Stung: Dismal Draw Punctures Play-Off Prospect

WATFORD were fourth bottom and had lost three out of four at home but Boro – who needed to win to keep the season alive – couldn’t beat them. Boro had two shots on target and until Leroy Lita came on they had nothing up front.
Boro have not won away in six – since Adam Johnson left – and have not kept a clean sheet on the road since Gordon Strachan took over. They lack a creative force, pace or cutting edge going forward and for all the added steel of McManus and the departure of erratic Sean St Ledger they still can not withstand sustained pressure. The end result is far too many disappointing draws against the dead men.
And that is why Boro are not going to feature in the play-offs.


The “strugglers” were faster, stronger, more direct and in Tom Cleverley had the best player on the pitch. When they had their spells of possession they always looked dangerous and piled on the pressure with corners and free-kicks and for long spells it was all hands to the pumps in the Boro box.
Boro in contrast looked laboured, flat and one dimensional when they had the ball and their own attacks petered out quickly. They lacked width and pace and with two big lads up front in the first helf there was little variety as big balls were humped forward but would not stick.
Boro had isolated spells of pressure but rarely troubled the keeper until Lita exploded into the game with good chances either side of his goal. His pace offered an outlet on the floor and he linked up well with a revitalised Gary O’Neil and suddenly Boro looked dangerous but then after a 10 minute period of belief and hunger they slipped back into a coma and left Watford to dominate.
Boro were woeful in the first half. They didn’t have an effort on target or a single corner and the defence looked shaky with Jones having a wobble or two and suddenly looking nervous again while both full-backs struggled with Watford’s pace.
After the break Boro improved: they started brightly, there was a bit more tempo and bite in the tackle and Robson, O’Neil and Arca started to get forward more.., but it was still Watford who looked hungrier and more coherent as a unit.
At least Boro clawed the goal back and gave a veneer of respectability to what was otherwise a very poor display by a side who appear to have given up the play-off ghost.
As they warmed up before the game the Cardiff match was playing out to a damning conclusion on the big screen and it is hard to believe the reality of the result did not have an impact. The win for the Dragon Botherers lifted them nine points clear with a game in hand. What had been a steep slope became a sheer cliff face and this is a team who do not have a head for heights or the equipment for such an ascent.
People – the players, the gaffer – will talk about mathematical possibilities, albeit with little conviction but Boro now need a miracle. Cardiff are out of sight now. Leicester and Swansea are just about catchable but Boro would need to start winning away games quickly – including at West Brom and Leicester – to have any hope at all and then still hope that all their rivals blow up too. There is an air of inevitability about it all now.
But let’s look at the positives… Boro didn’t lose; McManus was excellent again (although the transformed situation at Celtic may mean it is harder to pencil him in for next season); Lita looks interested again and could still catch Johnson for the top scorer gong; the 1,100 fans were once again fantastic; there were no more injuries.
Still, there’s always next year…

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56 thoughts on “Stung: Dismal Draw Punctures Play-Off Prospect

