Smoggies, Originally, this was a term of abuse for supporters of Middlesbrough FC coined by their Sunderland A.F.C. counterparts. The name was meant to refer to the pollution once allegedly produced by the local petrochemical industry, and from Dorman Long. Though, at first, Smoggie was used as a pejorative term, it has become an example of reappropriation with many people now proudly calling themselves ‘Smoggies
It was good to get in to our Pre Season after analysing our squad and making a few additions to our back room staff which you can see in Part 1. I had decided that we were going to develop a system of play that I would call Smoggy. The system would be what I call a 4-3-3 system using wingers supporting a lone striker pretty much how Ajax line up in real life or Sarri’s Napoli. I wanted us to play an easy on the eye brand of football following a few principles that included a short passing style which we would build up from the back with our wingers playing wide to stretch the play and offer underlap opportunities, I want us to close down our opponents whilst using a tight marking system. After a little bit of tinkering during our Pre-Season games I came up with the system below:
I decided not to use any individual player instructions instead just using the default instructions for each role. I also made the decision that I would make the roles a little flexible for example: I use Britt Assombalonga in a Complete Forward role but when Rudy Gestede starts up top he plays a Target Man role thus changing the dimension of our attacking threat the same can also apply to my Right Winger Adama Traoré who can be replaced with both Patrick Bamford or Jack Harrison who will play as Inside Forwards offering something a little different. In some games I also change the Defensive Midfielder to a Deep Lying Playmaker to give us a something different in the middle of the park. In a nut shell I am not going to develop players to strictly play one role in my side if I have a young promising Deep Lying Playmaker coming through the ranks I am quite happy for him to continue his development in that role. I like to see what other roles can offer outside of my default set up.
Now pre season for me is all about getting game time for the squad and I never quite now how to gauge our performance but this time I had a gut feeling that we were on the right track Assombalonga and Traoré both looked sharp and the defensive pairing of Ayala and Gibson looked solid.
We then got the season underway with an away trip to Wolverhampton Wanderers and a tough start against a talented team but we played well and got the crucial first goal just after the break through Assombalonga after good work down the left flank from Downing. We held firm and came away with a 1-0 that really pleased me. We kept Wolves at arms way with Ayala, Gibson, Clayton and Assombalonga the stand out performers. I think the pleasing thing about this game is seeing the tactic you create go and do what you imagined it to do. I know it’s early days but only an FM manager knows what that feeling is like when your plan pays off. In fact it continued to pay off with two back to back home games against Sheffield United and Burton Albion. The visit of the Blades (Sheffield United) to Teeside was a tense affair United played well but we looked a solid outfit and like the opener against Wolves our visitors were reduced to a couple of long range efforts. I made a couple if changes in the 2nd half bringing on Rudy Gestede for Assombalonga and swopping the role to a Target Man to try and carve out a winner and then in the 89th minute Ben Gibson scores what was to be the winning goal from a near post corner to record our second 1-0 win of the season. With a trip to play Nottingham Forest at the City Ground in just a few days I decided to rotate my starting XI and give some some of our squad players the chance to show they can push the first XI for a starting place in the near future for the game against Burton Albion. Players like Marvin Johnson, Jack Harrison, Rudy Gestede and Ronaldo Vieira came in to the starting IX and performed well in a 2-0 win with goals from Besic and Gestede. With the newspaper full of speculation about our interest in Signing Forest’s Ben Osborn I met the press and told them that whilst Osborn is the type of player that we would be interested in long term there is no truth in the rumours linking us with a bid in the near future. Once the game kicked off we had only one focus and we quickly got in to our stride going 1-0 up through Adam Clayton in the 24th minute and then 2-0 up after 35 minutes courtesy of captain Leadbitter. I told the lads not to get complacent in the 2nd period and when Assombalonga silenced the boo boys with our third after 77 minutes the former Nottingham Forest player headed back down the tunnel with a smile at the whistle knowing his strike contribued taking us to the top of the table with 4 wins out of 4 and 4 clean sheets. We nearly came a cropper in the Carabao Cup 2nd round after I rotated the whole first XI for the 2nd rd tie at home to Crewe we were on our way out trailing 0-1 after 75 minutes I decided to bring Adama Traoré on in the 80th minute, 8 minutes later we were 2-1 up and Traoré was celebrating his 2nd goal of the game after he used his pace not once but twice to fashion an opening for himself and put us in the draw for the 3rd round which took place the following evening pairing us with our big rivals Sunderland. We end the month of August with a 0-0 draw at home to Preston North End.
