GARRY MONK made his Middlesbrough players sit through a video nasty of every goal they have conceded this season earlier this week – and came to the conclusion that all bar two should have been avoided.

Boro head to Bristol City this evening looking to force their way back into the play-off places after dropping out of the top six when they conceded three extremely sloppy goals to Derby County last weekend.

The defensive aberrations, which included a dreadful Martin Braithwaite back-pass, a clumsy penalty concession from Daniel Ayala and an air-kick from goalkeeper Darren Randolph, were in keeping with much of Boro’s play this season. The individual errors started on the opening weekend of the season, when Ayala’s mistake led to a 1-0 defeat at Wolves, and have not really stopped since.

Loading article content

Monk has warned his players they can forget about winning promotion to the Premier League unless their “focus and application” improve, and made them sit through an uncomfortable session in front of the television to ram home his point. Boro have conceded 18 Championship goals this season, and Monk feels 16 were attributable to basic unenforced errors.

“The reality is that we’ve made too many avoidable errors and silly mistakes this season, and we also haven’t taken enough of the chances that we’ve created,” said the Boro boss. “We’ve had some strong discussions this week about that. In the majority of our games this season, we’ve made avoidable mistakes that have ended up costing us goals.

“There are only two goals we feel were not self-inflicted. Anything can happen in games, we understand that, but in terms of what we feel we are capable of, all the rest are highly-avoidable goals.

“They’re not 50-50 where you’re saying, ‘Well that can happen in games’. They’re ones where it has been from a mistake from ourselves. The mistake might not have directly led to the goal, but it was important in the build-up and should have been quite easy to avoid.

“That’s something that’s holding us back. The other side is that we’re not taking our chances. We’ve created enough chances in games to have scored a lot more goals than we’ve scored. When the application and focus on those things has been very high, we’ve won.”

Despite last weekend’s capitulation, the statistics suggest Boro’s defending has not been that bad. Only three Championship teams – Wolves, Cardiff City and Aston Villa – have conceded fewer league goals than the Teessiders this season, and in terms of chances conceded, Monk’s side top the rankings.

Boro have conceded fewer goalscoring chances than any other Championship team, but the problem is that the ones they have given away have tended to be gilt-edged opportunities that have generally resulted in a goal.

Whether it has been a sloppy back-pass affording an opposition forward a clear run on goal or a piece of bad positioning that has left an opponent unmarked in the area, Boro’s players have tended to be their own worst enemy.

Most players have been at fault on at least one occasion, leading Monk to bemoan a collective failure of focus and concentration rather than any one individual being at fault.

“Overall, we have a very good defensive record in terms of our structure as a team,” he said. “In terms of the number of chances we concede in a game, we’re the best in the league. In terms of our shape and set-up, a lot of things are right. But what you can’t have in amongst that is the lack of focus at crucial moments that has cost us.

“There’s a lot of things the players do right, but when you throw away a game like we did last weekend, everything gets questioned. As a manager, you have to see through that and see where we really are.

“I’m the one that works with them every day and sees what we’re good at and what we’re not good at. It’s about making them understand the things we really need to get right. If it’s something from ourselves, that’s avoidable, that’s what you focus on.”

One thing Monk has not been focusing on is the league table, despite the 11-point gap that currently separates the Teessiders from the automatic promotion spots. A defeat at Ashton Gate could potentially see Boro drop into the bottom half of the table, but Monk continues to insist it is far too early to be worrying about league positions.

“The only way for us to win games, get points and close the gap (to the top two) is to do all those things I’m talking about,” he said. “It’s not about focusing on where we are, we’ll let everyone else worry about that.

“But of course the only way we can change any of those things is applying those things I’ve said to a high level. That will helps us win games and get points, and then I’ll be concerned about where we are at the end of the season.”

With Ayala suspended, Dael Fry is expected to partner Ben Gibson at the heart of the back four this afternoon. Jonny Howson is available again after a one-match ban, and Grant Leadbitter is also set to return to the starting line-up after finding himself on the bench last weekend.