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Visitors have th he key to drawing Boro o's sting; The bigger picture with Anthony Vickers.

A FRUSTRATED fan trudging away from the Riverside after a dismal draw with Bristol offered a useful post-match labour-saving short-cut.

"Control C, control V... just cut-and-paste any report from any game against a lower half side this season. They've all been exactly the same."

He had a point. There was a very familiar feel to the unfolding game. Drama is probably too strong a word for the disappointing and formulaic Boro-game-by-numbers that plodded through an empty scripted routine towards an almost inevitable conclusion.

It was a game Boro needed to win to push home their advantage after a late mugging of West Ham that felt almost like a victory. The gaffer had said as much then, that the point at Upton Park was only a "good" one if his team followed it with a win at home over Bristol. On paper they should have. Bristol arrived without an away win since the turn of the year, without even a goal. Gulp. Insert your own cynical "typical Boro" quip here.

It has been the hallmark of this season that whenever Boro have been offered an opportunity at home to build on good away displays, or to take advantage of generous results and shifts in the table, this blunt Boro have fallen flat and left serially let-down supporters yelping in frustration.

Bristol was another one of those games. You know how it goes... after the mandatory flat start strangled any fledgling atmosphere, a laboured Boro put a goal on a plate to the opposition who were allowed to cut through the defence with embarrassing ease.

The goal perked up the visitors and for a spell they look sharp. Boro look sluggish, lacking zip, creativity or urgency.

The visitors suddenly looked like world-beaters and Boro like relegation strugglers as the shape broke down, marking fell to bits, passes went astray, leaving the away team to set the tempo and carve out a couple of chances that, luckily, because they were poor up front, went begging.

The second half was better. A rocket from the boss at the break, some tweaks, a change of personnel - in this case the introduction of Malaury Martin for the off-colour Nicky Bailey - and a bit more intensity as they press forward and carve out some chances and Boro are back in it.

Martin slammed home an angled screamer - his second Exocet against Bristol this season - that had the crowd buzzing for a spell before the torpor descended again and Boro slipped back into the old routine: over-elaborating with the passes picking a way through but failing to put sustained pressure on the box.

There were a few half-chances -us ong Bart Ogbeche looked lively feeding off the flicks and knockdowns from industriou Lukas Jutkiewicz -and a stro late penalty shout as serial stepover merchant Adam Hammill was sandwiched aft tricking into the box. Had tha been given and scored, it wo have sent supporters away h at the result if not the performance.

ter at ould appy emore The whistle was a welcome relief. On balance Boro had m of the play and more shots, although Bristol's chances we more clear cut and, on a pos note, Boro did claw from beh ere sitive hind to salvage a point, if not much pride.

But it was poor fare. Boro couldn't break down a side that have been fragile and porous on the road and that sent Riverside regulars away grumbling at yet another outbreak of home-o-phobia.

"No excuses, we just weren't good enough today," said Tony Mowbray honestly. "Winning matches is hard work for us. We have created an expectation this season with where we are in the table but the reality is that we are not a team that can dominate games. We are not a team that can go out and win games three or four nil. " To be fair, one or two nil would do. Most fans would settle for this work in progress side winning ugly and would be more than ready to spin it positively as a transitional phase to winning with more panache at some unspecified later date.

But drawing ugly is harder to sell. And drawing ugly against relegation battlers harder still.

The real setback against Bristol was not dropped points - it was the missed opportunity to win over floating voters and persuade them to post that envelope glaring at them from the mantelpiece after the last home game before the season ticket 'early bird' renewal date.

Boro have been good away. No really, they have. They have been organised at the back, potent on the break, they put in archetypal effective Championship performances. Many in the Riverside crowd don't believe that. It is totally at odds with the evidence they have seen in a one-dimensional, toothless home side.

Drawing at home to the strugglers has been an institutional problem for Boro this term.

Limited teams have come to shut up shop, strung out two rigid banks of four and sat deep to deny space, frustrate the team and the crowd and hit on the break. If this Boro do not qualify for the play-offs it will be entirely because they have not cracked that predictable tactical conundrum.

Boro have now been held to draws at home by five of the current bottom seven.

They have won against one - Nottingham Forest, scrappy and nervous as they held out against a late fightback - and have one yet to play.

From the bottom, Boro started the season with a 2-2 draw with Portsmouth and it didn't seem a problem. It was played in a monsoon and while Boro should have had it wrapped up early, we all accepted the conditions were a leveller.

Coventry, third bottom, came in August when Boro were flying and, to be fair, we battered them. They should have been dead and buried long before Jutkiewicz got a late leveller.

Fourth bottom Bristol City we've mentioned as well as fifth bottom Forest. Sixth bottom Millwall came in October just as the first flush of early optimism had faded and the sprint start had lost momentum with three goalless draws in a row.

Millwall... 1-1, Boro were behind with an own goal but battled back.

Peterborough, seventh bottom, arrived after a run of four fantastic wins in December as Boro lost Bailey and lost their shape at the break and Posh managed to claw back and scrape a leveller.

Working up from that, Boro stuttered to a win over Barnsley, were tonked by a then bubbling Burnley and drew 0-0 with Ipswich. And Palace. And.. well you get the picture.

Boro's home record has been poor: too many disappointing draws against lowly opposition punctuated by damaging defeats to play-off rivals like Reading and West Ham.

Luckily the bulk of the remaining fixtures are away but we still have Southampton and Cardiff to play at home.

And second bottom Doncaster. A 1-1 draw. Nailed on.


ANGST: Tony Mowbray on Saturday Picture by IAN COOPER BLOW: Boro go 1-0 down as Hogan Ephraim scores for strugglers Bristol City on Saturday HAL Righ Jutk brou dow outs LTED: ht, Lukas kiewicz is ught wn just side the while, box left, Mer Zem take ouane mmama es charge Pictures by AN COOPER IA LEAPING INTO ACTION: Bart Ogbeche peps it up against Bristol Picture by IAN COOPER FLICK ON: Right, Lukas Jutkiewicz tries to step it up Picture by IAN COOPER
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Mar 26, 2012
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