Stuttering Start Spoils Sunshine Script
WELL that didn't go to script did it? Expectations were high among the squad after a productive pre-season of building, bonding and box-ticking and even the more cynical fans let their guards drop to become swollen with August optimism again. A nice short-haul holiday trip to the scene of Boro's best display last term encouraged a mass migration South encouraged 3,800 fans to travel. Mido was out injured so that inevitable goal was ruled out... what could possibly go wrong?
Boro were sluggish and laboured in all departments and were out-worked by a side that most pundits have pencilled in for a relegation battle. They failed to grab control of midfield, failed to keep or use the ball well, failed at the back to get a grip of an average looking Championship front-line and failed at the other end to hurt Barnsley. Boro had five or six low shots fly wide in the first half but not a single one on target then in a frantic finale had a flurry of efforts blocked without ever fashioning a clear cut chance.
Barnsley in contrast repeatedly carve Boro open - the defence were clunky and creaky and flat-footed - and but for Jason Steele could have been left red-faced. Boro's keeper made three superb saves from Craig Davies and other blocks from Mellis and Perkins and at times was left woefully exposed.
So it was a stuttering and disappointing display - in front of a massive crowd, typical! - but despite the deflated return journey it wasn't a disaster. There's a long way to go and the team is barely bedded in, there were four Championship debutants today, and the lack of goal threat is not overly a worry. Yet.
A lively team with width and pace and zest and scored a shedful in pre-season . That team didn't turn out today so the return of that fatal flaw of a flaccid frontline today may be more to do with the experimental and unconvincing shape and the personnel on the day and the internal exile of Scott McDonald. Those issues can all be tweaked and resolved while the on-going talks with Fuller could yet add a bit more physicality up front.
It is early days yet and despite some nervous kneejerk squeals of disillusionment and a few cataclysmic predictions of doom, there is no problem. To dip into the big bag of football cliches it is a marathon not a sprint. But a slip up on the openibg day dents the pre-season optimism and stokes up the pressure for the coming home games.