THERE was no Feeding of the Five Thousand; Although it was a minor miracle Boro managed to come away with a point. They got back down to the bread and butter of the Championship by serving up some stodgy fare. There was no procession to the points for the travelling army who arrived in a convoy of coaches; the team spluttered and back-fired and chugged along in the slow lane. But at least they didn’t end up on the hard shoulder.
The 1-1 draw at crisis-club Wigan in a tense and scrappy clash at the Alf Garnett Stadium didn’t go to script. Boro were supposed to take advantage of the on-going distractions around dug-out and directors box , the lack of preparation time for the new text pest boss and the sense of chaos around the club – much of it generated by alarming lack of cultural awareness (or indeed, PR savvy) of the Latics ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ chairman.
Boro were supposed to turn on the style for the incredible away day army. Instead they fell short, failed to impose themselves and made very hard work of the game. We’ve seen it all before. It was Doncaster all over again. And Barnsley. And many, many more.
Standing room only: 5,000 Teessiders pack the away end
The game was far from a classic. Boro were well short of their best in a lack-lustre first half, looked disjointed and sluggish and were caught cold at the back. Their normally fluid game was peppered with wayward passes, stuttering indecision and needlessly conceded free-kicks after being caught out of position.
A series of Wigan raids down the right made them suddenly look vulnerable and their was a sudden crisis of faith. Wigan worked hard, closed quickly, pressed high, broke quickly and won all the second balls. And Boro were deservedly punished for their sloppiness with a delicious dead-ball opener by Maloney. He had already grazed the bar with a dipping free-kick so they can’t say they weren’t warned.
Boro had chances in the first half – Kike curled a chip just wide, Reach fired just wide – but generally their movement came to nothing with the final ball not quite clicking.
Boro were better – but not much – after the break. It was scrappy and frantic but Wigan probably edged it on possession and chances and in a sustained spell of pressure Fortune stabbed against the post and then skied a sitter.
Then our heroes broke quickly to engineer an equaliser, a move started by alert Adam Clayton ending with a deft touch and shimmy by Kike to beat his man and tee up Patrick Bamford to nip behind and slot home at an angled effort to score (his third in four games) with almost his first touch of the ball two minutes after coming off the bench.
The two most polite and articulate men in football celebrate
He poked another one wide soon after and there were a few unconvincing probes and breaks to no avail then Boro had two penalty calls waved away in stoppage time – the first one probably not, the second one? Well, on another day – so will have gone away thinking they could have even won but in truth they were probably fortunate not to have lost.
Still, a point away is never a bad thing, especially when you have drawn ugly and salvaged something after a poor performance. And whatever their league position, Wigan are not a bad team and with a bit of tweaking will probably finish in the top half (FA sanctions notwithstanding). It stretches the progressive and promising run to just one defeat in 13. And despite a “wobble” of two successive very differently flavoured draws Boro remain in joint second and three points off the top.
Yes, we would all prefer they had won. Yes, if only they had nicked it against Bournemouth, or turned up at Wolves, or been more assertive against Blackpool they’d be top now, etc etc. It is a long season and a tough division and no team can play to their potential every week. There will be times when we are frustrated. There will be slip-ups, There will be set-backs. And, of course, they will feel worse when we make long trips in large numbers.
But we are still well placed. Aitor said he was ‘happy’ but his body language suggested otherwise and he will give them a rocket. Blackburn next.