Palace Coup: Deja Vu

AS SHELL-shocked Boro retreated in disarray from Selhurt Park, a dejected Tony Mowbray talked about a sorry sense of deja-vu.
Most of the 1,600 away fans who watched the horror unfold through their fingers from the stands will have certainly have felt they had seen it before. More than once.
Boro had been left tattered and torn after a bloody Palace coup that left any hopes of an end of season coronation hanging by a thread.
The boss admitted the abject display had been littered with individual and collective errors, a scenario that has become frighteningly familiar.



It was a wretched replica of the fragile empty shell of a show at Ipswich, a 4-0 thumping by the strugglers two weeks ago.
There were echoes too of the dismal dismantling at Derby, the first footing flop on New Year Day that signaled the annual nosedive.
Both those displays smarted but Palace was particularly painful, partly because the stakes were so high in a play-off six-pointer and partly because the meek surrender followed hot on the heels of a gritty, spirited scrap to beat Leeds that showed real steel.
At Palace, disorganised Boro were woeful at the back, over-run in a pedestrian midfield and toothless up front in a display lacking spirit.
Bar a 10 minute spell before the break the misfiring engine room had next to no possession and hence little chance to impose a shape or tempo that suited Boro, let alone threaten the Palace backline. And frontman Lukas Jutkiewicz was isolated and got little service while Mustapha Carayol, playing off him, barely featured.
But the defence, that is where the real problems lay. They conceded four for the second away game on the bounce and never looked capable of staving off defeat.
They struggled from the off as the Palace pace ripped them apart repeatedly with tormentor in chief Wilfried Zaha having free reign. Poor bamboozled Stuart Parnaby will be having dizzy nightmares about being spun around like a waltzer by the £15m Manchester United bound winger’s bewildering step-overs. In them, he will be wearing clown shoes.
In mitigation, Parnaby was up against a red hot player in top form. And it wasn’t just him that was floundering. The entire brittle back line was woeful, lacking shape, spirit and organisation.
Palace tore down either flank at will. Crosses rained in. Balls flashed across the face of goal and Glenn Murray – who got two – could have had a shedful if his legs were a few inches longer.
Time after time through balls carved them open and sweeper-keeper Jason Steele had to rush out of his box to clear. It was embarrassing.
Boro got a well worked late face-saver through Faris Haroun – set up by an excellent back-heel from much maligned Ishmael Miller – but Palace quickly hit back as OAP hitman Kevin Phillips sealed an emphatic win, using his zimmer frame to wheel round and fire in a shot that grazed the toe of George Friend.
Friend, who now looks unrecognisable from the rampaging Robocop that earned plaudits as a Premiership prospect four months ago got a touch on the opener too.
In fact, with all the deflections plus tackles, headers and screwed clearances that squirt the ball to opponents feet I think he probably has got unwanted assists on a third of the goals against Boro this term.
His slow shrinking from cavalier fans’ favourite elect and top flight talent tip to looking every inch a bargain buy from a relegated side pretty much tracks Boro’s withering over the winter.
So, deja vu. Tony Mowbray will no doubt look back to Ipswich (or Barnsley) and see the lapses of concentration and poor decision making that leads to the fatal mistakes.
Or maybe look back to Derby and see how his team is too easily thrown off kilter when faced with a revved up team that fly out of the blocks.
Or maybe there is a more striking precedent looking back to Black September when a poor run of successive away defeats ended as a sluggish and demoralised looking side were left in a bloody pulp after a good beating at Blackpool.
That game – a comprehensive 4-1 beating that could easily have been seven or eight – saw Boro monstered by another Ian Hollway side ruthlessly applying the same template.
That demolition was also based on a solid pair of holding midfield ball-winners lightening pace and quick diagonals down the flanks for zippy flankers to rip into and turn flat-footed full-backs and get the ball in the box quickly.
Boro must learn to deal the lessons of that frightening formula very quickly because opposition managers certainly will note their struggle.
To be fair, Boro responded with real zest and determination to the bruising at Blackpool and went on an impressive ten game run that saw them beat the then leaders, beat a top flight side in the cup and claw up to the automatic promotion spots. Hold that thought, omen fans.
So, deja vu. Many frustrated fans now believe they are seeing last season’s second half slump being played out on a tape loop and fear the boss is powerless to prevent it.
There are uncomfortable but obvious parallels with 12 months ago when injuries to key players left Boro literally limping through a spring of struggle, slowly sliding down the play-off ladder until they slipped out of the reckoning.
Then, in quick succession, Nicky Bailey, Scott McDonald and Matthew Bates were crocked – Stephen McManus was brought back from a loan at Bristol City – leaving the squad threadbare and forcing some square-pegging and strange shapes.
Now Justin Hoyte is out and Jonathan Woodgate is intermittently injured at the back , McDonald is an absentee again up front and human shield Bailey is fit but has become a peripheral benchwarmer – and has become a totemic figure around which discontent has focussed.
What it shows is that for all the forward autumn momentum, the team is still a work in progress and lacks the strength in depth to make a sustain pushed for automatic promotion. But we knew that.
When fully fit and confident this Boro have shown can match the best of the division but patched up and with morale dented, the flaws and limitations show.
Incredibly, after an abysmal run of five defeats in six since New Year, Boro are still in a play-off spot which is both a searing indictment of the division and a reason for hope.
The season is not over, no matter if it feels like it right now. We need a fully fit team and a spark to reignite morale to regain momentum. And it can be done.
Meanwhile Deja vu fans may want to look back a bit further. On this weekend just gone in 1999 Boro had been crushed 5-0 at Everton – a fifth successive Premier League loss.
That run sowed the seeds of Bryan Robson’s demise and fans split into pro and anti factions that drew up the battle lines for almost two years of bitter in-fighting.
And on this weekend back in 1996 Boro were battered 4-1 at Bolton, a club record EIGHTH successive defeat.
But it was early days for Robbo. The team had done enough early on to not be in trouble. The manager still had complete backing from the chairman, most fans were happy with progress over last few years and most could see the potential for the future. Deja vu.

