SO, BORO unleashed their three new Celtic Tigers and still there is no bite. A bit more of a roar in the first half maybe but no ruthless predatory instinct. No teeth.
Gordon Strachan blooded all three of his old bhoys at Sheffield United and all offered some promise. Robson had some nice touches and some deft deliveries but was maybe wasted out on the right; Flood showed plenty of industry, a bit of a snarl and a willingness to put a foot in; and Killen worked hard and won plenty of aerial flick-ons.
But while adding bodies and options in midfield is a tentative step forward it will take a radical revamp at the back and a lot of added punch up front to transform this squad into an effective unit that can flourish in the Championship.
It was nice to see new faces; less pleasing to see the same old flaws. For all the possession, free-kicks, corners and persistent approach play there was still no real threat. A couple of weak shots from the edge of the box, a few easily held free-kicks, one spooned over and a stonewall penalty claim waved away…. their keeper never had time to relax but neither was he ever really tested.
Meanwhile, at the other end, there was more deja vu as Boro worked hard to keep a physical Blades side at bay only to let it slip with one costly lapse, again a familiar one as David Wheater let his man sneak in and get goalside to bundle home a routine ball in.
Three new faces in. It will take at least that again to get the team functioning to anything like the way Strachan wants. And by the time we get them bedded in time will be of the essence if anything is to be salvaged from this season.
BEWARE the Ides of January. A year ago this weekend we went to West Brom and got comprehensively battered. A team that looked dead and buried embraced us in a suicide pact and rammed quite a few nails into the coffin: they tore us apart, Digard was sent off in a shameful and shambolic second half and hope for many was extinguished.
The Baggies fans started singing ‘sacked in the morning’ and a lot of Boro fans joined in and after the game Southgate was an ashen-faced zombie, shell-shocked and barely capable of speaking coherently to the media. We were shocked. We genuinely thought he was going to cry. Everyone was convinced he would walk. Or be sacked. It was stressed to us in no uncertain terms from very high up that was not going to happen.
It was a pivotal moment in the history of the club. It was a two train crash. Had action been taken then, who knows what would have happened? Could we have survived? Where we would be today? How much has changed in a year? The team today will be virtually unrecognisable. The horizons and mentality altered beyond belief.