Sunday, 3 May 2009

Going down with a whimper

For the second week in a row, faced with opponents amongst the best four in the league and the last four in Europe, Boro caved. The reputation earned for tweaking the nose of the rich and powerful seemed farcical as a half interested Manchester United cruised to three points with insulting ease.

Just as at the Emirates last Sunday, the entire gameplan was based on deep defence and hoping a goal could be plundered on the break. There were sporadic glimpses of attacking intent in the opening stages yesterday - John O'Shea did well to clear at the back post with Stewart Downing looming while Jeremie Aliadiere hit Ben Foster's legs with a tame effort. However, once Ryan Giggs had expertly slotted the ball into the bottom corner through a statuesque defence, the game was up.

If Boro had at least competed before the break, the second half performance was abysmal. United passed the ball round with an almost embarrassing ease. A simple run from Park Ji-Sung and a probing reverse pass from Wayne Rooney were enough to split the home defence wide open. Park didn't give Brad Jones a chance.

The rest of the game amounted to little more than a training exercise. United seemed able to score as many as they wished and merely settled for two as sufficient to complete the day's task. Rooney tormented Tony McMahon down the left before the full-back was withdrawn, and his replacement Matthew Bates stopped a third with a desperate block.

David Wheater battled manfully in the centre but was given little assistance by the alarmingly ponderous Robert Huth and an overworked midfield. Tuncay offered composure on the ball if little in the way of tactical discipline, leaving Matthew Bates to shuttle fruitlessly as Berbatov, Scholes and Giggs ferried the ball around the middle.

As an attacking force, Boro barely registered. Stewart Downing looks increasingly jaded by the responsibility of leading such an insipid, feckless outfit. Gary O'Neil is so patently disinterested it is a damning reflection on the rest of the squad that he is still selected. Marlon King was anonymous and Jeremie Aliadiere simply dire. Afonso Alves' second half appearance was his Boro career in microcosm - one twinkle-toed run ending in a stumble and a fall, one injury time free kick blasted woefully, embarrassingly off target.

With the club stubbornly sticking with a coaching staff and a set of players who have failed week after week, there seems little stomach for the fight. Its hard to see where the next goal is coming from, let alone the six or seven points that will surely be needed from the last three games to achieve an unlikely escape. The sense of enjoyment has evaporated from a crowd wallowing in muted resignation. When the club possesses neither the ability to win games nor the wit or intent to do anything to change matters, dissent seems pointless.

As Southampton, Norwich and Charlton contemplate life in League One, there can be no doubt the Championship can be tough going for Premier League alumni. With the club clearly no longer in a position to throw money at fixing the team, the fear is that, no matter how monotonously depressing this season has been, it may only be the tip of the iceberg. Whatever division we start next season in, there seems little hope of the drastic changes that are clearly needed.

Next Monday's game at Newcastle looms large on the horizon. A last chance to save ourselves, a game where failure would surely condemn Boro to relegation and maybe even give the barcoded hordes enough momentum to stagger to safety. After the meek performances of the last eight days, the worry is not whether we can win that fight, its whether we put up any fight at all.

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