  1. Redcar Red’s words at 9.22pm mirror my thoughts.
    Tindu at 8.58am said: “Many supporters live on a match by match basis and let league tables and results cloud their judgement of the bigger picture.”
    That is often true with a good result causing euphoria and a bad one causing ritual wrist slitting, but it is equally true that recent dissatisfaction is not because we have suffered a run of poor form, but because we have watched a steady decline that has lasted FOUR YEARS. From UEFA Cup Finalists to a mid-table Championship side whose recent form can’t be much above relegation form.
    Of course the Premier League relegation should have been avoided (just one win – holding our lead against Hull, or beating Sunderland and sneaking a draw instead of having conceded as we so often did at the death?) even with some cost cutting. Did we have a worse team than Stoke or Hull who stayed up? Obviously we have a worse squad now….!
    Tindu goes on to say at 8.58am: “We have gone through a huge period of change. Change that needed to happen for our long term future. Short term pain for long term gain.”
    He is right there, if he is referring to our pressing need to cut our debts by selling some “assets” and no longer competing in the purchase of superstar players, and to reduce the wagebill, to put the club onto a sound, sustainable financial footing.
    But he is wrong if he thinks the period of change has happened and is now over. If we assume we do NOT go up this season, then some more of our players will go this summer, we will have to bring in more players to replace them (without spending too much, so they would have to be “canny” buys), and thus there will be even MORE change. So next season is unlikely to see a suddenly settled squad, is it?
    And that, of course ignores the probability that we would be competing next season for promotion against, let’s say, Portsmouth who are obviously in trouble unless sold yet again, West Ham who appear to have rich backers and have always had a really excellent academy, and Burnley who appear to be well run, have not spent ridiculously and will probably retain most of their squad to use with their parachute payment to go straight back up.
    But also against a resurgent Norwich playing to full houses every week even in the division below, maybe Millwall and possibly Leeds or Southampton – quite apart from Sheff Utd, and presumably at least two of Forest, WBA, Cardiff and Swansea.
    Again, the simple truth is that the greater prospect of promotion is in the first year, a reduced propect in the second year, and then little prospect for some time after that. No doubt that is why SG sacked GS1, as it looked like we were slipping in our aim to return immediately to the Premier League, a slip it was difficult to countenance, even if we were only that fabled point or so behind a promotion place.
    GS2 must have thought he was onto a winner. The three relegated teams were the three favourites to go up, we were only a point or so behind, and with a little “tweak” here and there he must have thought the new manager bounce would count for more than one measly point, and even though we had to be careful with our money we had all been assured from on high that we had more than enough resources to match anyone in the division apart from Newcastle, so promotion must have seemed a probability not a mere possibility.
    Let’s be honest, this is a poor league. If it were not, we could hardly be in with a chance of STILL getting into the play-offs even if it would be miraculous from here. However to do that would require a series of wins that we haven’t shown any capability of delivering at any stage this season.
    So from having been in the Premier League for a decade to now being in the middle of The Championship and not REALLY challenging for one of the promotion places (just check the tables in a couple of weeks) isn’t a good performance, is it? Even if we have been unlucky, or suffered injuries, or had to cope with changes in the playing staff.
    The key question (and one which I don’t have the mathematical skills to answer) is whether the graph is pointing up or down? We know where we were when the club changed its manager. We know that there might have been a period when results weren’t going well. But are there signs of positive improvement now, more than half a season later? Does it look as though, given more time, the tide has been turned and the graph points upwards? Or is that just a hope, without anything to back it up except blind faith?
    Who is going to be here next season? Surely Wheats will be sold, and it might well be the case that McManus is required to return to Celtic. Poggi will go (not that we have seen much of him this term, and when we have, he would have to admit he’s not torn up any trees), and clearly Riggott will be let go. Will we have a centre back? Obviously GO’N is a candidate to go. And there are people on this blog who have in the past offered to drive the car that takes away Aliadiere and Arca. We’d better start a search party for the sort of team that might challenge next year.
    Anyone prepared to bet their house on promotion next season? Or their car? Any backsides ready and waiting for exposure in Binns’ window? Now, that’s a challenge. Put your backside where your mouth is!
    I look fowrad to the headline in the Gazette. “GS2 – promotion to the Premier League or it’s Binns’ Window for my backside!” With a queue of SG and a cast of many from this blog (name yourselves, don’t be shy) standing behind him ready with the velcro trousers.

  2. Forever Red and Dormo –
    The last transfer window was the first for a long time to address the key midfield issue. To have a good central player who has bite and can pass the ball. Someone with attitude to drive us forward. Sadly it coincided with the depature of Jinky. Robson is battling away but with nothing to drive forward.
    Porrit the replacement for Jinky for Downing didnt make the grade. Morrison is long gone. The hard man Cat was cast aside with the rest of midfield. The joker in the pack, Tuncay, has gone but he was always fitful. O’Neill will go this summer.
    I wont dwell on the other areas but that is the area that controls the football and the game.
    Where are reinforcements coming from? It may be some time before another academy kid can step up to the plate worthy though they are.
    My one hope is that other clubs on a shoestring can find them. They are out there, one of them tortures us most weeks. A measure is that Boyd joined Forest in preference to us. I supose it they are a lot closer to Peterborough than us.
    There is no quick fix especially with a limited budget.
    And Anlov, this was set in motion long before Gate left. He is better off out of it with his family, others played a large part in the situation.

  3. Everyone is so apathetic, even AV can’t be bothered to comment… I’m off on hols for 2 weeks – see you all after Easter

  4. It seems many on these boards have given up on the season and are in danger of joining the ranks of the Chicken Runners – so perhaps it’s worth recalling the story of how the Chicken Runners came to pass.
    Those who managed to catch this week’s programme on the Solar System will have discovered that the impact made on Middlesbrough by the Redcar Rock pales into insignificance compared to that made by an even bigger rock.
    It informed us that one the biggest impacts witnessed by the Earth occured at Middlesboro over 200m years ago – though the spelling reveals that this was not our small town in Europe but our namesake in Kentucky.
    Such was the size of the impact that the only survivors were the quickest distant ancestors of the bird now favoured by a local chef known as ‘The Colonel’ – and it believed by some (me) that this was probably where the start of the phenomenum we now know as the ‘Chicken Runners’ began.
    Perhaps other posters can help explain how the phenomenon of the Foam Handers began?

  5. Ian Gill at 7.56am –
    I agree Barry Robson looks a very handy player, and one of our better recent forays into the transfer market. I also agree that getting the midfield right is key to a successful future.
    If we were all satisfied with the goalkeeping situation, with the defence, and if the forwards were regularly hitting the net, we could perhaps think that if we could sort out the midfield we would look good for next season.

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