|Pos. 21st (41 pts)||SATURDAY 20 JUNE 2020||Pos. 7th (56 pts)|
SHOTS (on target)
|Brewster (18, 21)
A Ayew (34 pen)
Plucked Boro left spitting feathers
The eagerly awaited team selection didn’t exactly go down well on social media and seemed to be reliant on experience rather than creativity. Friend, Clayton, Howson, Shotton and Gestede all started with no sign of Moukoudi at all. Stojanovic won the honour over Pears to take his place between the sticks to make the most bizarre of home debuts. On a positive Roberts, Tav, Fletcher, Spence, Morrison and Assombalonga were all on the bench should some flair be required.
The Refs whistle pierced the midday sunshine with Swansea getting proceedings underway after a BLM and NHS tribute from those on the pitch. On four minutes Friend put a near-post ball for Nmecha to compete with Gestede in the first bit of action. A Minute later McNair found Nmecah and put a fizzing miss-hit cross showing Boro’s early intent. Swansea then saw an opportunity after Friend slip but the big boro keeper remained large in front of Kalulu.
Fifteen minutes in and Boro had looked comfortable but there again Swansea also looked composed and growing into the game. Kalulu beat Fry to clatter into Stojanovic who made a good catch from a Bidwell cross. A minute later and Brewster couldn’t meet an Ayew cross as Boro now looked to be struggling a little in the heat with the Swans growing in confidence. The inevitable happened seconds later as Ayew again linked up with Liverpool loanee Brewster as the attacked down the left-wing and Brewster struck to put the visitors one up via a simple side foot. The second came via a hooked volley from Brewster as the Boro defence looked as though they had just left the Riverside Arms ten minutes before Kick Off after an all-night session. Two-nil to the Swans and not even halfway through the first half.
Boro looked unfit and cream crackered and Boro looked unfit and desolate. Woodgate needed to get his charges fired up. Nmecha responded by putting in a coss that earned a corner that ended with a free-kick to Boro for a challenge on Clayton at the opposite side of the pitch. Referee Harrington then called a drinks break which was a good opportunity for Boro to regroup and clear heads. The free-kick was delivered low but apart from a weak penalty claim, it came to nothing.
Apart from the opening ten minutes Boro were looking very poor defensively and seemed to be taking social distancing to an extreme level. Then Gallagher went down in the Boro box as Ref Tony Harrington blew for a foul by Friend for a penalty. Simultaneously Lewis Wing needed treatment as Andre Ayew stroked the ball past Stojanovic to make it three-nil. Truth be told it was looking like it was going to end in double figures. As if that wasn’t bad enough goal difference could be critical but as important as that was Brewster again nearly added a fourth with less than 60 seconds from the penalty. As bad and as confused as Boro have looked this season it looked very much like the pre-match social media disdain was being proved correct and the Boro bench were thankful that there were no fans present to vent their frustration. This is one game were Home fans and a toxic atmosphere cannot be blamed for a woeful performance.
Friend did get a header in at the other end just before half time but although his heart was on his sleeve his timing and energy levels had looked decidedly rusty in the first half as had the rest of the Boro backline. Nmecha was possibly the best of a very bad Boro lot as the dying minutes slowly ticked down to provide a brief fifteen-minute respite from this humiliation. Boro did at least show a little effort in the closing minutes with Gestede missing a chance and Nmecha blasting the follow up well wide. A corner delivered in from McNair was headed wide by Gestede as Boro were trying but didn’t look convincing at all.
A collision between Kalulu and Coulson saw both players laid out with both masked physios on the pitch. Replays indicated that Kalulu had been a little high with his challenge and a yellow card as a minimum was the least to be expected and was duly dispensed by the Ref once he was back on his feet. The free-kick came in by Clayton but cleared by the Swans for Boro to come back with Galagher blocking the cross and then a strange Nmecha challenge on Bidwell, when the ball was going out for a Boro corner, saw him booked and lose the corner to boot. I take back what I said earlier about Nmecha the best of a bad lot! The whistle ended to a chorus of social media booing and jeering. That was possibly the worst Boro performance in 45 minutes that I can recall for a very long time. Our defence was atrocious and whilst some may point to us losing Ayala we also didn’t have Moukoudi in the squad and the Swans were also without Rodon. Playing 5 out of contract footballers was now looking to be questionable along with the selection and tactics generally.
