Final Score: Birmingham 2 Middlesbrough 2
SAME problems, different manager. Conceding late goals was a characteristic under Tony Mowbray and again it is threatening to turn Middlesbrough’s disappointing league position into a concerning one under Aitor Karanka.
For the second time in the space of four days, a lapse in concentration cost the Teessiders dearly. On Wednesday night at Derby, it was the difference between a point and nothing and on Saturday it meant Boro returned home from Birmingham with only one point instead of three.
Once is acceptable, especially given the fact Boro played more than half the game at Derby with ten men, but twice is worrying and it exposes a chronic problem Karanka must address sooner rather than later.
It may only be December, but the fact Boro sit 19th in the Championship and four points above the bottom three is extremely concerning and frustrating.
There have been signs of improvement in the way Karanka’s side move the ball around and there is a genuine feeling within the club that an upturn in form is just around the corner, but the longer their inconsistency continues, the further away the play-offs will become with a relegation battle waiting to suck them in.
Even with their own troubles, Boro should have disposed of a poor Birmingham team with relative ease but two mistakes allowed Lee Clark’s side back into the game after Mustapha Carayol and Daniel Ayala had twice put Karanka’s men in front.
The introduction of Chris Burke at half time changed the game with the midfielder causing makeshift left-back Ben Gibson all sorts of problems and he had a hand in both the Blues’ equalisers.
Ayala’s 80th minute goal looked like being enough to earn Boro a vital win, but a minute after coming on Kyle Bartley was left unmarked from a corner to head home a 94th minute equaliser.
Karanka was again left to rue his side’s defensive mistakes, but the Boro boss was equally disappointed that the Teessiders hadn’t already put the game to bed before Paul Caddis’ 59th minute penalty.
“In the first half we had control of the game and I told the players at half time that we needed to score the second and third goal, because if the game continued at 1-0 it would be bad news for us,” the Boro boss said. “They scored and they had two or three chances. After we scored again, but we lost concentration in the last minute of the game and we went to pieces. We knew they were good from set pieces and they got a second goal from one “I have seen the same problems in the first four games. Mistakes and concentration problems in the last minute and also red cards. We need to improve in these situations.
“We need to score second and third goals and kill teams off. They pushed forward and started to play long balls. They scored and we can’t do anything about it.
“Crazy mistakes have let us down. Set pieces I was speaking with the players about and they knew everything I wanted them to do, but you have to stay switched on and concentrate at all times.
“We need to work on more situations. This week we couldn’t train properly because we had three games. We preferred to work on defensive things after Wednesday, but we also worked on attacking.
“I haven’t been surprised. I knew how the squad was doing and I need to improve it. They have reacted to what I told them, but we still need to improve quickly.”
Boro took the lead in the 22nd minute when Carayol turned inside the box to stab home after Marvin Emnes had turned Caddis inside out on the left.
It was one of several good attacking moves Boro put together in the opening 45 minutes, but Burke’s half time introduction sparked the Blues into life and he drew in a foul from Gibson to win his side a penalty.
Ayala headed Boro back in front with ten minutes remaining, but in the dying moments Bartley found space in the box to head Burke’s corner past Shay Given.
Karanka added: “Burke made an impact, but I knew him and I told my players about him. Everybody knew what kind of player he was so it was disappointing to let him create the goals.”