Saved by the Pen
By Riob Nichols
Sunday 20 Jan 2019 10:49:00
Browse all Match Reviews articles


Jordan Hugill saved Boro from another humbling home defeat by tucking away his injury time penalty. In truth it was a point we barely deserved. Steve Morison, so often Boro's nemesis, came on and gifted a life line by needlessly bungling over Daniel Ayala from a corner. But it was the sort of afternoon everyone would rather forget and the ref clearly agreed by adding on only 3 minutes (rather than the 6 that should have been accrued from time wasting and multiple substitutions). For the second time this season against Millwall Boro stole a point and neither set of fans were best amused.

Boro faced Millwall hoping to continue the recent revival of fortunes to ensure the promise of a happy New Year for Boro fans. Victories over Ipswich and Peterborough raised hopes that we could at long last bring the away form back home. Riverside fans have been left frustrated this season by too many toothless displays and the old thorny topic of entertainment versus results has been raised time and again. Although unfortunately we have fallen short on both.

Patience is a virtue and it is wearing then, so much so that away teams know that if they attack at the off and make an early break through or merely hold out through the first period then the atmosphere will turn and become a weapon in the visitors' armoury. Fans are not enjoying their football. Ipswich clearly forgot to read the script, or do their homework. They would not have needed a Leeds United style training ground spy to buy them that knowledge.

Tony Pulis has been under fire for much of the latter part of his career for deploying old school tactics of big guys through a team that is stocked full of defenders and bypasses the midfield. It was interesting for me when I discovered that as a young player Pulis actually broke the mould by attending coaching classes and gaining qualifications at Lilleshall. His manager was not best pleased at the time as he became one of the youngest ever to become a qualified coach. Indeed every break he could get away, the young Tony Pulis took classes with top coaches. The list of talent that taught our future boss featured the best from home and abroad, including the man that brought Total Football to then great Netherlands national team, Rinus Michels.

Boro don't exactly seem to be practising Total Football these days, and as I say patience is wearing thin in the stands. Yet to be fair to the manager and the players, Total Football does not mean lumping the ball forwards at the first and indeed every opportunity, it is about possession, probing and working for an opening. In saying that it is about playing a rather less defensive-heavy set up.

Mind you, Rinus never had to confront such a physical league as the Championship and once again on Saturday it was a battleground out there. Players took no prisioners and the officials were by and large happy to play on.

Millwall, needing points for survival came at Boro early in the game. We had to be thankful to Darren Randolph for spreading himself and making a brilliant stop with his body to prevent The Lions striking early. But they had already laid down a marker with their speed on the break and threat to turn our defence.

Boro were on the attack when Clayton stumbled and surrendered possession to Lee Gregory who picked out the speedy Jed Wallace sprinting down the middle and calmly slotting past Randolph. Another early blow at home but plenty of time to hit back.

One of the big bugbears and gripes of home fans is that we don't play two strikers up top. Instead we have a system that relies on runs from midfielders arriving where it hurts, like Wing did last week or Jonny Howson for his first half headed effort brilliantly saved by the very impressive Archer. Lewis Wing, ever creative, the great Shildon hope of the Boro faithful, came close to testing Archer with a shot only just past the post.

The Millwall keeper came for everything, sometime even overextending himself and losing the ball first time but it was a positive display. And it also pointed to a referee willing to allow play to continue, even in the face of robust challenges from Millwall old boy George Saville. Not however the foul on Ayala but that was absolutely glaring.

Pulis made a change at half time and it was a very positive one in replacing one holding player for winger Van La Parra. Soon after last week's goal hero Britt and finally Stewy Downing would follow suit as we became more and more desperate for something to happen topside.

Van La Parra's swift changes in direction, quickness of mind and close skills were very welcome in a second half that drifted away from Boro. Ironically our best period was just after the break when Wing, Besic and La Parra darted around looking for openings. George Friend was tireless as always and one point made that trademark run into the box but was not picked out by second sub, Britt.

The game had completely gone from us when with seconds remaining Downing launched what appeared to be a hopeful rather than targeted ball over the box. Then the veteran Morison pushed Ayala and Hugill kept his head to celebrate with a goal into the North Stand box. Another big moment for the battling Teessider.

Hopefully Boro can come back with another Peterborough-style glowing cup win against Newport next week. Van La Parra can gain more match fitness and with Wing and Tavernier can start to light up the Riverside again. We need a mood changer to lift the clouds away down by the Tees.

Middlesbrough 1-1 Millwall - Hugill

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