POSSESSION doesn’t win games. Goals win games. And mistakes lose them. That was an angry Aitor Karanka’s verdict at Vicarage Road after blunt Boro went down 1-0 in a flashback to an old frustrating fragility. He was seething that after edging the game, the
stalemate was broken by a self-destructive spot-kick slip-up of the kind he thought had been eradicated.
“We lost the game, we lost a player, we lost our identity, we lost a lot of things. Some players maybe think they’re better than they are,” he said. “The problem is the mistakes. It’s not the mentality or the capacity of my players because we played at 100 per cent.but 11 players, 10 players, when we don’t play like we can it’s difficult to win.”
The rigid run of 10 clean sheets in 12 that had me nudging towards a state of Boro Nil Zen had been based on a systemic removal of mistakes at the back.
And not just mistakes but the areas of uncertainty that encouraged mistakes. By hoofing into Row Z when in doubt, by making the telling tackles high up the pitch, by fostering caution in the box, by stopping the opposition putting the ball into the dangerzone.
So for Ben Gibson to concede a cheap penalty – the first fatal mistake – with a reckless tackle in the box was an echo of the early chaos of Karanka’s first few games. The challenge was rash and came as he tried to make up for being caught out in the first place. That is the TENTH penalty conceded this season. It was a similar needless penalty to the one conceded (also by Gibson) at Birmingham.
That moment of madness was compounded by another soon after. Boro were handed a numerical advantage as Diakite was shown a red card for a clattering tackle but five minutes later a silly sending off for a pointless obstruction (Gibson completing a bad day at the office) squared it up.
Ben Gibson has been playing really well and last week had supporters – and team-mates, not least Jonathan Woodgate – raving about his display and his progress and predicting he would be a brilliant Boro player and future captain. Naturally he will be the scapegoat for this defeat (and after the game he was apologetic and gutted) but remember he is a young lad on a steep learning curve in his first term at this level and still has a lot to offer. He’ll be back and as a better player.
But there is no getting away from it: that is where the game was lost. The penalty apart Watford didn’t have a serious shot on target. Shay Given didn’t have a save to make. He had be out quickly to head clear at one point then made a good block with his shins late on from Deeney but the flag was already up. Boro did a good job of shackling the Hornets for long spells and probably edged the game in almost every area.
And while there was a fatal mistake at the back, that doesn’t excuse the lack of cutting edge up front. Had the spot kick not been conceded the game was on course for a fourth successive goalless draw. Boro certainly didn’t look like scoring. Watford keeper Bond barely had a serious save to make either.
There was a contentious offside call in the first half as a Woodgate header from a Leadbitter free-kick was ruled out but apart from that Boro didn’t put a lot on target either. Adomah and Ledesma fired wide in the first half and Graham chippd one over in the first half then sent and another spinning into the side netting after the break and late on put a header straight at the keeper. There there was a concerted late flurry of crosses and corners and speculative efforts from an animated Boro but nothing with bared teeth.
So disappointing but not surprising. It has been the same problem for weeks. Months. Boro have no cutting edge. Graham looked better and sharper and seems to be shaking off the ring rust as but he didn’t get brilliant service. The crosses from both sides weren’t on a plate. The midfield weren’t getting up in numbers or quickly enough and their shots from distance were charged down or sailed over. And the corners weren’t made to count either. It was easy for Watford to defend. In that sense it was similar to the Blackburn game. Lee Tomlin has a a serious weight of expectation building on his shoulders now.
Now the stats don’t look very good. Three points and no goals from five frustrating games. Probably best to cancel that North London hotel. It;s time to regroup, rethink and relaunch the season with an eye to preparing for next term.
And Leeds are up next…