IT WAS as predictable as a soap plot: struggling Boro missed their golden chance from the spot – with the barely believeable twist of a rebound from the first effort being blasted back for a second shot and pushed dramatically onto the bar.
Then the casting central tabloid bad boy and jail-bird, written out of the last series after off screen scandals, ruthlessly slammed home Coventry’s penalty to leave our ailing heroes facing a tense cliff hanger as the relegation trapdoor starts to creak below them.
Dead Enders? Relegation Street? I’m getting bored of the same old storyline.
This week’s exciting episode was a tale of two penalties.
Generally you can’t blame a player for missing a penalty. It happens. He just whacked and the keeper guessed right. But you can raise questions over the failure to bury the rebound. It was eight yards out and Lita was at the ball first and with time and as the keeper recovered and scrambled from one post surely he should have tucked inside the other upright? But no, he blasted it right down the middle and Westwood managed to turn it onto the bar. To be fair, it was a great save.
*Even with Gary O’Neil back in the team, Matty Bates kept the armband. After the game Gary O’Neil said philosophically that it was down to the gaffer. The gaffer hinted that there had been so many changes already this term and in recent years and that he was looking for some kind of stability. That suggests that he sees Bates as a fixture in the team but that maybe O’Neil is not.
*Boro only named six subs. Barry Robson went down with the lurgy overnight but that suggests that either the team travelled with just the bare minimum or that any others who were on the coach were no considered worthy of a place. At Chesterfield in the League Cup Boro only named four subs.
*It was at Coventry last year that Boro’s season started to unravel. Not only did Southgate’s side let slip another two goal lead to help hammer a nail in his coffin as the bright start fizzled out but it was also the game where Keith Lamb accidentally, coincidentally and damagingly bumped into Gordon Strachan in the VIP lounge toilets. (Insert your own “down the pan” joke here.)
Of course it was inevitable that Marlon King would score his first goal for Coventry. That it came from a sloppily conceded penalty – Bates should have stayed on his feet – just rubbed salt in the wound. At that stage Boro were on top in possession and territory and a point from a form team chasing the play-offs would have been a good return.
Boro did edge the second half, it is true but the Marvin Emnes stabbed effort against the bar and a first half Arca lob that sent him back-pedalling to tip over apart, Westwood was rarely made to work. Steele was far the busier and he looked unsteady at times.
Boro did have a lot of possession and passed it around fluidly too but it was all in the harmless middle third and while Bailey and O’Neil beavered away and there were some spells of patient crisp movement there were few telling balls into the box (and little movement in there to aim at), few clear cut chances and far too often the final ball went astray. Boro didn’t do enough at that end to hurt Coventry.
Boro did generally cope with Coventry’s route one long diagonals and a string of long throws and set plays into the box – only to undone by one slip at the back. But how often can we come away saying that? It is not just bad luck.
After the game the gaffer and players insisted it was the best they had played under Mowbray, that they were more organised, that they felt they were the better team, that they should maybe have won. I don’t buy that. They were better against Scunthorpe and Palace when they won. They were more enterprising against Hull as they came from behind twice. They were more organised and determined at Swansea. And while they held their own for long spells they did not look a fundamentally better side than Coventry. They don’t look fundamentally better than many – any – teams in this league.
As it stands Boro have taken one point in 12; seven from 21 under Mogga; eight from 42. We have taken just four points from 30 on the road. They are relegation stats. There is no escaping that. Survival is the only thing on the agenda now. And we have high-flying Cardiff next, then Doncaster and Forest before a basement battle away at Preston and a “derby” trip to Leeds. Tough fixtures and tense times.
We know that the squad is flawed and everything is now focussed on Janaury and how far reaching the reshuffle then will be. But the deadline is ten games away. We can’t afford the players to think we can afford tread water and muddle through until then and that there is some guarantee of a quantum leap forward. But that could be too late.
We need to find a shape, a system and a spirit that gets results now.