STANLEY Park? Stanley knife! It is a very long time since Boro were sliced open so clinically by a razor sharp front-line.
The 3-1 defeat at Everton was a horror show that many fans back home would have watched through their fingers and from behind the settee. As a small screen slasher it should have been played after the watershed.
There must have been some confusion for armchair viewers as it clashed on the TV planner with You’ve Been Framed. Boro certainly had a few £250 clips in there of predictable slapstick laughter-tracked mishaps. Ironically it also clashed with Pointless. Boro never got as far as the head-to-head and were sent packing long before any X Factor made an appearance.
Worst still for Boro, it was another bloody repeat!
Aitor Karanka put a brave face on it in the post match press conference and gave a philosophical shrug. It was Everton. They are flying. They are a quality team. Boro kept battling.
But he will be worried that many of the damaging defensive flaws on show were re-runs of the costly cock-ups from the Crystal Palace set-back.
It will trouble Karanka that the well drilled Championship defence that was to be the bed-rock of the top flight survival strategy was dismantled with a frightening ease.
Boro lacked cohesion at the back, lacked shape and lacked discipline. They struggled with the fluid movement and the pace of high-flying Everton’s electric attack that simply scythed through the midfield shield and pierced the back-line and so easy found acres of space in the final third.
Boro wobbled and creaked then stumbled and almost fell. And then went full banana skin.
But they started well. They were assertive from the off and created a couple of early half chances – a free-kick that both Downing and Ayala were inches away from poking home and a Negredo snapshot – then scored as the Spanish striker went all 1960s and bundled home the keeper and the ball.
But that goal stung slow starting Everton into action and as they went ominously up through the gears and the pressure mounted, Boro quickly came apart at the seams.
It was scary stuff. Everton zipped through a porous defence almost at will leaving Boro dizzy and bewildered and with those little cartoon stars and birds tweeting around their heads as they were whacked with a series of undefended knock.
Everton were good, yes. But Boro were bad. And like the previous defeat to Crystal Palace, the goals all stemmed from sloppy moments of collective collapse.
The opener came as Ashley Williams charged in on Victor Valdes with a flailing boot at throat height – anywhere else on the pitch and that is a free-kick – and the spooked keeper could only get a weak punch on it. No Boro defender reacted to the crisis and the ball fell sentimentally gift-wrapped for landmark man Gareth Barry to lash home. The game was gone.
Should Valdes been stronger and wiped out the Everton man? Should the defence have reacted quicker to clear in the crowd? Should it have been given as a foul? Possibly. But there is no question that from that moment Boro were deep in trouble and Everton were halfway home.
The second was sloppy: statuesque stoppers stood rooted as the ball was pinged around quickly along the edge of the box before Seamus Coleman wriggled in from the right past Gibson and Ayala unchallenged to slot home a deft low shot to the near post with Valdes slow to react.
And finally Bolasie was allowed his own postcode of space wide on the right to put in a cross straight from the Palace game as Friend and Downing stood off and Lukaku came in unmarked at the far side to graze it home.
Scapegoat elect Valdes will take much of the flak – it is part of the keeper’s lot in life – but he had been left totally exposed by a rickety defence that looked like it was being held together by chewing gum and shoelaces.
The 10 minutes before the break was torrid stuff and every member of the defence plus the manager and his dug-out posse – and Steve Gibson – will sit bolt upright in bed in a cold sweat several times over the next few nights.
Boro needed to change their studs for crampons at the break because they had a mountain to climb. But the second half was better. Boro retained and recycled possession, pushed play into the Everton half but it was shadow boxing and carried no threat.
And, let’s be honest, Everton had knocked off. They had done the job and were going through the motions. They conceded possession and were happy to sit back. And you got the sense that had Boro scored the home side could easily hit the afterburners and thump home a fourth.
The Boro fans kept going though. Right to the end, full of pride and passion and determination to squeeze something out of the game. And they joined in the minute’s applause in memory of a lifelong Everton supporter. They won a lot of respect.
It is going to be a long season and there will be other painful days like this. Boro will lose games in the Premier League. A lot of games. We’ve made a big step up and have to learn quickly. Especially at the back.
Pre-season there was a lot of talk about how Boro would spend a lot of time working for Ellerman Beeline, parallel parking buses in the box, soaking up the pressure from stronger, sharper teams and hitting on the break.
Everton was the first test of that theory. The opening games were close fought affairs against teams in the lower half who had a cautious approach of their own. The crunch was always going to come when Boro faced a quality team up at the top who saw Boro as cannon fodder to be attacked, especially when they were at home and the onus was on them.
That was when the Karankista solidity would be really put under sustained pressure, when the rigid rearguard that had shut up shop so superbly in the Championship would have its top flight credentials tested to destruction. We knew that.
On the evidence of this televised trauma there is still a lot of work to do. But while it is a disappointment and a set-back it is not a disaster. It is not fatal. It is early days. It is a long season. And Boro are still mid-table.
Meanwhile over on BBC2 they were showing Dad’s Army…. Don’t panic!