgement to control Clayton’s pass over the top of the Millwall defence, before brushing the ball to his left to Kike who didn’t make the cleanest connection, nevertheless the ball bobbled over Forde and into the net.

That was Kike’s first goal since his memorable finish at Manchester City and Karanka admitted it was a relief that his forwards were finding the net again.    

“Patrick, Kike and Jelle and we needed their goals because if you look at the teams below us in the table, their strikers are scoring" said the Boro manager after the game.

“I knew when our strikers start to score goals that it is going to make the difference because we’re a very consistent team, all of them have scored and we’ve won the game.”

In contrast Holloway could only watch, wishing he had the same sort of riches as his opposite number. This result kept the Lions six points from safety in 22nd place, their only chances here came from long range shooting, the closest coming when Diego Fabbrini hammered wide.

Even so the most likely outcome remain a Boro third, on 51 minutes Adomah flashed a low cross into the box but there was no one to apply the finishing touch. Minutes later Kike’s shot was blocked before Leadbitter’s curling free kick was turned goal bound by Adomah but Forde held his effort.

Millwall almost set up a nervy finish when substitute Ed Upson shot from distance but couldn’t hit the target, any hopes of a comeback were dashed almost immediately when Vossen completed the scoring to move Boro top of the league with eleven games to go.

Player Ratings

Dimi Konstantopulos   7- Made a vital save at 0-0 but didn’t face much after that

Ryan Fredericks   7- Snubbed out any danger defensively and joined in attacks

Ben Gibson   7- Looked comfortable cutting out passes and crosses

Tomas Kalas   7- Was put under some early pressure but held firm

George Friend   8- Was relentless running up and down the left channel all game

Adam Clayton   7.5- Won challenges and played some effective passes forward

Grant Leadbitter   7- Work may have gone unnoticed but added stability in midfield

Patrick Bamford   7- Moved back out to the right, took goal well

Albert Adomah   7.5- Has had a quick return to form in recent weeks, linked up well with Friend

Lee Tomlin   6.5- Still showed moments of quality, but gave the ball away a couple of times

Kike   7- Worked hard and held the ball up well at times


Jelle Vossen   6.5- Came on for the last 17 minutes and got on the scoresheet

Adam Forshaw – Came on for the last 8 minutes, can’t give a fair rating

Yanic Wildschut - Came on for the last 8 minutes, can’t give a fair rating

My Boro Man Of The Match: George Friend