Bubbling Boro Can’t Bridge Watford Gap

WHEN Boro scored early in the second half of their 1-1 draw with Watford they were briefly joint top of the Championship table. “Steve McClaren’s Derby” were drawing – they went on to lose 2-1 at home to Wigan – and there suddenly was a huge prize on offer for Boro’s biggest game of the season.

Had Boro held on, or had they got the second goal they deserved at that point, they would have been sitting pretty now with a slice of a three way share of the summit. There would be a tangible background buzz building and those extra bums on seats that turned up  (17,000 home fans there today, it is steadily nudging up) would have gone away bubbling about a great display and spreading word for mouth, doing excitable missionary work among the cynical masses of stay-aways.

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 Kike scores and Boro go top of the league. Briefly.

But then Watford scored and Boro ‘lost’ two virtual projected points. And Wolves came from behind to beat Leeds 2-1 (seeing off the perma-shambles club third manager in eight months) to nudge ahead of Boro. And Bournemouth went [BRACKETS] as Bimingham did a Sunderland and collapsed to ship eight sending the Cherries leap-frogging ahead of our heroes on goal difference.  Just to add to the frustration of not winning, Forest lost 3-1 at home to Blackburn and Norwich drew at Sheffield Wednesday.

From touching the top soon after half-time, Boro slipped back to fifth, although they remain just three points from top. Which isn’t the end of the world. But. But. But. The fag-paper gaps between the teams at the top make it frustrating to see points slip away.

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If only Boro they could have pressed home the the first half spell when George was ripping them open down the left and Fredericks was terrorising then down the right, when Boro were carving out a buffet of chances. Or been just that little bit more ruthless and clinical in the spell immediately after Kike’s opener early in the second half when they were turning the screw and had some very chances to put the game to bed.

Then, Watford changed their tactics, pushed closer to the Boro full-backs to stop the supply down the flanks and stabilised the game. Then enter Troy Deeney as the Hornets went to three up-front and threw everything forward (although only until they scored when they swiftly reverted to their starting shape).  Deeney changed the game and for  10 minutes Watford  zipped around the edge of the box and pulled Boro out of position.

And  after a few close calls Watford got their rewards as they gatecrashed from the right, cutting past and then tricking past an exposed Ayala to set up the substitute to score. There was a nervous spell and the visitors clipped the post from a poorly defended free-kick before Boro gradually got a grip on the game again and finished on top but without ever really looking like regaining a stranglehold.

It was very frustrating. Boro were so close to taking a massive leap forward. Not just mathematically had they taken the points but also mentally. In back-to-back games Boro have been pitted against their promotion rivals and at Wolves they didn’t show up then against Watford they let them off the hook. Had they won today it would have shifted the psyche of Teesside up a gear, as a team and as a collective with the crowd and the layers in the hinterlands waiting to be coaxed back by the prospect of success.

Still, mustn’t grumble. A point against Watford wasn’t bad. They are a good team and will be up there come May. And they will be just as frustrated as we are going away with just a point from a game they will feel they too could have won as we are. It was the archetypal “a draw was a fair result” kind of game.  Both bosses were happy with the result. Aitor Karanka was delighted with the performance   (if not the finishing) and he’s right. It was a good display.  Boro played well.

Both full-backs were superb; Bamford looked hungry and played well in a unaccustomed wide role;  Clayton had a storming game on his return; Kike did what he does well, dropped deeep, linked up and pulled defenders all over the  place and got a goal that will do his confidence the world of good; Tomlin played some perceptive balls from the tip of the diamond; Dimi made two great saves when called on; and the rest of the team put in a real shift too. Boro played fluid enterprising football in a hugely entertaining game between two side who set out to attack. It was great fun to watch.

Still  frustrating though.

 

Dances With Wolves?

NOT SO BOSTIN….

It was a bad day at the office in the Black County as Boro froze in the Baltic blast to lose 2-0 at Wolves. You can read the match report here.

They started slowly and failed to reach the levels of intensity that has driven them through the seven game unbeaten run. They failed to impose themselves on a Wolves side that started just as tentatively as the visitors. For half an hour it was turgid stuff and although Wolves gradually gained the upper hand it was far from a classic.

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Rock Hard Boro Resist Brighton Pier Pressure.

BATTLING Boro dug deep and resisted a furious final flurry from a side that looked a lot better than their league position suggested. It was nervous watching the tense last 10 minutes  after Brighton clawed one back – but this  team has shown they are stronger  now, more organised and far less likely to be bullied out of games.

It was a great game to watch. Boro went toe-to-toe when they had to, frustrated Brighton when they had to, and scored two cracking sucker-punch goals on the break to set up an archetypal away-day display and strengthen their promotion credentials.

Battered and bruised, Boro limped away from the Amex Stadium having banked three precious points and boosted their credit rating.

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Mogga Exit: One Year On

NEXT WEEK it will be a year since Ayresome hero Tony Mowbray was axed.

