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Night of disappointment as Canaries punish their hosts.

Byline: DOMINIC SHAW dominic.shaw@trinitymirror.com @DOMSHAWGAZETTE

ACCORDING to one Norwich City reporter, Daniel Farke signed off his press conference on Tuesday night by saying: "Have a good night everyone, I know I will."

Not that he was planning a big night out down Southfield Road - at least we don't think that's the case - rather he'll have gone back to his hotel absolutely thrilled with his side's execution of the gameplan at the Riverside.

They did a job on Boro. They snatched the opening goal and saw the game out. That's five clean sheets on the bounce now in the league - an incredibly impressive achievement at any level.

But for Boro, it was a deflating evening that left boss Garry Monk with a fair bit to ponder.

A slow start, a shockingly soft goal conceded and the failure to find the net despite finishing the game with four strikers on the pitch.

What's most disappointing is that after snatching that late point at Fulham, two home games presented Boro with the opportunity to really nail down their place in the top six. Suddenly, the visit of Brentford feels like a very important game.

And while Monk has shown a willingness to opt for continuity in his starting line-ups so far this season, he may well be tempted to make a few changes for the visit of the Bees.

That's not a snap reaction to the first defeat in eight, rather the reality that few stood out against the Canaries.

And when you consider that Monk's squad is so strong that Stewart Downing, Daniel Ayala and Adam Forshaw were all missing from the 18, the gaffer may well have a few knocks on his door in the coming days.

One of those who can make a case for returning is Grant Leadbitter. Boro appear to lack drive in the middle of the park when the skipper is absent.

What they also lacked in the opening period against Norwich was urgency. It was very similar to the visit of QPR - an opening 30 minutes in which the visitors snatched a goal at one end and, in truth, looked rather comfortable at the other.

The difference between this and QPR was that here there was no individual moment of magic such as Marvin Johnson provided against Rangers to get Boro back on level terms.

And it was a game that was crying out for it. In a game such as this one, when chances are few and far between, Boro really needed Britt Assombalonga to bury his free header in the second half. A relieved Angus Gunn gathered the effort that was straight down his throat.

And while Norwich stood firm, the game was ultimately settled by a Boro error at the back. When it appeared the threat was minimal, Dael Fry tried to coax the ball out of play but was robbed on the touchline.

Credit to James Maddison for what was a super strike but Boro can't be gifting goals like that. And they can't continue to put themselves in a position where they're needing to come from behind.

Here's what we learnt.

PUNISHED FOR A SLOW START It was always going to happen eventually. Boro couldn't continue to start games slowly and get away with it.

It's been a trend in the opening months of the season, and one Monk has touched upon.

Every single week we're hearing opposition managers and players approach a game against Boro by talking about how strong the squad is and how Garry Monk's side are favourites for promotion.

Teams are coming up against Boro knowing they're underdogs yet they're being afforded the opportunity to find their feet while Monk's players take their time to get up to speed in games.

Due to the strength and quality of the squad, they've been able to recover from slumberous starts and get the job done. But that wasn't going to last forever.

On reflection, the away game at Villa is the only time Boro have really burst out of the blocks, before Adama Traore's red quickly changed the feel of the game at Villa Park.

Boro are scoring goals in the first half, finding the net in the opening period against Sheffield United, Burton, Scunthorpe, Bolton and QPR but at times it appears they need that goal to settle them down.

Some fans on social media and on the BBC Tees phone-in questioned the intensity of the warm-up.

Monk and his trusted backroom team will be assessing all the potential contributing factors - no doubt aware that the speed of Boro's starts is something that needs addressing and quickly.

NO NORWICH SURPRISE - JUST A JOB WELL DONE As the first half entered stoppage time, Marley Watkins gestured for the play to be stopped as he went down nursing an injury. The referee told him to get up and play on.

Then, at the start of the second half, Norwich's players emerged from the tunnel two and a half minutes after Boro's players had made their way onto the pitch. That appears to be a go-to tactic of Daniel Farke, whose side did the same at Sheffield United, to the displeasure of Chris Wilder.

The concern then was that Norwich were going to come out and play down the clock at every single opportunity.

To be fair to them, though, they didn't. Not to a ridiculous level anyway. Yes, they bided their time when they had the opportunity and nicked a minute or two here and there. Why shouldn't they? What team wouldn't? But under growing Boro pressure in the second half, Norwich stood their ground and remained extremely well organised. They frustrated Boro.

That said, chances presented themselves. There was the Assombalonga header, a late scramble in the box when Boro had bodies forward and a Lewis Baker free-kick brilliantly saved by Gunn.

You never really got the impression, though, that Norwich were truly under the cosh.

Arriving on the back of four clean sheets, it was no surprise to see them defend so well.

At the other end, Monk will obviously be looking to cut out the kind of errors that cost his side the game here.

Only Preston had faced fewer shots than Boro before this game but that's not to say the backline hasn't looked shaky at times. After three league games without a clean sheet, a shut-out on Saturday would be most welcome.

a plus point despite defeat The return of Martin Braithwaite.

He was very much an unknown quantity when he arrived and that's still the case now due to the injury that's kept him out for the early stages of the season.

He returned here, introduced on the left side as Monk went for a striker-heavy approach in the final stages of the game.

Braithwaite and Fletcher both added much needed urgency but couldn't find a way through that aforementioned welldrilled defence.

It'll be interesting now to see how Monk uses Braithwaite and how he settles in the Championship.

One position that hasn't been completely nailed down yet is the No. 10 spot.

Braithwaite is versatile but he'll want to secure one spot rather than being used as a utility man across the forward line - a role that has seen Patrick Bamford come in and out on several occasions so far this term.

On a frustrating night, Braithwaite's return was a plus point. Hopefully we'll now see the best of him.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Sep 28, 2017
Words:1240
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