Several changes heralded the start of the second half for Boro with Roberts and Spence on and Clayton and Shotton off. For some reason, Friend remained but being honest there was nobody in a red shirt who could have complained about being hooked. The hope was that we would see a little more creativity and skill from Boro although considering what the two new subs had to work with the opening five minutes didn’t fail to underwhelm. A good ball in from Coulson found Gestede but his glancing header went past the post. Kalulu then went off for Swansea with Garrick coming on.
Spence went on a run but forgot the ball with Bidwell cleaning up as Boro’s woes continued. Coulson then went off with Marvin Johnson coming on at the 55 minute mark. Boro then had a purple patch with a little more desire as the changes started to add some much-needed impetus. A Boro corner came in from McNair but as ever with Boro set pieces it was just an out swinging lump into the box. No set play, no tactics just basic schoolboy stuff. It did eventually ended with Wing blasting it wide as Boro had yet to register an attempt on target. Restructured Boro looked like Howson was now CB alongside Fry with Spence on the right. Jonny Howson must have wondered what on earth is going on.
Swansea looked to be happy with their three-goal lead and containment seemingly their second-half game plan. Woodman in the Swans goal must have been wondering when he would be called upon to do something. On 65 minutes Johnson found Spence whose effort came off a white shirt but again the set-piece was embarrassingly bereft of planning. Social media had fans complaining that their stream was freezing as others responded with it hasn’t frozen that’s just Boro’s movements at real-time. Another drinks break saw a few more subs come on, Assombalonga for Gestede and Fletcher for Nmecha. So three-nil down and we now put our top scorers on along with our most creative players, just a shame we needed to be three goals down and less than twenty minutes remaining to “rescue” something. All the scathing pre kick-off team selection criticism seemed to be coming home to roost.
A run from Fletcher linking with Assombalonga showed promise but Bidwell went down quicker than Boro’s league placing to win a cheap free-kick. Brewster made way for Routledge and Fulton for Byers for the visitors as they looked to see the game out. A shocker of a tackle from Patrick Roberts on Ashley Grimes saw a yellow card as frustration mounted while the minutes ticked down. A mix up with McNair needed Stojanovic to be alert to keep the deficit to just the three goals. This was painful to watch, there was simply nothing that offered any hope or reason to believe that this mess was going to get better any time soon.
Connor Gallagher skinned McNair who conceded a free kick from 25 yards out, the kick came off the wall with Byers eventually hitting it wide. Ten minutes now left, Ayew then went off with Celina coming on and Dhanda coming on for Gallagher. Boro immediately had a half-chance but in truth, it
looked half-hearted lacking any real belief. With five minutes remaining Roberts went down looking for a penalty but won a corner for his efforts. The Corner, of course, didn’t see anything special and after a series of poor clearances, Boro eventually reworked it with Spence running out of space and ideas with it.
Celina had an effort cut out by Friend when the Swansea sub tried to be subtle instead of just blasting it but we had to thankful for small mercies. A minute remained of normal time and somehow the deficit was still those three goals but Celina then found Byers who hit the post with Stojanovic stranded and the follow up went wide as Boro looked all at seas at the back, not for the first time in this game.
Friend did manage a late long-range effort and eventually, the game ended 0-3 in a deserted Riverside which was as soulless and lifeless as the performance from Boro itself. One damning albeit tongue in cheek suggestion online was that we should bring Strachan in for the remaining eight games. As bad as that sounds, I’d prefer it to what is about to unfold. Seventeen shots from Boro with one on target speaks volumes. MOM was young Djed Spence with Marvin close behind, both at least tried and put some effort in.