Boro Second Best as Villa Romp Home
By Robert Nichols
Sunday 02 Dec 2018 12:28:00
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Boro fans choked on their tea time entertainment as Aston Villa came, saw and heavily defeated Boro in a 3-0 mauling at the Riverside. It wasn't quite a repeat of the counter attacking lesson handed out by Karanka's Nottingham Forest in the 2-0 reverse in October. Boro were not immediately brushed aside as we competed for a large part of the game. However, what makes it even more telling is that we started with a more or less full strength side (Shotton apart) and we were dealt a big, big blow and made to look very firmly second best in front of our own fans.

The normally quite excellent Darren Randolph will have to hold his hands up for two of the three Villa goals. His hand was held high but flapped through the air on completely the wrong flight path for the corner that led to Villa's opener.

Substitute Glenn Whelan would not have been able to believe his luck, when in the final minutes, Randolph fumbled his grass cutter into the corner of the net for a third goal. Ironically Jordan Hugill had blasted against the crossbar seconds earlier. If that had gone in could Boro have mounted a late charge for an undeserved share of the spoils? A bit like against Derby County.

But in between times, the visitors were on a different level with their crisp passing, movement off the ball and continual goal threat. Bolasie and the impressive duo of Jack Grealish and McGinn had us back-peddling throughout. Their pull backs to the penalty spot were always into a zone busy with onrushing attackers and midfielders. The eleven working very much as team.

We must be fair to Randolph, he has had a quite superb season and indeed between and before his errors he made some superb saves. One goal line stop near the start of the half was as good a reaction save as I have seen anywhere this season.

Boro had made a bright start with Tavernier, Hugill and Besic all causing problems. Indeed George Friend powered round the back to open up Villa. It looked a fair contest at that point.

But soon the visitors started to dominate midfield. We started to see the quick passing, expansive and back to front football that was a trademark of Dean Smith's time at Brentford. Boro players were giving the ball away all too often and left chasing shadows, unable to win back the second ball.

The opening goal did knock some of the stuffing out of Boro. The goalkeeper sailing through the air and missing the ball left the goal at Villa's mercy and they did not refuse the invitation, with Welsh defender Chester firing home. Even so it remained 1-0 at half time and Boro were still in the game and chipping away to try and unlock a Villa defence that shipped 5 goals in midweek.

The visitors, backed by their big and noisy crowd continued to hold the edge after the break but Boro did continue to compete. In fact, we still had an outside chance right up until the second goal. To put that goal into context, Dael Fry had had to leave the field with concussion, which caused a rethink for Tony Pulis about to bring on George Saville, probably for a tiring Mo Besic. Instead, Paddy McNair came on for Fry, soon to be followed by Martin Braithwaite and Britt Assombalonga for Tavernier and Besic. It was a very positive set of changes. Yet you would have to wonder if the changes had any bearing on the poor marking that saw Bolasie in space at a corner and able to drive to the box and fire the ball towards the far post where it was snicked into the net by Tammy Abraham.

Boro were faltering badly now but still had chances, Assombalongs pivoted and shot wide. Braithwaite wasn't sharp or strong enough to beat his man. Then finally Hugill smacked the ball against the crossbar and it bounced down and out.

Seconds later we were made to pay for that crossbar miss as Whelan's scuffed first touch landed via Randolph in the back of the net and Boro's very bad day had become a minor disaster.

At the end the Riverside was almost empty apart from a couple of thousand delighted Villa fans. Dean Smith's players had cemented their place amongst the promotion contenders. Boro looked beleaguered. But with so many games ahead over the next month we must somehow quickly put this defeat behind us or we will freefall away from the promotion action.

We simply must get back to basics again next week against Blackburn. We have to stay in the race and then look to recruit the pace and width we have been lacking all season.

Tony Pulis has worked miracles to make us hard to beat and able to nick games. This works away from the Riverside but is hard to enforce when the onus is more on us, at home. We have to get in major reinforcements in January but at the same time it is important we do not fall off a cliff before hand.

So, a terrible weekend for Boro but while lessons must be learned and applied in the transfer window we have to patch things up again against Blackburn and get going once again.

Come On Boro

Middlesbrough 0-3 Aston Villa

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