Garry Monk needed six weeks of competitive match action to stamp his identity at Leeds and there’s enough ambiguity in his early results at Middlesbrough to believe this campaign is going down a similar path.
Middlesbrough have been turned over twice in their first five league outings (just as Leeds were) with the draw at home to Preston this weekend really setting the cat amongst the pigeons.
The sense of deja vu around Monk is only heightened by the fact that Boro went down 2-1 at Nottingham Forest last weekend, in a game almost identical to the 3-1 defeat Monk suffered at the City Ground last September. Forest grabbed a lead inside the opening 20 minutes, then sat on it for over an hour before doubling their advantage. A late flurry from Boro saw the deficit halved but it was too little, too late.
Nearly completing a full-on Groundhog Day scenario, Preston could easily have played the role of Huddersfield a year ago and nicked a 1-0 win at the Riverside to truly complete the similarities.
For a total repeat of last season however, Monk would now need to lose his temper with a local reporter in a post-match inquest, over a perceived lack of identity – with the whole meltdown then proving to be therapeutic and Boro going on to mount a purposeful charge into the top six.
From a tactical perspective on what we have seen so far, it all looks a bit far-fetched.
Similarly, Alex Neil has also played three different formations in his first four matches as Preston boss, but unlike Boro, each one seemed tailored to suit the opposition – keeper Chris Maxwell has only been beaten once – by a Matej Vydra penalty – However, Preston did come into this clash with the benefit of a full week to prepare.
Monk has moved away from the 4-2-3-1 that served him well at Elland Road but has also ditched the midfield diamond he started with at Wolves for a 4-3-3, and once again at Preston the formation was tinkered with, yet the attacking play remains a little bit too deliberate.
But apparently, according to the majority, Garry Monk isn’t one for chopping and changing willy-nilly, he values continuity and repetition(?)
So what should we be expecting this season onwards from Boro?… A team that turned out to be a sitting duck for Alex Neil and his analyst Ali Lishman.