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61 thoughts on “Palace Coup: Deja Vu

  1. AV –
    “A few pyschological factors?” An understatement I suspect.
    Something will change for the better, we probably wont even know what causes it. Everyone will be scratching their heads just like they are now but off we will go on a run of decent results.

  2. I think we all need to take a step back and gain some perspective. The reason for the consecutive slumps is largely due to overachieving in the first part of the season with a limited squad.
    We were flying before Christmas but we were never hammering teams by 3 or 4. Most of them were tight encounters and it’s taking it’s toll on already depleted squad.
    We’re all frustrated but seriously think Mogga’s worked wonders with the club since he arrived. He’s had to work within tight constraints and he’s not had the benefit of the open cheque book that others have had.
    Mogga can only be judged as of next season when you can say it’s more or less his squad. When the squad is fully fit he normally gets it 100% right. We’ve had a good run in both cups and have been competitive for most of the season. Just think we’ve ran out of steam and Mogga’s hands are tied to do anything about it.
    Maybe Reach and Smallwood are just not ready yet. It’s easy to make judgements without seeing them train day to day.
    Did anyone really think we’d beat Palace?
    Anyway still lots to play for but give Mogga a chance to turn it round. You’ll miss him when he’s gone.
    UTB!!!

  3. Just out of interest AV, could you tell us when was the last time we played the same side in consecutive games. Thanks.
    **AV writes: I can only remember writing it once this season. I think it was Bolton. When was that? October?

  4. Dave –
    There is a lot in what you say. I never expected us to be so high at Christmas nor in the play offs.
    Pre season I thought that with all the players coming in many of whom were unproven or retreads that we would be mid table around now.
    I then expected a decent run just like when Mogga took over from Strachan and to just fall short of a play off spot.
    Next season was where my hopes lay.

  5. You have to ask what is different. That, for me, is Woody.
    He controls his fellow defenders and without his guiding hand they seem to be incapable of making the right positional decisions. Bikey is all heart but needs to be reined in. Williams is a confidence player and when Woodie is beside him there is rarely a panic. The same can be said for George who goes forward with confidence when he knows the gaps are covered behind him.
    Hines is out of his depth and is exposed far too easily. Stuart Parnaby is a better bet than Hoyte defensively but lacks real pace now. We don’t have a character who can grab the other players attention such as Robson. A one year contract on the same rate as Sheff Utd must have been possible.
    If, as is looking very likely, we’re not going to make the play-offs, then its time to blood the youngsters.

  6. At least we won’t have to face Zaha every week who is the only player in this league who is guaranteed Prem experience next year.
    As for the rest, back to training ground basics and get Main and Reach on.

  7. Well, in a few hours we might be euphoric as Boro storm back to form with a great three points – cementing our place in the play-off positions and even starting to look higher.
    On the other hand, if we continue our run of bad form and therefore go on to defeat at Burnley, we are then almost certainly looking down at the teams coming up behind us outside the play-off positions in the knowledge, after such a start to 2013, promotion remains possible but is no longer likely.
    So – which team is it going to be? Certainly a changed one with Emnes, Bailey, Smallwood in the starting 11 and, believe it or not, McManus!!
    I probably would have started with Main. Actually I’m sure I would have.
    I agree with Friend at full back, not in the centre of defence. And if we had started with a Juke or Main up front, I would have tried Halliday in the gap behind the striker. He sees himself more as a forward than a full back.
    We will see……

  8. Reading all this, I am minded of the Stones song, No Expectations…
    Your heart is like a diamond
    You throw your pearls at swine
    And as I watch you leaving me
    You pack my peace of mind
    Perhaps ‘realistic expectations’ might be more in order but I fear those should not feature promotion without a significant influx of do-re-me…now there’s another song of despair…

  9. Dear Unnamed Chairman,
    The 50% reduction in attendances from your peak is most likely down to the “fair weather” supporters. Undoubtedly the remaining “dyed in the wool” supporters are very appreciative of the support you have given, and continue to give, to your team.
    We are all, at times, susceptible to errors of judgement. Unfortunately, as with goalkeepers, those committed by senior management invariably result in disproportionate consequences for the whole team.
    In football, as with other professions, the most capable gravitate towards the highest rewards – job satisfaction, kudos, remuneration whatever. As you have obviously learned from a most salutary experience providing such rewards in football does not guarantee success.
    Failure to do so, however, invariably leads to lack of success. You finish up with a squad whose members, with very few exceptions, do not possess the skills or ability, the fitness, physique or stamina, or the positional awareness and footballing nous to compete at your level for an extended period.
    There is no simple remedy for your dilemma. Had there been you would have effected it and your open letter would not have been written. In the final analysis the decision as to the course to adopt must be yours, however palatable or otherwise.
    You should, however, be reassured that the true fan will find no criticism for your course of action but will appreciate the good times they were privileged to enjoy. Any adverse comments will come from those who always know how to dispose of the finances of others but are quite unable to manage their own to the same degree.
    I wish you well in your cogitation as to whether you should continue to plough your own funds into the venture, seek an alternative investor to assume your mantle or reduce the out-goings to meet the income and accept the resulting playing level whatever it may be. I would only recommend that you and your senior management are honest with yourselves and your supporters by discouraging dissemination of expectations which are patently unattainable or excuses which are obviously fallacious for non fulfilment of declared objectives.
    Good Luck
    A Fan

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