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Boro prove they can compete
TONY MOWBRAY admitted yesterday’s game against Wigan Athletic would give him a good indication of how his squad will shape up in the Championship this season and judging by their performance, he may not be too far away from a squad that is capable of challenging at the top again.
An early season trip to a side that still boasts plenty of Premier League quality and has spent a considerable amount of money in the transfer window would inevitably test the strength and ability of Mowbray’s men, and had it not been for one moment of madness in the closing stages of the game, Boro would have passed with flying colours.
One thing Mowbray will hope yesterday’s 2-2 draw at the DW Stadium won’t do is persuade chairman Steve Gibson to put his wallet back in his pocket. Yes, the Teessiders competed and probably deserved to win the game, but he is still short up top.
It wasn’t that Boro’s attacking men disappointed – far from it - it was simply seeing that to compete in the higher echelons of this league, Boro are going to need just that little bit extra.
In Jukiewicz, Mowbray has a player capable of bullying defences and in Carayol and Adomah, two men capable of making things happen, but the Boro boss has been crying out for a prolific striker or two and his search will continue.
In the early stages Holt and Fortune looked deadly and although Boro eventually got to grips with their presence, the pair will undoubtedly ensure the Latics are challenging for promotion at the end of the season.
That is what Middlesbrough need and with chief executive Neil Bausor watching from the stands yesterday, hopefully the transfer wheels will begin to turn with seven days left until the window closes.
Boro may not have the luxuries to be able to splash out on players like Fortune and Holt, but Mowbray has already proved in the summer business he has done that you can find quality on the cheap.
Mowbray’s system of playing Adomah and Carayol in support of the forward will work on more occasions than not, but the Boro boss can’t rely on them all the time and Jutkiewicz will need support.
In the midst of Mowbray’s search for a new striker, Jutkiewicz has repeatedly reminded the Boro boss of what he has to offer and in the first half the former Coventry City man forced two excellent saves from Scott Carson.
In similar circumstances, the Boro striker twice collected the ball with his back to goal before turning the Wigan defence and unleashing a powerful effort on goal only for his attempts to be pushed away by the Wigan keeper.
From the off it was a frenetic game with plenty going on and the hosts had no less than three penalty shouts in the first 22 minutes with referee David Coote at the centre of attention.
The first – denied by the Newark official – saw Fortune tangle with Rhys Williams and although the defender appeared to nudge the striker over, Boro got away with it.
Appeals also echoed around the DW Stadium when Jonathan Woodgate clashed with Holt and again, it looked as if the home side had something to shout about.
However, in between those appeals a penalty was given and ironically it was the least stonewall out of the three when George Friend was adjudged to have pulled Fortune back.
Holt stepped up and sent Steele the wrong way, but Boro still felt they had been hard done by with Mowbray’s assistant Mark Venus in fourth official William Smallwood’s ear.
Boro gave a good account of themselves, though, and Carayol almost got the Teessiders back in it when he latched onto Jutkiewicz’s flick on and breezed past Leon Barnett, but again Carson saved.
Throughout the opening 45 minutes, Friend had been getting plenty of space down the left and after tirelessly running up and down the flank, his hard work finally came to fruition with Boro shocking the DW Stadium into a half time silence.
After a neat pass from Jutkiewicz, Friend collected the ball on the edge of the area and after skipping over a late challenge from James McCarthy, proceeded into the box where he sent a low right-footed shot under Carson.
It was as much as he and Boro deserved from their first-half efforts and in style Friend had found the back of the net for the first time in almost three years.
The visitors picked up where they left off after the break with Boro’s front three causing Wigan real problems.
After some neat interplay involving Carayol and Adomah, Jutkiewicz found himself bearing down on goal, but the linesman flagged for offside after he had been fouled by James Perch.
Mowbray’s men were making the Latics’ back four look extremely vulnerable and again they had a chance to take the lead when a defence-splitting pass from Williams found Adomah, who could only direct his effort straight at Carson.
An injury to Holt, which forced the striker off, seemed to really take the edge out of Wigan’s forward play, but the introduction of Roger Espinoza and James McClean gave them plenty of outlets to capitalise on the counter.
As Jutkiewicz had all game, substitute Marvin Emnes caused Perch and Barnett problems and it was his persistence and hard work that lead to Boro taking the lead.
After he challenged for a header in the box, the ball fell to Leadbitter and after playing in Adomah, the former Sunderland midfielder received the ball back in front of goal to score with a tidy finish – cue pandemonium in the away end.
But there was still plenty time for Wigan to get back into it and Boro gave them a helping hand in their quest for an equaliser.
After Williams had played the ball out of defence, Dean Whitehead hesitated in possession and allowed Espinoza to steal the ball from him, drawing Woodgate into a foul on the edge of the area.
Substitute Jordi Gomez stepped up and made no mistake, rifling his free-kick past a helpless Steele.
Emnes had two chances to win it late on, but the hosts clung on leaving Boro disappointed with a point.
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