ANGRY Aitor Karanka simmered as he described Boro’s annual Portman Road ploughing as a “an alarm to wake us all up.”
And I think he meant an eardrum busting industrial klaxon rather than that pathetic peep-peep-peep bedside thing that you can lazily lean over and hit the “snooze” button and turn over for a few more minutes under the duvet.
Karanka was furious. On a day the media had dubbed “Panic Saturday” his team had certainly caught the mood of the moment in the 2-0 defeat at Ipswich.
Steaming: Embarrassed Aitor coming to the boil
They ran around chaotically in wide eyed confusion without any clear idea what they wanted or how they were going to get it then ended up going home frustrated and empty handed and leaving their loved ones deeply disappointed. In contrast, wily old Mick McCarthy’s well drilled, more methodical and impressive Ipswich made merry and went home piled up with the points gift-wrapped, celebrating comfort and joy.
Ipswich pressed and closed at a high tempo, hustled Boro out of their stride then turned the screw and carved open a creaking defence with some exquisite passing to score two good goals. It would be churlish to dispute they were the better team on the day.
Just as Boro had systematically dismantled Derby, so Ipswich took apart Boro, steadily, clinically and ruthlessly and in a way far more emphatic than the scoreline suggested.
Yes, Boro “improved” after the break and had more of the ball and created a few half chances but the Ipswich keeper never had a save to make until stoppage time and bar an audacious Adam Reach lob that was headed off the line Boro barely threatened at all.
It was a dismal showing. Every department failed. Every player was below par. The framework that has served so well failed to function. The defence was penetrated repeatedly, the flailing midfield never got a foothold in the game and were quickly swamped and chasing shadows and up front Boro offered very little.
With Ipswich in their faces so quickly the team could not get a passing rhythm going and gradually resorted to increasingly desperate aimless long balls forward somewhere into the same postcode as Patrick Bamford who beavered away but hardly got a sniff.
And it could have been worse. Far worse. They had one cleared off the line. They hit the post. They bossed it. We can’t even blame the ref: the replicant Kenneth Omeruo who played in place of the good one of the recent past could and should have been sent off.
He might easily have had four yellow cards including two in three seconds as he trundled around making ill-timed challenges and pumping wayward punts forward.
Scrappy and stuttering, Boro looked timid pale shadows of the swaggering team that tore up Steve McClaren’s Derby so completely and confidently to prompt fevered “P word” chatter across excited Teesside.
It’s refreshing that “embarrassed” Karanka was steaming after the game, not just at the result but more so at the poor performance individually and collectively and the attitude of his team.
It would be easy – and probably fair – to shrug it off as “a bad day at the office”, that Boro were due a blip and that is not an indictment of the team as a whole or to accept the immutable Law of Football that Boro NEVER get anything at Ipswich (three points in 10 visits since the last win in 1992 is a serious hoodoo).
And it would be sensible and sober and measured to set the result in the big picture context: it is after all only the second defeat in 17 games, after an unbeaten run of eight had taken Boro joint top and at the team with the best home record in the division.
And it must be said Boro are still only three points off the top at Christmas and we are all fluent in cliche so we know that “you’d have snatched their hands off for that in August.”
Promotion will not be decided on one result. The defeat to the Tractor Boys is a set-back and has temporarily dampened the rising expectations on Teesside a bit, but it will not fundamentally change the long term dynamics of the Championship table.
Derby have been turned over twice this week and then were pegged back in stoppage time for a draw on Saturday but no-one would seriously rule them out of the promotion race. We battered Brentford but they are still in there.
And the variety, depth and ability of a squad we were all gushing about last week hasn’t changed with one result. Boro remain a well organised side with a tactically astute manager, a system that works and one of the strongest squads in the league.
But Karanka is a tough task-master. He sets very high standards. His policy is to raise the bar every week and he won’t buy the notion that Boro were “due” an off day.
The boss was furious. It will have been a frosty coach journey home with the chastened players not wanting to catch his laser gaze or be caught out tweeting or watching the Strictly final on their tablets or laughing and joking in loud phone-calls. For this one reason we are definitely not happy.
And while Aitor will be dealing with the team, getting the mentality right and quickly refocussing on Boxing Day and beyond, we must do the same. There’s no point dwelling on Ipswich and torturing ourselves and little to be gained in letting one result become the prompt to release months of pent up doubts, digs and told-you-sos.
Maybe we all – fans as well – thought we were better than we are. The defeat hurt but maybe we had built up expectation to unrealistic levels. Despite being Mourinho-tinged at times, Boro are not Chelsea. We remain a Championship team. We are still a work in progress and for all the recent steady improvement we still have to expect (and forgive) slip-ups and defeats.
But, as with the team, it is about how we collectively react to the set-backs that count.
Last week Boro fans were gushing about the prospect of a 30,000 Boxing Day gate and making plans to take 13,000 fans on the road in a week. Optimism was high. Confidence was bubbling and unconditional support soared. Teesside was bubbling with a foam fumed feelgood factor and looking forward to the unfolding promotion push.
Nothing about the possibilities this season presents has changed with one result.
But it has reminded us it will be a long and tough campaign. It won’t be a procession.