Friday, 16 March 2012

It Could Be Worse

I'm sure a handful of you are probably still thinking that Boro couldn't possibly have sunk any lower after their latest TV embarrassment. A great chance to get in amongst the automatic promotion chasing pack, in front of the nation's eyes. And we blew it. Again.

But hey, we've "blown it" before. An FA Cup quarter final, a rare full house at the Riverside, second tier opposition in front of us, most "big teams" already out of the competition, live coverage on terrestrial TV... Boro being Boro, the stage could only be set for The Cardiff Disaster, couldn't it? Little to almost no threat up front, second best in all areas of the park. But it was worse than that, much worse. Cardiff, like Leeds last Sunday, won at a canter. They always looked like they had something extra in the tank, and the "Spirit Of Steaua" was nowhere to be found. To this day I've rarely felt more embarrassed as a Boro fan. But, as bad as the Cardiff capitulation felt, it still wasn't the debacle of April 2010 known as The West Brom Surrender.

After five draws out of six, and one very, very fortunate win during the months of March and April, we were ready to write off Boro's faint hopes of making the play-offs under the awful Gordon Strachan once and for all. But two wins out of two in the space of a week, coupled with results going our way, gave us renewed hope going into the final few games of the season. Then, in Anthony Vickers' words, we were about to watch the... 

Baggies Blast Brittle Boro's Play Off Pretence.

He really summed up our 2-0 defeat at the Hawthorns better than I ever could have:

"A shameful, embarrassing, meek one-sided surrender. There are no excuses for a lack of effort, fight, application or desire on a day when, even if results had conspired against us, there was still something there to play for. That so many players went out defeated before kick off is a disgrace."

What sets The Cardiff Disaster, and hopefully The Leeds Surrender, apart from games such as this one is the sense of togetherness and team spirit that such capitulations should inspire. Once something as bad as that happens, both the fans and the team normally unite to produce a great run of results. Sure, it didn't last long, but just days after that fateful FA Cup quarter final we were scaring the hell out of both Villa and Arsenal at their respective grounds. Not long after those games, Afonso Alves, who looked like he couldn't hit a barn door for much of the Cardiff match, came up with a brilliantly taken double against the soon-to-be-crowned Double Winners.

This game inspired no one, both during or after it. At not one moment during the match did you feel that Boro were going to take a hold on things - and they were playing against a side who had already obtained automatic promotion! What we saw at The Hawthorns on April 17, 2010 - and, in retrospect, in the weeks leading up to that day - was a club going nowhere.

Earlier that season, a friend of mine summed up Gordon Strachan's Bore-o in a nutshell: "It's not the club I fell in love with." But he had even more damning words to add that day: "I'm bored with Boro now. There was always the chance that we'd surprise before. Now we're predictable and one-dimensional."

Remarkably, we - and Steve Gibson - still had faith that once this man was able to build his own team, with his own money, he'd then be able to lead us to the Championship title next season. (Of course, we know how that worked out.) But others, like Chris Lepkowski of the Birmingham Mail, were smart enough to spot the warning signs in advance:

"(Boro) have gone backwards under the over-rated Gordon Strachan... (a man) so devoid of class and so full of his own self-importance... his players look as if they'd rather have anyone but him as manager... Few clubs have folded as easily as the Boro did..."

It got to the point where, the moment we went 2-0 down, I decided to switch channels and watch Doctor Who instead. And however excellent that programme can be, how often does a true Boro fan turn his or her back on their club, especially when he or she rarely gets to watch them live?

That's a true condemnation of the apathetic nature of Strachan's "reign of pain" if there ever was one. And believe me, apathy is far worse than genuine pain in defeat.

So, every time you think that Boro may have reached an ultimate low point against Leeds, remember - things could be worse. Much worse.

Now, onwards and upwards for the Birmingham match...

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