A FEW months back we’d have lost that. The squandered chances would have set the jitters off, Bristol’s bright start to the second half would have fostered and the red card would have led to the slow motion retreat and fear creeping in. We would have finished the game scrambling balls away from the box in blind panic and no doubt crumbled an conceded from a dead-ball in stoppage time.
Instead, the sending off – deserved it must be said, the challenge was a daft one and Robson had already been booked and had his cards marked for giving the ref a 57 minute ear bashing – had little strategic effect. Boro continued to battle, play at pace, show great energy and press forward right until the death. When Robson went Strachan didn’t take a striker off to concede the initiative, Boro kept pushing for the win. That change in mentality is the most pleasing aspect of the Strachan’s changes.
And if we had a striker with an eye for goal and a calm head we’d have won it too. Killen worked hard, held the ball up well and won almost everything in the air but his lack of a killer touch showed when he was played through by a flick on from a free-kick and had the ball in acres of space eight yards out only to blaze over. OK, the offside flag was already up and it wouldn’t have counted but if you have any pretentions of being a clinical prolific predator you have got to hit the target from there.
Likewise Lita. He is fast and at times has a lovely touch but he seems to have turned making the wrong choices into an art form. He doesn’t get down the channels when the ball is pumped there but give him the ball at his feet he invariably drifts too wide and runs down a blind alley.
But we all know the that the problem lies up front so there is no point banging on about it. It says everything that Wheater looked the likeliest goal scorer. That is the area Strachan is trying to sort out before Monday. We know that.
Almost everywhere else on the pitch there were positives, albeit tempered by the result. Grounds and Wheater look strong together and the entire back unit – despite its square-pegged limitations and one footed Hoyte reverting to type after three good games – has grown in confidence over the past few games. The first clean sheet since Scunthorpe on Boxing Day can only help.
In midfield there was a better balance. With the tireless Celtic Tiger Willo Flood buzzing about on the right and a hard-working and experienced central duo of Robson and O’Neil Boro will be very hard to outmuscle and out-labour now. If Jonno had produced the little bits of match-winning magic we expect from him on the left Boro would have won the game but being double-marked for most of the game (and possibly the distraction of dodging chequebooks) left him subdued for long spells.
Flood – excellent and a cult hero in the making and his weaving first half run into the box before being tackled was the most exciting moment of the match. Robson – terrific first half with obvious leadership qualities on show but he must learn to wind his neck in when the ref warns him, there is no Old Firm halo to protect him now. O’Neil – non-stop energy, especially after the red card was flashed and Boro’s best again.
So on balance, it won’t go down well with punters who expected a new golden age after reading the glowing reports of the mid-week mauling of Doncaster, but that was another tentative step forward. A clean sheet, the bulk of the possessiion and chances, rarely threatened, a team spirit and determined mentality starting to shine through and a solidity and ambition right into stoppage time even after going a man down.
It wasn’t the greatest game but the positives were there and with half a season to play and only a four point gap to the play-offs there is a lot of milage in this season yet.
THE LIVE matchday blog was up and running again today. Those eager expats following the technocrock saga will know that the last few attempts have broken down more often than Didier Digard carrying Mido on his back. Or like Emnes, simply failed to start.
But we brought in a new McLaptop on loan from Scotland, the Mosso Cloudfile Transfer is complete, a late fitness test was passed and we lasted the full 90. So we will be getting back to the tried and test cyber-cynical chaos, beery banter and instinctive yelps of anxiety on the global virtual terrace from next week. Thanks for your patience.
You can get a taster of the unique combination of the Holgate, Masterchef and Friends Reunited by rewinding the coverage here….