Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Boss Plays His Cards Right; the BIGGER Picture BORO Boss Gareth Southgate Used the Substitutes' Bench to Perfect Effect as His Side Battled Back for a Point against West Ham. ANTHONY VICKERS Assesses the Action. Reshuffle Pulls out the Aces

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Boss Plays His Cards Right; the BIGGER Picture BORO Boss Gareth Southgate Used the Substitutes' Bench to Perfect Effect as His Side Battled Back for a Point against West Ham. ANTHONY VICKERS Assesses the Action. Reshuffle Pulls out the Aces

Article excerpt

Byline: ANTHONY VICKERS

THE GAFFER has often been accused of failing to make telling substitutions.

It is right up there at the top of the charge sheet. Critics have long pointed to Gareth Southgate's purported inability to use the bench to change the shape, the tempo or the personnel to good effect or to salvage a flailing game with a shrewd intervention.

But against West Ham the boss nailed that one with three calculated changes that dramatically altered the dynamic and the outcome of a game that looked hopelessly lost.

To be fair, so often this season there has been so little depth in the dug-out any significant change has been impossible.

It has been the price paid for operating on a wafer thin squad, meaning just a few injuries to the regulars left a bench packed with teenagers with barely a handful of first team appearances between them.

Indeed, three times this term injuries in the warm-up have left Boro a man short and with just six subs on the bench.

That situation that has left the boss without the options needed to shuffle his pack and pull out an ace, a joker or often even just follow suit.

Against West Ham though there was the luxury of having a healthier looking bench - and for the first time this season it actually looked stronger than the opposition's.

In James Walker, Walter Lopez, Diego Tristan and James Tompkins, the Hammers had four players without a Premier League game to their name.

In contrast Boro's bench (the unknown quantity of Marvin Emnes aside) offered a combination of experience, energy and real options to change the way the team was playing.

Admittedly Justin Hoyte, Mido and Julio Arca were coming back from injuries - but they were all used to great effect.

Let's be blunt: shapeless Boro were ripped apart in the first half (the first hour!) by the Hammers' blistering pace on the break and, without changes, they were on course to be soundly beaten by a side who had lost four on the bounce.

Boro were stodgy, slow and wooden in midfield. They were failing to cope with West Ham's pace and when they had the ball they were repeatedly conceding possession cheaply with sloppy stray passes.

They were the architects of their own misfortune. Almost every West Ham attack came after Boro had surrendered the initiative with a mistake. Even the goal came from an inexplicable Stewart Downing ball back into the danger zone when Row Z beckoned.

It showed great spirit from the team and insight from the boss to salvage something from the wreckage of the first half.

Whatever the quibbles over the initial selection - Southgate admitted later he thought the high-tempo midweek win over Manchester City had left some of his players drained - the gaffer deserves credit for retrieving the situation. …

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