Sunday, 1 November 2009

Grim start for Strachan

Gordon Strachan's reign as Boro boss has begun with dispiriting defeat. Plymouth Argyle, struggling in penultimate position in the Championship before yesterday's game, earned a 1-0 win as Boro once again laboured in front of their home fans.

An improved crowd of 21,141 turned up for the start of a new era but the all too familiar failings that cost Gareth Southgate his job were clear for all to see. If Strachan is to succeed, he needs to find some quick solutions to a defence prone to costly lapses of concentration and an attack incapable of breaking down opponents who sit deep.

The new manager struck a surprise by deploying Julio Arca on the right side of midfield, while Emanuel Pogatetz returned in place of the mysteriously absent Joe Bennett. New loan signing Marcus Bent was restricted to the bench.

The pattern of the game was quickly established. Plymouth sat deep but showed both defensive resilience and nimble counter attacking that belied their poor league position. Boro enjoyed greater possession and territory but, apart from an early chance for Marvin Emnes that was well blocked, Romain Larrieu was rarely tested. Indeed, the Pilgrims' attempts to exploit the rustiness of Pogatetz looked far more ominous.

Despite a long pause as Pogatetz departed with a nasty looking facial injury, Boro started the second half much better. While evidently unfit, Marcus Bent provided a much more robust presence up front than Emnes although he did head wide from an inviting cross. Even Arca briefly sparkled with one twinkle toed run teeing up Wheater for a scuffed shot that Larrieu eventually stopped.

An opening goal seemed inevitable. Unfortunately, it came in front of the largely deserted South Stand. A long punt upfield was met by Jamie Mackie, who somehow evaded David Wheater to slot past Jones. It was an appalling error of judgement by the Boro captain, whose lack of progress since his breakthrough year is a growing concern.

Wheater's partner Sean St Ledger enjoyed one of the better performances of his loan spell, frequently bringing the ball out of defence to try and spark a lethargic Boro side into life. There should have been an equaliser after one such surge, when the referee generously awarded a spot kick when St Ledger tumbled under pressure after playing a one-two with Leroy Lita. However, Adam Johnson failed to test Larrieu, his kick glancing the outside of the keeper's left hand post. Despite seven minutes of injury time, a Bent header glanced wide was the best Boro could muster. For the fourth time in five games, Boro left the Riverside with no points and no goals.

The defeat leaves Boro one spot outside the play-off zone and they could slip further before next weekend's trip to Crystal Palace. Boro's abject home form (seven goals and seven points from eight fixtures) is reaching crisis levels. Unless its solved, and solved quickly, even the play-offs could be beyond Gordon Strachan. If the new man wasn't aware of the task in front of him before Saturday, he surely will be now.

No comments: