We seem to manage to find ever more creative, original and quite frankly daft and utterly ridiculous ways of losing to our bogey team Middlesbrough and last night took the biscuit as we totally surpassed ourselves in terms of the unbelievable way we conceded the winning goal.
The previously underemployed David Button flapped at a harmless left wing corner from Leadbitter that was caught in the swirling wind and he managed the remarkable and seemingly impossible feat of punching the ball backwards into his own net despite being under little challenge.
This totally undeserved goal on the hour took the wind out of our sails and despite a late and frenetic rally Middlesbrough held out comfortably for their sixth victory over the Bees in the last two seasons in the course of which they kept an incredible ninth consecutive clean sheet.
Middlesbrough are the epitome of a likely promotion winning team in that they are incredibly well organised, totally committed to the cause and give you absolutely nothing. We, on the other hand possess flair and ability in abundance but are profligate where it matters the most – in both penalty areas.
Middlesbrough were dull, boring, negative and cynical in the extreme and also did a wonderfully professional job of managing the hapless referee, Gavin Ward, who was mere putty in their hands and allowed them to get away with all their excesses whenever we threatened to get behind them. Grant Leadbitter was in the official’s ear at every opportunity and helped ensure that every marginal decision went their way.
The Bees needed to put on a performance and to regain some confidence and self respect after Saturday’s insipid display against Walsall and they certainly succeeded in doing so.
Their football was fluent, sharp and creative, the pace and intensity so sadly lacking against Walsall was back and every player looked more than comfortable on the ball. They dominated possession and forced Middlesbrough backwards with Woods outshining the combative Clayton and Leadbitter and Colin rampaging forward at every opportunity.
Quite simply we let our illustrious opponents off the hook by squandering two early and glorious opportunities which were both created by Lasse Vibe skipping past the lumbering Ayala.
First he set up Alan Judge who tried to pass the ball into the corner of the net from the edge of the area but shot just wide, and then when given a clear run in on goal he delayed his shot fatally and could only hit Konstantopoulos as the keeper flung himself at his feet.
That really should have been the opening goal and despite minor flurries at the other end, particularly when Diagouraga’s poor backpass almost gifted a goal to Nugent, the Bees totally dominated the first half with Woods, Judge, Swift, Colin and Bidwell combining beautifully to find pockets of space and gaps in the visitors’ defence.
For all our possession, relentless pressing and probing the final pass was not quite there. Dean headed wide and Judge forced another excellent save from the keeper who pushed the ball onto the post (shades of Stuart Dallas in the same match last season) but far too often our threat petered out in the final third where Vibe, after his opening burst, was lightweight and easily brushed off the ball and never looked capable of holding the ball up long enough to allow our midfielders to flood forward in support of him and our threat was snuffed out.
Saunders had a long range floating free kick turned over the bar but the half ended all square when Brentford’s wonderful display deserved far more.
The second half started off where the first had ended and some glorious one touch pass and move football ended with Colin’s powerful effort being turned aside by a goalkeeper who was coming under increasing amounts of pressure.
A goal looked likely to come but when it did it was Brentford who gifted the lead to a team which took full advantage and then choked the life out of the game as they sat on their lead and dared Brentford to break them down.
For all our possession we rarely threatened to do so despite three attacking substitutions which saw Canos, Hofmann and Djuricin augment our attack and we even tried the previously elusive 4-4-2 formation but the die was cast and after some late thuggery by Clayton who took one for the team after he cut Judge down when he was in full flight, all our efforts came to naught and Middlesbrough had stolen the points.
Last night provided a clear demonstration of all our strengths and weaknesses.
I brought my Watford supporting friend to the match who left purring with pleasure at the entertainment we provided but he hit the nail on the head when he stated that for all our pretty football and the delicate patterns that we weaved we had very little upfront and our attacks too often fizzled out given Vibe’s inability to act as a target man and bring his midfield into play. Get the ball into the mixer was his advice and one worth listening to at times.
We would have gleaned many style points for the intricacy of our play but there was no bite at either end of the field.
Unfortunately I read the game correctly when, pessimist that I am, I predicted that we would create and spurn several chances and then self-destruct at the other end and that is exactly what happened on the night.
It is time to manage expectations and look at us as a work in progress. What happens in the remainder of the transfer window is key. Will we weaken or will we continue to develop? There are still massive question marks about the future of the likes of Judge and Tarky who are two of our shining lights. If they go they must be replaced with players from home or abroad with the potential to be even better than the ones leaving the club.
Even if they don’t another new face or two would not go amiss. Colin and Woods are both exceptional young players who have slotted seamlessly into the team and we will need another few gems like them if we are to continue on our upwards path.
The loss of Jota is a terrible blow and his ingenuity and pace might have unlocked the Middlesbrough defence. A replacement has to be found as Canos is a raw and impetuous talent, a young colt who will understandably thrill and frustrate in equal measures.
The playoffs this season remain a possibility but are highly unlikely given how brittle we are in both penalty areas. We always look like conceding a soft goal.
Yesterday the culprit was Button and his error cost us dear as we were well on top when it occurred. Goalkeepers are fallible and human and in David we have an exceptionally talented one who was long overdue such a faux pas.
Toumani also almost gave our visitors a gift and the overwhelming majority of the goals we concede are down to lack of concentration and individual error.
Vibe, Hofmann and Djuricin all have their strengths but none of them are really what we need given the way that we play. Can something be done about that situation? Probably not until the end of the season but yesterday highlighted our shortcomings.
Frankly Middlesbrough showed us we need to toughen up, take more responsibility and do a bit more of the dirty work. We are too quiet, nice and soft where it really matters.
Leadbitter was a constant presence, screaming at, encouraging and cajoling his team mates and setting a wonderful personal example. He would not allow them to be beaten and we lack somebody like him as well as leaders on the pitch.
There is so much to admire about us and we should take all the positives out of last night’s performance, but we should also recognise what we are, a very decent Championship team that is establishing ourselves in the league and one that is totally easy on the eye and full of young talent.
That is pretty good and more than enough for the moment as long as we continue to improve and progress.
Middlesbrough join Birmingham City on my personal hate list but we have much to learn from them about professionalism and game management and hopefully we can ponder on the key lesson from last night which is never give a sucker an even break. We had them on the ropes but let them escape to fight another day.
Last night was a reality check and we cannot afford to be so naive, wasteful and generous in the future.