A few thoughts then after Tuesday night’s soul destroying experience at the iPro..
It was a resilient performance but Boro did a job on us & showed quality where it mattered. Possession lost after a sloppy clearance from Christie, Tomlin in what seemed like acres of space slipped in Bouffant, who rounded Grant & finished astutely. We haven’t shown attacking ability like that for while. And we all knew he was going to score didn’t we? We possibly just about merited a draw but Boro were better than us.
I know probably being too melancholic about this but automatic promotion seems to be slipping away from us, I’m afraid. Who knows where we will be before the cavalry (a fit Thorne, Martin & Bent) arrive? Unless we can get a result at Wolves, we could well be out of the play off positions.
It goes without saying that we again missed Martin badly. Russell worked his socks off (you wouldn’t expect anything less from him though would you?) but he can’t play the lone striker role. He didn’t get enough support from Ince, Ward or Lingard either. Thomas worked hard too when he came on but he’s just a kid when it comes down to it. That basically means all we have up top at the moment is disjointed & limited attacking threat. 4-3-3 just doesn’t work without Martin but I’m not sure we have the players to play 4-4-2 either. And it’s too late to be tinkering with systems now, McClaren should have done that earlier in the season.
Hanson can tackle, win his headers & play short passes around neatly but he is a million miles from a Thorne or a Eustace. And, of course, it would be wrong for us to expect him to be anything else. Some of those tackles he put in were immense, especially the one on Leadbitter in the 2nd half. Nice of the Boro players to have a go at him when the ref’s back was turned.
The ref, Andy D’Urso was pretty good actually, it was a tough game to control but he kept calm, didn’t brandish his cards around too much & showed his experience. Obviously, he was a different class to the buffoon we had for the Brum game.
As already mentioned, Bouffant’s goal had an air of inevitability about it. His Martin-esque ability to flop to the ground at the slightest contact had already wound the fans up but he’s a quality player, make no mistake. We hadn’t done too badly in that 2nd half, we’d been pretty solid & organised (& hadn’t gifted them chances like Fozzy & Grant had in the 1st half). Once Boro were in the lead, that was it really, we rallied a bit but didn’t really look like scoring. Gone are the days of the barnstorming comebacks of last season.
Talking about comebacks, I thought Bryson did well, although clearly he’s not the same player he was last season. Maybe a run in the side will change that. He harried & pressed energetically, without really producing anything in the final third. Hughes had a tough game. Another needless booking as well, resulting from a desperate attempt from an uncharacteristic misplaced pass. He needs to sort that out.
I spent quite a bit of time studying Albentosa. Another solid performance I thought & he’s definitely had a positive effect on Keogh. However, I still have some concerns about his pace & distribution (which partly stems from being in the wrong side of central defence). Still think he’ll turn out to be a good signing though.
Down to 5th. How did it come to this. 5 injuries in key positions – how can anyone prepare for that? Well, haven’t we got one of the biggest squads in the division? Which other team bought in 7 players in the January transfer window (most with Premier League experience)? Is McClaren to blame for tactical inflexibility? 4-3-3 is the system he’s wedded to & it worked brilliantly when we had the one player in the division who can make it work. Bent papered over the cracks for a bit when Martin first got injured but without him we’ve got nothing left.
Part of me has already reconciled myself to another season in the Championship, losing £6-7 million quid a year, while playing to 30,000+ crowds. Well, I’ve already renewed my season ticket so, consumed by despondent melancholy I may be, but I’ll still be supporting my team, whatever happens.