IF BLUNT Boro don’t score straight from kick-off against Leeds they face the prospect of being branded the most shot-shy side in our long and not always glorious history. And let’s be honest, there is plenty of competition.
By popular demand – well, a couple of pleading e-mails from people outside Gazetteshire anyway – here’s my Bigger Picture column on a toothless team on the verge of an unwanted limp landmark.
The clock is ticking…
GOALOPHOBIC Boro have now gone through an eight-and-three-quarter-hour mini ice age of impotence.
Herds of cattle are grazing peacefully in the penalty box, bottoms totally unbothered by stringed instruments. Barndoors remain intact and unpeppered by blunderbuss buckshot. Ladies of the night have their honour intact. Boro could still be playing at Watford now and the net would remain resolutely unrippled.
The flaccid frontline and misfiring midfield have now gone 525 long, bleak, soul-sapping minutes without scoring.
But it is not all bad news for shot shy Boro: they are bang on course for the record books.
Yes, history beckons as blunt Boro take on erratic Leeds in a small screen semi-derby showdown. Harry Glasper and a squad of stattos will be getting twitchy come kick-off and tortured over whether they want a fired up side to score straight from kick-off and avoid ignominy or to remain toothless and rewrite the history books.
Unless they score within the first two minutes against Leeds on semi-derby Saturday it will be Boro’s longest EVER league goal-drought.
And if they can drag out the agony deep into the second half they could make it a double and star in the longest EVER scoreless sequence in all competitions. Make space in the trophy cabinet.
The previous best – or worst – in the league came in the sickening slither towards relegation under Gareth Southgate in 2009.
Then our ill-fated heroes crumbled in a jittery January and went through five goalless games and clocked up 527 minutes of barren blundering.
The slide that marked a brittle side’s relegation fate started with a 3-0 thumping at Mogga’s rock-bottom West Brom, a comprehensive one-sided dismantling that left Southgate broken. He was ashen faced and almost incapable of speaking after the game, In retrospect he should have gone then. The local press corps who had seen him genuinely thought he would quit that night. Or his wife would make him.
But he battled on and the wobble worsened and deepened with a 2-0 defeat at Chelsea, an insipid goalless draw at home to Blackburn, a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City marked by a masterclass in missed sitters from Afonso Alves (and a brilliant display by Shay Given) and a brain-numbing 0-0 at home to Wigan.
Then Boro somehow contriving to beat Liverpool 2-0 at the Riverside with the long drought naturally ending with an own goal off Xavi Alonso from a Stewart Downing corner on 32 minutes. Typical. But hey, they all count.
Tuncay added a second late on but did that finally open the floodgates? Er, no. Boro managed just one more goal in the next three games and were on the wrong end of four goal thumpings by Spurs and Bolton.
That was a nightmare run. But there was an even more inept and punchless purgatory back in August and September 1978 when John Neal’s side got off to a stuttering start to the season and also suffered five fruitless and goalless games.
After losing two of the first three but managing to score in all of them, they went on a nosedive down the top flight table drawing 0-0 with Ipswich then losing 2-0 at Everton and at home to QPR.
But their low quality quintet of misfiring matches had an added dimension. They also included a 1-0 aggregate League Cup defeat over two legs to third division Peterborough – and they managed to force fans to endure a half-hour of extra-time toothless torture too.
There are people who have been waterboarded in Guantanamo Bay that would flinch in fear at the thought of being forced to suffer that 593 minutes of empty ineptitude.
The log-jam was finally ended with a 2-2 draw at champions Nottingham Forest. David Mills netted within a minute of the second half starting and David Armstrong added a second soon after as revived Boro stormed back from two down.
And that sparked a goal rush as Boro scored two goals in each of their next five games including narrow defeats at Arsenal and Manchester United then successive 2-0 wins over Norwich, Wolves and Villa.
On Saturday, if Boro don’t score inside 68 minutes that 70s scoreless sequence will be surpassed and no doubt human rights lawyers will be scrambled to take action against what is surely a ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ under international law.
This current blank run goes back to the scrappy 1-0 win over lowly Charlton on January 18 when Emmanuel Ledesma won a tussle on the touchline out on the right then sent in a skidding low shot that bounced over the diving keeper and in at the near post.
That took bubbling Boro’s Christmas upturn to 16 points from six games in which they had scored two at Millwall, one against leaders Burnley, three in beating Reading then two at Blackpool before scrambling past Charlton.
There was no sign then of the sudden slump. A 2-0 defeat at leaders Leicester was no shame and at least we could take the positives from solidity and rigidity as the watertight side rattled off successive goalless draws against Wigan, Doncaster and Blackburn – a game in which both bosses agreed visiting keeper Paul Robinson had “a worldie”.
And next up is Leeds. My money is on a goal fest. Starting with Graham (3). Nailed on.