THE presence of Boro’s pay-as-you-play debutant made the tabloid headlines painful and predictable. Dyer-bolical. In Dyer Straits.
And it was hard to argue with the easy puns. Boro really were dire. The meek surrender was their worst display of the season so far
Ironically the pre-emptively much maligned Kieron Dyer – perma-crock football pensioner and so an easy target – was one of the few positives on a dark day for Boro.
It may have been that he was making a poignant return to his home town club – he was greeted with warm applause in stark contrast to the tape-loop booing of Grant Leadbitter – but Dyer, signed on deadline day, showed plenty of desire. It was hard to look at that midfield and pick him out as the busted flush.
He demanded the ball, zipped around, got into tackles (it was a heart in mouth experience) and retained and recycled possession sharply and in the second half particularly tried to find a way through.
His animation and emotionally energy was in stark contrast to a stodgy and laboured Boro that were second best in every department.
Off the boil Boro’s pathetic performance at Portman Road was the worst of the season.
It was far more traumatic than the 4-1 thumping at Blackpool in Boro’s Black September when they lost three away games in a row.
Then Boro were clinically dismantled. A shapeless side were ruthlessly carved open by the mechanical forward thrusts of Ian Holloway’s on-song side. It was embarrassing.
But that undoubtedly bruising orange crush came at the hands of a rampant side right at the top of their form. Blackpool were rattling goals in a purple patch right then with Holloway still at the helm. It was the wrong team at the wrong time and a Boro side still finding its feet were walloped. No excuses. No complaints.
There was no shame in losing to them and despite being monstered Boro kept battling.
Boro’s defeat at Millwall was a set-back too but in that game they were on top for an hour but just could not find a cutting edge, and besides, it was early days and the team was just finding its feet.
There have been other bad days. At Birmingham Boro let slip a commanding two goal lead and to lose was a crushing blow – but you could come away arguing that they should have had it in the bag long before a pivotal penalty.
The only other game that really challenges Ipswich for the mantle as ‘worst’ display was the lack-lustre New Years Day drubbing at Derby. Then it was not the score but a passive acceptance of defeat by a more motivated side that hurt – and rang alarm bells.
That game was the start of a run of four successive league defeats that have thrown the season into the balance.
It been possible to take positives from losses to Watford and Leicester, both decided by ‘fine margins’. But it would take some very creative spin to salvage anything from the wreckage of Portman Road. It really was dire.
Not so much the result – although that still smarts – but the powerless performance and the failure to seize a golden opportunity. It was a display that raises questionmarks over the mental strength of the side. Do they want to get promoted or not?
If they do, then they should be ruthlessly throttling basement battlers in games like this.
Yes, it is a tough division and every team deserves respect. But if Boro are to succeed in securing promotion they must be brutal at times.
After a week when all the results had gone their way the fixtures offered up a golden chance to put their January jitters behind them and regain the initiative at the top.
But they meekly surrendered. A fragile looking side folded without a fight and in quite abject fashion.
It was alarming and depressing in equal measure. Boro fielded a strong side on paper but it was ripped up as the toothless team simply failed to engage with the game.
They were torn apart by a demoralised Ipswich that were in freefall, fourth bottom and had not won a game this year. But one of the lowest scoring sides in the division easily put four goals past Boro – and they could have more but for a couple of good blocks by Jason Steele.
They sat deep, left Boro to enjoy fruitless possession in the middle third and then hit on the break with devastating quick balls forward. It was text book Mick McCarthy football.
It was frightening that a strong Boro defence could not cope with one of the weakest attacks in the Championship.
The central defensive pairing of Jonathan Woodgate and Andre Bikey were poor. They were positionally confused, failed to get a grip of Town’s movement and looked lost as deadballs were floated into the box.
The full-backs were just as bad. Worse. Rhys Williams is struggling badly after his return from injury and looks a shadow of the Rolls Royce player he was last season. He may well play right-back for Australia but Ipswich are far better and far sharper than Western Samoa and Oman and he was found wanting.
And pin-up George Friend too had a ‘mare. He was robbed repeatedly and one casual mugging led directly to a goal while he was also beaten in the air for one of the headers. The cavalier forward runs are exciting and offer an outlet but first and foremost his job is to help Boro keep clean sheets.
It was frightening too that the midfield was swamped and out-fought by a limited but spirited Ipswich engine room. Sustained spells of ‘windscreen wiper’ passing failed to find a way through a tight defence then when the opposition broke out they swept through almost unopposed.
Lightweight Ledesma and error prone Haroun conceded possession far too cheaply and in dangerous areas and while industrious Leadbitter buzzed about fire-fighting he can not do everything himself. Arguably it was a game for Nicky Bailey or Richie Smallwood who can add some bite and consistency to midfield.
Boro have a lot of ‘quality’ players and put the onus on slick crisp passing and movement but in a lot of games they will need to earn the right to play that fancy football. They need to be able to stand up to and bully the opposition if neccessary.
And up front Boro were poor too. Lukas Jutkiewicz headed over but that aside Boro never really troubled the goal.
The Juke beavered away but was isolated and seldom fought his battles in the box while Marvin Emnes was a passenger for long spells and his occasional flashes of trickery were in harmless areas.
Boro never looked like scoring. They always looked like conceding. And they certainly did not look like an assured team of promotion contenders. It was scary and sobering stuff.
Yet amazingly, despite four damaging defeats on the spin, Boro are still in play-off spot.
That is a huge indictment of the quality of the Championship and the failure of the teams immediately around Boro to take advantage.
We should take heart that Boro’s play-off rivals are equally flawed and fragile and they too lack the killer touch. That gives hope. Boro are still in the chase. But the wriggle room has been eroded. There is no more room for error.
Boro now have two home games looming and an away trip to stuttering Palace. It is make or break time. This team need to now show they have the quality and desire to barge back into promotion contention.
There can be no more soft surrenders like Ipswich.
***APOLOGIES for the technical problems which left the blog up on bricks in a lay-by over the weekend. The system ground to a halt on deadline day night – as did Twitter, its not just us – and took some time to repair. “Normal” service is resumed.