WELL there was an air of inevitability about that wasn’t there?
Having been slipped the black spot of the Manager of the Month award didn’t help – we have enough problems without having to shoulder the burden of history and superstition. More importantly the injuries to Tuncay and Shawky disrupted the continuity of early fluid displays and enforced some changes from the team that has started the season so well while Downing played with his chin on the floor after another demoralising outing as England scapegoat. Throw in the unforced change of Riggott for Wheater and even with a goal start Boro were always going to faced a battle against a fired-up Pompey looking to make up lost ground.
Boro lost the game in midfield (as elaborated by Philip Tallentire in a sharply observed analysis of the game) with Diarra putting in an awesome display that suggests he won’t be at Fratton Park very long: commanding, powerful, inventive, full of energy… he was the most influential player Boro have come up against so far this season and we just couldn’t cope. Didier Digard, who has looked good in his cameos up to now and who consensus claimed was ready for a start, struggled to impose himself while O’Neil’s running and industry was ineffective once Pompey stepped up a gear in the second half.
And another late goal leaked! How many times will that happen? Against Spurs it didn’t have an impact on the result but against Liverpool two in the last five minutes cost a famous away win and a 100% start and the late sucker punch at Pompey took the steam out of our sizzling start.
Now Boro must pick themselves back up for what could be a season defining run of three ‘winnable’ games. A year ago we had just beat Birmingham in a game with 20 odd chances leaving the foam handed fraternity sticking daft tenners on Europe. Then in the next game Boro let in a late leveller at home to Sunderland and started to unravel as they went on a run of four straight defeats and eight without a win that condemned us to a season of treading treacle in the bottom six.
We can’t allow that again. We now have away games at Sunderland and Wigan – our rivals in PL division three and games where we must take points to keep the top half bandwagon rolling – either side of a home game against West Moggawich Albion, a team who will be in the whipping boys section that we really need to put to the sword if we are to justify the hype. Those games and the ÃÂ£42 a head Carling Cup trip to Manchester United Reserves can go a long way to shape the mentality of the season. Come through with six or seven points and progress in the cup and we are flying and spirits will be bubbling. Limp through with two or three points and crash out of the cup and we will be writing the season of as another false dawn.
Yes we have mounting injuries to a thin and fragile looking squad – if the knock to Digard is serious then with Shawky and Arca also sidelined it leaves us light in the holding role in midfield in particular – but we knew from the off that would happen at some point. How we cope with the problem is the first big test so far of the new flexible young Boro squad, the resurgent mentality and the manager of the month.
Meanwhile, TWO Boro goals FOR in the Match of the Day Goal of the Month competition! And only one against! Is this some kind of record?