JUKEBOX played but Boro hit a bum note. The fat lady was clearing her throat and doing scales long before the new boy – squeezed through a loophole on an emergency loan while Boro finalise the real deal – made his entrance in the second half.
Boro were taken apart in the first half as well drilled Burnley carved through a pedestrian, disjointed midfield with some rapid unchallenged counter-attacks. The engine room looking fragile and frightenly short of pace, width or creativity without its two main men and at one point midway through the half Boro fans were watching through their fingers as the visitors passed their way through with embarrassing ease. The gaffer was forced at one point to summon the senior players one by one to the touchline for a roasting.
The second half was marginally better, although that was as much because Burnley sat back to defend in depth as anything that Boro were doing. They had far more possession but did very little with it. Boro’s first real shot on target came two minutes from time as Tony McMahon blasted a close range angled effort straight at the keeper.
It was, to sum up the concourse chuntering consensus, absolutely bloody awful. Rubbish. It was the worst home display this season and possibly the worst under Mowbray. Yes, it was only the second defeat in 22 games and just short of a full year and yes we remain well placed and no-one should forget that, but it was an alarming performance as a muted and meek team slumped to back-to-back defeats for the first time since last February.
Hot on the heels of the demolition at Blackpool and the stodgy draw with Peterborough it certainly represents the worst run of results and perfromances in 12 months: one point from nine, one goal in three games, six conceded by what was until the turn of the year the best defence in the Championship, and since Bailey limped off at half-time against Posh, a team lacking solidity, shape or self-belief.
If the recent run has shown us anything it is the importance of linchpin Bailey. And that, whatever else he is, or isn’t, Kevin Thomson can not fill that role. The most generous thing you can say is that he remains ring rusty after (another) long spell sidelined by injury – but now, with key men missing, is exactly when he is required to step up and deliver. He hasn’t and whatever the mitigation, the critics are gathering. He won’t get many more chances before the mumbles become outright opposition as he slides into the role of boo-boy elect. Which will at least take some of the heat off Justin Hoyte and Jason Steele.
The defeat has also rammed home the lack of firepower. Against both Peterborough and Shrewsbury Boro created about 20 chances yet only brought three or four saves and could only manage a single goal. Blackpool created about six good chances and scored three. Burnley created maybe four and scored twice.
In the past two homes games Scott McDonald has had the ball played into his feet by Hoyte, unmarked six feet out at the far post – and faiiled to connect. He can’t complain about a lack of service. There’s a cypher for blunt Boro’s problem. They have squandered chances but got away with it because of a solid defence that eeked out 1-0 wins despite the poor conversion rate. Without Bailey (and to a lesser extent Robson) to add a layer of protection that rearguard looks far more vulnerable. We must start scoring again.
Lukas Jutkiewisc has been brought in to help address that problem and offer a different dimension. He is physical, direct and has an aerial presence. He can give defenders a problem that McDonald and Emnes can’t. And we put plenty of balls into the box so there is a supply line there to exploit. He is a desperately needed Plan B.