RAMBLE | Wednesday 1 – 2 Middlesbrough

RAMBLE | Wednesday 1 – 2 Middlesbrough

Another match, another showing on Sky, and another game that Wednesday aren’t expected to get much out of.  Middlesbrough had been knocked off their perch before the international break, replaced by our noisy neighbours, and they visited Hillsborough as favourites despite our impressive unbeaten home record this season.  It was after this fixture last season that both managers lost their jobs. Carlos moving on quickly to take Swansea down and find himself out of work again; Monk finding the next Championship chairman prepared to blow his nut on an blind attempt to get to the Premier League.

The pre-match talk had mainly been spouted by our opposition’s manager, bemoaning the fact that he’d lost 11 players to international call ups whereas we’d only lost 1 (sic).  Apparently the football league should take this in to consideration. Owls fans across the internet took out their worlds-smallest-violins to sympathise with Pulis. I’m not sure exactly what Tony was getting at or what he actually wanted.  Another week off? Surely having 11 international players is an indication of the bounty of quality resources at his disposal. I’m sure Jos would swap places with him in an instant.  He on the other hand benched the two players who had been away on international duty, opting to give a starting place to the enigmatic Joao – presumably hoping that his two goals off the bench at Bristol will provide a kick start to his season; one that despite his goal return has had more false starts than a primary school sports day. Luhukay took the midweek news that Forestieri was out for a couple of weeks in his stride and selected a side that looked every inch a 3-4-3 to me.  However pundits on various media outlets lined us up as a 4-3-3 with Penney and Joao flanking Fletcher and Reach tucked in behind them.

As the teams took to their positions following the pre-match formalities it became clear that my hunch of a 3-4-3 was accurate with Penney and Palmer as wing backs. Wednesday made life difficult for themselves from the off, trying scooped hospital balls around the back four as Boro pressed us closer and closer to our own goal. It was reminiscent of the beginning of the second half against Leeds. Whereas not many teams can second guess how Wednesday will line up or the formation we’ll play these days, one thing they do know is that we insist on playing out from the back… and that we’re bad at it. Only the impressive on-loan Hector looks composed when playing out from the back, and even he seems to have a problem in consistently finding his man.

Penney was also having a dubious game, certainly not of the standard he’s produced recently. It’s at times like this that we have to remind ourselves of his age and experience, he’s bound to have off days and is far from the finished article.  But what a finished article we could have on our hands there. Strong, athletic, tall, great with the ball at his feet and a sound footballing brain; it’s no surprise that there has been talk of tying him down to a new contract. Over on the other side of the pitch, Palmer wasn’t performing much better: back to his tardy best with the blind assumption that the game is going much more slowly than it is in reality, taking the unnecessary extra touch, allowing the unnecessary bounce.

Frustrating first half

Things didn’t seem to be going to plan. We were having the best of possession without doing anything with it. Boro however moved the ball forward much more quickly, putting us under pressure without really testing Dawson. Despite this it was Wednesday who went closest to taking the lead in the first half. Bannan with some great play, first anticipating a pass and making the interception before receiving the ball back and driving into the box. He refused the invitation for an early cross and cut inside instead, and moving into the box clipped a little ball right onto the head of Reach who from the centre of the area grazed the crossbar.

From memory, that’s all that really happened in the first half. A drab affair whose only talking points were surrounding just how lack lustre everyone looked. There was a point where I though Fletcher was going to be replaced, as he spent a good five minutes limping around and holding his back in a pose reminiscent of the Lords ‘Old father Time’ weather vane. However, the change never came and he made it through the 45 for a half time rub down.

The second half started in much the same vein as the first half did, with Boro pressing our hapless defence we pretended we were Barcelona. They soon got their reward. As another attempt to move the ball around the deep midfield area broke down. The ball far played down our right hand side with Hector still stranded in an advanced position. Thorniley showed some youthful naivety by allowing the ball to bounce and under a challenge didn’t get enough on the header. The stranded Hector attempted a tackle but the ball broke to Besic who bore down on goal. A twist and shift turned Lees inside out and the German drove a right footed strike into Dawson’s far post.

Besic makes it 1-0

When will we learn?  When will stop arsing around with it?

Not yet clearly.

Within a five minutes Boro had doubled their lead, and where the last goal had shown up our defensive positioning and decision making, this goal put a frame around it and hung it up for all to see.

Tom Lees, the last man, sitting in a central position on the edge of the centre circle and the ball at his feet dallied too long. He looked for the short pass. Didn’t fancy it. He looked for the sideward pass.  Nowt on. Assombalonga smelled blood. A startled Lees moved the ball on to his left, presumably so that he could loft the ball into the channel on his stronger foot. But no. Thinking he was Johan Cruyff he turned back towards his own goal and played the ball tamely and suicidally into no-mans-land.

Pelupessy clearly wasn’t expecting this, but his man Besic was and stole a 5 yard start on the Wednesday anchor man. Lees, presumably flabbergasted by his own ineptitude had a little jog back to goal as Assombalonga raced ahead of him. Dawson had the unenviable task of trying to keep out a two on 1 situation but couldn’t as the scorer of the first goal calmly squared to his on-rushing team mate to stroke into the net for two-nil.

No words.

There will be some who will lay the blame either directly or indirectly at the feet of the young keeper, who in all honesty could have done nothing about either goal. However, some will blindly argue that Westwood would have saved both of them… not only that but he’d have rolled it out to himself, taking on everyone in the Boro team, twice, before scoring from 40 yards and somersaulting into the crowd. Others may more reasonably argue that the defence lacks Westwood’s commanding shouts of organisation. Maybe true. But that chapter is over and the sooner we accept it, the better.

Enter Nuhiu to replace Joao… who was back to doing the square root of nothing.  Back on the bench for him next game then?

Wednesday responded and pulled a goal back through Reach, this time idly tapping in a perfectly placed volley from outside the box on his weaker foot, watching the ball loop and drop to him following a deep Bannan free-kick. He didn’t celebrate, maybe because it was against his former team, maybe because there was a feeling of too-little-too-late. It has to be said, celebrations from the whole team were muted – possibly embarrassed at how they’d managed to fall two behind in such sloppy fashion at home.

There was just one more chance to talk of, an injury time scramble on the Boro goal line following a corner whipped in by Bannan. The balled flashed across goal, Fletcher getting a clip on it and Lees running in to bundle it home on the back post. However, Ayala (who it has to said was lucky to be on the pitch following a forearm smash on Fletcher) got his body, and possibly hands, in the way. Dropping onto the ball to stop it crossing the line and then getting piled upon by team mates in a desperate scrum. The ref gave the free-kick somewhat bafflingly to Boro… mainly because I don’t think he knew what else he could do in that situation. That was the chance, and it had gone.  Wednesday pressed, spurred on by the possibility of doing a West Brom, but unfortunately it was too late. The Owls lose their first home game of the season and Boro go top.

Boro free kick?!

Not nice to watch, but that’s Wednesday this season. A work in progress. Maybe what we should accept during Jos’s first full season in charge, especially whilst under such tight financial control.  When I got home I watched the game back and was surprised to see Carlos on the box as the expert.  I have to admit a pang of… I don’t know what… regret maybe… hit me. Not regret that we replaced him when we did… that was completely the correct decision in my eyes. More that it was with Carlos that we started dreaming again. The nights against Arsenal, Brighton and Bristol City were special. The trip to Wembley. The goals. The flair. It was good for a while but it didn’t work out.

Jos has a plan. It may take too long to pan out, given our fan base’s impatience for results. There will be bumps along the way, like tonight. But I’m happy to stand by my man Luhukay.


Owls Alive

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