STRACHAN had predicted it would be water-pistols against machine guns. If fact it was a much more even fire-fight but he was still right – Boro were firing blanks when it mattered in front of goal while City’s big guns hit the target.
The goal came from one of Boro’s few deviations from what was otherwise a shrewd and largely effective tactical approach. With five across the middle they played at a high tempo, closed, snapped and hustled and never let the City slickers play a passing game and when they got the chance they switched it wide quickly for the lively Jonathan Franks, Adam Johnson (until he was injured) and the over-lapping full-backs to get down the flanks and get crosses in for Bent and the supporting midfielders
The City goal came when that plan broke down briefly, Justin Hoyte coming inside in first half stoppage time to try and pick out Marcus Bent through the middle. Bent was muscled off the ball and it was pushed forward quickly for Petrov to run unchallenged from the halfway line to slot neatly between two defenders for Benjani to ghost in on the right of the box and rifle it home. Gordon wasn’t best pleased.
Apart from that there was arguably little between the teams for long spells (although you got the impression that had City really needed to step up a gear they could have) . Boro’s endeavour and energy helped grab a foothold in the game and they got the ball into the box often enough. If the team had a cutting edge we could have won that one.
And there’s the rub. Without goals and the industry produces little. And once City netted there was probably no way back because this is a side that struggles to score. In the second half there was a lot of huffing and puffing and the odd scramble of two but Shay Given barely had to make a save of note.
Yes, we should/could have had a penalty when O’Neil was sent flying by Sylvinho (who has scored more goals for Boro than Bent will) early in the second half and Barry got a knee in the way of another goalbound effort but that happens when you are in a slump.
Meanwhile, how low can we go? The crowd was what was to be expected when a club detached from the economic and political realities of their support slap a premium on a game that is not as glamourous as they think and in the middle of a crisis of faith. Especially as Steve Gibson has made much play about the harsh economics of Teesside when making populist gestures to the gallery over the impact of the Corus closure.
For North Stand season ticket holders a normal game costs ÃÂ£16. To charge ÃÂ£26 today was madness. Whatever City think they are not Real Madrid yet. And to be fair, even if it was Madrid the club wouldn’t have shifted the tickets at those prices given the recent form and low morale. The club got it disastrously wrong, ensured a low gate and offered an open goal to those in the national press who want a stick to beat us with.
There were 2,900 City fans there and but for the police who stopped 2,000 more from crossing the Pennines as the M62 became dangerous early in the day it could have been very embarrassing indeed. Or more embarrassing anyway.
On a team sheet note…. the return of Boro’s mystery midfielder Shawky from his gap year to appear on the bench may have been a huge neon sign spelling out ‘Not Wanted’ for Andrew Taylor, dropped even from the matchday 18 with a right back and two left backs on the bench ahead of him.