TWO defeats in two home games with a series of chances to seal them squander morale in on a knife-edge. Shot-shy Boro team – and the manager – need to slam the brakes on the long sickening slide and make an immediate improvement.
But to do they will need to start hitting the target -and fast.
Boro couldn’t hit a barn door with a blunderbuss right now.
Or a cow’s bum with a banjo. They couldn’t find their way to the target with a sat-nav. Score in a brothel. Take your pick of misfiring marksman metaphors.
That is the basic truth of the current creeping paralysis: toothless Boro can’t kill teams off, whether they are play-off pretending peers or minnows playing out of their skins.
We all know the script: pass, pass, pass sidewards, pass, probe, pick, penetrate the penalty, then spoon it over, screw it wide or drill it straight into a defender’s shins. Repeat to fade.
It doesn’t help that every visiting keeper seems to put in an inspired display, pulling off a string of ‘worldies’ but then, they probably grow with confidence as the game unfolds and they see shot after shot fly harmless high or wide from a less than clinical strikeforce.
Then, after the opposition have been on the rack for 30 or 45 or 60 minutes, the fear seeps in, on and off the pitch.
Boro get raggy, lose a bit of composure, lose a bit of shape and then suffer a sucker punch from a no-frills attack, either a long diagonal ball that catches the defence cold or a poorly defended corner. Delete as applicable.
Whatever the frustration, angry, heavy-hearted despair, philosophical resignation, bubbling inner turmoil on the verge of spontaneous combustion, or shoulder-shrugging ‘meh’ apathy we variously feel, most agree that the pivotal point in game after game is the abject failure to kill teams off with a second goal. That is where the fundamental problem lies.
Against Accrington – bloody Accrington! – that problem was as just as pronounced as in any of the frustrating, flaccid displays in last season’s second half slump.
“You are only as good as your strikers,” said a muted Mogga after the game, inviting the obvious riposte that the ones up front are clearly deficient and, as a result, the team are no bloody good right now. And it would be hard to argue with that cynical assessment.
Boro had 23 shots by my reckoning. They had clocked 31 by the official website figures – although they have probably counted the ones that fail to register on our more exacting radar: the wayward ones that whistled past the corner flag or ended up bouncing around the Twe12th Man bar in the North Stand concourse or caused more trouble to air traffic control than the keeper.
But still, 23 shots and 62% possession, God knows what kind of pass completion ratio and several long, lonely spells when estranged Jayson Leutwiler was the only player in the Boro half … the stats make Boro sound like Barcelona.
Just three wins from 23 games in 2013 are far more damning numbers and they are the ones weighing far more heavily on the minds of emotionally bruised Boro supporters.
Even the most foam-handed faction are struggling to raise enthusiasm or hope or a smile at the current malaise, even through gritted teeth, while every fruitless game, every squandered chance, every strategic setback piles up the mounting antipathy towards the manager. These are trying times.
Boro should have cruised past Accrington. No question. No excuses. They should have battered them. Seriously.
Even discounting the number of speculative efforts from distance or blocked in a crowded box, Boro had a hatful of chances to rattle up a morale-boosting victory.
They should have been ahead after four minutes when Grant Leadbitter squared for unmarked Mavin Emnes in space 10 yards out but his low shot hit the legs of the keeper.
It was an echo of the opener against Leicester when he skipped past the keeper but took an extra touch to line up a perfect angle when an adequate one would have done just fine.
Jutkiewicz could have had a second on 15 minutes as Justin Hoyte drilled a low ball to the far post. It seemed the unmarked striker was favourite to stab home but a defender came sliding in to extend a telescopic leg and just glance the ball away.
Just before the break – and soon after Accrington’s leveller out of the blue – the ball landed at Muzzy Carayol’s feet but he first blazed straight at a defender then his angled follow up was just glanced wide.
Early in the second half Jutkiewicz cracked in a piledriver that a defender bravely put his head in the way of.
Then, in a moment that had the home fans baying, Boro broke away from a corner and Jutkiewicz streaked forward but took a poor touch and hastily tried a hopeful lob with Emnes and Carayol breaking into space and screaming for the ball.Square it then and both were through on goal. Although obviously on current form they would have missed.
A lot of the chances went begging because of marginal errors in shot selection or angle or because of brave blocks but that was just a poor decision under pressure. And it was probably the moment when Boro started to lose discipline.
The chances continued though. An outstretched foot sent a low Leadbitter drive looping over, then an Adam Reach effort was parried and Luke Williams spooned the rebound over. Then, after Accrington sealed victory – from a poorly defended corner, naturally – Boro had a final assault in which Reach and Varga stabbed shots a whisker wide then Leadbitter sent the keeper full length to push a sizzling shot behind.
Now, it is easy to say the defence is rubbish – let the goals against column speak for itself – but had any one of those early chances gone in, the dynamics of the game would have swung dramatically. The game would have been out of sight. Again.
And it is easy to point to the tactics and say they are bankrupt or predictable or not working and demand to know what they do on the training ground but Boro carved out chance after chance and teed up three or four sitters. In that sense, the tactics worked.
It is easy too to blame the boss for a result but once the players are out there, it is down to them. Mogga can’t score the goals. Although there is an argument he may do better than the current bunch.
Whether he is responsible for every action of every individual on the pitch is a question of football theology. But obviously it is his team and so he must take any flak coming his way. And there is a sustained bombardment at the minute.
There is a groundswell of grumbling building up among the crowd now. Some are declared dissidents eagerly seizing on any setback to advance their argument but far more are anxious loyalists growing jumpy over results and ever more fearful over what appears to be an inability to end a slump that goes back to New Year.
The team, and the manager, need to slam the brakes on that slide and make an immediate improvement. And that has to start with scoring goals and closing out matches.
The manager knows that more than most. He knows it is a results-driven business and that sentiment rooted in the Rioch Revival at Ayresome Park won’t head off the storm if the season fails to spark.
And he knows he needs players who can score the goals, win games and provide a spark. And quickly.
The club are hard at work to do just that. Albert Adomah may be sealed today. Others – Ross McCormack has been ruled out but ‘three or four’ more are being worked on and bids are in – may be in before Saturday. Certainly before the deadline.
But time is fast running out to get them in.
And morale is on a knife-edge.