OH NO! BORO in “doing it the hard way against rock bottom side” shocker!
With a display that almost wore out the “typical Boro” catchphrase, Tony Mowbray’s side only just salvaged a narrow, nerve jangling 3-2 win at cellar dwelling Peterborough.
Hot on the heels of the unlikely implosion at Birmingham, a fragile looking Boro once again threw away a commanding lead to descend into a scrappy mess at the back. Once again they showed some crisp movement to take control early on before inviting pressure and handing the initiative – and goals – to a limited but hard-working side.
And once again they slipped from swaggering dominance into a nervous looking side brittle at the back, unable to convincingly clear their lines or relieve the pressure.
At Birmingham that self-inflicted stumble towards shapelessness came through a string of individual errors that undid a sizzling first 45 and led to a costly and preventable defeat.
At Peterborough it was more a case of tactical jitters. Boro invited the opposition forward to create space to hit them on the break but it almost backfired when their hosts’ attacks twice paid dividends and clawed them not just level but briefly into the ascendency.
As at home to Bristol – another side firmly anchored in the drop zone – Mowbray shaped his side to exploit a perceived weakness and got caught. Against Bristol, Boro disappointed and lost. This time they disappointed at times – but got away with it. Just.
And the way the game unfolded will have no doubt used up precious winter stockpiles of Teesside cynicism. Anyone following the game via Sky Sports Soccer Saturday will have no doubt have sighed in resignation – and sworn a bit – after being misinformed by Jeff and the boys: “there’s been a goal at London Road – and it’s gone to Peterborough!”
Of course it had. Boro were away to a side that had taken one point from 21, had lost eight at home, had not come from behind to take even a single point all season, who had leaked eight in their last two home fixtures and who – let’s be frank – are going to be relegated. What else would you expect to happen?
That would have been a catastrophic blow to morale and the promotion points curve.
In fact, a late face-saver from Ishmael Miller had salvaged some pride and the three precious points that should have been nailed on from the moment the first goal flew in.
After a frustrating spell of sickening nerves, an icy fear of impending disaster and rising anger levels, suddenly the travelling supporters – almost 2,000 and a third of the total crowd – finished the game with a jubilant air-punching EIO and all was forgiven. Almost.
The game pointed to what could be an Achilles heel for Boro’s promotion hopes. They have now lost to three of the Championship’s current bottom six – the B-Movie horror triple bill of Barnsley, Bristol and Brum – and have only just wriggled off the hook against basement boys Peterborough.
That will have to change. Boro can’t afford to drop points against the Legion of the Damned in such cavalier fashion . We need a ruthless edge against the trapdoor dancers if we are to be in with a shout.
On the plus side, no matter how chaotic, it was a win and that represents progress. Boro’s mid-match mayhem and surrender of the lead ended in defeat last time out so shoring it up, regaining momentum and clawing to a victory is a big box ticked.
A second successive empty handed slump would ring alarm bells and suggest a more fundamental flaw and lead to real panic among punters..
And it is progress in terms of Boro’s recent record at Peterborough too.
Gordon Strachan’s side twice let the lead slip – two Dave Kitson goals in that week or so when he really fancied it – to draw 2-2 to a relegation bound Posh powered by Biblical giant throw-in machine Exodus Geoghagon then last term Boro dominated for an hour and lead to a Scott McDonald strike before they levelled with a stunning late ‘worldie.’
And, it must be said, Boro played well in patches.
In fact, for the first half hour they played with a real simmering threat as they sat deep and surrendered possession to lure Posh forward then scythed through them on the break with the pace Scott McDonald and Marvin Emnes and the surging runs of Faris Haroun looking a potent cutting edge. It all went to counter-attacking plan.
And in the last 20 minutes a resurgent and reshaped Boro – with super-sub Ishmael Miller leading the line superbly with pace and power – grabbed back control and in the end they could have had another goal or two to make the scoreline respectable and a more accurate reflection of the likely end of term positions.
And they were all good goals too. The well engineered breaks that set up the early strikes by Haroun were counter-attacking master-classes.
Firstly a sweeping move forward out after defending a corner featured a sublime diagonal ball from Emmanuel Ledesma to send McDonald away to draw the defence before deftly squaring for the unmarked Belgian to drill home the opener.
Then after another surge, an Emnes touch sent Stuart Parnaby over-lapping down the right to whip a perfect cross to the far side for unmarked Haroun to steer in the second.
Posh hit back with an unstoppable shot from distance then scrambled a leveller after Boro failed to clear before Miller rifled in a wonderful winner.
Just three minutes after coming on Big Ish – whose previous three goals have come from a cumulative total of six yards – collected a pass from Richie Smallwood, turned inside his man to find space on the edge of the box and cracked into the bottom corner.
Miller has his critics, many who made their assessment before the ink was dry on his contract, but he has looked an ever improving potent and physical presence in his recent outings and has scored four goals and got two assists in his 640 minutes so far: not a bad return in the equivalent of seven games.
The win will settle nerves. It was shaky at times but Boro resisted some heavy pressure, did not crack when they leaked the goals and were mentally tough enough and tactically flexible enough to change the dynamic and hit back to win. It keeps Boro well placed.
As fans we will agonise about it, worry the game has deep seated significance and see fatal flaws in the team that struggles against the Dead Men Walking but ultimately it is three points in the bag and that is all that matters.
Asked about the need to end the recent wobble an indignant Jonathan Woodgate hit back: “Wobble? What wobble? We’re third!”
And that’s the big picture: what counts is where Boro are over 10 games, 20 games, over the season as a whole, not over the last three, four or five games.
It was far from a classic. It wasn’t Boro’s best display.
“We’ll play better and lose” the cliche goes: well Boro played better at Cardiff and somehow came away empty handed. At Birmingham they played a sustained spell of Teesside tiki-taka for 45 mesmerising minutes but lost.
At Peterborough it fell far short of perfection. But they won.