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Match analysis:Queens Park Rangers 2 Middlesbrough 0
TONY MOWBRAY spoke about the futility of criticising individual players in public last week – but Saturday's poor performance at Queens Park Rangers sorely tested his reluctance as he faced the media.
Mowbray felt he had been let down by his players as a team at Loftus Road, and as the players and staff travelled back on the coach yesterday, the reruns of Saturday's 2-0 defeat to QPR would have been as welcome as a free bar at an AA meeting.
Boro's manager put it down to a bad day at the office, but this is not the first time this season that his side have failed to turn up. It's not the first time this year, even, that his side have not performed. Middlesbrough's record in 2013 is nothing short of wretched, and if the season were to run from January to January, his dream to get out of the division would be realised as they would surely be relegated.
That said, there have been sporadic signs of progress. Boro have strengthened their midfield and have pace on the wings. But their midfield failed to function and with one winger on the pitch Mowbray's side were lop-sided and awkward.
The damage was done in the first half when Frazer Richardson's own goal and Charlie Austin's penalty proved to be the difference between the two sides.
Mowbray felt it was the worst performance his team put out this season, and will be looking for a reaction tomorrow evening when the Teessiders host Huddersfield Town.
“Obviously it's well below the required standard, particularly in the first half,” said Mowbray, who, with Nigel Clough's dismissal over the weekend became the Championship's longest-serving manager.
“I was hugely disappointed, it was an unacceptable performance from my team.
“It was just a bad day, disappointing day, probably as poor as we've been all season. But on Saturday we had a lot of average-looking players on the football pitch.
“We need a reaction. We've got a game on Tuesday, let's see if we can resolve the issues that were there. It's frustrating because I felt we were in a really good place before the game, it was a great challenge for us to come here, to see it as a benchmark of the team at the top but we fell short.”
Boro are without a win since beating Charlton in August, while QPR are yet to be beaten and stayed top of the Championship with this 2-0 win.
Much of the build-up to this fixture revolved around Boro's errors at the back being the difference between draws and wins so far this campaign, and the need to eradicate these if Mowbray's side want to get anywhere this season.
There were no surprises, then, that Boro ended the first half 2-0 down with both goals owing much to howlers from the backline.
Mowbray had set his side up for a victory and was disappointed to see that plan go up in smoke with just four minutes on the board.
“I genuinely thought we'd go there and win,” said Mowbray. “They'd worked hard in training, we had a game plan that was set up to give them problems, but it never materialised, you give away a goal, you've got an uphill task.
“I've talked all week about giving stupid goals away so it's very disappointing, very frustrating, particularly against this team. They've won five of their last six 1-0 so it's a long way back for any team, after three minutes it left a big task for us. We're disappointed, but we'll brush ourselves down to go again.”
Boro defender Ben Gibson
Richardson turned in Joey Barton's shot after four minutes, then Austin stroked home from the penalty spot after 35 minutes when debutant Ben Gibson handballed Gary O'Neil's shot in the area.
In between the two goals, Boro had settled and with a little cutting edge could have notched a goal, but they could not make good their spell of possession and QPR's second goal felt decisive.
Boro went 4-4-2 in the second half, with Lukas Jutkiewicz introduced at half-time, and it gave the visitors more impetus going forward.
With Boro's tactics geared around hitting the ball to Kamara or Jutkiewicz, QPR's backline dealt admirably with the increased workload, but were unduly troubled.
Jutkiewicz' shot from distance on 55 minutes was gathered at the second attempt, while Albert Adomah's clipped finish took a deflection after Kamara did well to knock the long ball into his path.
In between those chances, O'Neil, who spent more than three years at Boro before he joined West Ham United, had two chances to stretch the Rs' advantage, firstly when Steele saved his curling effort on 57 minutes, and secondly when he had a shot from distance on 63 minutes, again saved by Steele.
Mowbray had to shuffle his pack at half-time after Jonathan Woodgate picked up a calf injury which puts him in doubt for Tuesday's game against Huddersfield, but the Boro manager was at least enthused by a composed display by Gibson, making his first league start for Middlesbrough.
“Woody had his calf strapped up afterwards, he's played just about every minute of every game, this is perhaps a game too far, and yet he was required to play because of a shortage,” explained Mowbray, who will welcome Rhys Williams back from suspension tomorrow night, and is still on the lookout for a loan player after a deal collapsed on Friday for a centre-half.
“We've been working very hard to try and bring someone in, it didn't materialise and we went out there with a young boy making his league debut for the club. Ben was a positive, he applied himself well and was by far from being the worst footballer for us, he was our most positive footballer.”