ANOTHER mist opportunity. Boro somehow fumbled their way into the lead in a game shrouded with mutual vagueness – and then promptly lost their way again in a frustrating but now familiar failure.
Having groped into a winning position they contrived to blunder down a blind alley again, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Boro were in the lead heading into the final few minutes, although the goal came out of the grey in a patchy game that looked dead set for a gloomy goalless draw.
And the Boro supporters peering hopefully from the boastfully named “Fantastic Media Stand” at the other end will not have seen much of Scott McDonald getting the opener.
The travelling Tees contingent of nearly a thousand had spent long spells chanting “we can’t see the flipping ball” and when the ball was bundled home demanded the identity of the scorer with the demand “who the flipping hell was that?” I’m paraphrasing obviously.
The busy Aussie – one of a very few Boro players who could hold their heads up after a woeful collapse – literally ghosted in at the far post to stab home the opener, a shadowy figure looming eerily from the mist to get to Sammy Ameobi’s ball across the face of goal and stab home.
At that point it looked like Boro would pull off what looked an unlikely victory at the break.
Hot on the heels of the Cardiff victory it looked like Boro had barged back into play-offs and the winter wobble was over.
For a while it seemed the main danger to that was the fog and a possible abandonment.
The game kicked off in a thin veil but it had thickened as the game wore on and by the time Boro netted an orange ball had been unearthed from the seventies and the fog was billowing in like dry ice at a Spinal Tap gig.
At that point Boro were on top. Huddersfield’s heads were down and after a couple of poor decisions had gone against them – there was a hint of offside for the goal – they had lost their discipline and lost their way.
It looked like three points were in the bag. Get the whistle blown, let’s get out of here.
But this team are mentally weak. They lack concentration, application and a ruthless instinct to win by hook or by crook. They are dogged by repeated basic errors and are institutionally vulnerable at set plays.
Once again the brittle defence folded under late pressure from a limited but spirited opposition, the basic flaw that has seen the promising foundations of the season crumble.
The fans had an excuse for failing to see the Huddersfield goals coming as much of the second half was played in the thick, swirling fog rolling in from the bleak moors.
But the Boro team can have no such mitigation.
Once again they were the architects of their own downfall with some woeful defending.
Tony Mowbray as a solid old school centre-half will be rightly embarrassed and angry at letting slip another winning position with two preventable self-inflicted wounds.
The first was a catalogue of errors with a cheaply conceded corner off George Friend – it was a surprise it didn’t deflect in – leading to a free header, then Jason Steele fumbled it in the six yard box and unmarked Alan Lee, on the pitch barely a minute, rammed home unchallenged.
The second, a real enamel shattering kick in the teeth, came deep in stoppage time as a casual Ameobi ball was cut out leaving Danny Ward to amble forward with Boro nervously backing off leaving him to fire in from 20 yards.
It was a good shot. He leathered it and it flew fast and true and he will be buzzing over it – but it should never have been unleashed.
He should never have had the ball. A careless ball with seconds left is suicide. It should have been in Row Z or down near their corner-flag. He should he been closed, tackled, hassled, fouled even, not allowed to trundle unhindered into shooting distance and pick his spot.
It was a devastating blow that will deepen the crisis of faith gripping Teesside.
Boro had been ahead but even at that point it had been a very poor performance. They had been disjointed and nervous in the first half. They were swamped in midfield by Huddersfield’s hard-working five and struggling to get and retain the ball.
Both the full backs were being roasted by the home side’s pace down the flanks and the defence was living dangerously in the box. They looked sluggish and scrambled the ball away unconvincingly and with better finishing Huddersfield would have had the game wrapped up long before the break.
Going forward Boro offered little. Sammy Ameobi was barely recognisable from the electric figure who administered CPR to a flagging season. He could barely control the ball and rarely found width, let alone a team-mate.
And Ishmael Miller, impressive on Saturday, was awkward and ineffective and spent a lot of time clambering up from the deck after slipping.
At the break Boro had only had one shot “on target”, a weak poked 20 yarder from Miller that the keeper had casually bent down to collect.
In the second half they pressed more, passed more and had plenty of fruitless possession in the Huddersfield half while the hosts had lost their zip. It seemed to be fizzling into a frustrating bore draw that at 70 minutes both sides would probably have accepted as a useful point.
I know I would. If only because the longer a game goes on the more nervous Boro become and as the pressure rises and mistakes creep in and the more likely they will concede.
Brittle Boro have now lost five games and drawn one from winning positions at the cost of 17 precious points. At the cost of a top two place.
They were leading against Leicester and lost 2-1 and against Barnsley and lost 3-2 at home while on the road they have imploded to lose 3-2 at Birmingham, 2-1 Leeds and now 2-1 at Huddersfield. They also let slip a solid lead to draw 2-2 at home to Derby.
If you want to make sense of how a promising position in the table has been squandered you need to start there.
It comes down to being able to see games out – figuratively as well as literally – and that has to stem from elementary defending, the ability to resist and relieve pressure.
Yes, the back-line has been chopped and changed far too often but it is a fundamental skill set for defenders that should be second nature for whoever is selected.
And not just the defence. The whole team, whoever plays, should be able to deal with what is a predictable and routine test of their ability. Especially in the Championship
Unless Boro can master that most basic problem – and quickly – then they will find it impossible to claw back into the play-offs.
And if they did how could they cope with the pressures of a high-stakes knockout?