Title favourites before the season and tipped for promotion by many, Middlesbrough have taken just 10 points from the first 10 league games and find themselves in the relegation zone.
Boro have some catching up to do if they are to live up to their pre-season billing.
October fixtures, all of which coming against sides outside the top six, offer them an opportunity to put a run together, but it’s not been the opening many expected.
A disappointing start? “You can say that again!” says Dana Malt, from the Boro Breakdown Podcast.
“At the very beginning it was a case of results not matching the performances, and Boro probably deserving more than what they got from certain games.
“Now, even our performance levels are dipping, which is concerning.
“The defeat to Cardiff, in which we conceded three goals in one half to one of the bluntest attacks in the league, followed by a goalless snooze fest against Rotherham, haven’t helped the mood amongst the fanbase.
“It’s underperformance at its finest – confusing, frustrating, and that word again: disappointing.”
The poor start is partly a consequence of a leaky defence which has shipped 15 goals, with only Hull conceding more, but Dana feels the midfield takes “the majority of the blame” for the high ‘goals against’ column.
“We’ve seen some shoddy marking from the defence, particularly in the games against QPR and Stoke, but we are also incredibly sloppy in possession in the middle of the park.
“We were very good at recycling the ball last season, but that is not the case this. Teams now know: press Jonny Howson in the build up, and counter, quickly.
“Bar Anfernee Dijksteel, our backline doesn’t have the pace to recover, but the midfield keep putting them in a position where they have to. We frequent in losing key duels in the middle, from 50/50s to second balls, and we look slow and rather passive.”
Despite this, the Teessiders have still been able to create chances, after attacking left wing-back Ryan Giles arrived in the summer to replace the more conservative Neil Taylor.
“It’s refreshing to not have to talk about creativity struggles”, says Dana.
“With Giles in particular, we have one of the best creative players in the Championship; we just need to wrap him up in cotton wool, so he doesn’t get injured!”
There have been some doubts over the future of manager Chris Wilder, especially with rumours of interest from Bournemouth.
And the suggestion is – accurate or otherwise – that Middlesbrough may not offer much resistance to any advances from the Premier League club.
“I certainly believe he can turn things around – he’s done so before at previous clubs, so I’m holding onto the hope he’ll do the same here.
“Sheffield United fans told us he usually starts slow, probably not this slow mind, but I’m confident it’ll click at some point.
“It has to be soon though, because fans are starting to ask all the big questions that are usually attached to a poor start.”
Despite results being so far off the standard, Middlesbrough are still only five points off the play-offs.
You’d have to go back to the 2008-09 for the last time a Championship team took 10 points from their first 10 league games, yet were fewer than six points off the top six by that point.
In seven of the previous 13 seasons, the gap for the side averaging a point a game by that stage has been seven or eight points, and on two occasions, nine – so Middlesbrough are lucky that they have a hill to climb rather than a mountain.
“It’s far too early to be panicking”, says Dana.
“There’s over 100 points still to play for, and we know the narratives the Championship throws up by now. Things can change and we all know they will again and again.
“We’re watching a lost team that need to find their mojo again, and I think they will.”
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