|Pos. 22nd (44 pts)||SUNDAY 5 JULY 2020||Pos. 13th (53 pts)|
SHOTS (on target)
Gutless in the Battle
At a warm and windswept Riverside Boro were starting this game in the stark reality of being in the bottom three. In an effort to deflect attention from that humbling defeat at Hull or perhaps from the realisation of what he has taken on Warnock had declared that it’s the toughest gig he’s ever had. Even the most loyal of Boro fan couldn’t disagree that this squad is indeed a disjointed misdirected mess of some years in the making.
QPR hadn’t managed a win since the restart of the season but as Hull found out Typical Boro can be extremely flattering not to mention generous. The hope before kick-off was that Warnock had identified the limitations and even lack of determination amongst his squad and could maybe motivate what he had left to work with to try and get a result.
The major injury worry for Boro was with Djed Spence who limped off that sorry display at Hull on Thursday night. Warnock’s pre-game presser had indicated that it wasn’t too serious and that Djed might be available but how much of it was true or just mind games we would find out shortly. Provided that Hull lose away to West Brom in the game kicking off an hour later today a draw would take Boro out of the bottom three on Goal Difference. A win, however, would take them up to the dizzy heights of 18th, one point above Stoke, Charlton, and Huddersfield and two below Birmingham in 17th. It didn’t take a genius to work out that Boro really did need to win this one and nothing less would do.
The Team news saw three changes for Boro with Morrison coming in for McNair, Moukoudi in for Spence, and Fletcher starting upfront with Britt with Coulson benched. Anfernee Dijksteel was a surprise inclusion on the bench with no sign of Spence. Warburton switched his Keeper in the only change from their last game with Lumley coming in for Kelly. Boro boy Jordan Hugill was also starting so the omens were gathering. Speculation pre kick off looked like Warnock was going to go with a back three and Howson and Johnson as Wing Backs but as things panned out that would have been too sensible.
Bizarrely at the Kick-Off Boro looked like they were playing four at the back with Moukoudi just in front as defensive midfield cover. Considering that the Manager just days earlier had declared that the squad had too many Midfielders and not enough Centre Backs, picking a young Centre Back with little Championship experience to play a defensive midfield role certainly raised a few quizzical eyebrows.
Rangers kicked off and enjoyed the opening spell with Moukoudi seemingly glued to Eze. Stojanovic was first in action collecting a speculative effort with ease. Roberts worked a corner that went to Howson and then Friend who was penalised before Moukoudi sent it skywards, hopefully, it wasn’t to be a sign of what was to come. Eze had Boro looking nervous early on as he turned Fry and had Stojanovic looking lost but we got away with that early warning.
Five minutes in and Johnson won Boro’s second corner from the left but it was wasted and allowed QPR to break and Osayi-Samuels came close as Boro seemed intent on wasting crosses into the box for the second game running. Roberts won a Boro free-kick from Amos which he sent in far too high towards the back post continuing the theme of overhitting, oh boy this was already a tough watch.
Duncan brought down Britt who claimed a free-kick but Moukoudi had won back possession and sent Britt free to try and test Lumley in the Rangers goal. A cross had Stojanvic scrambling to deal with a cross come shot in the thirteenth minute which was put in by Eze and cleared for another corner. The ball came in and Stojanovic let the ball go out for a goal kick. At the other end, a Johnson free-kick was hurriedly cleared by Hugill to concede a corner to Boro which went straight back out for another Boro corner on fifteen minutes. A short one saw Johnson back heel it to Morrison and after a Saville attempt was closed down the ball came across via Fry to Fletcher but it was hit too hard.
