HOW many goals do Boro need to score away from home before they can win a game? At Coventry, Preston and now rock bottom Peterborough they have thrown away precious points that should have been tidied away, wrapped up, stored away in the kit box and in the luggage hold of the team coach long before the whistle.
Three times now Boro have drawn 2-2 in away games that looked in the bag. Three times now they have wasted chances to seal victory and then contrived to throw away commanding positions through largely self-inflicted wounds. Grrrrrrrr. Gutted.
And how loud do the alarm bells have to be ringing before the team wake up to the cracks appearing around them. Boro twice scored well worked goals but that is scant consolation for the sloppy two conceded as they switched off and failed to deal with what were fairly basic balls back in after they failed to clear their lines properly.
Last season Boro were in the Premier League and Peterborough in League One. The home side were bottom of the table, had just changed managers and had spent the week working on switching to a new more direct tactical approach and had signed a player whose last game was in the Conference.
Yet they looked more organised, coherent and spirited as a side. They got forward confidently, used their throws and deadballs effectively and twice caught cold a defence that all bar St Ledger had plenty of Premier League experience. It was disappointing. It was frustrating. It was demoralising. It was cold. More than that it was deeply worrying.
This was a game which was supposed to be the catalyst going into a run of four fixtures against “promotion rivals”. Well you can forget that. Automatic promotion is gone. There is no way this side can claw back a double digit deficit. And unless there is a radical change in the outlook of this mentally fragile team the play-offs look in doubt too.
The levels of organisation of the team – the club! – were shown when they turned up at Peterbrough having travelled with just the light blue away kit. Didn’t they watch Posh on DVD? Didn’t they spot the blue shirts? That is just sloppy. Only a late phone call and a U-turn on the A1 to send a senior official back to Hurworth to pick up the normal -blush red shirts prevented a major embarrasment. As it was they warmed up in the blue kit but switched when the strip arrived ten minutes or so before kick-off.
Little details. Like picking the right kit. Like closing down when a ball into the box is only half-cleared. Like ball watching when it is knocked over the top, like failing to pick up and holding a disciplined line at the back.
Yes, you can argue that Boro should have won. That they had a goal disallowed and had a late stonewall penalty waved away, that Lita could have had a hat-trick, that Posh keeper Joe Lewis had a blinder. That O’Neil was missing and that left the midfield lacking in pace and ingenuity.
And yes there were positives: Dave Kitson showed awareness and finishing power to score twice (the second was his 100th league goal) and pointed out exactly where Boro have been lacking for 18 months or more; Arca showed flashes of creativity and for the second week running had a shot rebound for a team-mate to score; Lita worked hard and was a lively – if lonely – presence up front; Adam Johnson’s delivery for the second was delightful; the 2,400 fans were magnificent; and the defence coped well for long spells with a direct aerial bombardment and a Stoke style howitzer long throw.
But should we have to go through this increasingly desperate mitigation every week? Slipping up once to underdogs is unfortunate but these things happen. Twice and you start to question aspects of the game plan and attitude. But this is now a full blown habit and one that threatens to blow the entire season disatrously off course.
Four games in and Strachan is yet to find a win. Is yet to address the fatal lack of concentration and organisation at the back. Is yet to find the formula that turns good spells of possession into goals and victory. Is yet to develop a winning mentality.
Now we go into four very tough games with the pressure on the team mounting and searching questions starting to be asked about the new boss. No matter how many subtle changes are made in style and shape and selection it is hard to avoid the stark reality that Strachan arrived with the team one point off the top and a brief of securing promotion – now it feels like a yawning gap, not just in points but also in possibilities.
I needed a haircut when Strachan arrived but made the rash pledge not to do it until he won his first game, fully expecting to have the clippers out within a week. Now I am starting to look like the new bosses X-Factor Nemesis Jedward. By Scunthorpe on Boxing Day I could look like Mike Peters out of the Alarm.