BORO took to a sun drenched pitch wearing a brilliant all white third kit.
I didn’t even know Boro had a third kit, much less that it was white. It was eye-catching and very nice but seemed a strange choice and another unforced change to the line up. The normal blue away strip is far from being a retina burning colour clash with Bournemouth’s red and black.
For a few moments there Aitor Karanka must have felt right at home as the fans whacked on Factor 30, squinted against the dazzling Costa glare and got ready to cheer on their gleaming heroes in bright white shirts.
But if the unfamiliar strip was cunning subliminal psychlogical trickery geared to inspiring Boro’s Galacticos to play like his former side Real Madrid it didn’t work.
Unless mighty Madrid are in the habit of going to Dean Court and parking the bus in a fierce rearguard actions and holding out bravely for a clean sheet and a point but you can’t see really see Ronaldo digging in at Dean Court and shouting: Non Pasaran!
With the pristine strip and sunshine it was more like a washing powder advert with a hastily assembled squad of actors going through the motions, looking not quite convincing enough and asking themselves: “what’s my motivation for this?”
Not quite convincing enough up front where the movement was limited, width and creativity were at a premium and the few chances that presented themselves were snatched at and failed to hit the target. Not quite convincing at the back either as on-song Bournemouth had the edge, increasing penetrated and piled on the pressure.
Nor in goal. Dimi made a decent fist in his portrayal of the keeper with two good saves as he tipped over second half shots from Francis and Surman heading towards the top corner – but he seriously fluffed his lines just before the break.
He raced out to the right of his box scoop up a loose ball, realised his momentum would take him out of the box and into red card territory so dropped the ball then desperately turned and dived and stretched to gather it again and salvage the situation only for Lewis Grabban to dig it out from under his hands and slot into the open goal.
The referee – himself not always convincing in the role – had already blown for a foul in what must have been a very close call and the pivotal plot point in a now familiar format.
Boro were not quite convincing enough beat Bournemouth. They contained them fairly comfortably but in a now familiar scenario lacked the firepower to hurt them and had to settle for another goalless draw.
The Football League Show highlights and the press possession stats – 62/38 in the Cherries favour – may have given the impression that Boro were comprehensively battered and lucky to escape alive.
Far from it. Bournemouth may have had the edge but it was a very tight game in which Boro put in another impressively solid defensive display that deserves credit.
Ben Gibson and Kenneth Omeruo were fantastic in the centre, tackling and shackling and blocking and battling while both full backs worked hard to stem the threat down the flanks and help contain a decent side chasing a fourth successive win.
Yes, the disallowed goal was a big moment – but that aside I never felt nervous or particularly threatened. They had the bulk of possession and did most of the attacking but never really had Boro under the cosh.
The two saves were well executed but straight forward for a well positioned keeper. Apart from that Bournemouth’s best effort was a first half back header from George Friend from a free kick that squirted just over his own bar.
And Boro had chances of their own as Danny Graham sent one dipping over in the first minute, a Muzzy Carayol effort was deflected wide and Lee Tomlin sent a volley over. None of those decent efforts made the cut for the highlights – but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.
The opposition pundits and manager are usually a good objective judge of a display – they are not wrapped up in the hothouse of neurosis of Planet Boro – and thought it was a fair result.
They thought Boro were a very solid and well organised team and could see why we had so many clean sheets and were philosophical about the disallowed goal rather than furious. They certainly didn’t feel they had been robbed.
They thought it was a decent 0-0 draw… although to be fair they haven’t had to sit through an endless cycle of them or drive for six hours either way to watch it.
For them Boro’s rigid regimental rearguard was a fresh experience to be appreciated whereas for us it is fast becoming our universal condition.
Whatever the personnel Boro are now rock-solid at the back. It was the eleventh clean sheet in Karanka’s 16 league games and that is a significant and laudable achievement given the previous porous and chaotic defence, an error-ridden universe of disorganised self-destruction.
That was summed up by the reverse fixture at the Riverside when Bournemouth were two up after 12 minutes without having had a shot to two penalties then after Boro clawed ahead they threw it away again at the death for a 3-3 draw.
You can’t see that ever happening under Karanka. Ever,
But of course, for any form of sustained success the team need deliver at the sharp end too. We know that. They know it. The boss knows it too. It was a very long trip back for the 2,000 travelling fans. Most of the six hours trek will have been spent bemoaning the lack of intensity, the lack of teeth, the lack of creativity in this blunt Boro side.And Muzzy Carayol’s feared cruciate injury. But mainly the now institutional impotence of a flaccid frontline.
There will also have been much gnashing and wailing over being second best to Bournemouth. Bournemouth! Since the last clash at Dean Court in the league in 1990 the Cherries have bobbed around the lower leagues, been in administration, got through a host of owners and only just pulled off a final day Great Escape from falling out of the Football League completely.
Boro in contrast have spent the two decades since then enjoying a party of unprecedented success and are now suffering the hangover that followed. Since we last clashed swords with Bournemouth Boro have had a decade and more in the top flight, fielded teams peppered with global superstars, been to five cup major finals, won the League Cup, played in Europe and reached the UEFA Cup final.
And now the sides are equals in the Championship in an object lesson in the cyclical nature of football.
That Boro have slipped back from those heights more than anything will frame how supporters view the result of this game and other frustrating fixtures as the team try to find a style, an identity and the momentum to escape the shadow of Eindhoven.
But Boro have no divine right to beat “the likes of Bournemouth.”
That has to be earned. A promotion push and return to the big time will only happen when the club can build a well balanced side that can add goals to the defensive solidity and can convincingly set about “the likes of Bournemouth” with sustained intensity and firepower as well as set out impregnable fortifications.
Aitor Karanka’s Boro side is a work in progress and is heading towards that.
With one end tactical tweaked, organised and drilled the attention must now be turned to the other and barring things suddenly clicking and Graham and Tomlin setting about a net-busting goal frenzy, that will mean a transfer window and recruitment.
Of course, most fans don’t want to hear that. They want to fast forward to the end product and enjoy the fruits now. They want goals and the chance to EIO and party and leave games buzzing. But that takes time.
All good teams are built from the back. Getting that right was the priority for Jack Charlton, Terry Venables and Steve McClaren. Karanka is setting about his reshaping with the same functional methodology. The building blocks are in place.
Get the shape and mentality right is crucial, then you can add a striker that is right for that role and another attacking midfielder and then Boro can be a good team in this league.
Although the current position in the cycle is frustrating we will get there.
This Boro will be all white.