Soapbox on Middlesbrough: bouncing back from our ‘had-to-happen’ moment

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?

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13 thoughts on “Soapbox on Middlesbrough: bouncing back from our ‘had-to-happen’ moment”

  1. Jones, Cisse, Bendtner and now Wickham… Ambling, bored, immobile and lazy front men… When will it end!
    Prove me wrong Connor… Prove me wrong.

  2. Two on loan and off the radar loan signings so far ,not exactly setting the world on fire is Mr O Neill,lets hope he pulls a centre forward out of the hat before the deadline.

    Not that i am too downhearted with MON’s arrival its been like having 15 new signings

    • Agreed. Bridge not a bad player and will be nice to have a recognised left back for the first time in what feels like decades. Unsure about Kyrgiakos though – he looked terrible from what I saw of his time at Liverpool and now can’t even get a game in Germany.

      Still lots of rumours about Heskey, especially as Davies now unlikely.

  3. It was announced on TV last night (on bbc’s Late Kick Off with the ever annoying Clem) by some journalist that we have made a bid for Kevin Davies of Bolton and he’ll sign today. Not sure about that- he’s a bit past it- although with all our injuries he’s better than nothing! Also possibly 2 more signings to follow today as well, though he seemed less convinced they’d go through and wouldn’t say who they were. We’ll see. Hopefully some defensive cover.

    • Davies not on board, but I couldnt agree more about Clem. How did he get the gig ? He spoils what could be a decent programme about N E football.

  4. Wickham didn’t have one of his better games on Sunday, but if he is out for Wednesday, with no Bendtner either it will be interesting to see what MON’s strategy is. Campbell probably isn’t fit enough for a full 90 minutes yet, Ji seems too lightweight to me to take on the target man role and Noble is at Pride Park. With a threadbare defence, if Catts and Vaughan are also out then it will be a real test of the squad and MON’s management.

  5. Agree with above comment on that I feel more confident these days allowing opposition to have the ball and hit them on the counter-attack. Boro will have to go for it at home you feel and this may suit us. MON will certainly have to address the lack of creativity offered by us when we aren’t counter-attacking and have the responsibility of breaking teams down ourselves, though that can probably wait until the summer.
    You have to feel happy for Campbell, I’m genuinely buzzing for him as he seems like a nice lad, and he was proving important to us before his injury. He must still be floating in the air somewhere after his goal.

  6. Because of the immediate impact of Martin O’Neill, too many of our fans, and seemingly a few of our players, thought we just had to turn up to beat Boro, which was arrogant and disrespectful. Hopefully this game will act as a warning sign that if we start to get cocky we will get caught out. We have done so well under MON to date because we have fought every game from start to finish. With key players now out injured, that commitment and desire needs to be higher than ever.

  7. Good summary.Mowbray will though be a bit downhearted ,but for one sloppy backpass they’d be through.He must worry about the replay,though from our point of view if we do not beat a Championship side over 2 games something will have gone seriously wrong.

    I d feel Boro missed their chance to be honest.Though no disrespect, they payed very well,with Emnes and Haroun both providing plenty worries for us too.

  8. Just read that David Vaughan is out for a few weeks with an ankle injury after being clattered by a Boro player on Sunday. Some of the tackling was a bit too fierce for my liking.
    With Wes Brown and Lee Cattermole having scans, we are looking a bit light on players.
    Time for Turner and Meyler to step up and show MON what they are made off, I think. Meyler v Robson could be a tasty one next week.

    • I don’t think Meyler is fancied by O’Neill. I think Gardner was a dead cert to start on Sunday regardless of whether or not Cattermole was fit (we’ll never know) as O’Neill appears to want to keep him fairly happy and this would have been a good fixture to give him game time. Once Catts became injured, Meyler may well have came in as a like for like replacement but it was Vaughn who played. This is just my theory of course as Vaughn plays most games and i think i’m in the minority. If Cattermole was injured suddenly, you just wouldn’t think Gardner would be a direct placement as the whole team shape would have to be altered last minute. Now Colback is fit i just don’t see Meyler in his plans, he is the only player that you would call a first teamer who O’Neill hasnt really spoken to the media about in great length. Meyler/Robson would be tasty but not sure we’ll see it. Shame.

  9. Thanks for a balanced report. If Lee Cattermole is attracting criticism at the SOL, perhaps MON would consider sending him to the Riverside on loan. He would cut a swathe through any Championship midfield. The referees have a much more relaxed attitude to robust play as Marvin Emnes would attest.

    I wonder whether Mr Cattermole will suffer another last minute injury just before the replay. A back strain perhaps?

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