Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Burnt After Reading

"Back to square one."

That's exactly what I felt like saying on Saturday evening, before I went out on the town to wash the taste of defeat out of my mouth.

There isn't much for me to say that hasn't already been said. As is the norm with Boro, we failed to live up to expectations raised by recently resurgent league form. I have never worked out why so few teams can build up your hopes and then shatter them, or, failing that, come close to shattering them, like only the Boro can.

Both West Ham and Birmingham dropped points, leaving us with a great opportunity to consolidate a play-off position and keep alive our admittedly fading hopes of a top two spot. I am aware that Reading were, and still are, the Championship team of the moment, but knowing our propensity for upsetting the form teams this season (see the wins over Cardiff and Hull in December), surely we could have at least expected a close-run contest here?

Turns out it was anything but. Forget our large spells of possession - those were meaningless! All huff and puff with no end product gets you nowhere, and Mogga was clever enough to point that out in his post match discussion (although I'm not sure "not cute enough" are the words I would have used, but you see his point). He must realise by now, though, that this is nothing new for Boro in 2011/12. I have repeatedly clamoured our need for more of a cutting edge this season, because every single member of the current top six has a positive goal difference in double figures (Birmingham's is more than +20, Southampton's is nearly +30). Ours? A miniscule +4.

It didn't help that my fellow countrymen would have been more than happy at how the game turned out. Yes, we were undone by the Irish! Waterford's own Noel Hunt got the first from a flick-on from an Ian Harte cross, while Harte himself netted the second. Perhaps more embarrassing is that Harte comes from the Sean St. Ledger school of defending - his goalscoring and/or assists have always covered up his defensive naivete. Because Sean has never been the best of defenders, really. But wasn't that a cracking defence-splitting pass at Loftus Road?

Our problem is that we share Harte's and St.Ledger's naivete at the back - and we don't have the goalscoring or goal making skills to compensate for it! "Jiffy" made a good point on Anthony Vickers' blog about Mogga not seeming to have passed on "his experience of defending dead ball situations" to the side. He also grumbled at Mogga for preferring Hoyte to Tony McMahon - and again, he makes a very valid point. I know Hoyte has legitimate experience at the top, but why him at the expense of a local lad who doesn't need to prove himself? (His performances in the cup against Sunderland speak volumes.) If Mogga is not careful, Tony Mc could, as Jiffy says, move on to play for "someone who values him" like Andy Taylor did. (Lest we forget, by the time Mogga did appreciate Taylor, it was too late - and with him gone, a club who was once spoilt for choice with left-wingers has none at all.)

Had enough yet? Like Jiffy said, I too question Mogga's logic of playing Emnes in midfield. It nullified his new found effectiveness. Then there's the fact that a financially troubled club like us found up to £2 million to spend on Lukas Jutkiewicz, while a certain Derry man who cost a fifth as much is tearing up Premiership defences for fun just up the road.

What Tony Mowbray has done for Boro has allowed him to get away with a lot, but recent games, such as the Palace bore draw and this undramatic defeat, show how dangerously close his era is to resembling ones we were happy to see the back of.

In 2009/10, whether Southgate or Strachan was in charge, other teams slipping up and victories against Championship minnows conned us into believing we could either win the league or make the play off's. Then a true promotion contender - ironically, Mogga's old team, West Bromwich Albion - turned up to give us a reality check.

I wonder, could Reading be Mogga's WBA? Not quite, as we're still in with a shout of promotion - but it certainly feels like it at the minute.

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Coming next on Si's Insights: I reminisce about much, much happier times...

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