Boro Mauled In Lion's Den
STATiSTICS eh? Boro had the lion's share of possesion and far more chances - but out of maybe a dozen shots on target nine were tame and straight at their keeper. From the best chances Boro failed to even hit the target: Haroun sent aneasy header screwiing wildly away from six yards out then Marvin out-did him by spooning over from eight yards with time and space.
In contrast, Millwall soaked it up, knocked some telling balls down Boro's exposed and inviting flanks and put in crosses that caused chaos. Bang, bang, bang. An impressive and organised side playing to their strengths. Boro in contrast are a team still evolving. Some of the component parts are in place - the passing and movement is a joy at times and we are creating chances - but unless they are shaped into a more clinical weapon quickly we wil find ourself adrift.
Still, early days. No panic. Read on...
BORO'S mauling at Millwall was a deflating way to go into the international break.
After three solid wins on the bounce, all showing flashes of a potent new approach, Tony Mowbray's reshaped side had created a bit of a feelgood factor and were expected to continue their steady progress at the New Den against a side that had yet to win - or even score - at home this term.
In fact they were given a brutal lesson in functional football and playing to your strengths.
Boro passed and probed and had long spells of patient possession and weaved some pretty patterns in dangerous areas to pick open the Millwall defence with some success.
They had the lion's share of the game, carved out a dozen good chances and had 10 shots on target but the vast majority were tame efforts straight at the keeper from the edge of the box or further out. The best opportunities went begging as Haroun screwed a close range header wildly off target and Emnes missed a sitter, scooping over from eight yards out.
Millwall in contrast were outplayed for long spells but they soaked up the pressure, ruthlessly exposed the gaps down Boro's exposed and inviting flanks to hit some devastated crosses into the box that caused serial chaos.
And when it mattered, Millwall had teeth. They had far fewer chances but hit the target with venom more often. Bang! Bang! Bang! They made their crucial moments count.
Boro need to learn those lessons quickly if they are to fulfill the potential of this season and meet the high expectations of the fans.
The team need to do better in both boxes: they must make their spells of superiority count. They must start to convert more of their golden opportunities and turn possession and chances into goals - and at the other end they must start to deal with the crosses.
In every Championship game so far - and both Capital One Cup games away at Bury and Gillingham - a fledgling team still in flux have struggled to prevent, contain and deal with crosses, corners and dead-balls into the box.
That vulnerability has made it impossible to close out games they have dominated. The wins over Burnley and Crystal Palace served up tense finales and even the League Cup wins at Bury and Gillingham were far from comfortable late on.
Boro have yet to keep a clean sheet in the Championship this term. In four games they have conceded seven goals.
Mowbray recruited the classy Jonathan Woodgate to play alongside Rhys Williams in a unit that looked to tick a lot of boxes and threatened to be the best in the division before the Aussie's unfortunate injury.
Throw in the impressive solidity of George Friend - who has grow in confidence and competence with every game and the pacy and attacking outlet offered by last year's terrace target Justin Hoyte and you have a decent back-line - yet it remains porous.
At Millwall that was partly down to the fragility of the misfiring midfield where too many had off days. Although Boro had a lot of fruitless possession it was squandered too cheaply at times as moves broke down with a poor touch. And when Millwall broke forward it was largely uncontested. They were given free reign to get wide and pump crosses in and runners got to the edge of the box unchallenged.
Faris Haroun was poor. The Belgian, a flawed fans' favourite, has good days when his physicality and energy help him impose himself and bad days when his poor first touch and poor decisions let him down. This was a bad day.
Merouane Zemmama had a bright start with some sublime slotted balls but faded and his passing went awry to concede possession too cheaply.
And Josh McEachran was anonymous in the first half although he did perk up later on - ironically after the Millwall fans targeted him for systematic booing after he took a theatrical tumble looking for a penalty, an act that could easily have earned a second yellow card for him.
Up front it wasn't great either. Emnes was a decent outlet in the first half and made several searing slaloming runs, put in some good crosses and, of course slotted in a penalty, but his missed sitter late on summed up a lack of clinical edge in front of goal and he failed to form any kind of partnership with Ishmael Miller.
The big lad, newly signed by Mowbray, looks well short of match fitness and is a fraction out of synch with the match. But it'll come.
So Millwall wasn't great. But neither was it a disaster.
We must be wary of any knee-jerk over-reactions. It is hard to draw any conclusions after four games - two of which Boro won - let alone feel certain enough of those conclusions to hit the alarm bells.
After Millwall the gaffer said the start to the season has been 'average' after two wins and two defeats - although he noted the form from last year has been flipped. Boro have won both games at home and lost both on the road.
There is a jittery current in the crowd who think 'average' is too positive a spin and who see the early signs of a crisis, who want a change of course, believe the summer recruits are not up to it or that the team does not have the ability to take the next step forward, to develop a killer touch.
But we can't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
This is a team that is still evolving, a unit with 10 new signings that has yet to gel.
After two years of Mowbray's trying to get the best out of an inherited squad - successfully it must be said - the gaffer has finally had a chance to recruit a group he feels able to reflect his enterprising approach.
We have already seen that in flashes. This new look Boro have played some scintillating football for 30, 45, 60 minutes at a time and imposed themselves on games with panache.
The lack of pace, width and creativity have been tentatively addressed, though we have yet to see the best of new recruits Carayol, Ledesma or McEachran. And there have been plenty of goals shared around - some pearlers too - with the talented kids hinting at big things to come. There is much to offer excitement and optimism
This is a team that is still evolving. Some of the component parts are already in place - the passing and movement is a joy at times and we are creating chances - but it is far from the finished product.
Boro still need the rearguard to settle and gel and learn to shut up shop and still need to click up front so the polished possession and fluid movement can be shaped into a clinical and potent weapon.
But it will come. It is early days yet. We need to be patient. Progress may be slow. It will certainly not be smooth. There will be set-backs, defeats and no guarantee of success.
But we should celebrate the progress made so far, understand it may be a long haul and try to enjoy the journey.