Saturday sees City face an in-form Boro side, who seem equipped under Pulis to shithouse their way back to the Premier League. Jon Punt spoke to the Yorkshire Post’s cartoonist (and Boro fan) Graeme Bandeira, to get the lowdown on City’s opponents
Jon: Right, let's get this out of the way early doors - have you forgiven us for May 2015 yet? Can we be friends again?
Graeme: Have I forgiven you? Err yes, of course. It hurt for about a day or so and then you move on. Moping about over football is for losers. Crack on and hit the next obstacle head on.
We recovered quite well in the end and got promoted the following season so lessons were learned. Recalling the day, it was a disaster. The game was over as a contest after 25 minutes. Norwich played keep ball second half and treated it as a training exercise. Total credit. You blew us away with some lovely slick passing football and we were no match. If Vossen's strike off the bar goes in then who knows the outcome but on the whole you were better equipped mentally, physically and technically. Most definitely "On the Ball City".
It was easily the best display I can recall from a City side in my supporting lifetime, unluckily for you guys you were the opponents when everything seemed to just click for us. That said, we’ve regressed since that day and are now less equipped to mount a serious promotion challenge this year.
In contrast, Boro are my pick to win the Championship. Pulis is too canny to not get out of this league in my view. Is that the feeling among Boro supporters, and what’s the general view on Pulis?
Hope and optimism prevails on Teesside. Pulis is constructing a side built on strong foundations and he has everybody on side. Most fans are expectant and see automatic promotion as the target.
We look impenetrable at the moment with a water tight defence with emphasis on strength, height and organisation. In front of that we have a rock solid midfield, Adam Clayton being the lynchpin. It's no surprise to see the manager relying heavily on set plays to nick wins and then protect what we have. So far this approach has served us well. My only concern would be lack of goals but if you aren't conceding them, then you are picking up a steady flow of points. So far so good. We now look like a side that nobody wants to play against. We frustrated the life out of Leeds. On previous occasions we would succumb to pressure and have our bellies tickled in big games.
That has me worried. We’re pretty leaky at the back and can be aerially susceptible, especially down the flanks.
That said, we’re not the high tempo, high press, kind of side that Leeds are. Under Daniel Farke, City like to keep the ball, frustrate and look to find pockets of space, often without the urgency required to really make the system really work.
How does Pulis’ Boro cope with teams placing an emphasis on keeping the ball? I’d have been worried about that had you retained the pace of Traore, but are there others who’ll offer a threat on the counter?
If teams look to keep the ball against us then that will suit him fine. We are great at plugging gaps and not allowing teams to play through the lines. In that case he'll either take the welcome away point or get the ball up field as quickly as possible to try and secure a set play. There was a massive emphasis on Adama Traore last season where we would sit back and then counter at devastating speed. Sadly, he was the only out ball and others couldn't get up quick enough to support him.
Our attacking threat this season comes from the wing-backs - in Ryan Shotton and George Friend - two finely tuned athletes who go until the last whistle. Martin Braithwaite has provided the link between midfield and our last line of attack in Britt Assombalonga. The downside here is Braithwaite doesn't seem settled and that could be our undoing. While he's here he's playing well but there's an element of tension which really needs to be eradicated quickly.
Wing-backs – interesting. Guess that means you’re deploying three at the back? Strangely, Norwich seem at their best when they do the same, yet Farke appears reticent to play that way this term.
Three at the back mate. Working a treat so far. Young lad Dael Fry has been outstanding and in Ayala and Flint we have potentially 20 goals a season.
Ha, you may well do. Ayala never really worked out at City and I’m not sure why, he’s proven now he’d have been a decent asset for us. Talking of former players – Super Jonny Howson – discuss? From an outsider looking in it appeared Boro fans didn’t take to him initially, which really surprised me. He was certainly one of the stand out players at Carrow Road in recent years.
Howson has been excellent this season. A very neat and tidy player who very rarely gives the ball away and whom is an integral part of how we play and manoeuvres the ball through midfield.
I think the expectation was too high when he arrived and fans were expecting a 15 goal a season up and downer in the Frank Lampard mould, that's not the case. Those that understand football will realise that Howson is a manager’s dream and probably always a sure fire bet for players’ player of the year.
His graft goes unnoticed by many fans which is a shame. He's been given licence to roam a bit this season and try to go beyond the striker which is how I see him gaining more popularity. At Norwich, as an outsider looking in he seemed to patrol between the centre circle and the opposition 18 yard line firing shots off at any given opportunity. His role here is somewhat more structured and regimental.
Howson spent that long at City he played as a defensive minded midfielder, right wing, number 10 and the box-to-box role too. Arguably he was better when given license to surge forward and in my view you’ve got an absolute gem of as player. I hope he receives the kind of welcome he should be afforded come Saturday.
Which brings me nicely onto the weekend. I’m always one for a very specific score prediction, so I’m opting for City to take the lead in the 34th minute, in the form of Teemu Pukki popping up with a deflected edge of the area strike.
Flint will break our hearts in the dying embers though, a bullet header from a set piece meaning honours end even. That’s me being optimistic though, I’ll take a draw right now.
How about you? Prediction time….
I'm going for a 1-0 Boro victory, reminiscent of the time we held on to that early Albert Adomah strike a few years ago. I fancy Britt Assombalonga to stab one home from a scramble in the box after a corner.
Ouch, you just had to bring that game up. Probably one of the most ‘professional’ displays I’ve seen from a side in terms of winding down the clock. I’ll hope, much like that season, that we have the last laugh.
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