Middlesbrough 1 Huddersfield Town 1
by Dave Hearn
Once again, Boro went with what we would all love to be a genuine 4-3-3 formation but what is, in truth, a fairly cautious 4-5-1 system. It’s a system that kind of saps the energy out of you before you’ve even settled down into your seat because it’s clear, absolutely clear, that this particular system just isn’t working for us at the moment. But, obviously, the lads have been working hard on it with the coaching staff in training and you take each game as it comes, as they say, and you hope that the next game will be different.
But this one wasn’t. In fact, it was worse. The start we made to the game was borderline embarrassing; a complete lack of intensity, from anywhere, or anyone, out there on the grass meant Huddersfield Town could stroke the ball around, they could get their foot on it and have a look around, play into midfield and back again, bring everyone into it and all have a touch or three, check their watch, stick the kettle on. They were basically doing whatever they liked whilst the Boro just sat off and watched.
The players didn’t seem to realise we were at home. The lack of tackles going in was absolutely bizarre to witness, almost surreal at times. Why were we letting Huddersfield Town come to the Riverside and play like Arsenal would play in a testimonial? We’d won one league game from nine before kick-off so to come out and show such a lack of intensity, such a lack of urgency, was quite unbelievable.
To be fair, Huddersfield didn’t really create anything of note. In James Vaughan they have a very good striker, quite possibly too good for Division Two but his injury troubles mean he’s down here and he’s doing the business. Their game-plan seemed to be to keep hold of it, draw us out a few yards and then either get it to Sean Scannell or Adam Hammill, or try and thread something in between Williams and Richardson for Vaughan to latch onto. As I say, they didn’t create too much stuff, certainly nothing in the way of a clear-cut chance to test Jason Steele, but there was a definite feeling of dread whenever their wingers got the ball and made their way towards our defensive-third of the pitch. One of their lads who is definitely worthy of a mention is Oscar Gobern; a tall, languid midfielder with a sweet left-foot and a very cool head on him when in possession. Admittedly, our lack of pressure on him, his team-mates and the ball in general made him look closer to being West Yorkshire’s answer to Ganso than he probably is but his performance is definitely worth noting down for future reference.
It wasn’t until the twenty-eighth minute that Alex Smithies in the Huddersfield goal got his hands on the ball, getting down low to collect a relatively tame effort from Muzzy Carayol from just outside the box. Twenty-eight minutes for our first spark, our first proper shot of the evening. From then on it ‘kind of’ got us going but, in truth, it didn’t really get us going very much. It was just that it was almost impossible for us to be as lacklustre going into the remainder of the half as we had been up until Muzzy had his pop at goal. A couple more shots followed, one from Carayol and one from Kamara, and Richardson got away down the right but his chip towards the goal was tipped over the bar. Adomah went close but seemed to be denied by a last-ditch tackle by one of their defenders. Carayol then seemed to forget what he was supposed to be doing completely and was nudged off the ball with relative ease by their midfielders on several occasions towards the end of the half. We had one or two bits and bobs after that but nothing concrete.
The half-time whistle went and, almost unbelievably, the lads were applauded off the pitch. I respect that everyone is entitled to their opinions and whatnot, and I always try to look for the positives with the Boro, but I couldn’t believe the crowd had been so generous with them after what I thought was an abysmal first-half showing.
The second-half began and it was clear that the gaffer had said his piece because we were further up the pitch, we at least tried to pressurise them in-and-around their own defensive-third but we found it incredibly difficult to create anything by way of a genuine chance on goal. Mark Robins cottoned onto the obvious raising of the tempo from Boro and countered it by sending on Danny Ward for Sean Scannell. Steele seemed to be caught out by a deep cross and it was Ward’s shot that rebounded off the post for Gobern to drill in via a heavy deflection off James Vaughan. Admittedly, it was at the other end of the stadium so it does feel like something of a blur but I think it will go down as Vaughan’s goal. Whether Steele was genuinely culpable with the cross is something I’m not sure of also.
Mogga sent on Jutkiewicz not long after but, frustratingly, decided against pairing him alongside Kamara and instead moved Kamara to the left-hand side of the pitch and had Leadbitter playing just off Jutkiewicz when we were in possession. This was made all the more baffling when Leadbitter kept dropping back into the midfield to look for the ball as it meant that we were still, to all intents and purposes, playing with a solitary striker in a home game in which we were trailing. But we soldiered on(probably a wounded soldier, mind, with asthma), we endeavoured to try and make something happen and managed to create a couple of little things in their box, Jutkiewicz and Kamara both going relatively close.
But what we seemed to do, more than anything else, was move the ball from side-to-side, and then backwards, and then back into midfield, and then from side-to-side again before somebody just punted it up in the vague direction of Jutkiewicz and/or Kamara. This went on almost all night. We have two wingers in the side and yet they very rarely get into a position to put a cross into the area. I like ‘possession football’ but it has to have something other than a long-ball at the end of it, it has to have a purpose, but so many times it achieved nothing of note and just found it’s way back to Jason Steele or one of our central-defenders and the whole pattern started again. It can be very frustrating to watch at times.
Finally, an equaliser came and it was the one Boro player to emerge from the game with any genuine credit, youth-team graduate Ben Gibson, making his first senior start at the Riverside, looking like he was on stepladders as he headed home a Grant Leadbitter corner. The relief was tangible but, as we’ve seen so many times with Boro this year, the realisation that we now had something to hold onto submerged the team. A little bit of trepidation entered our collective game and, instead of using the momentum gained through scoring an equaliser, it was Huddersfield who had a little spell of pressure. Fortunately for us, they didn’t create anything of any real interest but you do get the feeling that a little more care and incision from their lads at that time would’ve probably resulted in another goal for them.
We calmed things down a little and, as the clock ticked down and the supporters trickled through the exits, we launched a couple of attacks of our own. We did manage to hit the woodwork at the death, which kind of sums everything up. It would’ve been an undeserved winner though, in my opinion, because although Huddersfield didn’t create too much, and we’d had much more of the ball than them by the end of the game, and Smithies was called into action more than Steele was over the course of the ninety-minutes, I just don’t think we did enough to merit the three points.
I don’t like to be too harsh on the players, or Tony Mowbray, but that was as poor a performance, especially in the first-half, as I’ve seen from us in a long time. As I said earlier, the complete lack of intensity at the start set the tone and we just never seemed to recover properly. Our game was littered with long, hopeful punts up the field to a striker who was trying to get on the end of his own flick-ons at times. It was full of poor passing and sloppiness. We spent what feels like hours all bunched just inside our own half of the pitch passing it between ourselves with no real purpose and we emerged from the game having still failed to register a win on our own turf. It was a bad night, and we can’t hide away from the fact that things aren’t working for us at the moment.
It’s Yeovil Town next, on Saturday, and we’ve got to get better. There is an air of both desperation and inevitably around the team at the moment and if we start Saturday’s game like we started this one then I think we’re going to be in for a very long afternoon. And a very long international break, too.