This week’s excuse? Well, this result was obviously too gut wrenching for me to even think about it until I was 100% certain I was on emotionally solid ground again (ok – solid is perhaps too strong a term, but you get my gist). Seriously though, this was one of those games that make it easy to see why football managers make it to white hair and bulbous noses before the rest of us.
Unlike Manchester City the week before, there was never any possibility that Boro were going to come to the JJB and underestimate Latics. Their visit in our first season in the Premier League was the one that introduced us to the over cautiousness that the pressure of money brings to football around here, and things have been no different in either of their visits since.
That said, my (unwritten) preview for this match would certainly have mentioned Boro’s away form (eleven without a win and four defeats on the bounce) and confidently predicted that the Spurs game hadn’t altered things that much and that this would be the game that everything changed for Gareth Southgate’s men.
I’d have been right, but perhaps not in the way that I would have expected. Boro have allegedly been playing better than their results suggest, so they can only have been playing better than they did in this game where they offered little other than a solid backline and an increasingly crowded midfield.
But, eh, it worked for them and it whether you want to chalk it up as one of those days, or something more significant it brought an end to Latics undefeated run, just as they were looking for momentum to carry them over the two week international break that follows this game.
Not there was that much to worry about in this performance. Latics dominated possession and played most of the game in the right places. There was plenty of good football and at times the build up play between Palacios and the two forwards verged on superb.
If there’s a worry, and being Latics, there always is, then it’s that we’re seeing too much of this type of result now. How many, “we didn’t deserve that”’s do you have to go through before you realise that maybe you did? Latics clearly have a striker who can find the net given the chances, now they need to start giving him some on a regular, clear cut basis.
It’s natural to start picking faults after any defeat, let alone one as disappointing as this one, but the reality is that there wasn’t that much to complain about here. A little more sharpness from the lads carrying injuries, an ounce more luck on the odd occasion and this could have been a comfortable win for Latics. You definitely got the feeling that the first goal would have lead to a third for Latics; Boro had shut up shop at nil apiece so there’s no prize for working out what would have happened if they’d taken the lead earlier.
I suppose that throw away comment does Southgate’s men a disservice, in fact it’s hard to argue that Boro didn’t deserve their points after watching their game plan work perfectly. They came to defend, and maybe snatch something, and you know the rest.
If the pre match attention was all on Zaki, it was Boro’s defence that really stole the show. More experienced defenders than Riggott and Wheater have, and will, struggled with our front line this season and these two handled the big men admirably and whilst talk of England call ups is perhaps a little premature, these are two young lads going in the right direction.
I know that I sort of said that we shouldn’t pick faults, but talking of inexperience, Boro had a 12 year old left back on the pitch and, more through formation than players, Latics did little to put him under concerted pressure. Ok, so having to deal with, at different times, Heskey, Palacios, Melchiot and in the latter stages Valencia wouldn’t be a picnic, but (in my old fashioned and naive style) wouldn’t it have been better to have a proper right winger running at the lad?
I suppose that the upshot was that I didn’t get what the formation was all about. It gave us some nice interplay between Wilson and the front two but lost us our most consistent creative threat of the last two-and-a-bit years. It may have allowed the full-backs to get forward but that just contributed to Boro’s plan to crowd the midfield.
I’m not laying claim to being a tactical genius, saying that Bruce got it wrong, or really being that critical, just saying that I’d have been more comfortable seeing up start with a straightforward four in midfield. Then again, seven years of watching Paul Jewell’s teams have probably conditioned me that way.
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