It wasn’t the start we all wanted and yes there were problems, but let’s just take stock and remember that Newcastle lost both of their opening games last season and were still (pretty comfortably) promoted! It’s incredibly early on, the system and players will take time to gel and we are still in the market for new additions. Take a breath!
So, wading through the disappointment of the Wolves result, who were the standouts (for better or worse)?
HOT – Britt Assombalonga
In this writer’s humble opinion, Assombalonga showed plenty to suggest he will be worth his £15m record transfer fee. He was one of a very select few who could come away from Molineux with his head held high. Let me start by saying: this guy is a beast! The striker was unlucky not to find himself on the scoresheet on his Boro debut, being thwarted on the day by a fine goalkeeping display from John Ruddy.
Aside from that though, he was an absolute handful (two hands full some might say) with his work-rate, movement & strength. He clearly caused the Wolves defence issues and in the end, they seemingly resorted to fouling him - thus winning vital free kicks for the team. He showed he can play off the shoulder and drop in deep where necessary: his movement was intelligent and his strength and hold-up play allowed him to bring teammates into play. There was a moment in the first half where Dani Ayala launched a hopeless ball into the channel for Britt to drag two Wolves defenders wide into the corner where he managed to hold the ball up and win a corner. We have not had a striker with his all-round skillset in years.
The other thing that stood out would have led to a Boro goal, were it not for a fine save from Wolves debutant Ruddy. In this day and age; too many strikers are concerned with; finding a pass, recycling possession and the prospect of missing a chance…as soon as Britt received the ball in the channel and there was a sniff at goal, he unleashed the shot. I am by no means comparing the two but this is something which Tottenham’s Harry Kane is superb at and part of the reason why he is so successful. Mark my words, the Boro number 9 will have the best season we have seen from a Boro striker in some time.
HOT – Patrick Bamford
Really difficult to pick the second hot spot this week because I don’t think it’s been a particularly impressive week. The performance yesterday showed there is lots of work to still be done. Notable mentions for the second hot-spot to Adam Clayton & Cyrus Christie. Ultimately though, I am going to award it to Patrick Bamford.
This is undoubtedly a vital season for Bamford, in career terms as much as anything else. He has had a rough few years - only making 32 appearances in the last 4 seasons - and is now back at Boro where he had good times to try and restart his career. He seemingly fully understands this himself and although he didn’t need to, could not have endeared himself to Boro fans any better by returning to training in the first week of June! He has applied himself brilliantly throughout preseason, has been prominent in local media and has grabbed a goal or two here and there!
I have no doubt that Bamford would have been disappointed to be left out of the starting line-up in favour of the largely ineffective £6.5m man Ashley Fletcher but displayed resilience to come off the bench and give the manager a gentle reminder or his ability. Bamford is an intelligent footballer and he displayed this with his link-up play around the box after coming on; he also has an eye for a goal and last time in this division was voted Player of the Year. Safe to say, the campaign for Bamford to start against Sheffield United next Saturday starts here!
NOT – Daniel Ayala
An obvious pick, but one that had to be made nonetheless. Let’s be honest, Ayala cost Boro a point here. Were it not for his lazy pass to gift Bonatini a goal on his debut, this would have been a 0-0 draw.
Boro are in the market for another centre back and although it remains to be seen whether this will be a starter (e.g. Kyle Bartley) or a squad/rotation player (e.g. Ryan Shotton), it’s clear to see why based on this performance. we’ve seen this before from Ayala – in the playoff final when Ayala gifted Cameron Jerome the opener at Wembley – and it needs to be made clear that this isn’t acceptable. Make no mistake, there’s a quality player in there: he was voted PFA Fans’ Player of the Year for the Championship in 2016 but he is seemingly prone to brain-lapses in big games like this.
After the error, we looked shaky at the back (including Ben Gibson) and there’s no doubt in my mind that his individual mistake bred uncertainty in the defensive ranks. Gibson & Ayala have a sensational record together at this level and most Boro fans would be confident in them as our starting pair for the season, however Ayala has seemingly fallen out of favour with some fans and I do question how much of an impact last season has had on him.
Perhaps competition for places will keep Ayala on his toes, physically AND mentally? Perhaps it’s rust in the first game after a patchy season last year? Only time will tell.
NOT – Adama Traore
I really hate to sound like a broken record or as if I am tooting my own proverbial horn, but on a scale of Hot-to-Not, Traore currently registers at sub-zero.
Traore featured last week on the inaugural 2Hot! 2Not! and questions were raised about his place in the squad after being left out against Augsburg. Boro fans are beginning to get some emphatic answers about the former Barca man with Traore not featuring in the 18-man squad yesterday and if rumours are to be believed, not travelling at all.
Although it does some, I can’t really say this surprises me too much. Yes, I know he’s quick, etc, etc. but he still offers nothing in terms of end product and evidently is having issues in training. All I have read on forums/social media is, “RIDICULOUS Traore is not involved!”, but I ask you, is it really? There have been murmurings of Traore having attitude problems before joining Boro and if he was working hard and applying himself in training and Garry Monk saw something there, he would be featuring.
My guess (and I stress it is a guess) is that Traore epitomises the type of player talked about by Monk at the ‘meet the fans’ evening as players he does NOT want involved: he isn’t training well, isn’t working hard for the team and has attitude problems.
There’s still plenty of time left in the transfer window and I have no doubt that Traore’s ongoing problems at Boro have raised a few eyebrows at various clubs around the country. Expect imminent murmurings that the player has asked to leave or we are willing to allow him to leave.
On the bright side for Traore, he has a 100% strike rate of appearing in 2Hot! 2Not!