For details on how to contact our editorial and commercial departments, click here
Venus enjoys dream start as Boro claim biggest win of season
JAMES ARTHUR might be no stranger to auditions, but while the Middlesbrough fan provided the half-time entertainment at the Riverside last night, it was Mark Venus' trial that really hit the high notes.
Does Middlesbrough's current caretaker manager possess the X-factor? Who knows. But on a night that bristled with optimism and excitement, at least he hinted that better times are possible if he is given the opportunity to replace Tony Mowbray on a permanent basis.
Challenged by chairman Steve Gibson to stake a claim for the job, Venus sent out a team packed with attacking potential and watched on with merited satisfaction as they produced Boro's best display of the season.
Albert Adomah's double was no more than Boro deserved from a first-half display that was packed with energy, movement and slick interchanges of passing, with second-half goals from Kei Kamara and Daniel Ayala merely underlining the extent of the home side's dominance.
Whether the win, which was only Boro's sixth success in the whole of 2013, represents a compelling enough argument to hand Venus the job remains to be seen, but if Gibson was considering such a move at the start of the week, he can only be even more tempted now.
The supporters appear happy enough with the idea – the crowd of 21,882 was easily the biggest of the season and while there were no personal chants directed at Venus, there was warm applause as he left the field - and the players appear equally comfortable with the former assistant assuming a more central role.
Should his close relationship with Mowbray compromise his candidature? The pair worked together at Hibernian, West Brom and Celtic before teaming up again on Teesside, but it would be wrong to portray Venus as nothing more than a pliable accomplice despite his junior status in the relationship.
Speak to those who know them, and the 46-year-old is generally described as more decisive, hard-edged and pragmatic than Mowbray, attributes that appear to appeal to Gibson.
The situation Middlesbrough find themselves in calls for boldness, and that is exactly what Venus delivered with a team sheet that was both a rebuttal to those who portray him as a Mowbray acolyte and a decisive break with the former regime.
Frazer Richardson and Dean Whitehead, regular starters under Mowbray, were nowhere to be seen, axed from not only the starting line-up but also the squad. It is safe to assume that duo will be hoping Venus does not get the job.
There was also a demotion to the substitutes' bench for George Friend, Jacob Butterfield and Lukas Jutkiewicz, with Richie Smallwood, Mustapha Carayol and Marvin Emnes coming in from the cold to produce excellent displays.
Tactically, Venus switched to 4-4-2, an immediate statement of attacking intent and another contrast to the approach under Mowbray, which tended to reflect the perceived threat of the opposition rather than Boro's own strengths.
Bright and positive from the off, there was a crispness and tempo to Boro's play that stood in marked contrast to some of the more staid performances in recent weeks. Defenders snapped into tackles, midfielders passed the ball quickly and attackers made a succession of runs.
Venus' instructions were clearly to move the ball forward at pace, not a direct style as such, but a rejection of the mantra of passing for passing's sake and an invitation for Boro's wide players in particular to put their opponent under pressure.
The effects of a new dawn? Possibly. Although it also helped that the Teessiders had an eighth-minute lead to enrich their sense of freedom.
The goal came from the kind of swift attacking move that was supposed to be the preserve of Mowbray, but which has gradually lapsed from the Riverside play book over the course of the last ten confidence-sapping months.
Kamara picked up possession in his own half, and after slipping out of a tackle, lofted a precise through ball behind the Doncaster defence.
Adomah, whose two goals at Barnsley proved too little, too late to save Mowbray, raced on to it, and with a confidence that belied the troubles of the last week, lofted a deft chip over the stranded Ross Turnbull.
With Carayol, Emnes and Adomah dribbling at every opportunity, the Doncaster defence found themselves pulled all over the field.
Kamara failed to find the target with a 24th-minute header, before Carayol wasted a glorious opportunity three minutes later, blazing over from 12 yards after Emnes' intelligent lay off teed him up in the box.
It was only a matter of time before a second goal arrived, however, and when it came nine minutes before the break, it was Adomah once again doing the damage.
Smallwood clipped over an inviting cross from the left, and Adomah stole ahead of his marker to direct home a close-range diving header.
Mowbray fought tooth and nail to prise the winger from Bristol City, and Adomah's record of five goals from his last three matches suggests his faith was not misplaced. If only a few more of the former manager's acquisitions had proved as successful.
Boro's two-goal interval lead was no more than they deserved, with Doncaster restricted to a handful of long-range efforts despite occasionally threatening to unsettle a Boro backline that featured four centre-halves.
The greatest scare came a minute after the interval and was completely self-inflicted, with Rhys Williams slicing an attempted clearance from Mark Duffy's free-kick dangerously close to his own goal.
For a brief ten-minute spell, Boro threatened to wobble, but they quickly regained their composure and extended their lead midway through the second half.
Kamara's movement caused problems throughout, and after stealing unmarked to the back post, the Sierra Leone international turned home Grant Leadbitter's deep free-kick after it bypassed the entire Doncaster defence.
Former Sunderland striker Chris Brown struck the post with nine minutes left, but Ayala ensured Boro would have the final say, powerfully heading home Leadbitter's corner just two days after leaving Norwich on loan.
Comments are closed on this article.