VERY disappointing. Not that getting a point from a team above you and who are unbeaten away from home is a bad thing because in essence it isn’t.
What was disappointing was that once again Boro failed to press home an advantage. A golden goal after five minutes was a massive lift and they played the first half hour with real zest, tempo and spirit with the ball being passed around and tackles flying in.
What was equally disappointing was that once again they shrank away after the break, were thrown out of their stride and had no answer when the opposition stepped up the gas and piled on the pressure. Forest grabbed the game by the throat and showed the kind of urgency that one dimensional Boro could take lessons from. They got the ball into the box and made things happen, if not always with finesse or grace.
When the tempo went up and things got scrappy, Boro faded. There wasn’t a shot on target after the break – O’Neil had one charged down and a Wheater header bounced wide but that was about it – and for long spells Boro struggled to get their passing going. That is where we are losing out. For all the technical ability and neat close control and crisp movement they show when on top and allowed to pass, they are found wanting when the game is reduced to a physical contest, when urgency and hunger became the dominant themes and when the opposition get right at them.
Gordon Strachan finally got off the mark with his first point in three games but he will probably be alarmed that in some ways this was a worse display than the two opening defeats. In his first two games Boro had dominated for long spells, created a shedload of chances and had lost because they couldn’t stick them away. You can shrug your shoulders at that and make philosophical noises about evening out and how it will come. You can take the positives from it the and work on the weaknesses in training.
But against Forest Boro were beaten by a team that wanted it more and threw away an early advantage to boot. In the first two games Boro could put together a case that they should have got something but against Forest, when the game hotted up, there was only one team that looked likely to win. Boro were left hanging on for what in the end was a precarious point. And that seismic shift in the game seemed to be a mental thing. That is not so easily solved on the training pitch.
But it must be dealt with – and quickly – if this season is to be salvaged. We have talked about the pressing financial need for promotion this term to prevent more damaging cuts and also to be able to persuade the crown jewels to stay. In the coming weeks Boro have rock bottom Peterborough then in quick succession four teams who were pre-season promotion rivals now threatening to break away. Get to work GS2.
Respect to Brad Jones, not always a fans’ favourite but he played a blinder today with a string of brilliant saves that kept Boro in the game and prevented a collapse.
Taking the armband off David Wheater and handing it to Gary O’Neil is a positive. It can make the captaincy a positive again rather than a distraction and lead weight dragging down a player who really needs to focus on getting his own game right again.
The team is starting to reflect a new broom. The full backs who were monstered at Palace, Justin Hoyte and Jonathan Grounds, were dropped. GS1 would have given them the chance to learn the lessons and redeem themselves. GS2 is less forgiving. Also it allowed him to move Rhys Williams to right back, Admittedly it wasn’t a complete success but at least it removes a shape/peg/hole dilemma.
Emanuel Pogatetz is nails. Not only does he play a month ahead of schedule with Mark Schwarzer’s Phantom of the Opera mask on but he gets his eyebrow smashed open again and had Terminator style running repairs on the touchline – five stitches, a tweak with a screwdriver, bandaged up and thrown back into battle.
Afterwards, with a shiner and huge red sewn up eyebrow and a sheepish smile he admitted he felt a little bit embarrassed that every game now he seems to get a bit battered and bruised. If only some others were so willing to show that steel.
Strachan was devastingly honest in his post-match comments. And to be fair to him he has quickly spotted the fatal flaws in the teams make-up, problems that many on here have pointed out repeatedly and in ever more frustrated fashion in the past two years.
“I’m happy with the way we started the game and the first 30 to 35 minutes, but not happy with the rest of the game,” he said .
“The two games we played before this I felt we could have won, but the most likely team to win this game was Nottingham Forest. I thought the back four and Brad played well but the most important thing in football is to score goals and I don’t think we were much of a threat to be honest. Our retention of the ball was poor and when we got it back we rushed things, so you struggle from there.
Asked if he had made progress since his arrival, he said: “It doesn’t look like it, no. Not at all. It’s not been a great three weeks for the players, for me or for the fans.
“My concern just now is making us into a better team. We have to try and find a formula or a formation that gives us more of a goal threat. At the moment I can’t put my finger on it and it’s something you have to get. Every job is a big challenge. I didn’t think it was going to be easy, that’s for sure. I’m not a silly man.
“We’re judged as players and managers when we walk out of the door. But people can be unhappy just now, I understand that.”