It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Sort of. Maybe. It’s definitely still December even if the current climate has dampened your festive spirits and it must be Christmas because Boro scored four at the weekend.
However, due to the strange situation we find ourselves in this year, a lot of the preparation I associate with Christmas has pased me by. There’s been no mad dash around the supermarket to get food in as that’s all been done online. I’m not spending my fortnight off work in a winter wonderland of being in the pub and out with my mates every day because nowhere is open.
I haven’t forgotten to get everybodies presents resulting in a BTEC Jingle All The Way last minute race to not disappoint everybody with Lynx Africa gift sets because…I’ve forgotten the presents haven’t I?
Shite. Have to scribble out a letter to Father Christmas really quickly and send it first class to the North Pole. Big man will sort the job. While I do that, let’s tack on a few bits and pieces for the Boro squad, they deserve a treat after going through almost half of the season in three months.
They’ve outstripped expectations by having us in the playoffs for Christmas and they’ve earned a few rewards. I’m sure old St. Nic won’t mind me bending the rules either, he’s clearly a massive Red. Now, what to ask for?
As a priority we need to get Duncan Watmore a new contract at the club all signed up, that’s a certainty. The gaffer has already said the forward, whose short-term agreement is set to run out next month, has been offered an extended deal but with reported Premier League and Championship interest in Watmore it’d be good to get that wrapped up soon.
The former Sunderland man has proven his worth and more importantly, so far, his fitness by featuring in seven games in a three week span while notching four goals. Watmore’s movement in the final third, shown in his predatory brace against Millwall, has given an extra zip to the forward line and his ability to play outwide has given Neil Warnock options in setting up the team.
A further “prove it” deal that could spur Watmore into continuing his fine form would only help Boro at a time when reinforcements are needed.
Another problem that Father Christmas could fix for Neil Warnock is the lack of a goal threat from corners and free kicks despite the manager proclaiming Paddy McNair as the “best set-piece taker in the division”.
Stats site whoscored.com credits Boro with 5 goals from set-piece situations so far this season although only two of those, Chuba Akpom’s debut goal at QPR and George Saville’s header against Cardiff, have come directly following the set-piece.
This has been due to a number of factors including the injuries to Grant Hall whose towering presence in both boxes was a key reason as to why he was signed in the summer and a lack of willingness from players to attack areas of space. The other overriding issue has been the obsession with short corners and intricate free kick routines that have killed momentum when poorly executed.
It’s not something I ever expected from a Warnock side, would’ve bet my house on him being a “get it in the mixer” man every time.
To counteract this, it’d be nice if on Christmas morning when the gaffer comes downstairs in his pyjamas, he unwraps a copy of Dave Clarke’s “The Ultimate Soccer Set Piece Play Book” that provides great ideas for free kicks, goal kicks and corners.
There’s 34 easy to follow plays to give your team a goal-scoring edge included in the book and why would an author ever lie? It might help the lads identify each other at throw-ins too. It’s on offer for just £21 now so we’ll throw Neil in a framed photo of Anfernee Dijksteel while we’re at it.
Another issue facing Boro at the minute is the form of Marcus Bettinelli. Despite the loanee racking up 9 clean sheets so far, putting him at joint second best with Bournemouth’s Asmir Begovic, he owes a lot of those shut outs to the suffocating defensive performances in front of him and has been shaky at times when tested.
While he’s shown the ability to make top saves as proved by his match-winning effort late on against Luton, Bettinelli also has a habit of letting shots through his gloves and spilling efforts like the one that led to Sam Morsy’s sending off in that same match against the Hatters. I think the professional term is “poppadom hands”.
That might be because his gloves are too big. It’d make sense. Even when getting a full hand to shots, as seen in the rain-soaked defeat against Huddersfield, there doesn’t seem to be much resistance from Bettinelli. It’s an easy mistake to make.
The 28 year old is a big fella with a booming voice so the kitman probably just thinks he’s got huge hands. So Santa, please drop off a few pairs of goalie gloves in a range of sizes to Marcus Bettinelli, preferably ones with those finger save sticks in them. Bottle of superglue too. If you give him the receipts then he can take the ones that don’t fit back to Sports Direct. Everyone’s a winner, then.
The final gift I’d like to send to the squad is the big one. The main present. As it’s the main present it’ll take a bit longer to arrive, like that time your old fella didn’t remember to order that mountain bike you really wanted. I’d like Father Christmas, or more specifically Steve Gibson, to treat the squad with some new mates in January.
The team have done brilliantly so far and the recent batterings of Millwall and Birmingham have got us going into the festive period in a mint mood but there’s still concerns over the lack of a creative spark and the fear that a lack of depth could cause trouble if injuries continue to pile up.
The recruitment team will need to be smart to deliver some new additions during January. It’s a difficult period to pull off transfers at the best of times but with money tight for nearly all clubs across the country, it will take extra Del Boy levels of wheeling and dealing to make the right deals.
There has been a lot of buzz around Yannick Bolasie finally joining the Boro in a cut-price move to reunite with Warnock but even that deal for a player who has been cast aside at Everton may prove a stretch to complete.
I’m sure all of the players and coaching staff will be waking up happy on Christmas morning, with the mood around the club incredibly positive, no matter what presents they are opening. Hopefully Kevin Blackwell has got around to fitting his kitchen so that him and his missus can get the dinner on for everybody. Enjoy yourselves lads, you’ve certainly earned it.
I better get down the petrol station before I forget about presents again.
Photo Credits: Teesside Live, The Northern Echo, Getty Images