A DISMAL and dispiriting day in which cautious Boro set out to draw a ‘must win’ match and came out of it claiming some kind of moral victory (“I was proud”) after failing to really test the visiting keeper and hanging on for dear life at the death.
In one of the few remaining ‘winnable’ home matches against a relegation rival, insipid Boro were shown to be lacking firepower. Lacking fire. Just lacking. Time is running out. It was a massive missed opportunity to regain control of a situation rapidly spinning out of control and to give the fans some hope and inspiration in what will be a sticky run-in.
On a day when Boro needed to win, when they needed to deliver, needed to show some spirit and steel, pride and passion, they rarely played with any urgency or noticeable desire, failed to respond to the gravity of the situation the club find themselves in and din not set the tempo or ask the questions. Worst still, they were left hanging on grimly at the death and but for a string of saves from Brad Jones could easily have been on the wrong end of an embarrassing and near fatal defeat.
Yes, the squad is thin and injuries and suspensions have tied Gareth Southgate’s hands but that was a scared selection – not so much a team as a noose. Boro started with five central defenders on the pitch including one in central midfield; they played their most creative player out of position on the right and in a game crying out for two up front to give a cutting edge they left a striker who had scored four in four on the bench in favour of a frustratingly out-of-sorts luxury player who has not produced the goods for months in a deeper role most effective away from home.
And the overly cautious selection was matched by an overly conservative approach: it was low key, low tempo and low quality. The defending was scrappy and nervous (although arguably the Land of the Giants rear guard did its job with a rare clean sheet and a tighter grip of dead-balls), the midfield was disjointed and unbalanced and the strike-force barely featured. Even during the spells when Boro had the bulk of possession there was little penetration into the box and Robinson had only a few routine long range efforts to save.
In contrast Brad Jones had to turn in a man of the match display to save from David Dunn twice and then Benni McCarthy in a hectic last five minutes.
Elsewhere the tightly bunched table is starting to thin out. A fortnight ago five teams were lock in joint bottom. In the two games since then Boro have taken one point while the team above them have started to inch away. Even Stoke won! Soon the “one win” needed to gain some breathing space won’t be enough.