BORO’S promising picture was ripped apart on a demoralising day when the pieces of Mogga’s jigsaw just didn’t fit.
The early season signs of progress on the pitch – balance, shape, width, pace, penetration, spirit – were nowhere to be seen as a limp Boro were ploughed by the Tractor Boys at Portman Road.
They were routinely and roundly beaten by a functional side that were better organised and more direct and played in a no-frills fashion that Boro were incapable of dealing with. Boro switched off after getting the opener and the paid the price with defeat.
But the crushing reverse could also cost them dearly on the Teesside street as an unconvinced and unforgiving faction of frustrated fans will see the second half slump as evidence that very little has changed from last term’s trauma.
The aftermath of the game shows exactly how fragile the numbers and the mood of the moment can be as the statistics – and morale – swung wildly with one result.
There had been a slow burning optimism starting to take hold on Teesside after four unbeaten when Boro bossed games and created chances and it appeared the outlines of a convincing new shape was starting to emerge.
Now, ssuddenly after being monstered by Mick McCarthy’s men the sequence reads just one win in six and ominously all last season’s dark fears and angst have bubbled up through the cracks and the jittery cyber-babble is once more of wielding the axe.
It seems that will be the story of the season: good results will quell the residual dissent for a week or two and shore up the position of the boss in the polls but every set-back will prompt renewed anger aimed at the dug-out.
Everyone knows the back-story. The circular arguments are well rehearsed. The situation will not be resolved by debate now. After three years of frustration, only wins, goals and marked movement up the table will suffice.
In that context, the implosion at Ipswich was a stinging set-back. It has strengthened the hand of the dissidents at an early stage of the season and undermined confidence in the slowly emerging new shape.
Boro actually started very well at Portman Road. Frighteningly well. There was a 20 minute opening spell of patient short passing and probing that was laudable in both intention and execution. During that blistering period Boro bamboozled Ipswich, stretched them and dictated the shape and tempo in admirable fashion.
But it was all without much serious threat – until they scored the opener, ironically after all last week’s talk about dead balls, from a corner.
At that point, a goal up after 12 minutes in a one sided opening, it looked like Boro would romp home. Had they gone for the jugular it felt as if the mantra “one day soon we are going to hammer someone” would be delivered. The nervous East Anglian press pack were gushing at Boro’s display of crisp exchanges and assertive probing saying it was the best performance by a visiting team in years.
But then Boro inexplicably stepped off the gas,
From being in total control they shrivelled, surrendered the initiative and as the game ebbed away from them ended up frantically fire-fighting in and around the box.
The early precision passing disintegrated. They became sloppy in possession, loose in marking and disjointed and even when they threw more men forward late on looked shapeless and desperate rather than balanced and determined.
Ipswich in contrast were well drilled and worked harder, especially without the ball. Tony Mowbray said after the game Ipswich had “done the basics better” and it is hard to disagree. They played with exactly the approach you would expect from a Mick McCarthy team. They closed down quickly and chased, harried and hustled slow motion Boro out of possession with ease.
The engine room especially was spluttering. Both Grant Leadbitter, last term’s player of the year by far, and Dean Whitehead, one of the most solid performers so far in this campaign, had off days and wilted as Boro were swamped in midfield.
And when they got possession, Ipswich delivered it quickly into the box with quick diagonal balls that piled the pressure on the defence and forced mistakes.
Much of the post-match recrimination was aimed at Jason Steel and whether he should have saved the opener – maybe he saw it late, maybe he was unsighted – but the real worry was the ease with which Whitehead was brushed aside on the edge of the box in the build-up before impressive David McGoldrick lashed home.
For the second goal Ipswich managed to get to the byline and then one full-back over-lapped unmarked to put in a cross for the other full-back to head home unchallenged.
And for the third Jonathan Woodgate failed to cut out a routine ball down the challenge and McGoldrick burst clear and past Rhys Williams too before drilling home.
It was a poor show and there was no mitigation.
But it was the first time this season you could really say that.
Even in the opening day defeat to Leicester they had a good first half and created chances. Against Accrington they lost but only after carving out 20 chances. And in the league games since they had largely dominated for long spells with every game feeling like a slow but steady step forward.
Boro had gone to Ipswich four unbeaten and although three of those were draws, in all of those games there were unmistakable signs of progress. While it was far from perfect – not least because of the points dropped – there were plenty of positives: a better shape, a real balance, width, pace, a good work ethic, fluid movement, plenty of openings created and a spirit that saw them come from behind to salvage something.
At Ipswich there were no redeeming features.
That doesn’t mean though we should panic, throw the baby out with the bathwater and slip into the knee-jerk demands for ritual execution though. That may be the default setting after a very frustrating year. Just four wins in 2013 is hard to defend. It is easy – and a comforting release valve – to quickly rev up through the gears of anger deferred from last season’s unpunished second half slump .
But this is a different team now and they have to be judged on what they do as this season unfolds, not on unresolved anger over the jittery January, fruitless February and the unravelling that followed as a mix-and-match side fractured.
A summer reshuffle and real money spent on recruits that the manager wants mean this really is Tony Mowbray’s team now.
He knows that means there are no excuses now.
He knows he has to stand or fall by exactly what this team and this season delivers.
But it is a team with a lot of new faces – including two debutants at Ipswich. It won’t click immediately. It is harsh to put the boot in after one set-back in a tough division. Especially when before Portman Road they looked to be starting to gel and winning plaudits for the style and substance of their progress.
It’s early days yet.
SOME OTHER THINGS WE TALKED ABOUT ON THE WAY HOME
**THERE were “only” 472 Boro fans at Portman Road. Respect – and commiserations – to everyone who made the eight hour plus round trip to the outskirts of the country for THAT.
But there should be no surprise there were so few Tees travellers. It is one hell of a trek to a ground where Boro haven’t won since 1993 – Paul Wilkinson got the winner – and where the away fans were charged £34 in advance plus an extra £2 if they paid on the day. That is a scandal for Championship football.
**AFTER much talk about Boro’s dead-ball Achilles heel – every goal leaked since the opening day had been from a set-play – it was a given they would be ripped apart in open play… and that they would score one themselves. Typical Boro!
Albert Adomah’s agile hook for the early opener came as Ipswich only half cleared a Jacob Butterfield corner and Grant Leadbitter nodded it back into the danger zone for the new boy.
Some may say that Leadbitter was well placed – ie well away from the taking the kick. His unproductive monopoly of set-plays has become a focus of concerted chuntering. With Adomah and Butterfield getting involved at set-plays there may be more variety. We just have to make them count now.
**THERE was no ‘star man’. It was one of those games when the coveted Gazette stars were allocated in an heated process of ‘least worst’ elimination when every serious candidate proposed prompted an immediate backlash.
The three, two, one is always difficult to allocate after a limp surrender when all instincts scream that none of them deserve anything. Sometimes you want to “do a Bernie” and refuse point-blank to award any of them anything.
But Albert Adomah scored and was lively throughout. Jason Steele made two fantastic saves but will be disappointed with the match-changing leveller. Jacob Butterfield played some superb creative balls but at times was fumbling his way into a new team and system and faded at the end. Who else seriously deserved a star?