We kicked September off with an away trip to Bolton feeling invigorated by the International break and after a dull first half I decide to bring off Assombalonga and replace him with Gestede to see if the target man can upset the Bolton rearguard and that is just what happened when Gestede nodded on a clearance up field from Ryan Shotton for Traoré to pounce on and finish with a devastating drive in to the roof of the net after 65 minutes. I was confident that we could get a second and kill the game off but we had to wait until the 83rd minute to put the game behond our hosts when Adam Clayton sealed the win 2-0. I was expecting a tough game against Aston Villa and the first half did nothing to make me think any differently so I was surprised how well we dominated the second period brushing Steve Bruce”s men aside with goals from Gibson, Assombalonga and Downing giving us a resounding 3-0 win to extend our unbeaten run in the league to 7 games. Another 3-0 win followed when we beat QPR at the Riverside after a first half treble courtesy of Ayala, Assombalonga and Traoré. I could not have wished for a better start to the season as my attention turns to my first Teeside derby when we will entertain Sunderland in the 3rd round of the Carabao Cup. Funnily enough I am actually feeling nervous about the game meaning I must be really enjoying the save so much so I pen my starting line up on paper at work. I have decided to not rotate for this game because I know how much it means to the fans. I finally get home from work get showered have some food and settle down for the game. The game itself was a tense affair with us creating most of the chances and it was not made any easier for us when Adam Clayton got a red card in the 94th minute of the game at 0-0 and heading in to extra time. I tried to lift the boys by being critical of them and it seemed to work when in the 109th minute Jonny Howson heads home to give us the lead with 10 men, we battle hard for the remainder of the game and hang on to win my first derby by the only goal of the game to send the fans home happy. Our form continues with another 1-0 at Craven Cottage against promotion candidates Fulham, Britt Assombalonga gets the goal that gives us the points on the banks of the Thames. Our run continues when we beat Norwich 4-2 with Target Man Rudy Gestede grabbing two of the goals alongside the inform Adama Traoré who also grabs a brace The two goals conceded are the first we have shipped in the league this season after going 9 consecutive games from the start of the season equalling Chelsea’s record from 1905. We finish the month off with an 100% record with 7 out of 7 wins when we beat Brentford 2-0 with 2 late goals from both Gestede and Johnson who comes in for the injured Downing. What a start to the season we have performed really well and sit pretty at the top of the Championship table.
“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.” ― Gilda Radner
We enter the month of October in first place in the table with 10 wins and 1 draw and playing some good football along the way which when you set a system up is very rewarding but what happened in October makes me scratch my head after just 1 win, 1 draw and 3 defeats ? The opening fixture of the month took us to Oakwell to face Barnsley without our left winger Stewart Downing so Marvin Johnson got the nod to replace him ahead of Jack Harrison who I included in the matchday squad. The game itself is a fairly dull game that we failed to punish our hosts with some dreadful finishing that little did I know would be the start of a problem. We did manage to hit the old onion bag once when Jonny Howson headed home in the 2nd half to earn us a 1-1 draw. Assombalonga picks up a knock late in the game that rules him out of our next game at the Riverside against a struggling Cardiff side lingering at the wrong end of the table. Now Neil Warnock rocked up with his Cardiff side and definitely spoilt our day by inflicting a 1-2 defeat upon us. Ben Gibson got our goal but it was a poor performance and the first sign of a slump in form. A midweek Carabao 4th round tie away to Fulham gave us the chance to rotate the side in a bid to freshen things up a bit and despite losing 1-2 we played pretty well however that’ 3 games now without a win. We stayed South for our next league game at Reading and a chance for Patrick Bamford to start up top for us because both Assombalonga and Gestede were carrying knocks but it was on loan midfielder Mo Besic who got all the plaudits with a star man display scoring both goals in a 2-0 win that hopefully puts an halt to our recent bad run of form. Well that was not to be the case when we travelled to Hull having no choice but to rest players ahead of the forthcoming derby against Sunderland. Hull took advantage of our below par performance beating us 0-3 inflicting our 2nd Championship defeat upon us. We need to pull our socks up heading in to next month with the opening game against Sunderland.
If you would have told me at the start of the season that by the end of the 15 game mark we would lead the table by 6 points I would have snatched your hand off however our poor run of results in October as me slightly worried ahead of our big game against Sunderland. So has I close part 2 of the Rise of The Boro I have changed our training schedule to try and give us something different in the lead up to the Teeside derby. I thank you for taking the time to read this post and hope you return for the next one to see if we can put an halt to our recent bad run of form and push on with our promotion challenge.