Reading v Middlesbrough: Monk takes criticism on the chin as hopeful Boro natives grow restless

AT least Garry Monk can say that he has been here before.

Slow starter: Middlesbrough manager Garry Monk has endured a sub-par start to life in the Boro hotseat, just as he did at Leeds United 12 months ago. (Picture: PA)
Slow starter: Middlesbrough manager Garry Monk has endured a sub-par start to life in the Boro hotseat, just as he did at Leeds United 12 months ago. (Picture: PA)

After 13 Championship games in 2017-18, his Middlesbrough side reside in an underwhelming 13th place after picking up 17 points – ironically the exact same position and points haul from the same amount of games that his Leeds United team managed at this stage of last season.

Late autumn subsequently reaped a harvest for his Leeds side last term, with a coming-of-age win at Norwich last Bonfire Night proving the catalyst for a winter charge which rekindled memories of much happier times at Elland Road and propelled the Whites into the top six.

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How the under-fire Monk will be inwardly drawing upon those memories as he strives for another similar lightbulb moment almost 12 months on.

Monk may have encountered one or two dark clouds in his early days at Elland Road after winning just once in his opening six league matches, but the forecast currently looks even bleaker up the A1.

Some would say that they represent perfect storm conditions.

Rated as pre-season promotion favourites, Boro – who spent an eye-watering £45m on summer recruits in a clear declaration of chairman Steve Gibson’s intent to ‘smash the division’ – find themselves playing catch-up before the clocks go back, with Monk seriously under the microscope.

Consistency in terms of team selection, performances and results has been found wanting and become open to censure, with the natives growing increasingly restless.

The fixture list is affording Monk and Boro, who are six games without a win in all competitions, few favours either.

Three of Boro’s next four matches are away from home, with the Teessiders visiting Reading today followed by a midweek trip down the east coast to Hull City.

A north-east derby at home to Sunderland follows on November 5 before Monk must run the gauntlet at former club Leeds on November 19.

Although if Boro’s malaise continues, few will be able to say with certainty that Monk can be assured of taking his place in the away dug-out at Elland Road.

The Boro boss, battening down the hatches and digging in and after surviving some rough times at the start of his tenure at Leeds, acknowledged: “It has been a difficult period for us, there is no hiding from that.

“In recent games, we have not performed at the levels that we want and we have not got the results that we wanted and with that comes criticism because of the expectation and quite rightly so.

“The key is, any criticism I am happy to take it myself.

“I have had pressure and criticism all my career, playing and managing, and I am happy to take that. It is not a big thing for me.

“Myself, more than anyone, understands the criticism we have received, and rightly so in some respects.

“But we are determined to put that right, we know what we are capable of.

“There is nobody more passionate about working for this club and wanting this team to be successful than myself.”

If Boro’s players require any extra inspiration today, they could perhaps do worse than recall the last occasion when they locked horns with today’s opponents.

Pitted in an intense three-horse race for automatic promotion with Burnley and Brighton in the business end of the 2015-16 season, the Teessiders held their nerve to record a dramatic 94th-minute stoppage time win over the Royals in April 2016, thanks to a memorable strike from Adam Forshaw.

It was a stand-out moment in a roller-coaster campaign, one in which strength of character and resolve proved every bit as important as organisation and talent in the club’s ultimately joyous promotion crusade.

Just as Boro closed ranks during some tough moments in the spring of 2016 and cultivated a successful siege mentality when Aitor Karanka’s fortunes looked like unravelling following a training-ground bust-up, so the current crop are entrusted wth fronting up and delivering a similarly emphatic response.

It is what Watford’s Troy Deeney would refer to as showing your ‘cojones.’