Wednesday, 14 March 2012

A Tale Of Two Jacks

On the same day we paid tribute to one Jack in Boro's history, we paid tribute to another Jack - and unfortunately for us, it wasn't in the way we hoped.

Two sides of The Jack Charlton Coin were on show at Sunday lunchtime when Neil Warnock's revitalised Leeds hassled and bullied us into making very costly mistakes, in the exact same manner that the legendary Leeds defender and former Boro boss's Ireland teams would have done. This season has seen Boro represent both the best and worst of Big Jack's Ireland - we have shown ourselves to be capable of competing with the best in the division and getting our fair share of impressive results, but once we go two goals down, or more, we have no answer. And The Leeds Surrender, as we'll now call it, was one of those really bad days. No, it wasn't in the same class as The Cardiff Disaster, or the unforgivable West Brom Surrender in April 2010 (my worst moment as a Boro fan, bar none!) - but it wasn't far off.

It was all too reminiscent of Ireland's 2-0 defeat to Holland in USA '94, where the Irish never really recovered from two costly defensive mistakes. Mistakes that, for both Boro and Ireland, did more than give away goals; they ripped the morale, cohesiveness and organisation out of the team. Even if, in our case, it wasn't really there to begin with.

But maybe the whole Big Jack comparison goes deeper than that (and I'm not just talking about the "attacking full backs" tactic which Jack is said to have pioneered - just look at Justin Hoyte, Tony McMahon, Joe Bennett and Adam Reach!). No, I will always be grateful for what Tony Mowbray has done for Boro, in the same way that I'm forever grateful for Charlton's contribution to Ireland - it's just, for the first time, I'm realising that maybe Mogga's management of Boro has been both an asset and a limitation to us.

Like Big Jack, he arrived during a very difficult period, when expectations were low, so initially it was enough for us that he merely stopped the rot and got us caring about the team again. But, also, like Big Jack, he's gone beyond that, awakening us to the possibility of success - and now we find that he might not be capable of providing it.

Technically, I shouldn't be thinking like this. Exactly one month ago I told a colleague that automatic promotion was a fantasy, if not impossible. But then...

Four wins out of five, the arrival of Adam Hammill, the return of Nicky Bailey...

Suddenly, the automatic promotion dream did not look like such a fantasy after all, despite the defeat to Reading.

Then... bang. Brought and bullied back down to earth by a self-styled "promotion expert". Warnock's from the Allardyce-Redknapp school of management, in that he is irritating, rude and controversial - yet you have to admit, his results speak for themselves.

How is it possible that our understrength team of "kids" could scare the living daylights out of Premiership Sunderland not so long before our virtually full-strength team (Scott McDonald aside) surrendered to a journeyman Leeds team?

In this context, I'm sorry to say, Mogga's "success" at Boro hardly differs from that of Paul Hart at Nottingham Forest, George Burley at Ipswich, and Lawrie Sanchez at Wycombe or Northern Ireland. Getting the odd good result against a "big team", and/or sustaining success for a short period of time is all very well, but what did any of the aforementioned managers actually achieve?

A more pressing matter is what Mogga should do about the current state of the team. Joe Bennett is looking nothing like the confident marauder of last season. Maybe the absence of Wheater and McManus has exposed him defensively. Or, as Brandon Arcuicci told me, Mogga's failure to give Adam Reach a place on the subs bench has given Bennett no competition, and thus no impetus to improve. Ditto for Emnes, who is always less likely to be substituted than Jutkiewicz due to his impressive, but horribly inconsistent, goal return.

Logic also says that Tony McMahon should clearly be played instead of Justin Hoyte - he is less prone to costly errors (we'll let Leicester slide), he scores goals, and above all, he's local! At least Robbo's impending suspension, silly though it was, should open the door for McMahon to return on the right of midfield. But even then, one wonders why both him and Andy Halliday have not featured more often this season - we've seen what they can do, after all. And even if the unfortunate Kevin Thomson is as high quality as Mogga says, can we really afford to keep a passenger on the books?

Maybe I should channel the anger a little, for there's still more than enough time to save the season. But what price we frustrate again? Will we build up false hope by going on another great run, only to be brought crashing back down to earth at the end of it all?

Hopefully, that won't be during the play-offs... if we get there.

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