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1st April 2018

Much has been made of the recent games where Adama Traore has been singled out for 'special' attention by opponents at a loss on how to cope with his blistering pace, strength and dribbling skills.

Unable to stop him by fair means, they have resorted to trips, pushes, blocks etc., in fact anything it takes to halt his progress. The illegal tactics at best prevent Boro from hurting their opponents and at worst put the flying winger at even more risk of picking up an injury.

He also has reacted to rough-house treatment as we witnessed at Sunderland.

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The last thing Boro need is to lose the services of a unique player who can turn defence into attack in seconds. His recent call up for the Spanish Under 21 side was well merited but was another couple of games where he could potentially pick up a knock that would sideline him from Boro's promotion push.

Whilst Boro fans, especially at Brentford recently where he was targeted by the Londoners throughout Boro's 1-1 draw, are up in arms with the tactics deployed against him, it is worth reflecting on the fact that Boro, like most teams, aren't or haven't exactly been innocents themselves.

Commentators and pundits often refer to players 'taking one for the team', and in so doing almost condoning the cynical challenges that are used to break up counter attacks. Under Karanka, it was obvious that Boro's midfielders were under instruction to get the card rather than let an opponent run away from them towards their own goal. The types of yellow cards and the numbers incurred by the likes of Grant Leadbitter and Adam Clayton amongst others reflected that fact.

As with most aspects of the modern game, we all accept it when it's in our favour and castigate opponents when it costs our own sides. If Patrick Bamford dives in the play-off final or Deli Ali gains a win for England in Russia this summer you won't hear too many supporters complaining as long as it helps secure a win. Likewise going down to ten men as a result of a professional foul will be seen as well worth it if it denies the opposition a late equaliser.

Setting personal bias aside, most would agree that it is not good for the game and deliberate fouling has to be stamped out. A referee can only do so much and if teams are clever they play the numbers game when victimising a dangerous opponent.

Even as far back as the 60s and 70s, Leeds United were well known for the numbers game when different players would take it in turns to foul the same opponent. Back then it was accepted that you would almost inevitably get a 'free-one' and rarely was a player cautioned for his first foul challenge.

That has changed nowadays, but teams are still using different players to commit fouls on the same opponent. That situation isnít helped by the likes of Traore swapping wings and in so doing giving someone else the opportunity to kick him.

I like the idea employed in Rugby League where the referee on occasions issues a team warning after repeated foul play, which means that the next time any player commits a similar offence they are sin binned.

I have long been an advocate of the introduction of sin bins, which would then ensure that teams get the advantage of playing against reduced numbers rather than the serial offenders eventually being suspended and missing games against different opposition.

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