It was a sad but inevitable exit after a large contingent of the travelling Tees army at Barnsley turned on him for the first time in numbers and volume during and after a chaotic 3-2 defeat at rock bottom Barnsley. The sound of booing sharpened the mind of a stony faced Steve Gibson watching at Oakwell with Boro’s high command.  By the Monday evening he was gone, a significant departure that opened the door to a seismic change as Gibson opted for Boro’s first foreign boss and a cultural revolution.

In the Gazette next week we’ll be looking in more detail at Mogga’s impact, achievements and legacy at his boyhood club. To refresh your memory, to set the scene, to give you a head start in the agenda setting debates looming and to offer you something to chew over as the international break stretches on and on, here’s “another chance to see” the blog bit I did in the emotive aftermath of  the exit of a man who remains a club icon and who in time will be seen to have been an important factor in rebuilding a broken club.

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Number-crunching Boro’s First XI… PLUS Fulham left Pig Sick

****UPDATED****

WHAT do you think of it so far? Careful now…

A two week coitus interruptus as football takes an international break gives leaden-legged Boro a chance to recharge their batteries after seven games in 22 days.  A break! Oh no! What are we going to talk about now?

With 11 games gone, unless you want to quibble over decimal places, we are have played a quarter of the season. We are legally allowed to look at the table now and there is a body of statistical evidence building up. So it is probably fair enough to start looking in depth at what has happened so far and what could happen in the weeks to come.

Here’s some stats and analysis of the season so far that I did for the old school paper and clunktastic website.  With data graphics and video and everything. I’m really rocking this “digital content across a varity of multi-media platforms” gig.

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“Boro Would have Lost That Game Last Year…”

A FORMER fragile Boro would have lost that game. Nailed on. Back to the bread and butter games after an emotional high of a midweek glamour game and with expectations high after three wins in a row and a 4-0 Riverside romp against Brentford.  Throw in a huge travelling support buoyed by optimism and all the ingredients were in place for a “typical Boro” defeat – probably thanks to a Bikey goal in the 93rd minute.

But this Boro are made of sterner stuff.  Even with 10 men. Even after a leggy last half hour as the strength-sapping 120 minutes of the Anfield epic started to catch up with them and Charlton stepped up a gear to pile on the pressure late on.  They dug in. They put bodies on the line. They closed, tackled and blocked, they rocked as an opportunist hooked shot came back off the post, then the stayed sharp to resist a stoppage time assault as Dimi made a wonder save then Clayton hooked a goalbound header away.

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Surreal Scouse Spot-Kick Shoot-out Shenanigans

WHERE do you start with THAT?

Battling Boro were squeezed out in a 31 goal thriller at Anfield. They scored 15 goals against away Champions League side and “lost”.  Keeper Jamal Blackman scored a penalty and conceded 16 goals on his debut. Whack. Smack. Hammer. Neither keeper got anywhere near 20 consecutive penalties in a nerve-shredding cup record shoot-out. Crazy, surreal,  unscriptable spot-kick shoot-out.

Liverpool 2 Boro 2 (aet) (Liverpool win 14 [FOURTEEN] – 13 [THIRTEEN] on penalties). Total brackets. Total madness. Totally emotional exhausted after a pulsating night of pride and passion and barely believable absorbing end-to-end  action in which Boro more than matched a far from weakened Champions League side. Live on TV!  What an advert for Aitor Karanka’s Boro side. If that doesn’t put bums on seats I don’t know what will.

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Buzzing Boro Are The Bees Knees v Brentford

OPTIONS all over the place. Not just for Aitor. Where to start reflecting on bubbling Boro’s polished and potent performance against Bee-leagured Brentford?

The goals? Boro don’t do boring routine goals. They don’t scramble home scruffy  six yard toe-pokes in a messy penalty area scrum or have average shots take a deflection and skid or spin over the line. No, Boro only do spectacular long range sizzlers or perfectly engineered effort at the end of sweeping moves or deft text book finishes.

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Dragon Slaying/Taff Luck

Just a quick one before our annual bout of dragon slaying.  As usual you can put your money where your mouth is and make your score predictions and script out the drama here so we can come back later and hail your prescient pundit power or point at laugh at such woefully wishful thinking.  My daft quid is on a 1-1 draw with Kike netting, But what do I know?

I’ll try and get a blog up as soon as possible after the game but given the time difference and the cross-border cyber customs control I’m not sure when that will be. So you’ll have to talk among yourselves.

We’ve just driven into Cardiff and the shape of the Millenium Stadium appeared through a wispy haze of nostalgic yearning. It’s a long time ago now. But it still raises hackles. I think we will nip into The Gatekeeper for a nostalgic pre-match pint. Every little helps.

Meantime, as we are waiting for kick-off, here’s a bit I did in the steam driven print product today on how, 10 years on,  Teesside should start to reclaim the legacy of Ayresome hero Brian Clough,  One of our own.