YOU WOULD be forgiven for thinking that Middlesbrough’s players will be tempted to shoot on sight in order to break their goalless drought against Ipswich today.
But midfielder Jacob Butterfield has denied that is the case, insisting that Boro’s 11-and-a-half-hour wait for a goal does not come into the players’ minds when they take to the pitch.
Last week, against Sheffield Wednesday, Butterfield did score a goal, but, crucially, referee Andy D’Urso did not agree that his shot had crossed the line after Chris Kirkland had tipped the ball on to the post, from where it bounced off the other and back into the goalkeeper’s hands.
That would have ended the drought, now more than a calendar month and the longest run in the club’s history, but Butterfield does not feel that his teammates are panicking too much in front of goal.
“It doesn't come into play on the pitch,” said Butterfield. “It's only afterwards, when we get asked the questions about it, that we really think about it.
“Out there, you're just playing football and trying to win the game. You don't have time to think about whether to shoot or not, you just play your game. At the minute, it's just not going for us.“ After the 1-0 defeat to Wednesday, Kenneth Omeruo revealed that Boro’s coaching staff have told the players to keep calm when presented with chances, rather than snatching at them, while much has been made this week about Boro’s work on the training ground to attempt to effect a change.
Omeruo, Boro’s centre-half on loan from Chelsea, said: “We just have to focus, don't let it get into our head that we have to score, we have to concentrate and try to take our chances.
“The trainer tries to tell us to calm down and take our chances when we get them. It's a good idea from him because if we try to force it, the strikers are under more pressure and it makes it more difficult. I think it's the right decision for us to concentrate and try and get a goal.”
Butterfield, meanwhile, is in no doubt as to the job that Middlesbrough’s players have ahead, and insists that breaking the duck is a team effort.
“We've got to improve. No goals in seven games is not good enough from everyone that has been part of the team in the last seven games,” said the former Barnsley midfielder. “We all have to chip in with goals, not just the strikers, and it's not good enough.
“We need to improve our quality in front of goal, you can see confidence is down, some chances go in if our confidence is there, and we're just not taking them at the moment. It's disappointing and we have to try to get it right.
“We gave ourselves a right chance over Christmas and I suppose it is the lack of goals that is doing us. We're not picking up points, we're not moving in the right direction any more. It's frustrating, it's disappointing, I think the manager wears his heart on his sleeve and he's very honest. We'll keep going to put it right, we just need to get our confidence back at the moment, I think it shows.”
A goal for Butterfield last week would have been sweet, with the 23-year-old scoring his first professional goal at Hillsborough, against a Wednesday side that considers Butterfield’s old team Barnsley a fierce rival.
Instead, the Bradford-born attacker will be working hard to get a goal against Ipswich Town, enemies of another of his former clubs in Norwich City.
“I scored my first ever professional goal at Hillsborough, when I was a young lad, I've always done alright there,” said Butterfield. “I don't know whether that's a Barnsley thing but I've always played alright there, but it's frustrating for me personally and more importantly put an end to the goal drought. It would have lifted that off everyone's shoulders.
“I have never been on a run like this. I've only played in two or three in the last seven, I've not been out on the pitch, but you can see it. Everyone can see the chances we should be taking and we're not. In some games we're not creating enough. We've got to be better attacking, whether it's taking chances, creating a chance, moving the ball, doing whatever it takes to be better offensively, we need to do it.
“It's having that confidence, that courage to make something happen. Just to hit the back of the net. It's funny that people don't realise how quickly your confidence can go in football. Whether you're out of the team and you get thrown in, you don't feel the same, or you're a striker not taking your chances, it's amazing how quickly that goes. Hopefully that will come back soon for everybody.”
Butterfield has played the last two games for Middlesbrough, and is improving game by game under Aitor Karanka. But with Lee Tomlin approaching match fitness, Butterfield faces competition for his place.
The amiable midfielder hopes he gets a run in the team where he can finally show what he is capable of.
He said: “The more you play the more your confidence comes back, you play better, that showed last week, where I thought I had improved from the last game.
“I'll be better again. It's difficult when you're not in the team. The new manager has come in, he's got his own system, his own style, you've got to prove yourself to him.
“If you're not in the team, it's tough mentally as much as anything else, but you've got to come in and do a job. Show what you can bring to the football club and I have to do that.
“Hopefully I can help the team pick up some points now. Seven games without a goal, you're not going to get anywhere are you?”