The sun started to break through the grey Teesside skies on twenty minutes to try and brighten what until now had been less than impressive from Boro. Fletcher, Johnson, and Morrison combined but recycled it back to Moukoudi, and then eventually Britt unleashed a shot that was never going to trouble Lumley. That seems to be the trademark of this Warnock side. Seconds later Roberts found Fletcher in the 18-yard box but Lumley made the save to put it out for a corner. Fry met the corner at the back post but the whistle went for a supposed infringement on a relieved looking Lumley. A drinks break then brought a temporary halt to proceedings. Boro had huffed and puffed but just didn’t look convincing.
The game restarted and a Roberts free-kick resulted in Johnson putting the ball into the Hoops box and Fletcher heading wide from a distance. A break from Rangers saw Hugill going close but a combination of Friend putting pressure on him and Stojanovic standing tall worked and the best chance of the game went out for a corner to the visitors. The Corner was wasted with Ref Scott Duncan blowing for a foul but seconds later Hugill made amends as he looped a Manning ball over Stojanovic to put Rangers one up in the inevitable Typical Boro moment. He immediately collapsed to the floor presumably by overstretching his hamstring and took no further part. Ilias Chair then came on to offer a totally different attacking threat having a much lower centre of gravity and a much trickier player.
A Cameron conceded corner to Boro was easily dealt with by Lumley as Boro looked to clear their heads. Johnson conceded a free-kick just outside the box and saw a yellow card in another of those dangerous areas that he seems to be prone to giving away. Manning’s shot went around the wall and Stojanovic was alert to push away. Boro had looked less than convincing in attack and the Moukoudi role was looking confusing as Rangers were keeping it simple by drawing Boro forward and then hitting it over the top on the break. Tactically so far the first half was far from convincing.
An Eze corner just before the half time whistle was cleared by Fletcher. A left-foot shot by Roberts was deflected and the follow up was cleared with Rangers breaking and Stojanovic had to be quick to prevent a Rangers second. A lack of communication between Saville and Britt just highlighted the understanding gap between the Boro players. A Johnson free-kick was headed down by Cameron, Fry earned a throw-in which as “creatively” directed from the touchline was thrown towards Roberts who promptly lost it. It was hard viewing and head shaking in the extreme.
The first half finished with Manning trying a cheeky shot from distance as QPR looked composed and relaxed whereas Boro just looked lost. We looked like a side of individuals with a plan that consisted of giving it to Roberts and blindly hope that something will happen. Morrison typically showed nothing of all that supposed talent, Johnson had looked vulnerable in defence, Fletcher was working hard, Britt was his usual languid self and the Moukoudi role was a luxury we couldn’t afford which in effect meant we were playing with ten men. Very disappointing from Warnock and simply nowhere near good enough in the first half. Major changes and a tactical rethink was required at half time. That was an uninspiring, flat performance from Boro and a lot of it stemmed from the tactical set up which hadn’t worked at all.
The teams came out for the second half with no changes which from a Boro perspective was nothing short of shocking considering the rate that we were running out of games. An overhit Howson cross to Fletcher three minutes in summed up just how toothless and pointless this Boro side looked. A Morrison shot was closed down quickly by Luke Amos and as the Hoops broke Saville just took his opponent out to earn a yellow. I have no idea what Warnock said to his troops at half time but it looked like he handed out a slice of cake with a nice cup of tea instead of a rollicking.
The opening ten minutes were measured from Rangers with Boro trying to drive forward but it all looked very predictable and ominously fruitless. Apart from Roberts, it was abundantly clear that there was no other attacking tactic. We were seemingly restricted to get the ball to the mercurial Man City loanee who would skip and dance but with nothing whatsoever to show from it which has become a recurring theme.
A quick free-kick saw the ball go across the box and Britt looked odds on to score but it went out for a corner which was headed clear by Barbet as once again a Boro set-piece came to nothing. A Roberts cross to nobody caught Fletcher and Assombalonga in no man’s land. A minute later Roberts took the game to Rangers all on his own but was closed down. Meanwhile, there was some much needed activity from the Boro bench with training tops coming off as the dire insipid showing continued. Only thirty minutes remained and the Hoops were strolling through this game with little threat or concern.
