Final Score: Middlesbrough 0 Blackburn 0
TWO Middlesbrough strikers scored on Saturday. Unfortunately, neither of those goals came at the Riverside Stadium.
While Aitor Karanka’s men did everything but score against a shot-shy Blackburn Rovers, Lukas Jutkiewicz and Luke Williams both notched for their respective loan clubs.
Karanka sent the former to Bolton in a bid to rediscover his goalscoring touch, while Williams was allowed to join Hartlepool to gain more first-team experience.
On top of that, a third Boro striker, Marvin Emnes, started a Premier League game for Swansea City, and Karanka’s frustration at his side’s inability to score was clear when the Boro boss looked up at the television after his post-match press conference to discover the Dutch striker was playing against Cardiff.
The club’s decision to allow the trio to leave may be scrutinised after their latest blank, but what must not be forgotten is that Jutkiewicz and Emnes weren’t exactly firing before they left last month.
The Spaniard was utterly perplexed how his side failed to score and he had every right to be given the fact they created 15 chances and had 16 corners.
They did come up against an inspired goalkeeping performance from Paul Robinson, who denied Mustapha Carayol, Nathanial Chalobah and Albert Adomah amongst others, but Boro lacked conviction when the ball fell to them in front of goal and ultimately they paid for a succession of wasted chances.
This was their third goalless draw on the bounce, but in fairness their performance was a lot better than those produced against Wigan and Doncaster even if there was a smattering of boos from the crowd at the final whistle.
The club addressed the need to bring in some attacking firepower during the January transfer window with the acquisitions of Danny Graham and Lee Tomlin, but while the latter is still out through suspension, the former looks as if he still has some catching up to do.
Middlesbrough have now gone 444 minutes without scoring and while the focus will fall on their miss-firing attackers, Jonathan Woodgate insists the responsibility shouldn’t solely lie with the attacking department.
“I’m confident they will score goals,” said Woodgate, who returned to the starting line-up for the first time since Boxing Day. “We’ve got 41 goals this season and that’s one of the highest in the league.
“We haven’t scored but we haven’t conceded. It’s like defending and attacking. It’s the team’s job to do both together and there shouldn’t be a focus on the defenders or the strikers.
“We created a lot of chances and their keeper played ever so well and made some great saves. It’ll change, it will come, the goals will come.
“The strikers are working really hard in training. Everyone is training really hard. It’s not just up to the strikers to score goals, it’s up to the whole team.
“I thought we played really well. We were back to our closing down style again. We were very intense. We didn’t give them time to settle and that’s how we want to play our games.
“The manager said this week that’s what he wants us to do and we carried that out, but we just couldn’t score, so it’s disappointing in the end.
“We got a point and I thought we played well. It wasn’t a dull, bore draw. They had one shot. How many did we have? How many corners and chances did we have? Things just didn’t drop for us.”
How Boro didn’t go in at half time at least four goals up was anyone’s guess. Robinson denied Chalobah, Graham and Carayol twice, while at the other end Shay Given was a mere spectator. In fact, Gary Bowyer’s side didn’t produce a shot on target until the 59th minute when Tom Cairney forced a save from the Boro keeper.
Rovers, and right-back Todd Kane in particular, endured a torrid time coping with Carayol, who raced past his opponents even when they had been instructed to double up on the winger.
It wasn’t surprising to see Kane hauled off at half time as Blackburn looked to contain Boro’s tricky wide man, but even after the interval chances continued to fall the hosts’ way.
At the other end, Rovers began to find their feet going forward, but every time the ball came up to Jordan Rhodes or Rudy Gestede, Boro cleared with Ben Gibson outstanding at the back.
Their defensive displays have been a real positive of late and even if the overriding feeling will be frustration, Karanka has worked wonders with a back line that has now kept eight clean sheets in their last ten matches.
For a team that was notorious for conceding sloppy goals that record is a massive improvement, and if their problems in front of goal can be addressed, Boro will begin to look like a decent outfit under Karanka.
“We didn’t worry about them getting a late goal,” Woodgate said. “Not one bit because we’re not conceding goals of late and we’ve showed recently we’re defending well as a team.
“When we concede goals, everyone blames the defenders, but it’s the team and you can see when we press high up the pitch it’s miles better. It’s not just the defenders who get clean sheets it’s the midfielders and the attackers, because they set it off.
“Ben’s great. He’s going to be a top player. He was outstanding for us. He won every ball in the air and his talk is fantastic on the floor. Him, Muzzy (Carayol) and George (Friend) were our top players. Muzzy couldn’t have done more. He’s unplayable when he’s like that.
“I was a bit disappointed when we got booed off because we gave it our all. But everyone is entitled to their opinion.”