SHALL I write about the Groundhog day familiar frailties of the frustrating fatal final few minutes (there’s a few other ‘f’ words I could throw in)? Would it reveal anything? We all know that leaky late lapses have become the damaging default, that the red zone vulnerability is deeply embedded in the DNA of the current team.
Even skipper Matty Bates afterwards conceded that “maybe” there was something in the mindset of the team that they start to get the jitters in the closing stages. Tell us about it. How many times is that this season? The wobbles at Doncaster, Leeds and now Preston have all come in what is widely acknowledged as an improved spell – yet in those games we have dominated have only yielded a disappointing two points instead of what should have been a very healthy nine.
Victory today would have lifted Boro three places higher in the table, six points above the drop zone (and 12 points above a poor Preston who we easily beat away just three weeks ago) and it would have cast the five game unbeaten run in a far more positive light. It would have become a significant raised platform instead of a low step.
But we know all that. Most of us would have scripted it that way (although of course we’d have pencilled in Sean St Ledger for the late goal). There’s no point dwelling on it. It’s depressing. Groaaaaann.
Yet, for all the sickening frustrations of the day it is five games unbeaten, it is another small step forward and it was a solid second half display by what is starting to look like a well balanced and well drilled team. There can’t be many Championship teams who have a midfield unit better than that fielded after the break and the defence is growing into a decent unit. Replacing David Wheater with the right man – a physical, experienced, battler with aeriel ability – could ensure the back line stays solid enough to keep us in games.
But the strike force remains a problem. Leroy Lita blows hot and cold and misses too many sitters; Marvin Emnes is tricky and pacy but goes to pieces in the box and is never going to be a prolific striker; Lee Miller was on the bench; and Kris Boyd looks a forlorn and estranged figure with next to no impact on games. That department needs sorting urgently if we are to make any sort of concrete progress.
Some bits and pieces:
Joe Bennett is growing in swagger and with a nice touch, a turn of pace and a good cross is looking increasingly like a very effective player. He’s the future. Get him signed on an improved, longer contract.
Barry Robson got a right mauling. He has a nasty gash above ankle that needed a lot of stitches. And Seb Hines needed patching up and bandaging before he got thrown back on. Nicky Bailey was limping heavily with a dead-leg after the game too. That blank weekend is looking a useful little R&R break now.
David Wheater was hanging around the tunnel before the game, made a quick appearance on Radio Brownlee, nipped down to the dressing room for the pre-match music and team-talk, watched from the seats near his box and then after the game was prowling up and down the stadium. There’s a bloke who doesn’t really want to leave. He’ll be back.
With an all Academy back five plus Taylor in midfield and Grounds, Park, Smallwood and keeper Connor Ripley on the bench it made a total of ten home grown heroes in the 18 man squad. There’s a sign of the times. The Academy has raised Â£26m in sales in the past 18 months and looks set to produce the backbone of the team over the next few years as the austerity regime starts to bite. It is laudable – but a very risky project.
Hey Mr Tangerine Man: Surprisingly red-faced teak tanned Phil Brown didn’t get a lot of stick from the crowd. There were a few isolated taunts but no co-ordinated chanting over his scurrilous mischief making despite some excellent creative terrace ditties being drawn up.
It was noticeable that he ducked the press after the game though. He would have faced some embarrassing questions about Preston’s proxy apology on his behalf and no doubt would have been left cringing as he explained how he put his foot in his mouth and left his employers back-tracking in his first week in the new job.
But he lost his voice (throatus raspius diplomatica)… probably with all the frantic screaming in an attempt to get Joe Bennet sent off. Welcome back Mr Cuprinol.