Saturday, 16 February 2013

Southern Exposure: Palace's Power Show Leaves Season In Real Danger

Forget reshuffling the Riverside.

Reshuffling the entire Boro squad - and dealing only the proudest, strongest hand every single time - would be much more of a good thing for the club as a whole.

Because there were no positives - NONE - to be taken from today. Boro were ruthlessly, brutally exposed, their promotion pretensions made a mockery of in the worst way possible.

If the Blackpool Battering was a blessing in disguise, setting the team off on a spectacular table topping run, the 4-1 triumph over Charlton was the exact opposite - it set Boro off on a downward spiral on their travels, in both the league and cup, that we have not been able to reverse.

A week after that match, we were top of the league. Since then, our away form has amounted to one win - a solitary, fortunate win - in nine games. With eight goals scored and twenty-one conceded. Our last two away games alone have seen us concede eight and score one - and our goal was a consolation.

Our New Year's Day trip to Pride Park could be written off as a hangover, a bad day at the office. Even after the Portman Road Pummelling, we could still console ourselves with the fact that we were still in touch with the top two, albeit miraculously, and we could make up some ground with the forthcoming home matches and the return of Carayol and Main. And for the most part, it worked - at least when we weren't all at sea in defence. Losing to the Tykes at home like we did was no laughing matter, but we could take some pride in a good second half spell and from coming from behind to lead, even if we did throw it away. Then came Leeds, and with it the spirit, passion, organisation and goal that we all thought would set us off and running again...

...and now we're back to square one, if not worse. Today it was as if Leeds never happened. And no matter how many times we tell ourselves, "Oh, but our goal hero from Tuesday was robbed of the chance to appear", "Oh, but Ian Holloway has us sussed (and it would appear he does - that's four convincing wins against Boro in a row for him now, with just two goals conceded and thirteen scored)...", and "Oh, but we couldn't cope with the pace and trickery of Zaha...", who are we really fooling but ourselves? This was an opportunity for us to take collective responsibility and restore all round pride in the team, win or lose. And we failed. Miserably.

My colleague Darren Beattie, a fellow Northern Irish Boro supporter who had the misfortune to be present at the game, spelled it out for me thus:

"Williams isn't the player we all thought he was. We should never have brought him back into a winning side. Parnaby and Halliday were both awful - the defence was ripped apart time and time again. Haroun was dreadful, as he has been all season. Dyer was dreadful too. McEachran didn't look interested. Carayol tried, but he wasn't good enough. Bailey, when he came on, actually showed a bit of commitment and desire. McEachran didn't look interested. We can't even string a pass together now. The wheels have well and truly fallen off."

I can't say I'm surprised. Especially when I hear the words "dreadful" and "Dyer" (dire?) in the same sentence. To me, Dyer comes across like Marlon King, a "new face" that hinders the team instead of injecting new life into it. And like King, he may well go on to score more crucial goals against us than for us. Haroun and McEachran are different cases altogether - I still believe they can be extremely useful players on their day, but not without the right kind of inspiration in midfield. And it doesn't seem to be coming from Leadbitter anymore. As long as the likes of Haroun, McEachran and even Halliday are not effectively supported, they will be luxuries - the sort of players Boro cannot afford.

What to do? Sacking Mogga is not the answer (despite the alarming regularity of "Mogga Out!" tweets), but the squad need to be reminded what's at stake. That no one can take their place in the team for granted, and if necessary, drastic changes will be made.

Rolls Rhys can be replaced by McManus, or even Hines. Adam Reach, Richie Smallwood and of course Nicky Bailey can start more often. Ditto Zemmama. Jutkiewicz can be replaced with Ishmael Miller. For every player that is failing or performing below par, there should always be someone more eager, more committed, waiting to take their place.

If this team want the privilege of playing in the Premiership, which is still - somehow - a possibility, then they've got to earn it. Every single week.

Let's hope that this message is relayed to our squad while this season can still be salvaged.

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