A GAME of two halves. But a side that can only play in one. A schizophrenic side that follows every good display with a dud. A mentally weak side that crumbles under the first spell of sustained pressure. A side that needs a two goal cushion away from home just to get a point. Where to start?
Why bother? Let’s just usher this entire miserable ill fated year of despair and defeat out as swiftly as possible and hope that the January purge can inject some steel and leadership and spark some kind of revival.
Boro dominated the first half. They played some expansive fluid football with some neat short passing moves that helped them cut through the edge of the box at will. They set a high tempo, pressed high up the field and retained possession well. There weren’t many genuine chances admittedly and apart from a 25 yard effort from Arca that sent the keeper full length he never had a save to make.
The goal was a fluke, a cross/shot from 35 yards out that sneaked in, although Hoyte (who has scored twice before and the last three years ago for Arsenal at Charlton) insists he meant it. Whatever, we deserved the break.
There were plenty of threatening moments, the best when Rhys Williams weaved into the box before being sent tumbling by a tackle. It looked like a penalty but the appeals were waved away and he was shown a yellow card for diving.
In the first half Barnsley beavered away but rarely threatened and were limited to pointless long shots – but after the break they were a different side too. They came out fighting, fired up and launched a fierce fightback, throwing the ball into the box from all angles and launching bodies at it.
It was no surprise that they scored quickly as they caught Boro with their heads still in the changies. And it was no surprise that both goals came from headers – there will need to be an inquest into how easily a defender and a midfielder ran unchallenged from the edge of the box unchallenged to head home.
In fairness, it was a makeshift Boro side. With Alaidiere suffering a swollen ankle after Scunthorpe, rash red card merchant Lerot Lita suspended and dicky tummy Dave Kitson despatched back to Stoke it was down to a Little and Large unbalanced partnership of teenager Jonathan Franks and Marcus Bent.
With Isaiah Osbourne injured it was Julio Arca back in and with Poggi out with a hamstring and St Ledger playing for Preston Chris Riggott started for the first time since away at Manchester City in February when we were in the Premiership and he was being asked to mark Robinho,
Riggott did well. In the first half he was excellent and after the break he was one of the few who didn’t fade completely. Rhys Williams and Arca were superb in the first half and Justin Hoyte again did well on the left. In the second the entire team faded as an organised unit and became disjointed in what Gordon Strachan said was a “cup tie” battle after the break. They were overawed by Barnsley’s robust, direct approach.
Some other points….
Luke Williams looks lively and almost got a fairytale goal on his debut after his historic debut as Boro’s youngest player since Tom Murphy in 1905. He is 16, five months and three weeks but looks younger. But he has a bit of pace, is brave – there was a crunching 50/50 late on against one of Barnsley’s six footers – and he got himself into good positions. He raced in and almost claimed a stoppage time leveller as Johnson drilled across the face of goal and it clipped his shins and screwed just over the bar.
The fans were magnificent, very loud and very funny. Over 4,400 in the away end and pretty much 90 minutes of non-stop passion. Obviously there was the love-in with Danny Coyne but also some humerous moments as they urged Hoyte to shoot from deep inside his own half soon after his goal and with a nice twist on the David Wheater song they taunted Barnsley’s supporters: “We’ll sing on our own, you’re so quiet we’ll sing on our own,” followed by a sssssssssshhhhhhh. It was old school Holgate stuff. It is a shame that the team can’t give the travelling Teesside support what they deserve.
And the live blog… what a frustrating, unpredictable, exasperating system that is. Sorry for the regulars who couldn’t get on. I know how you feel because I couldn’t either. I’ll try to get a few issues resolved quickly when the geeks are back in work because we were getting a decent and lively audience there and it would be a shame to lose it.