WELL what better way to celebrate 20 years at the Riverside Stadium than with a demoralising defeat that sent frustrated fans home chuntering?
What could be more fitting than following the swaggering show against Bolton with a disjointed defeat to a limited side who had been leaking for fun?
You could pop back at midnight and Boro still wouldn’t have squeezed one in.
No way through: Stuani crowded out on by City party-poopers
Once again it was a tale of fruitless possession and endless pressure without a potent punch, the lack of a final killer touch and a superb show by a stand-in shot-stopper. Their keeper Ben Hamer had a ‘worldie’ with three fantastic saves when the screw was being turned. Good old Boro, one of the reassuring certainties in life.
And who better to inflict the coupon-busting anti-climax than perennial party pooping pirates Bristol City. The Robins have several times rained on our parade in the past and casually ripped up the script again.
It was the closest game to the landmark anniversary of that first game at Riverside – a sun-kissed August of new age optimism in a box fresh ground when Chelsea were the visitors and anything seemed possible.
With the anniversary red-ringed, the woeful form of the newly promoted visitors and Aitor Karanka unleashing £12m of new talent together for the first time it was all set up for a Riverside romp in the mould of the battering of Bolton.
With Cristhian Stuani and David Nugent making their first starts on home turf and Stewart Downing in the hole for the first time everything was set for Karanka to demonstrate his new creative goal machine of a team.
Whoops. Bristol scored early on against the run of play on eight minutes and the pre-match buzz flapped and flopped as flew around as the air escaped after an archetypal balloon bursting. In fact, they could have a had a second on the break before Boro regained their composure and started to pile on the pressure but the damage was done and the visitors were happy to don tin hats, dig in and soak it up.
And Boro failed to breach those lines. Shots flew just wide, or were deflected behind by the forest of defenders in the box, or Hamer went full length to claw them away. Boro pushed forward and got the ball and bodies into the box but the two rarely connected. There were sweeping moves in numbers that inexplicable buffered on the edge of the box. There were moments of over-elaboration, one trick too many. There were poor deliveries from both flanks. The final killer ball never came. There were poor decisions. Or no decisions.
Boro had all their creative and attacking players on the pitch at one stage or another but they failed to gel. There were flashes in the first half as Yanic’s pace caused problems but there was no end product then after the break Boro stepped up a gear as Albert added zip and invention and the best moments came from his endeavours on the right but again, Boro couldn’t find a way through. It was all very frustrating.
Second string shot-stopper super show. Episode 9
It is a familiar story. It was only the second defeat at the Riverside in 2015. The other one against Leeds back in February played out in almost exactly the same way: an early goal on the break then 80 minutes of incessant fruitless pressure from blunt Boro.
And if you want to rewind back to the previous defeat, against Reading last August, it was more or less the same, an early goal nicked by the visitors then relentless heavy but unimaginative pressure that failed to break down a poor side.
That the problem persists may be teething problems with a new team. Or it may just be co-incidence. Or it may be a worrying indication of a deeper seated tactical or methodological problem. We’ll see. We are only four games in. But Boro can’t afford too many repeats of what was a fatal flaw last term.
Of course, City are serial offenders when it comes to spoiling the big day. Last time they were here was the first half of a BOGOF season ticket offer with Boro flying high and a bumper crowd turned up in November 2012.
Typical Boro! It was all was all a bit of a dog’s breakfast as Tony Mowbray set up to bully Bristol new boy Matthew Bates and played with two targetmen – Lukas Jutkiewicz and Big Ish Miller – but were left confused as the former Boro man didn’t play. They lost 3-1. Albert Adomah ran riot for the relegation-bound Robins and Boro missed a chance to go into one of the automatic slots in front of a bumper ticket offer crowd.
On their previous visit City did it again. It was a Mowbray’s first match in charge after the exit of Gordon Strachan and amid high expectations of an emotion fuelled instant revival our lunar leader was left on the launch pad. Boro lost 2-1 to the relegation strugglers and frustrated fans drifted away scratching their heads or waving their fists and discarding their free Gazette Mogganaut masks as they trudged away through the underpass.
The only previous Riverside win was in February 2007 when Boro were Premier League big boys and edged it 5-4 on penalties after two 2-2 draws. For the last win on Teesside you have to go back to Ayresome Park and an Uwe hat-trick in a 3-0 romp.
So, the sinking feeling was perhaps predictable.
It has really poured cold water on any pre-season notions that this term would be a promotion procession. And it has really put a dampener on any anniversary celebrations we had planned. Typical.
HANDS UP who guessed the team…. not you Aitor.
We know there’s no point trying to second guess the Boro boss. Every week the boss produces a selection curve ball. Get a reshuffle right and you are a tactical genius and hailed a hero. Get it wrong and sections of the crowd declare you a numpty.
Hmmmmm. That wasn’t supposed to happen.
That is the risk that always hangs heavy over any dug-out. Aitor explained his decisions after a frustrating fixture with some familiar flas.
Early season goal-getter Kike and ex-Bristol City man Albert Adomah have been mainstays so far this term while Diego Fabbrini has been so eye-catching he has claimed cult status and even has his own song.
All three were dropped. Or rested. Or rotated. Or whatever terminology you want to use for the inevitable rejig midway through August’s seven game fixture flurry. And all three may have a gripe about that. Especially as Boro lost. That is always a convincing retrospective argument.
But the other sign of the coin is that there are big players who have been itching for their chance while even some of the players who been in the shirts have been taking flak after some stodgy early displays.
Fans have been calling for them to be given a chance, demanding that the boss used the players he had splashed out on.
And at last Boro opted to give it both barrels. Aitor finally unleashed his big ticket summer striker signings against Bristol City with Stewart Downing pulling the strings
After an impressive outing at Oldham and a couple of brief cameos from the bench Uruguay World Cup star Cristhian Stuani was given his first Championship start. And marksman David Nugent was also blooded. He had a snippet of action at the end of the 3-0 win over Bolton then was back on the bench after a minor back tweak.
But both have been training and were hungry to be unleashed. They are proven quality. They are what we were crying out for last term. They are going to be key to this season’s startegy.
We had to see them sooner or later. And putting firepower on the pitch can never be a bad thing…. unless you lose.