Today was different. QPR comprehensively outplayed their visitors, and could, had they particularly wanted to, have added to the two goals they scored. For Boro, Kamara made a nuisance of himself, and was greatly helped by the introduction of Jutkiewicz in the second half, but the big comeback never really looked on.
But that doesn’t mean we were rubbish. It just means the other lot were better. Given Boro’s resources and recent history, we can’t expect to be living with teams that populate the No Man’s Land that consists of “not good enough for the Premier League but too rich for the Championship”.
There was actually a lot more pressing, higher up the pitch, than I remember in recent months. Whether that’s my memory, or a Hoops-specific tactic, I don’t know – but against lesser opponents it would have caused panic. It nearly did one on or two occasions today. But Clint Hill and Richard Dunne, while they’re never going to dominate Premier League strikers, can play their way round even persistent pestering from Kamara and Leadbitter.
Speaking of Kamara, I enjoy his workrate and enthusiasm. He needs, like Emnes, to be more proactive in actually propelling the ball towards the goal, but as a forward player he does what you could definitively call “a job”. The problem today was a lack of support – Adomah tried his best to come in from the right wing, but Leadbitter on the other side isn’t that much of an attacking player.
Sometimes the 4-5-1 formation comes with one deep central midfielder and two more advanced. Today it started the other way round, with Whitehead and Varga deep and Butterfield further up. I think you could have rotated these three to any of the positions, or moved one further forward, to no extra effect either way – the imbalance came with Leadbitter on the left. Mowbray tried to get Varga and Leadbitter to swap positions during the first half, but they didn’t really seem to totally grasp it and the Hungarian disappeared at half time.
This is where I start to differ with Mowbray’s approach. At 2-0 down, I honestly don’t care if we get beat by five or six – I want us to have a go at getting it back. OK, Jutkiewicz arrived to give the support I wanted for Kamara – but actually a bit of pace and directness might have done the job better. The obvious option to do that was Carayol, and indeed he looked like he was getting ready to come on before half time, but it never happened.
But all the way through, I didn’t feel that Boro were “clueless” or “pedestrian”, words I would readily have used around the time of the Strachan visit to Shepherd’s Bush. I’ll say it again – against lesser opposition, we would have had a much easier time. That may sound obvious, but it bears remembering in the context of the gulf in class and resources.
Ben Gibson stood out for special mention. It’s long been my opinion – out of step, again – that any defence containing Jonathan Woodgate is going to have to do more work than is strictly comfortable. Gibson, making only his second Championship start, seemed confident and competent, and gave the impression of being quite happy to run the show if required. He didn’t put a foot wrong, although an errant hand caused one of the less arguable penalty decisions you’ll ever see. With Rhys Williams showing Felipe Massa-like levels of post-injury long-term collapse in form, it’s pleasing to see a solid new central defender coming through and looking like he’s ready to be first choice.
Do I always understand what Tony Mowbray does? No. I didn’t always understand what Steve McClaren did, either, but more often than not it worked. At the moment, Mowbray is struggling for a formula that sits together. Before the game at Forest, I said to Rob Nichols that I thought we just needed a proven striker – and then the defence folded, while we scored five from open play in two games. It’s like fixing a leaky tank – just when you get the putty set in one place, you notice a drip on the other side.
But that, I suspect, is what comes from having a middling second division side. At risk of sounding very old indeed (yes, again), the section of Middlesbrough’s support with short-ish memories, whether through youth or choice, has been spoilt by the now-defunct ‘Riverside Revolution’. The period from 1994 to 2006 was a glorious, out-of-character spell. The current situation is more like normality.
Unfortunately, the “Sky Sports era” doesn’t lend itself to the continuity and stability that Steve Gibson usually likes to encourage. A sizeable chunk of the support clearly thinks that changing the manager whenever results aren’t right is the way to go. I’d prefer to save it for terminal cluelessness or downright unpleasantness (that’s a double whammy for you, Gordon). Given the choice, I’d sooner support a financially-stable Middlesbrough in the third division with Tony Mowbray as manager, then a club on the edge, dependent on the banks, scrabbling for Premier League survival with [insert rent-a-manager here]. But I suspect that leaves me out of step again.