Out of the Cup To Crewe
By Rob Nichols
Wednesday 14 Aug 2019 15:54:00
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Boro fell victim to a cup giantkilling once again when League Two Crewe Alexandra beat us on penalties in the 2nd Round of the Caraboa Cup at the Riveside last night. Boro had been trailing 2 first half goals and struggled to equalise on the final whistle but then blew it by missing a couple of penalties on a night of huge disappointment.

Jonathan Woodgate made big changes giving debuts to all three new signings in Bola, Dijksteel and Browne and also first starts to youngsters Aynsley Pears and Steve Walker. In the event most of the new starters froze and it was left to George Friend and Nathan Wood to keep things going while Fletcher and McNair could come on in the second half to change the course of the game.

Woodgate's final comments about an opportunity spurned to signal players were ready and worthy for League action was right on the button. Rudy Gestede was replaced after being ineffective as a centre forward. George Saville struggled to impose himself. Marcus Tavernier looked out of sorts and new winger Marcus Browne's scuffed penalty sadly summed up his debut bow. Talking of penalties, Britt Assombalonga hit his second penalty of the season high into the stands. The same wayward direction as his efforts off target after coming on at half time.

It was a strange atmosphere. Boro's necessary cost cutting meant all home fans squeezed into the West Stand which meant queues to get in and for refreshments. The rest of the ground was totally empty it was like a reserves game.

Boro started quite well with Walker having an early shot but minute by minute the football got drabber and the nerves began to show in misplaced passes and players running down blind alleys. Crewe seized their chance even if it came from a wayward shot. But centre forward Chris Porter reacted to head the ball into the opposite corner past Pears.

It was the last straw for the young lad and his dad next to me who went home. Most people gave it longer but frustration was setting in especially when Crewe made it 2. Nathan Wood was caught out upfield, Crewe raided forward at pace and Charlie Kirk sprinted past an exposed Bola and slid the ball beyond Friend and Pears. 0-2.

Woodgate responded at half time by throwing on Britt upfront who provided a focal point. But he was shooting wildly. Paddy McNair was more successful taking charge of the midfield and when Ashley Fletcher came on the pair started to link up and slash through the Alex. McNair went close with one run before surging through and finding Fletcher who continued the speedy move and then curled a shot around their keeper 1-2 and hope.

Every time Fletcher or McNair got the ball something happened. Usually they combined. Tav and Browne almost profited from their set up play. Then with time running out Fletcher ran across and beyond Crewe and centred. Bola sprinting in hammered it hard and low to equalise only just before the final whistle.

Penalties. Even though Mark Page's ever ill-informed assistant initially thought it was game over and started to talk about the next match at the Riverside is...

Crewe scored first. Brave of Britt to step forward first for Boro and despite the mixed response from the crowd he addressed the ball and then hammered it over. Fletcher and McNair then scored in the corners. Pears came close to preventing their third spot kick and then they sent the fourth down the middle. Browne now needed to score and he scuffed it straight into the keeper's grateful arms.

I suppose on a night of errors it was always likely to end with more Boro mistakes. The only pluses are we did at least manage to get back into the game. George Friend played a captain's role throughout passing forward from centre back with accuracy and vision. Paddy McNair and Ashley Fletcher were outstanding when they came on and already look like vital players for us this season. Nathan Wood continues to look a great prospect. But apart from Bola's nailed finish none of the other players truly stepped up. Tav was disappointing. Browne a rabbit in the headlights. And because of the defeat they won't get any second chances to use a cup game for a leg up into League action.

So a bad night for Boro and I am not even going to mention concentrating on the lea.....

Middlesbrough 2-2 Crewe (Crewe win 4-2 on pens)

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