|Mullet added 21:22 - Dec 9|
Crowe warming up caught the eye.
In a game that saw temperatures plummet along with hope in a half empty stadium. What may have been 400 or so Town fans seemed like half of that, as the game kicked off but we never got going.
Former Town captain and current Boro one Grant Leadbitter, used his arms to stop lone striker Waghorn chasing down the kick off in strange NFL style. Boro built and broke but never really threatened. The 4-2-3-1 of Town was well suited to intercepting the long passing moves of a Boro side that didn’t look like it knew if it was a 4-4-2, a 4-3-3 or melting into matching us up in our own half.
Assombalonga was always front and centre, whilst Bamford skipped and threw his body down between defenders often as his partner, Braithwaite complimented this fluidity as he popped up on the left wing, or the space afforded to him between our backline and midfielders.
Celina’s first and best moment of the game allowed Waghorn to win an early corner but whereas our setpieces have been influential of late, they just looked close to being late. One in particular saw the Kosovan go short to Waghorn only for the lone man in double figures to softly give it away and let Boro escape forward yet again.
It was a badly scripted story of how well Boro would be dealt with, as all of their moves forward produced a good head or a calm one from Chambers, who along with Skuse read their intentions expertly. In fact, it was only their first attack where Skuse was caught ahead of his man and grabbed his shirt, that was the exception. Leadbitter was far more cynical. Collecting the man and a caution when Spence broke from their failed corner and was chopped down at knee height, to kill any hope of a counter attack.
Waghorn was essentially an island, drowning in a red sea of defensive pressure and presence. Boro fans berated my suggestion at half time that it was a game where there were potentially three different red cards, two of which came from the slipperiest skid of their formerly yellow streak down the middle of their team: Ayala.
Connolly nearly went out from a limb and was clattered to the ground during one corner. He came aground, only to motion to Chambers and the ref he was hit in the face with something by someone. It seemed a clearer strike than their front three had managed, but the referee got his head out of his arse and above water long enough to make the pair shake hands. After the Evertonian had thanked his aggressor, Ayala was encouraged. A stronger shout was the one-time canary going through the back of Waghorn on the halfway line. He got something of everything, but mostly the rub of the green to again see yellow rather than yellow again or worse.
Boro were not a dirty side, but from 20 minutes onwards Knudsen had one sleeve. Fluttering, like a flag on enemy soil as only his white cuff clung to his shoulder all half. He was nearly down to one leg, a simple clearance caught Braithwaite out. The Dane on Dane violence that ensued saw the Ipswich man’s standing leg taken out late and him left in a heap.
It was these moments of non-decisions that were Town’s main talking points at half time. We should have known when the first long ball forward landed on angry little Fabio’s arm. The linesman who could reach out and touch him, didn’t see him touch it.
When he lost track of Grant Ward and the Spurs man made his one sublime run of the game, only to be chopped down on the edge of the box one assumed a card was coming. Clean through and cleaned out, if it was for diving, then so be it. A dramatic T-shape from the man in the middle, a sarcastic V-shape or two from the away end in response.
Moments later Ward would this time turn provider. Fabio again lost him like he was Snow White and the ball whipped all the way through to Celina. Of all the men you’d want to have a touch, it’d be him. It wasn’t though. He controlled it like it was a presidential tweet, Huws got the loose ball and his slamming shot deflected for a Skuse scoop. Randolph was gleefully relieved I assume to see it away, with Waghorn snapping at slim pickings.
A Boro goal was always coming, but when Assombalonga leapt out of Chambers’ pocket and past Webster, Bart was up to the task to palm his effort away for a corner. But it would be a corner on which the game turned. A messy scramble and Spence laid prone on the floor. For once Braithwaite was on time to the ball with a decent and firm bullet beyond Bart.
It was a gut-shot from a largely gutless attack. Town had been great off the ball, but frustrating on it. Huws who had been outmuscled by men half his size, and ponderous in control did not return for the second half. Neither did the ref as the tannoy announced his 4th official would replace him. Presumably the equally effective paper bin in Monk’s office will be lodging an appeal through its union.
It was a game of two refs, and two goal-bound chances. Knudsen who had been good going forward, did just that only to meet the ball going past him. Boro spotted the gap and who else would pounce but Bamford. Slicker than his hair, he danced at Webster like he had Bart last time he scored against us. Questions had been asked of the ball-playing centre-back but he was left stumped and rooted as a quality second rifled past Bart. The game turned and so did stomachs.
Mick’s plans may have been best laid, but there was no rest for whoever was now the 4th official. Up his illuminated board went twice. Ward and Celina off and Bishop and Sears on to join Garner. To hear Celina and Sears bid farewell and welcomed alike with encouraging shouts such as “piss off you’re ****” from one critic rather set the tone amidst the silence.
It was frustration and petulance matched earlier by the loanee’s booking when he held back his man on halfway. When Town had been on the receiving end of similar the ref missed it, as his predecessor had Knudsen grabbing shirt in the box previously with no regard to disguise it. Swings and roundabouts but no joy.
The game descended back into its coma and so did the ground. Cold and dead, there was a sense that every time Ipswich would break, our hosts wouldn’t. As the lack of midfield from an off-colour Connolly and wide options of Waghorn (who before that had dropped deep) and Sears could not break down the extra man needed to corral them at every turn to goal.
Gestede followed after Johnson as Boro only needed a focal point to lump and laserly ping balls at. If the legs had deserted both Leadbitter and the now departed Downing, the experience and quality hadn’t.
The former England winger now glides around the pitch just off the sitting midfielders. His technique was astounding all game. He met volleys, picked passes and placed shots with the switch of stance you can’t teach at that age. With two goals, they didn’t need to carry that sort of weapon and switched to more rapid fire, carpet bombing.
Braithwaite and Assombalonga had the guts of Knudsen and Chambers to thank for deflecting chances away from goal or into Bart’s hands. In fact, it was frustration that again saw the Dane dive in late on Spence and stud the full back to the floor to collect the overdue card.
It’s hard to recount any danger Randolph was really under. Waghorn left Leadbitter with a sore head as his shot looped off him and into the keepers’ arms. Christie appeared to pull up after a foot race with Sears only to carry on after rubbing something out of his calf. He would later hilariously miskick in the area under pressure. Only for Ayala to save his blushes and a sure chance of a consolation.
Garner was pushed and pulled but went down too easily. When again the ref didn’t see the reason for a Town player to be on the floor and Ayala to be on the scene, it was the histrionics of the recruit from Rangers that was his undoing.
With a performance that to a man was too often underwhelming, it’s hard not to see a reflection of the recent away trip to follower recent-Premier League Villa. Where the Villains had enough quality to muscle and pump their balls over us into submission, Boro just needed to do enough to pass us in the table and out of the game. So, they did.
If Monk is the younger successor to Mick, then just give him £40m and he’s your man. 4-4-2 and just enough to outperform us you can see why they want him gone on Riverside for only just doing it today. For all their depth of quality Boro play like they are often standing still when they should be trampling teams.
Town meanwhile look like a team on the end of a long run of games. Physically and mentally tired, all too often if we found the right position it was our decision making which let us down. With Huws so poor, Waghorn so alone and Garner joining Celina and Connolly in being so ineffective, you know these are not bad players but just bad patches. Maybe Bishop did enough today to show Mick he could stop the bleeding and grab a start soon enough?
If the game was as tepid and allegorical as the ten years of pennies from Evans, then so was the message it sends. We’re not a bad side, but we’re not often good enough to run into the bigger boys and come out on top. Time’s tide will smother us eventually though.
MVBlue added 07:29 - Dec 10
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