Barnsley Chop: Boro Slump Still On Menu
DOES ANYONE want to escape this crazy division? Fragile Boro look like they don't. And the equally iffy teams above and around them appear to be locked in a grand conspiracy of ineptitude. Boro have lost five in a row and haven't taken a point in 2013 yet somehow remain in the place-off places and just six points from second.
That's the Championship for you. But we can't continue to rely on the incomptence of others. All it takes is one week for the results to swing disastrously against us and the gap above will yawn open while the pack behind will be on us and then every slip will really hurt. Teams will quickly start to claw past Boro. There is no more room for error if Boro are to stay in a play-off position this term.
Boro need to half the slide NOW. Five league defeats on the spin is the worst nosedive for 13 years. The last time that happened was back in 2000 and Terry Venables arrived the following week. That won't be happening again. Mogga is rock solid in his position and has the utmost confidence of the chairman and, when they calm down after another infuriating flop, the vast majority of fans too still.
There is however a growing sense of frustration abroad among the crowd. Frustration at the unpredictable selections and tactical shape-shifting, at the on-going brittle inability to keep a clean sheet or defend set-plays and at the scary sense of Boro being powerless to prevent a repeat of last season's second half slump.
Boro turned in a turgid first half display of sterile, stodgy sleep-walking. It was as poor a first 45 as we've seen all term - and with 13 defeats so far this term there is plenty of competition. They perked up after the break and it was a quite enteraining if very scrappy second half in which Boro regained control and got the frustrated fans back on board briefly then imploded again in a dismal display of disorganised defending.
All three goals against stemmed from either cheaply conceded possession or woeful individual errorrs. Or both. The second half goals came from easily avoided self-inflicted wounds: Boro failed to clear a routine long throw in to the box for the leveller and a poor back-pass (which could have been row Z-ed) was compounded by a Steele slip and recklessly gifted free-kick.
Rhys Williams is out of sorts and out of position and looks lost and unhappy at righ-back. On the other flank George Friend is still not back to his early season best after his injury and looks every inch a Doncaster player. Seb Hines? Had a mare. Only fast and furious firefighter Andre Bikey can hold his head up at the back.
It was the same in midfield. Nicky Bailey - elevated by those who would poke the manager by proxy to a tactical position of saviour in his absence - was sluggish and ineffective while Kieron Dyer looked like he hadn't played a lot of football over the last few years. There was no balance, no quality and no understanding. Grant Leadbitter can at least claim to have worked non-stop.
Up front, ditto. Mustapha Carayol can walk away having showed flashes of pace and penetration and having scored a goal despite his long lay-off but Emmanuel Ledesma - incredibly lucky to have kept his shirt after his awful show at Ipswich - again flattered to deceive and did his tricks and turns in harmless areas while Lukas Jutkiewicz beavered away but barely got into the box before being withdrawn. Curtis Main, also back after a long lay-off, scored and was more direct and was OK but no world-beater.
A lot of individuals were below par, the shape was awkward and morlae is clearly low. But there was none of the sense of urgency you would expect from a team in our position, knowing the stakes not just in this game but with the season in the balance.
Alarm bells are ringing. Boro have now leaked seven goals in two games to sides in the bottom four - to what had been the two lowest scoring teams in the division. Yes, Barnsley are in form and arrived having won five out of six but they were still in the bottom three for a reason: they are a very limited squad. And for the 25 minutes of the game when Boro were actually functioning they looked it.
Had Boro pressed home the advantage when they were on top we would be sitting pretty and celebrating. Had Boro been able to defend routine balls into the box, or clear their lines rather than play high-risk back-passes they would have hung on to claim a vital and potentially galvanising 'win ugly' three points.
As it is they folded under pressure again and now the season is in the balance with Neil bloody Warnock and Dity Leeds up next.....