Monday, 13 August 2007

Roque horror show

Boro's patched up backline demonstrate the concept of marking

Boro kicked off the new season with a curious display, showing considerable promise in the first half before folding dismally after the break. The £20m worth of sidelined defensive talent was conspicuous by its absence as Blackburn broke Boro's brittle backline without a great deal of effort.

The impressions from the first half were positive. Gareth Southgate's pre-season claims that the team would play more pacy, attacking football seemed to be coming to pass. One particularly rapid break early on should have ended in a debut goal for the generally impressive Jeremie Aliadiere, or 'the French lad' as he has been tagged by half-cut Boro fans. His early link-up play with Tuncay ('the Turkish feller') bodes well. There were also good chances for David Wheater, who has already demonstrated the potent threat his colossal height presents at set pieces. Julio Arca and Stewart Downing provided the creative heartbeat, just as they did during last season's promising post-Christmas period. Even George Boateng showed attacking intent.

The problem was that, despite so many positives, Blackburn went in at half time with half a chance. The only goal came from Stewart Downing's free kick, which eluded Friedel's drive after pantomime villain Robbie Savage wimped out of blocking the shot. Few of Boro's chances fell to the largely ponderous Yakubu. We must hope that the Nigerian's equally voluptuous partner/replacement Mido will provide more presence up front.

The game changed after the break. Boro, having been so assertive and vibrant in the first half, grew passive. Tuncay, Aliadiere and Yakubu became increasingly peripheral. Blackburn also demonstrated a level of strength in depth that we cannot boast at this stage.

The equaliser came after Benni McCarthy made his first meaningful contribution to the game by inexplicably collapsing in the middle of the pitch. The South African striker went down after an innocuous challenge by Davies. He was replaced by debutant Roque Santa Cruz, a man widely mocked in Germany for his inadequacy during a splinter-inducing decade on the Bayern Munich bench. Within two minutes, Downing's feeble efforts to block the cross were matched by Riggott's marking and Santa Cruz nodded in.

The warning was not heeded. Matt Derbyshire soon replaced the hopeless Jason Roberts, ran onto the pitch and curling an absolute peach past Schwarzer without the merest hindrance from the home side.

Friedel did well to save Wheater's header during a late scramble but it was too little, too late. Defeat clutched from the jaws of victory after a truly alarming second half display. Home defeats such as this do not bode well. The lumbering presence of Titus Bramble on the horizon provides some reassurance. A repeat of last season's victory at the JJB would be a huge morale boost. With no particularly difficult fixtures until October, Boro cannot afford to write games off until the likes of Woodgate return.

Player Ratings

Schwarzer 6
Not a great deal to do. Not much chance for either goal.
Davies 6 Same as usual - defending solid, distribution awful.
Taylor 6 Solid as ever.
Wheater 6
Shows some promise despite occasionally betraying inexperience.
Riggott 5 As the senior partner of the two centre backs, just not good enough.
Tuncay 6 Bright in the first half but increasingly sidelined. No real end product.
Downing 7* Kept going when the team flagged. Looked on form.
Boateng 7 Surprisingly positive going forward. Energtic riposte to his critics.
Arca 7 Excellent before the break but struggled to maintain influence.
Yakubu 6 Looked disinterested. Passing was patchy.
Aliadiere 7 Showed promise and real pace.

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