Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Boxing Boro Bring Belated Christmas Cheer

To cut to the chase: it wasn't pretty. But we'll take it!

It took a late-ish strike from the much-maligned Lukas Jutkiewicz, created through some excellent teamwork from Scott McDonald and George Friend, to bail Boro out against a freefalling Blackburn. Feeling less like a Christmas feast and more like an obvious Boxing Day hangover, Boro laboured heavily against a side who have clearly taken a heavy dose of what I'll call "Boro's Strachan Changeover Medicine."

No, this isn't about Blackburn metamorphosing from an occasionally surprising, overachieving side into a bunch of bores (though that might be the case too). It's about a team who, having been expected to return to the Premiership immediately after an eleven-year stay, sack or lose their unpopular manager when they're in a strong position (at one point under Steve Kean, they were top of the table) and replace him with someone who doesn't solve their problems, but exacerbates them. Case in point: Henning Berg has won just one league game in eleven.

It could so easily have been two; Jason Steele again had to be at his brilliant best to deny the likes of Raheem Hanley and Rubén Rochina, and we had to be thankful for the woodwork twice in the first half. But it could just have easily been a more convincing Boro victory; we were once again witness to some highly profligate finishing, especially from Jutkiewicz. It's reached the point where some fans have run out of patience with him. At least some good teamwork, and his goal - Blackburn must be sick of the sight of him this season - went some way to redeeming him. Personally, if fans had to get vitriolic about anyone today, it should have been Emnes; Mogga seems to have come no closer to "waking him up".

"The Bailey Question", as I'll now call it, seems no nearer to being answered. He was, admittedly, brought on near the end and deployed effectively in a 4-4-2 - Leadbitter, Bailey, Smallwood, Ledesma - as Boro saw the game out, but his arrival on the pitch seemed more out of necessity than anything else. I doubt he will want to be seen as merely a squad player, and the exit door is looking nearer and nearer for our much-praised midfield general. Perhaps it's a sign, however, that Mogga believes that Richie Smallwood is truly ready?

He may need to be. If Josh McEachran is out for a prolonged spell and Mogga does intend to sell Bailey, it could hit us hard. I'm also hoping the news on Andre Bikey isn't too bad; he's been a valuable presence in defence this season. On the other hand, Rolls Rhys' much-awaited return today may mean that's not as much of a loss as we think.

Onto Blackpool then. Like Blackburn, they too have slipped away after a great start, and will have a point to prove. But after the battering we experienced back in September, so will we. It's going to be an interesting encounter.

* * *

As an aside - intriguingly, we had the same amount of points and the same goal difference at this time last year; but with a stronger squad, and with less strong challengers around us, I'd say our chances of promotion are clearly stronger. Then again, Reading were eight points adrift of us this time last year, and look what happened...

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