WHEN Michael Carrick stood with his arms folded in the technical area as Plymouth Argyle continued to frustrate Middlesbrough in the second half, there were fans sat at the Riverside wondering if he had the answers.

On this occasion he didn’t – and he was quick to blame himself for the way Plymouth left with three points. Don’t point the finger at the players, was the message.

With Middlesbrough 11 points shy of the play-off zone, and sitting just nine points above the bottom three, the same fans are right to wonder what Carrick can conjure up from his team as a response at struggling Stoke City this weekend.

He is certainly capable - just look at the way Middlesbrough defeated league leaders Leicester City on their own turf a week before the Plymouth disappointment.   

Playing away certainly seems to suit Boro these days. Saturday was the fifth straight home game where the visitors have left with something – and that has happened in nine games at the Riverside this season.

What was most worrying against Plymouth was how Middlesbrough couldn’t even record a shot on target, despite commanding 69 per cent of the possession. In stark contrast Plymouth, for their 31 per cent possession, had ten. They recorded 17 shots in the first half alone.

“So what’s the answer, Michael?” was a fair question being asked by one local member of the media.

“Have more shots,” quipped Carrick. “I think there are always things you can do. You can always change things.

“The longer the game went on, the harder it becomes for us. Saturday wasn’t a good day for us.”

Middlesbrough have their injury problems. Dael Fry, Jonny Howson, Hayden Hackney and Isaiah Jones are all regulars in the side, while strikers Josh Coburn and Emmanuel Latte Lath haven’t seemed to be available too often together.


Even though Latte Lath was introduced from the bench for the first time since early January after recovering from a foot problem, Middlesbrough lacked penetration and creativity in the final third.

It wasn’t just in attack that Middlesbrough had issues though. The real damage was done at the back in the first half against Plymouth, who embarrassed a home side that made two changes to the side won at Leicester.

The writing was on the wall as early as the seventh minute when Matthew Sorinola’s effort couldn’t be stopped by Tom Glover, who had just failed to push Darko Gyabi’s curling effort away from the danger zone.

After Glover had a couple of other shaky moments, he then made a couple more saves to keep the scoreline down. He couldn’t, though, stop Ryan Hardie from curling inside his far corner after he was allowed to cut inside and shoot by Rav van den Berg in the 31st minute. 

Young van den Berg didn’t look anywhere near the levels he has been, but neither was Paddy McNair alongside him. Luke Ayling on the right and Luke Thomas on the left were short too.

Boro kept being caught out in their own half as they continued to try to play out from the back, with players looking uncomfortable in possession at times. Carrick was then asked what went wrong.

“We actually built up with a back three today,” said Carrick. “Thomas was playing deep and Sammy (Silvera) was playing higher. It wasn’t a three-man defence, it was three man building up.

“There are calls for everything. Someone will always disagree with whatever I do, you obviously question what I do because we have lost, and I understand that. That’s part of the game.

“I get why you are questioning it, but when it goes to plan everything is great but when it doesn’t go to plan, it’s gone wrong, so it is on me.”

Carrick has shown he can get Middlesbrough playing well, and that was the case at Leicester too, but he accepts the performances like Saturday are not good enough. 

He said: “I’m just saying it’s on me, I’m the manager. We can all support the team when we are winning, when we aren’t winning it’s on me.”

And he added: “The challenge of being successful in the league and to be able to put performances together and results together, every game is different, and we are not getting that mix right at all.

“We know what we are capable of on any given day, but this was not one of those days. As a group, I will take the hit in terms of decisions I make and how I put the team out. That was on me.

“The boys tried and gave their best. Not many things went right to be truthful. We had an idea of how it would go, what we wanted to do, the way we play. It didn’t pan out that way, that’s one me.”