Thursday, 5 March 2009

Back down to earth

Brad does his jazz hands to no avail

Well that didn't last long, did it? The goodwill created by last week's victories over West Ham and Liverpool was all but erased by last night's 4-0 humping at White Hart Lane. The frugality of recent weeks disappeared as a rampant Tottenham took at aim at a horribly exposed Brad Jones. Boro conceded as many goals in ninety minutes last night as in the last seven matches.

Perhaps things may have been different had Tuncay not been the victim of a marginal offside decision with the score at 1-0. But that cannot conceal a desperate defensive display, which Gareth Southgate made no attempt to excuse. The first goal was the result of familiar failings from a set piece and two more goals came before half time after missed tackles left Jones helpless. Robert Huth, the stalwart of last week's clean sheet hat trick, had a miserable evening and did not emerge for the second half. The table makes for worrying reading, with only the unexpected three points accrued on Saturday keeping Boro in touch with the pack.

With ten games left, points need to be accrued fast. With 26 points on the board, its likely a minimum of four wins will be required. The best chance will come over the next five games - home games against Portsmouth, Hull City and Fulham sandwiching trips to Stoke City and Bolton Wanderers. Its imperative that a position of relative comfort is achieved by teatime on 19th April as the final five game look foreboding. The run-in includes only two home games - against Manchester United and Aston Villa - plus a trip to Champions League chasing Arsenal. The 'easier' games are at Newcastle and, on the last day, at West Ham - neither being particularly fruitful venues in the recent past.

With such a crucial time coming up, the fact that we're 90 minutes from playing at Wembley seems almost incidental. It still seems some way off - Everton are in resolute form and must be heavy favourites to win Sunday's quarter final. Its a stark contrast to 12 months ago, when Boro caved under the weight of expectation against Cardiff. Defeat when it almost certainly comes will at least be low-key and thoroughly predictable. That's consolation, of sorts.

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