Football League Expert & Columnist
Chop and change
What's Middlesbrough's best team? Peter Beagrie isn't sure and neither, it seems, is Gordon Strachan.
Last Updated: 15/10/10 2:03pm
You can sense the frustration at Middlesbrough right now.
Gordon Strachan has been given money to spend by his chairman, but results have been inconsistent and they currently sit 18th in the Championship.
Strachan obviously decided he needed physically fit footballers to compete in the Championship and hoped to achieve that by signing a contingent of Scottish players. Unfortunately it hasn't worked so far.
Kris Boyd, who was expected to be the main source of goals, doesn't look fit enough to play a central striking role in a division where you are always involved in the game. There's no doubt he is a goal threat - as he proved against Sheffield United - but I would question his fitness.
That is just one of several things that hasn't gelled yet. In central defence, David Wheater and Stephen McManus are two uncompromising players, but they haven't formed an understanding so far.
Personally, I'd like to see more home-grown players in the Middlesbrough team. The fans always like to see that and they are sometimes a bit more patient when the players are one of their own.
I was at the Riverside to see them throw away a two-goal lead against Portsmouth in their last league game. That led to some very frustrated supporters and an inquest afterwards.
Strachan was as prickly as usual in the post-match press conference. He stated he'd made "fundamental changes" and he had a pop at one of the journalists when he dared to ask what those were.
It's not as if Strachan would be helping opponents by discussing his side's weaknesses because they are very apparent.
There is a high work rate, but sometimes that work rate is misguided. They don't put enough pressure on opponents in wide positions and they are a little bit open. Even at 2-0 up against Portsmouth, they never looked like they would kill the game off.
It was also notable that Strachan had made four changes to his line-up for the Portsmouth game and I think the inconsistency in selection is reflected in the inconsistent results. He has had to cope with injuries, but I still don't think he knows his best XI.
A couple of wins would put them on the right road again, but I can't see them putting three back-to-back results together at the moment.
Saturday's game against Leeds, live on Sky Sports, is a big one for Boro. I played in many of these fixtures, which I class as a Yorkshire derby, and they are deeply passionate affairs.
I'm sure there will be a huge influx of Leeds fans at the Riverside, but which Leeds will they see: Dr Jekyll or Mr Hyde?
Will we see the Leeds that let in five against Barnsley or six against Preston? Or the side that ground out a narrow win against Sheffield United or a 0-0 against Doncaster?
There have been lots of changes to the back four and maybe that explains the inconsistent defensive performances. They key absentee is Kasper Schmeichel - I'm sure their season will pick up when he's fit again - and Patrick Kisnorbo is a massive loss as well.
They have added some steel in midfield because their back four has been vulnerable. They don't put enough pressure on the ball and, particularly against Preston, they were undone by long balls.
With that in mind, the team that defends better will probably take the spoils on Saturday.
Tackling the issue
There has been much talk about tackling in recent days.
I hope that doesn't lead to referees handing red cards out like confetti because tackling is an art that shouldn't disappear from the game.
The rules have improved over the years to ensure the talented players are able to display their skills, but I would still argue that tackling is a key part of football.
I was classed as a flair player, but I took as much pride in tracking back and sliding someone out of play as I did skipping past a couple of defenders on the wing. It varies around the country, but I think most fans in all tiers of football will applaud a thunderous, well-timed tackle as much as a great piece of skill.
Of course, I don't want to see cynical and malicious tackling. I've been on the end of a few of those myself because full-backs used to get three chances to get you carried off before they got a warning from the ref.
There is more protection now, but the pace of the game makes it difficult for referees to identify a reckless tackle. Often there is contact caused by a follow-through that isn't a foul and refs only get one look at each challenge.Hopefully the refs will get it right most of the time, but it would be sad to see tackling disappear from the game. I suppose you can't please all the people all the time.
Peter's Picks of the Week
LEAGUE ONE PLAYER OF THE WEEK - Jake Kean (Hartlepool)
I watched Hartlepool's game against Peterborough on the Soccer Saturday panel last week and maybe myself and Jeff Stelling weren't as impartial as we should have been! He's a huge Hartlepool fan and it was my first league club, so it was nice to see them get back to winning ways after some heavy defeats this season. They've kept three clean sheets on the spin and Jake Kean deserves credit for that. He made two world-class saves to earn my player of the week award.
See Hartlepool highlights here
LEAGUE ONE GOAL OF THE WEEK - Kazenga LuaLua (Brighton)
We've seen him score some spectacular goals this season and he seems at home down on the South Coast, on loan from Newcastle. He comes from good stock - his brother and cousins have played at a high level - and he has a great strike on him, as he showed against Bournemouth. I enjoyed the celebration too. My claim to fame is that I was the first to do that, but it has been bettered since by the likes of LuaLua. It gets higher every time I see it!
Click here to view
LEAGUE TWO PLAYER OF THE WEEK - Ashley Westwood (Crewe)
He scored a couple of goals against Torquay and is a real creative force from midfield. If you're going to play in central midfield for Crewe then you need to have a good understanding of the game and be a total footballer. Well, Westwood gets from box to box and gets his fair share of goals too. A lot of Championship clubs are looking at him and this was another outstanding performance.
See Crewe highlights here
LEAGUE TWO GOAL OF THE WEEK - Gareth Ainsworth (Wycombe Wanderers)
It was his 100th career goal at the age of 37, but he wins goal of the week through quality, not sentiment. The power and direction of the shot was impressive and he had a great game as well. People say he's in the twilight of his career, but I played until I was 42 and I applaud his appetite to keep playing. Anyway, this was a great way to celebrate a landmark goal.
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