High Anxiety: Boro Stung by Bees
By Rob Nichols
Sunday 01 Oct 2017 11:45:00
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A dreadful performance by Boro at the Riverside saw us get out of jail not once but twice after the visitors, Brentford, were almost gifted goals. Ironic then that a refereeing performance as woeful as Boro’s team play denied us a stonewall penalty in injury time that could have seen us snatch all the points. What is equally worrying is the poisonous atmosphere developing. Thank goodness for the international break when Garry Monk and his players can pause, assess and come back with a new plan to get this stuttering season back on the rails again.

After his costly mistake on Tuesday night young England defender, Dael Fry was taken out of the line-up and replaced by Ryan Shotton, making his debut in the heart of defence. Garry Monk resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes but the one player that did impress v Norwich, Martin Braithwaite, was brought in to replace Lewis Baker.  No start for the experience of Grant Leadbitter, although there are questions over his fitness presently and again no place in the squad for Stewart Downing. We would really miss both of them.

After all the criticism of slow starts and giving away early goals or red cards I thought Boro would fly out of the traps yet we looked disjointed and out of sorts from the off. It was an error strewn opening for Boro that set the pattern for much of the contest. Even normally assured players such as captain Gibson and Clayton were giving the ball away.

Brentford haven’t beaten Boro in a lifetime or more, our record is incredibly strong against the Bees of west London but that counts for nothing when you are gifting goals. Their big number 29, Barbet, was left in acres of space to head home a free kick past Darren Randolph. It was a horrendous defensive mix up and once again meant we faced an uphill task of having to come from behind. That is four league matches in a row now where we have conceded the first goal. Mind you, it could have been worse, did my eyes deceive me or did Adam Clayton blatantly trip a Brentford forward in the box early in the game? The whole North Stand took a collective intake of breath, it was almost as if we could not believe what we had witnessed but the referee hadn’t.

Boro did have some good moments, Martin Braithwaite looked full of energy and ability, really impressing in his first start since his picking up an injury in the first game of the season. He did create and threatened to score, firing narrowly wide. Both Traore and Johnson seem to be suffering confidence issues, not always helped when fans get on their backs. But both players did get to the by-line while Traore’s crossing did hit the right zone, Johnson was way over the mark. As for the box, Boro were struggling to get enough players into the box in support of Assombalonga, who was left fighting a losing battle.

Garry Monk brought on Ashley Fletcher for Traore at half time and the forward certainly brought more fizz into our attack, supporting Britt at pace and forcing Brentford into retreat.

Boro were still struggling in the centre, where the odds and numbers were always stacked against Clayton and Jonny Howson. Odds that were made worse by Howson having inherited the unwanted title of boo boy target. Fortunately, the player is experienced enough to play through this extra weight on his shoulders and was one of the few that never hid away from the ball.

Adam Clayton looked as off colour as I have ever seen him. Boro were suffering high anxiety and it was transferring itself to the stands where supporters were tearing their hair out and tearing strips out of the players as they blundered through another half.

Fabio suddenly clicked into gear and led the fightback. His charge, streaming forward the length of the field, took the attack to the visitors and forced them to concede a free kick. Boro have been winning a lot of corners and free kicks lately without really doing anything with them. For once we made a dead ball count, as first Ryan Shotton and then Ben Gibson nodded on and Martin Braithwaite lashed home from close range. 1-1.

Could that be a season saving goal? Despite Boro pressing for a second we surrendered possession to Brentford all too soon. In a sweeping move we were badly caught out by a raid down their right. The cross came over and Watkins dived in to prod the ball home. 1-2 and another disaster for Boro.

Yet just as against QPR Boro summoned all their grit and determination to bounce back a second time. We owed it all to two players, the much-maligned Jonny Howson refused to be forced off the ball as he barrelled his way into the box where right back Fabio had raced the length of the park to provide the final finish.

Talking of QPR, could Boro now go on to repeat that 3-2 scoreline? They probably should have left it to Fabio who seemed to be having no trouble in passing Bees players. Despite the efforts of Fletcher, sub Bamford and Howson Boro could not force the ball home again.

Then deep into stoppage time, Cyrus Christie cut inside at pace only for his heels to be clipped and he was sent tumbling to the ground. An obvious penalty (in fairness as obvious as that first half trip by Clayton). Yet, all we earned was a yellow card for the protests.

So, at full time it was 2-2. It was another two points dropped but it could have been so, so much worse. Garry Monk now has a big task working out how to rid the team of the anxiety and get them flowing as a team again.

We played like strangers for much of the game. A friend text me after the game saying that the whole team had the touch of Michael Ricketts. The atmosphere was poisonous at times with fans screaming at our own players, the frustration is understandable, but it isn’t going to help.

The more seasoned amongst us know that there were periods under several Boro managers from McClaren, to Southgate, Strachan and Mowbray where players seemed to fear playing at the Riverside. Not opposition players but our own. We cannot afford that to happen again or we will be facing up to years playing in this division.

Manager Garry Monk has to bring this team back after the break with renewed confidence and application. The next match is at Barnsley and we all know that players and manager have to exit the field beside a full away end. If we are not on our game, Garry Monk and his players will be left in no doubts about the thoughts and fears of the fans.

Two weeks is a long time to fester, so thankfully we didn’t lose back to back games. We need to look very deep into the problem. It isn’t just all about individuals but individuals have suddenly started playing badly. We seemed to be most successful with experienced pros like Leadbitter and Downing in the heart of the mix. In fact, we have surely been far too quick to dispense with the passing skills of Stewart Downing and we probably need the leadership of Grant Leadbitter.

The season is not over but we badly need this pause for the international break to hit the re-set button. We need to come back firing on all cylinders. We need to come back as a team again. That means on and off the park. Come On Boro

Middlesbrough 2-2 Brentford – scorers Braithwaite and Fabio


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