Middlesbrough’s nightmare season was summed up in a lifeless 1-1 draw against an average Coventry City side in their final home game of the campaign. A flat atmosphere and weakened sides suggested that this game was to be a dead rubber and the outcome was just that; it seems that the end of the season can’t come quick enough for Boro, as they look to reshuffle the pack for their first full season under Gordon Strachan in an attempt to return to the top flight.
Not even drastic ticket price cuts were enough to draw in the home faithful for the penultimate game of the season and on the evidence of this performance, it wasn’t hard to see why many had stayed away. A crowd of just over 20,000 saw what certainly didn’t turn out to be a classic. Gordon Strachan fielded an unusual line up to face his old side, making four changes, handing starts for 16 year-old Luke Williams, new signing Lee Miller and an out of sorts Jeremie Aliadiere. The visitors though started out with a more familiar side, which included Clinton Morrison, Freddie Eastwood and danger man Gunnarsson.
A casual start to the game eventually saw Middlesbrough create the first chance of the game, when youngster Luke Williams’ mazy run finished with a shot that was well held by Keiren Westwood in the City goal. Manager Gordon Strachan defended his decision to include Williams: ‘We haven’t just thrown him in. Luke has been training with us since three or four weeks after I came here. He has great natural ability and he was on our wing in the first half so we could tell him where to go and which positions to take up.’ Brad Jones was forced into making a save a few minutes before the interval when he tipped wide a low drive from Freddie Eastwood, which represented the Sky Blues only real effort on goal in the opening 45 minutes.
The second half fortunately picked up, with Boro threatening in the opening stages. But it was the visitors who almost took the lead; skipper Stephen Wright unleashed a powerful strike from the edge of the area, which was well beat away by Brad Jones, however the danger was not cleared and Jones again produced a great save to deny Clinton Morrison from following up to score. The City defence went to sleep and a classic counter attack saw Aliadiere’s weak cross trickle across the box to find Scott Mcdonald, who finished well on the turn to give Boro the lead on 52 minutes. But an oh so familiar story was to follow just six minutes later, as Boro yet again let their lead slip. Jones this time failed to do enough to keep out another Wright effort and it was ‘mullet man’ Aron Gunnarsson who converted the rebound in front the 300 strong travelling Sky Blue army. It was a while before either side could muster up a goal scoring opportunity, but it was the home fans who nearly had something to cheer about, as Leroy Lita found the net – only for it to be ruled out for offside. The final chance landed to Boro’s Barry Robson, whose shot headed towards the bottom right hand corner before being tipped away by Westwood.
The final whistle was met by a chorus of boos directed at manager Gordon Strachan and his coaching staff, as the Boro fans vented their frustration after what has been a disaster of a season in truth. A tough trip to play-off hopefuls Leicester awaits Boro on Sunday for in their final league game. For some, this will have been the final curtain call in a red and white shirt, with the likes of Aliadiere, Emnes, Wheater and Naughton all linked with moves away from the Riverside. Many new signings will also need to be made if Boro are to put up a genuine promotion push next season and win back the faith of their die-hard fans.
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