IMPOTANT Boro struck a bum note as they found themselves in a cow/banjo situation.
They bossed possession against Peterborough and created maybe a dozen decent chances and three or four very good ones… and one or two sitters – but the flaccid front-line failed to take a single one.
Boro’s poorly calibrated players queued up to screw it wide, scoop it high over the bar, take airshots six yards out, get the ball tangled up in their feet and drill it well wide, high over or straight at the keeper.
Between them the shot-shy shambles blasted it from just about every distance, angle and velocity known to football physics and barely forced a save out of the Posh keeper.
It was a mis-firing masterclass of multi-marksman mediocrity and they should all hand their heads in shame.
You would laugh at the penalty box slapstick if it wasn’t so serious. It was a golden opportunity missed. With the play-off pretenders stuttering above and around Boro, somehow a season that should really have been put out its misery a month ago is still twitching and showing signs of live.
Victory was there for the taking. But time after time blunt Boro spurn the opportunity to climb up off the slab and stage a revival. After four defeats on the spin against basement battlers a point should have been welcome to stop the rot but instead it was a taunting reminder of how poor this team have been at the crunch.
They were at home against the second bottom side and with everything to play for – professional pride, a crowd that deserve more, a somehow still viable play-off push, their futures at the club, win bonuses – but could not find a goal.
It is not for the want of effort. In the past few games – Birmingham, Wolves and now Peterborough – Boro have worked hard and for long spells have had a clear edge.
There is an argument they could and should have won all three games. If only they could score when on top. They beaver away and get into positions. They get width and stretch play, pass and probe, get behind defences and put the ball in the box.
They are creating the chances. Good chances. Really good chances. Sitters. But they just can’t hit the target. A combination of poor timing, poor luck, a lack of confidence, a lack of hunger and a lack of ability makes them a toothless attack.
Against Peterborough Boro did well up until the final fraction of a second. No, really. Yes, the result was deeply disappointing and the on-going slide to obscurity is frustrating if predictable – but the way the team set-up and functioned was fine. It panned out just was as planned. Until the moment of truth.
The 4231 shape worked. Sammy Ameobi, behind the lone striker Ishmael Miller, ran riot, carving open Posh with sublime trickery, unpredictable long-legged twists and turns and some divine short passes. Behind him Josh McEachran and Grant Leadbitter worked hard to win and keep the ball, recycling possession and switching the direction of play and passing crisply. That unit worked.
The trio was well balanced and looked detenmined and assertive. They dominated play in the opposition half and picked and probed with considerable success. It was where the bulk of chances were created.
Later on Mustapha Carayol came on to streak down the left and fire in cross after inviting cross into the danger zone with great effect. The chances were there.
But some of the finishing was sickeningly woeful. Scott McDonald is Boro’s top scorer – the top earner usefully wears a shirt with the number 27 to give us some indication of the ball park figure of his rewards – and he is hard-working enough. No one can deny that. He buzzes about looking to link up. He has played out of position and done well.
At Wolves he was a orthodox midfielder and against Posh he played in a wider role. And he was effective in both – until he got into his natural territory in the box where right now he couldn’t hit a barn-door with a blunderbuss.
Twice he had a clear sight of goal with time and space to pick his spot. It is what strikers are supposed to thrive on. But he blazed a routine 10 yard half-volley well wide after being perfectly teed up by a Miller knockdown.
Then he screwed another close range effort wide after snatching at his shot.
And Faris Haroun twice failed to make contact six yards out when passes were squared teasingly across the box, once with either of his left feet. Then when he finally did hit the ball eight yards in acres of space, with time frozen and with just the keeper to beat he skied it high into the stands. Another erratic, hurried shot from inside the box screwed off wildly closer to the corner flag than the target.
They were the worst offenders but they weren’t alone. Miller and Justin Hoyte spooned wide and over and after coming off the bench direct Curtis Main twice surged into good positions but mistimed his approach and couldn’t unload and the ball bobbled away.
It wasn’t all mistimed ineptitude. There were some laudable efforts on goal too. Josh McEachran carved open Posh with a neat one-two off Ameobi to burst through and drill in stinging shot that brought a good full-length save.
And Ameobi clawed a loose ball back into play in with a sublime drag-back, dummy and reverse nut-meg – ProEvo skills that the young people refer to as “good tekkers” – then cut inside to rifle a low angled effort that was also well saved.
And Leadbitter – who obviously has a taste for an exocet now after his double at Wolves – sent a sizzling effort scorching just over after good approach play.
But good, bad and indifferent, they wouldn’t go in. Even the deflections fly just off target.
And that has been the story of the season. Certainly it has been a frustrating fatal theme running through the steady slither from the summit.
Yes, some terrible goals have been leaked and the ever changing defence would not stand up to close scrutiny right now. Let’s be honest, they have been woeful too and have conceded some sloppy goals that must leave old school defender Mogga mortified.
Failing to mark, failing to pick up signalled movement, failing to make simple headers, cut out crosses and failing to block shots and make tackles. It has been a poor fare.
But the fact remains that had Boro taken one of their gilt edge chances against Posh, one of their three or four first half sitters at Wolves to wrap it up before the break, one or two of their great opportunities in the Birmingham game, then we would not be squirming in frustration and looking anxiously over our shoulders wondering what happened to the Autumn optimism and the nailed on promotion.
Given where we started 2013 it is embarrassing and infuriating that we should even have to contemplate results and movement in the lower half.
It would take some bizarre results to drag Boro much further down – no one has ever gone down on 55 points before – but that it is actively being talked about and real calculations being made by the more cynical and jittery sections of a deeply discontented crowd speaks volumes of where most now consider the team to be.
Some are already talking of the historical inevitability of a nervous final day trip to Hillsborough, the scene of two previous heartbreaking relegations on seasons that started well and were still healthy at Christmas.
But, in fact, despite the despondency, this punctured season may have some mileage in it yet. With four of the teams above them to play Boro could – could – still gatecrash the end of season shootout. Crazy.
That is not me ‘spreading ra-ra fairy dust on the wreckage’. That is the league table. Our peers are not good enough to pull away. Our teams are faltering too. Amazingly it is still there for Boro if only they could find a spark.
The kind thing would be to put us all out of our misery but this team – aided and abetted by the incomptance of others – could yet drag out the agony through another six games and take it right to the . In this league anything seems possible.
But to make that increasingly surreal scenario a reality Boro must start scoring. And quickly. They must start whacking beef bum with banjo.