For a Club that was desperately fighting for its very survival, this performance looked alarmingly lacklustre. A Saville cross saw Fletcher challenging Lumley and as the ball fell to Morrison he blasted it wide. Wing for Saville, McMnair for Morrison and the non-scoring Nmecha for Fletcher all came on with twenty five minutes to go. Clearly, Warnock still couldn’t see the futility of the Moukoudi role and that of his two Strikers he clearly is going on past reputations rather than what is staring him in the face.
Roberts put a cross into McNair but his effort went over the bar as the Ref decided it was time for another drinks break. Things were looking so desolate that maybe a few Sherries in the Boro drinks bottles could manage to get a response from the confused, distracted rabble that had a single solitary “Roberts” plan. Eze was removed during the break which was the only positive in the second half for Boro with twenty minutes remaining.
A Roberts break eventually found Assombalonga whose shot was some late hope for beleaguered Boro fans. Since Fletcher went off Assombalonga looked a little more active but Nmecha was absent since his arrival as our tactics continued to confuse and confound in equal measure. Moukoudi conceded a dangerous free-kick needlessly bringing down Todd Kane. Manning stood over the ball while the Boro wall standing firm and the ball coming off them and recycled by Rangers up to the other end of the pitch in the arms of the largely untroubled Lumley.
Belatedly Tavernier and Coulson were readied to try and save Boro blushes. An Osayi-Samuel shot was blocked by Fry for a corner which was taken short by Chair and eventually when it was delivered into the Boro box it evaded Moukoudi going out for another corner. Chair once again took the corner, this time straight in, eventually going out for a goal kick. Roberts then departed along with Johnson as the two Subs came on sharply.
Assombalonga and Tavernier linked with Tav then finding Wing who in turn found Howson and set up Nmecha who of course fired over. A Boro corner by Tav came in dangerously to the near post and was cleared for a corner. The second one came back in a little deeper but it came off McNair for a Hoops goal kick. Five minutes remained of normal time with Boro desperate to rescue a point but there was little sign of anything from Boro. They looked unbalanced, constrained by tactics that defied logic especially as we had been chasing the game for most of the match. It was almost Strachanesque in its despondency to witness.
89 minutes now gone and McNair hit a deep ball to Assombalonga who went down under the attention of Kaykay in the Rangers box but he received a yellow card for his troubles. Five minutes added time came up as Rangers earned a corner which they wasted going out harmlessly for a Boro goal kick. The ball went up the Rangers end of the pitch but with very little thought or idea as to how Boro would work it and consequently it went out of play with a whimper. It looked like the psyche of the Boro players had defeat written all over them. A late Coulson free-kick with a minute of added time remaining was collected with ease by Lumley as it was planted at the perfect angle for the Keeper. A few frantic moments of far too little far too late ensued from a desperate and derelict looking Boro in the dying seconds.
That performance had so many failings its difficult to list. From the original selection and formation through to the in-game management and the lack of Substitutions and when they did come it was too late and added nothing to the team when as much as anything it was the basic formation that had failed. As bad as the Players were the blame for that lies solely with the Manager. As difficult as this gig might be for him picking the wrong players in the wrong positions and lining them up wrong, subbing errors and then expecting a positive result was baffling to put it politely. In fairness, it takes a while to get used to a new squad but it’s apparent that Warnock hasn’t a clue about the individuals and their strengths and weaknesses. Trying to play a system that doesn’t fit the limited resources that you have to work with is a very questionable management technique and not one likely to get results quickly.
There are players whose contracts have expired, players who are on loan and will be off in a few weeks. Expecting a fighting, battling mentality just isn’t going to happen. There are too many players being selected who have zero buy-in to the club let alone its predicament. Expecting them to collectively gel into a unit to get the results needed isn’t going to happen. One or two like Roberts, for example, is showing professional pride but there was very little of that on display over these last two games, naming a MOM would be an insult