Friday, 7 November 2014

Rival Lines: Cherry Chimes talks to Anthony Vickers' untypical Boro

Rival Lines
Blogger Interview: Anthony Vickers' Untypical Boro
Match Preview: Middlesbrough v AFCB

Middlebrough players
at Dean Court last season.
When Cherry Chimes asked Anthony Vickers to answer some questions ahead of the Middlesbrough v AFCB match neither of us expected the clubs to be placed one and two in the Championship, but the form of both teams has seen them position themselves above the pundits' more favoured teams. Anthony Vickers' Untypical Boro blog has been busy making the headlines, but what does he think about whether Boro have the long term credentials to challenge for the Championship title?

CC: Do you feel Aitor Karanka is a much better manager than a year ago?

AVUB: He's always been a good manager. He adapted to the relentless grind of the Championship very quickly and got to grips with the strengths and weaknesses of his squad quickly too. After a shaky start of one win in five, Boro have made progress by the month, although it has been steady rather than spectacular.

The first thing was to shore up a defence that was leaking goals - two in the first 12 minutes up here against Bournemouth last year. Two stupid self-inflicted penalties was pretty much the norm before he arrived - and he managed that quickly by changing the shape. The cost of that was an eight game run without scoring and that became "the story" for a spell, but that run also included six clean sheets which was part of laying down the foundations.

Boro finished last season with six wins out of eight, then over the summer Karanka had the chance to bring in the players he wanted, players with the skill set that suited his system. So I don't think he is a better manager but he now has the tools to do the job.

CC: Grant Leadbitter and Garcia Martinez have been doing well, do you always feel confident about them sticking away their chances?

AVUB: Boro fans would say that Kike (Garcia) misses too many chances but that is an occupational hazard, while five of Leadbitter's goals have been penalties. But they all count. Taking the goals out of the equation, both of those players have been very effective: Leadbitter is a determined driving force who can grab a game by the throat while Kike is a technically superb player with deft touches and perhaps does his best work deeper, linking up and bringing people into play.

Boro struggled to score at the start of the season, but as the new players gel they are creating and taking more chances with the goals being shared around. Which is nice.

CC: Was the League Cup match against Liverpool an indication of how far the team has progressed under Karanka?

AVUB: Looking at Liverpool's current stifling mediocrity it is hard to say. But at the time it was a fantastic ego boost to go to a Champions League side with £30m worth of strikers up front and only lose over 120 minutes by the odd goal in 31.

It was more a sign of the mentality of what is a relatively young and inexperienced squad that they weren't in the slightest bit overawed at Anfield. They got stuck in, they did themselves proud and came away buzzing from the experience. It was a good day out for the fans too.

CC: Would it be good for your players to experience being top of the league or do you think it would put too much pressure on them at this stage?

AVUB: The public party line is that "it is nice just to be in touch at this stage" but I think the manager would like to be able to lead from the front. I don't think the pressure would be an issue. At Boro there is more pressure in not being up there and challenging. A lot of fans who grew up with Premier League superstars demand that. Being top would certainly help reignite the lapsed loyalists who have drifted away disillusioned by five fruitless years in the Championship.

CC: Is the team more suited to playing away at the moment on the break?

AVUB: I think they probably are. They have the pace to really hurt teams on the counter and means they need the opposition to push forward a bit to create space. Away the onus is on the opposition to attack and Boro have exploited that. Boro have only lost twice away (Leeds and Wolves) and only conceded more one goals once (at Wolves.)

At home when sides have come to park the bus they have struggled to find space, get behind them and create chances and early on found that frustrating. In more recent games they have had more joy, especially when the visitors tried to play football - Brentford, Watford and Norwich - and have managed to impose their own styles.

CC: Who has been the best player for you so far?

AVUB: It's hard to pick out individuals because that the team has been so effective no matter who plays. Adam Clayton and Grant Leadbitter have been excellent in midfield and the full-backs George Friend and Ryan Fredericks have been potent outlets too. Adam Reach has improved dramatically In recent weeks while Patrick Bamford has been superb in the last few.

CC: Albert Adomah and Adam Reach have come in from a lot of praise on the wings so has Middlesbrough become a better crossing team?

AVUB: Yes, I think so. Reach has matured in the past year and is far more productive while Adomah seems to have upped his work-rate and while he is not scoring so freely, arguably he is far more effective for the team. The full-backs have also over-lapped and put good crosses in too. Plus, more importantly, Boro are getting more bodies into the box onto the end of crosses.

CC: How impressive has Konstantopoulis been in goal?

AVUB: He's no world-beater but golden oldie Dimi is solid and dependable, has plenty of experience and seems to organise his defence well. At the back end of last season and from when he stepped in this term after five games, he has an impressive clean sheet record. He complements a hard working defence.

CC: Karanka said Boro should have beaten Watford as you had the chances, so do you think you will buy a striker in January and who do you think could be a good buy?

AVUB: No, I don't think Boro will add a striker. With Kike, Bamford and Vossen (yet to really show what he can do) Boro are well equipped up front. There are plenty of wide men and midfielders too. Possibly they may think about a central defender (although Veljkovic has arrived on loan from Spurs and we haven't seen him yet) and if Dimi were to get injured they may be forced to bring in a first choice keeper. The squad is strong enough I think.

CC: Are you at all surprised with where Boro is in the league this season?

AVUB: No, personally I expected them to be top six and challenging. They finished very well last season and added strength in depth so I think there was an expectation within the club that they would be among the leaders from the off. Once bitten, twice shy - fans may not all have shared that view but certainly inside the camp that was always the target.

CC: What is your score prediction for the Bournemouth match?

AVUB: I'd take a draw right now. This season Boro have played better against "footballing" sides so I'd hope for a good performance and an entertaining game but low scoring. 1-1?

Thank you Anthony for some very detailed answers on how the Middlesbrough team is playing and lots of views on their strengths and weaknesses (not too many of those). I am hopeful that this early season top of the table clash does not disappoint in terms of entertainment. AFCB do go at teams away from home and will play their fast breaking football so if Boro also go looking for goals it could be a real thriller. There is not a harder place for the Cherries to go this season and even though the team has been on a fantastic winning run I don't think a draw would be a bad result. Even if the Cherries were to lose they would still be in the top six which is a great place to be in having been 11th at the last international break.

For more of Anthony's views take a gander at his Anthony Vickers' Untypical Boro blog.  

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