Sunday, 22 November 2009

Forest stump Boro

Gordon Strachan is still waiting for his first victory after another concerning afternoon at the Riverside. After a promising start, Boro reverted to bad old habits and were fortunate to escape with a point. Boro have taken just four points from the last six home games, failing to score in four of them.

Strachan made further changes to his team, replacing both full-backs, recalling Julio Arca and a masked Emanuel Pogatetz, pushing Rhys Williams into the back four and handing a debut to Dave Kitson up front. The reshuffle paid off almost immediately as Boro took an early lead. Adam Johnson found an unmarked Arca and, although Lee Camp managed to stop his shot, the Forest keeper's limp wristed parry gave Leroy Lita an easy chance.

For the opening half hour Boro looked comfortable, although clear-cut chances were still at a premium. Defenders snapped into tackles while Isaiah Osbourne and Gary O'Neil ferried the ball around midfield sharply and accurately. As half time dawned, Boro loosened their grasp on their game and were indebted to Brad Jones for maintaining the lead at half time. The oft maligned keeper blocked magnfiicently when Dele Adebola took advantage of a slip by Sean St Ledger to send David McGoldrick.

The limp end to the first half set the tone for a depressing second 45 minutes, during which Forest completely dominated. The equaliser had been coming long before the 73rd minute when Rob Earnshaw clipped a free kick into the gaping left-hand corner of Brad Jones' net. At the other end, Lee Camp was a spectator. Kitson and Lita were starved of service and struggled to hold the ball up - their replacements, Marcus Bent and Jonathan Franks, fared little better.

With automatic promotion an increasingly remote possibility, even the play-offs may be beyond Boro based on their current form. The points earned in the early weeks of the season, with a defence marshalled by former captain Robert Huth and an attack sprinkled with Tuncay cameos, have given the current squad an artificial position in the top half of the table.

Since the double sale to Stoke, Boro's record reads P13 W4 D3 L6 F16 A18 Pts15. Over the whole season, that kind of form would leave Boro two-thirds down the table at best, looking nervously over their shoulders. There are severe systemic flaws with the current team and Gordon Strachan is being left to perform major surgery mid-season after being parachuted in. It is going to take more than a few weeks on the training ground to sort out a nervy defence and tepid attack or the stodgy, unimaginative home performances that have pockmarked 2009.

When opponents can neutralise the threat of Adam Johnson, as Forest did by fair means and foul, Boro are worryingly limited. The vast turnover of players reflects the attempts of two managers to find short term solutions to underlying issues. Boro are wasteful, timid and uninspired on the ball, particularly at the Riverside, and have been for at least a year. Too many players make the wrong decisions at crucial moments at both ends. There is a fundamental lack of resilience and quality in the squad. Of the current top fifteen teams in the division, Boro have beaten only one (Swansea City, way back on the second weekend of the season).

It is a long road back to the Premier League from here.

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