Sunday, 15 February 2009

Cup holds mixed fortunes

The opportunity of a fourth successive appearance in the last eight of the FA Cup remains. Victory against Premier League opposition remains elusive after profligate finishing and sloppy defending sullied another away day.

Once again, blame will be apportioned to record signing Afonso Alves. After an encouraging run of 4 goals in as many games in January, Alves has reverted to form over the past two weekends. Last week, Shay Given's performance may have offered some excuse. The criticism will be harder to deflect after this game. Alves was the chief culprit as Boro should have put the game to bed during the opening 20 minutes of the second half. Although he was unfortunate in some instances, the moment he shot wildly over the bar with Gary O'Neil and Stewart Downing queuing up to take a free shot at Robert Green betrayed a lack of confidence and questionable judgement.

It was Downing who had given Boro the lead after West Ham's opening flurry. O'Neil's cross should have been cut out but Downing continued his run to the far post and beat Green with a diving header. Although West Ham still had moments of danger (including a miss from David Di Michele that defied logic), Boro were looking increasingly comfortable. Didier Digard was a tenacious and imposing presence in midfield.

Unable to extend the lead, it was a familiar failure that allowed the equaliser. Savio's free kick somehow evaded the entire Boro defence. Herita Ilunga's task to head beyond Brad Jones from point blank range was straightforward.

The home games against Wigan and Liverpool will now sandwich a replay on Tuesday 24 February. The draw for the quarter finals takes place tonight and there's still a distressing Welsh contingent in the hat/perspex bowl. Boro will need to develop a hitherto unseen streak of ruthlessness if the Cup is to provide any relief from the grind of a relegation battle.

Man of the Match Stewart Downing

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