Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Conservative Boro Look Like A Spent Force

It was, as a legendary Scotsman would put it, "Shocking. Positively shocking."

I had expected Bart Ogbeche's stunning equaliser against West Ham to be a turning point, a catalyst. But was it really? Because, frankly, over-praising our performance against the Hammers would be thanking heaven for terribly small mercies. The truth is that the goal, and the five to ten minutes that followed it, very nearly made me forget the rest of the match - but not quite. In reality, for the most part we were even more turgid than Allardyce's surprisingly lacklustre side, with only the excellence of Steele and the profligacy of Matthew Taylor (seriously Bates, what were you thinking?) keeping us in the match. The fact that it took an unexpected "wonder goal" to wake us up against a side that were there for the taking really says it all.

We found ourselves in a similar situation on Saturday with an even worse performance against Bristol City. Again, the opposition were there to be beaten - at least statistically. They hadn't scored a goal away from home in 2012, and had failed to win ten of their last eleven games. A closer look would tell you that Bristol City had never lost at the Riverside, that we had only won twice at home in our last eight games - and, of course, that typically, Boro never win these sort of games anyway.

But Boro did more than just "revert to type" - they played in a manner that made us feel as if Tony Mowbray's "transformation" of the club never happened. We played like strangers. We played with a real lack of adventure. We played with no sense of wanting to progress. The momentum and excitement of the "Moggalution" has been replaced by tedium, repetition and predictability - in other words, just one slog after another. We're no longer flying to the moon - we're stuck on the launchpad, waiting for a refuelling that doesn't look like coming any time soon.

Of course, many outside observers would wonder what we're complaining about - we're 5th in the Championship table, and our last two goals - Ogbeche's, and now Malaury Martin's - have both been crackers.

Look again, though - far too many individuals, in particular Bates, Bennett and even Bailey, are seriously under-performing; an ultra-conservative midfield pairing of Bailey and Thomson is not one to strike fear into opposition sides; Emnes has become a parody of the goal machine he was last August; and Adam Hammill has already lost the spark that he gave to the team on his arrival. (If Wolves recall him, he won't really be missed.) The only players who can really come out of this dark spell with their heads held high are Steele, Hoyte (who has bounced back well from recent criticism, according to reports), Jutkiewicz, Ogbeche, Martin, Main (what's happened to him?) and possibly Smallwood.

It would help immensely if our under-performing players came together with our better players at this stage and took collective responsibility - that way, the absence of Robson, Williams, McDonald and Haroun would neither be so noticeable nor could it be used as a scapegoat for our poor results. (Besides, how bad a sign is it that we're still very reliant on an almost Canada-bound 33-year old?)

Furthermore - how much longer can we keep counting on other results to go our way? We're very fortunate that, apart from Southampton, no one really seems to want to go up.

But far worse than any of the above, as "Redcar Red" eruditely pointed out in a comment on Anthony Vickers' blog, is what's happened to Mogga himself. What has become of the manager who was never afraid to change tactics when necessary, didn't let injuries get him or the team down, and, most significantly, gave youth a chance? One of the most exciting things about last season was the development of Richard Smallwood, Adam Reach, Cameron Park, Andy Halliday (how much better has he looked under Mogga than Strachan?) and, to a lesser extent, Luke Williams - yet all five have been marginalised in place of "safer", more experienced players. The kind that you'd see on a - shudder - Gordon Strachan team sheet.

Yes, when you look at the class of 2012 today, they're little better than Strachan's play off failures of 2010. Back then, the incompetence of our rivals and the odd mini-revival, good goal or undeserved win here and there kept our hopes up. In the end, though, we were brought back crashing down to earth with a bang. And who's to argue that the same thing won't happen again?

It's easy to say "Keep The Faith", but I see a team bereft of inspiration, leadership, ideas and cohesiveness.

We need a spark. But where's it going to come from? And when, or if, it does come, will it be a genuine reignition of the Mogganaut? Or will it be just another false dawn?

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