Sunday, 24 August 2008

Anfield of broken dreams

"Nice goal Mido. Now, nothing daft for the last 20 minutes lads..."

Well that was a sickener. Boro still haven't won at Anfield since 1976. Its hard to believe we've come much closer to breaking that depressing record in the last 32 years.

Still, there is still much to be optimistic about. For 85 minutes, Boro did a perfect job. Solid at the back, industrious in midfield and sharp up front, the team looked comfortable. Fernando Torres was marshalled far more effectively than in either encounter last season while Steven Gerrard was anonymous for large periods. Liverpool's widemen needn't have bothered turning up such was the scant attention paid to them by their team mates.

Once Ross Turnbull, a late replacement for finger-knack victim Brad Jones, had made a comfortable early save from Kuyt, Boro grew more assured. Andrew Taylor almost broke the deadlock with a stinging half volley athletically diverted over the bar by Jose Reina. Gary O'Neil's ceaseless running in the centre was crucial in disrupting Liverpool's flow. Even when Torres managed to squirm away from Huth, David Wheater was on hand to make an excellent intervention.

Having got to half time with the deadlock unbroken, Boro grew in confidence after the break. Mido's introduction in place of Afonso Alves prompted a period of ascendancy. One left wing cross from the Egyptian found Tuncay, back to goal and fifteen yards out. The Turk beat Jamie Carragher with an outrageous turn but unfortunately his finish was not off the same stellar quality.

That was not a problem for Mido twenty minutes from time. With the home defence retreating to the 18 yard box, the substitute launched an exocet of a shot past a helpless Reina from a good 25 yards. That lead could have been doubled had Jeremie Aliadiere shown more composure after rounding the onrushing goalkeeper.

Boro still looked in total control before Jamie Carragher took a potshot six minutes from time. The ball careered of Emanuel Pogatetz past a hapless Turnbull for a thoroughly undeserved equaliser. Worse was to follow in the dying embers of injury time. Wheater failed to gain purchase on his clearing header and the ball ricocheted into Gerrard's path. With depressing predictability, Gerrard lashed the ball unerringly into the top corner.

It was a fine performance despite the result. If Gareth Southgate can keep the bulk of this team fit and confident, it could be a memorable season. Two home games in five days against Yeovil Town and Stoke City are a big test. If these less glamorous opponents are despatched efficiently, then maybe we can all start to believe we've taken a step forward.

Player Ratings

Turnbull 8
No chance with goals - dealt with everything else with composure and authority.
Wheater 7 Solid again
Taylor 7 Tenacious display and almost scored a stunner
Pogatetz 7 Committed
Huth 6 Dominant in the air but cumbersome at times
Aliadiere 7 Prodigious running but lacked composure in the final third
Downing 7 Wasteful at times in good positions
O'Neil 8 Ceaseless running was crucial
Shawky 6 Solid without exerting much influence
Tuncay 7 Excellent workrate and some sparkling touches
Alves 6 Peripheral

Sub - Mido 8 Superb goal. Changed the game again.

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