INTERNATIONAL breaks can be a hindrance so early in the season, but this one has come at exactly the right time for Middlesbrough.
After an encouraging start to the new campaign, old habits have begun to creep back in at the Riverside after the Teessiders suffered a second successive home defeat in the Championship.
Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to a depleted Reading side inflicted another blow to their early season promotion hopes after the defeat to Sheffield Wednesday seven days earlier.
At least head coach Aitor Karanka will be able to address the problems that have resurfaced, and after seven games in a hectic 22- day period, Boro can re-group and re-evaluate their strategy for when the season continues at Huddersfield Town a week on Saturday.
It appeared as though Boro had cracked the imbalance between scoring goals and keeping clean sheets that has haunted them in the past, but it seems it is a case of old habits die hard for the Teessiders.
Karanka’s men were far from their best on Saturday and issues from the past returned when a lack of concentration was coupled with a lack of cutting edge in the final third.
In fairness, their cause wasn’t helped by Reading’s frustrating tactics with the Royals’ time-wasting and shutting up shop as early as the seventh minute after Simon Cox had given them the lead.
Whenever the chance arose to break-up play, the visitors obliged, which infuriated the Boro bench, but even against their resilience the hosts should have got themselves back into the game against a side depleted by injuries.
Nigel Adkins was without 11 first-team members at the Riverside and forced to call upon several of the club’s youth players, but their game plan to stifle Boro after taking a shock lead was played to perfection.
It wasn’t as though Boro didn’t create, either. They had plenty of chances to draw level but there was no killer instinct or enough penetration and Spanish striker Kike struggled to make an impact.
Karanka has bought in Kike and Patrick Bamford to provide the firepower alongside Lee Tomlin, but the fact the club is in talks with Belgium striker Jelle Vossen ahead of tonight’s transfer deadline suggests the head coach still feels he needs more options up top.
The next two weeks give Karanka the opportunity to spend some quality time on the training ground with his players having been limited by a gruelling early season schedule, and new signing Bamford feels the time will benefit the squad and the new players.
“It was a very frustrating day for us,” the on loan Chelsea attacker said. “When you look back I think they only had the one shot on goal and we had about seven or eight good chances. On another day it could have been four or five one, but it wasn’t to be.
“I was a bit annoyed, because in the first half they got free-kicks, but they did the same thing in the second and we didn’t get anything, which was a bit frustrating.
“I think the next two weeks will be a big for us. It’s hard coming into a new team, especially if you haven’t trained with them, but it’s about understanding the players around you up top.”
Too much space between Kenneth Omeruo and Seb Hines allowed Cox to latch onto Ryan Edwards’ ball over the top and he made no mistake with a cheeky lob over Tomas Mejias.
The goal came against the run of play after Boro had three chances within the opening five minutes.
Even after going behind the hosts dominated, but Bamford and Kike were both guilty of missing a great opportunity at the end when Grant Leadbitter sent a teasing ball across goal.
Bamford completed a loan deal, which runs until January 1, on Friday, and the 20-year-old revealed a chat with Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho had persuaded him to move to the Riverside.
He said: “I met three or four clubs, but after sitting down and having meetings with the gaffer at Chelsea and the technical director, I decided that Boro would be the best place for my development.
“It’s a good place to play football so it was an easy decision in the end.
“I spoke to Nathanial (Chalobah). He’s one of my good mates from Chelsea. He told me it’s a good place to play football and he said all the people up here are lovely.
“He enjoyed his time here and said he’d recommend it as a place to come."