All bubbles burst. Our didn’t quite evaporate but the 1-1 draw against Boro not only sets up a tricky replay but reminds us that even Martin O’Neill’s powers have their limits. Over to Pete Sixsmith …
I suppose it had to happen. After eight games where we have seen a real improvement in the team, we slipped back to our pre-O’Neill days with a particularly disappointing first half performance. It got better in the second half and off we go to Teesside next week for what could be a difficult replay.
Unlike some Premier League teams, we did not rest players, the manager did not make comments on how it was about time the club won a trophy and the crowd was a reasonable one, given the fact that we were playing lower league opposition and that game was on terrestrial TV.
However, the absence of two players who have come in for criticism this season reinforces Joni Mitchell’s words from Big Yellow Taxi – “You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”. Both Lee Cattermole and Nicholas Bendtner were big misses for us.
Cattermole would not have allowed Barry Robson to dictate the early stages of the game and I am confident that he would have grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and driven us on.
That is no criticism of Craig Gardner, who had a decent game, but who is less aggressive than Cattermole. The homesick Brummie was unlucky to have a well taken goal chalked off for an impossible offside decision given against Connor Wickham – although there may have been a suspicion of handball (irony, before any Boro fans get too agitated).
Wickham looked out of sorts from the start of the game and allowed the impressive Bates and Hines to settle far too easily. He appeared to be having trouble with his knee and it is to be hoped that this is not a serious long term injury.
Bendtner would have been able to pull the defenders round a wee bit and create space for Sessegnon and McClean to take advantage of. At least, he would have been able to do so in theory …
Other than that, we were a bit flat. John O’Shea, who has looked so cool, calm and collected in recent weeks, made two basic errors to give the ball to Robson. He promptly whacked in a goal of Seb Larsson quality to give Boro the lead and they looked comfortable for the rest of the half.
The introduction of Fraizer Campbell pepped up the crowd and our forward line and when Robson decided to atone for taking advantage of O’Shea’s error by giving the ball away, Campbell slid home McClean’s pinpoint cross to level the scores.
I thought he was going to run out of the stadium, do two lengths of the next door swimming pool and then complete his lap of honour in Southwick, so excited was he. It was a great reward for a player who has spent the last 18 months recovering from injury.
After that, both sides had chances but the general feeling was that it was a fair result, with both sides able to make justifiable claims for running out winners on points.
Tony Mowbray would have been happier with the result than MON. Boro kept their shape well and were set up for a battling performance, which they produced. They passed well and, although they looked a bit short up front, will probably fancy their chances at home. Those chances will come if we are as lacklustre again as we were in those vital opening minutes on Sunday.
I would imagine that MON is spending today looking at scouting reports on centre forwards. We are short of options up front and as it looks like Bendtner is out for six weeks, with Wickham struggling, Campbell working his way to fitness and Ji looking lightweight. Kevin Davies may well be a reasonable option for the rest of this season, although he is cup tied having played against the mighty Macclesfield Town in round three.
So, a busy couple of weeks are looming. Norwich on Wednesday, our annual visit to the Potteries Municipal Incinerator on Saturday and then a replay in the Land of Smog on whichever night ITV decide they want to cover the game and then the first of two visits by Arsenal (we hope).
By Valentine’s Day, our season may well be defined. We could be in the top eight, the fifth round of the Cup and celebrating a new scoring sensation at centre forward – or we could be looking over our shoulders again, ruing our departure from the cup and moaning about our short term new striker.
Never a dull moment is there?