Saturday, 12 January 2013

Vicious Vydra Stings Beleaguered Boro

What is it about Boro and January?

By game's end, the question wasn't so much "How on earth did we lose that game?" as "How on earth did we fizzle out like that?" No living Boro fan could possibly have understood how a performance worthy of champions, featuring lots of determined, attractive passing play, could metamorphose into something so sloppy and non-descript - except if you were a Watford fan.

Hang on... let's rewind a little. I said, "a performance worthy of champions", and I pretty much meant it, in every area... except when, where and to whom it mattered most.

The return of Grant Leadbitter, George Friend, Josh McEachran, Scott McDonald and Faris Haroun should give any team a boost. And sure enough, Boro bossed the game for virtually the entire half, stroking it around in the same manner that carved Sheffield Wednesday to shreds and sent us top of the table on that glorious Friday night in November.

Unfortunately, Gianfranco Zola's Watford are no Sheffield Wednesday. With our midfield's exquisite passing range and Leadbitter's deadly corners no longer a secret, they sucked the life and the confidence out of Boro with as good a defensive display as we have seen from any visiting side this season. Even so, and even with the handicap of Nicky Bailey at right-back, Boro had enough chances to establish a comfortable lead by the break. Scott McDonald fired in a shot that was too easy for Manuel Almunia to save when he should have passed it to his left, virtually nothing that Lukas Jutkiewicz tried was coming off - when he wasn't getting muscled out by the Watford backline, it appeared he was giving everyone else a lesson in how to balloon the ball - and even when McEachran managed to wiggle his way into a good shooting position, he slipped at the crucial moment. In fact, just about the only Boro attacker who struck the ball properly in the entire first half was Emmanuel Ledesma, and his shot was fisted away by Almunia minutes before the break.

Then, it happened. Apart from nearly scoring an own goal earlier in the game, and even that could be called "a very brave clearance", Rolls Rhys Williams had done nothing wrong - that is, until he nipped in to intercept a ball that he should have left to Jason Steele. Unfortunately for him and Boro, Matej Vydra was lurking, and you know the rest.

It happened right on the stroke of half-time.

And it happened to our captain.

The psychological effects were unprecedented, devastating, but in a way, obvious. Rhys's devastation spread to the rest of the team, and the composed fluency of the first half was a thing of the past in the second half. Slowly but surely, Steele, who hadn't had a save to make in the first forty-five minutes, found himself called into action repeatedly, and Watford began to dictate in an almost embarrassingly easy manner while Boro looked both sloppy and panicky. We never really tested Almunia in the final forty-five, and it was left for Vydra to put us out of our misery before McDonald finally scored... about an hour too late. 

All three of our home defeats this season have come with ready made excuses. We lost to Leicester because of a late deflected goal... if Sian Massey had actually seen that ball cross the line, things might have been different against Bristol City... if only Rhys had left the ball to Steele, or just hoofed it away... if only... if only...

The truth is, we lost all three games because we can't score. However unfair it may seem to play so much excellent attacking football and go unrewarded, that is how things will be, and continue to be, if there's no end product. And it's not a problem we can afford to take time over solving if we want to keep our promotion dream alive.

Next stop, Leicester. And judging by the way our front line is functioning at the minute, it will take a miracle to prevent our rivals doing the double over us and completing our second miserable January in a row.

Fingers crossed...

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