COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
The Boro seemed determined to contain and play on the counter, something that should not have been unexpected but our response was to play some good buildup play without showing either confidence or desire in the final third and we ended up not knowing whether to stick or twist.
This indecision was calamitous as early as the eighth minute when some terrible defending after one of our unconvincing attacks broke down and Downing raced down the left worked the ball via Tuncay to a totally unmarked O'Neil on the right who slotted via the post. Whatever happened to tracking back or indeed tracking a run I don't know.
This setback set the tone for the rest of the game as Boro were now content to offer two banks of four and say "play through us if you can" and they were ever prepared to counter when the opportunity arose. Attack we did, though, and created some chances that on another day could have seen us 3-1 up at the break.
About five minutes after the goal, the Yak was put clear one-on-one with the keeper who made a good save but I would have expected a 20-goal-a-season man to have netted. Lescott came close when his floated cross went over the keeper but clipped a post.
The Boro countered when possible and Afonso put himself about aided well by Tuncay who for some reason the Blues found almost impossible to pick up. Still we attacked and from one such foray forward Yak was grounded by the keeper in one of those situations where anywhere else on the field was a foul but in the box — never!
Cahill rose high to meet a corner unmarked and only eight yards out but headed well wide, last season it would have been a foregone conclusion.
Half-time and I wondered would those misses cost us and would the manager change it as there seemed to be just that something missing that is hard to define. No changes and more of the same except we seemed to have had a good talking to during the break and the tempo was a touch higher.
Even so, the Boro were just as dogged and ever willing to break, which once again caught our lads in two minds on quite a few occasions. By the hour mark, our football had got better and a good flowing move saw build up down the right culminated in a good cross, although just behind Saha, the striker sent his header just wide. Another good move this time down the left resulted in a free kick and from Arteta's delivery the Yak got enough on it to level things up.
We were now looking the more likely but Boro put fresh doubt in the players minds when Digard hit a 20-yarder that Howard tipped onto the inside of the post, it came back across goal and caused panic until the ever dependable Jags got it away.
Still, we were not done and the Yak was put through in the box but could only drive across goal when a man of his finishing ability really should at least hit the target. Both sides huffed and puffed a little but the 1-1 at the whistle was probably a fair result.
Overall I thought we still lack conviction at home and although much less hoofball today nearly all our pretty flowing football was played where the opposition were happy for us to have the ball. Man of the match? Well from my seat it had to be either Jags (again) or Neville and playing at home that pains me.
As a fan, many things puzzle me when it comes to team selection and substitutes: now I am not with the players all week so I have no idea what goes on but when I see over the last few successful games Ossie do a sound job as the holding man yet today he his shifted wide to accommodate both Cahill and Fellaini, who appeared to me to be too similar and never got to grips with who should hold and who should go... should the manager have been bold enough to leave one out?
The introduction of Pienaar for Ossie; now Ossie may have needed replacing for whatever reason but to my eyes Pienaar seemed to come on still injured and played the game out in that vein.
Why was Vaughan given only three minutes when he is the sort of player who can shake up a defence who are playing to keep what they have.
Why is it only Arteta ever takes set pieces? Whatever happened to variety and the unexpected?
I have no answers and I am sure the manager wont tell me but after 6½ years I thought we may have more strings to our bow by now.
My own assessment of our one-dimensional approach to most games comes down to lack of competition for places, which brings with it the reliance on players to motivate themselves rather than have someone breathing down their neck... but, to rectify that, we know takes good money and, given the present situation, we can't look forward to that, so we will just have to rely on those with no competition to do the right thing.
The attendance today is telling the club something and allowing for only about three coachloads from Boro the few assembled and the graveyard like atmosphere should give them a clue as to what the traditional match-going fans think.
Still - Wigan a week Monday, thank goodness we are away. See you there. UP THE BLUES
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