All good things come to an end some time. The fact that the side continued with four central midfielders, thus reducing width on the pitch and the Reds rarely looked bothered for anything else other than a 0-0 draw says a lot. The warning signs have been there. Spurs were unlucky against us when we played the same system at home and Valencia simply loved our style.
The unbeaten run ended as Jerzy Dudek dropped a cross from Nemeth, only to see Gareth Southgate pop up to prod the ball into the net. In fairness then the result was fair in the end and it was only after the Reds went a goal down that they suddenly realised they had to do something.
The game was a largely dull affair with few real chances over the course of the ninety minutes but the Reds seemed happy to play for a 0-0 draw from the off with perhaps nicking a goal late on. With Emile Heskey being pushed a bit to the left side it left Owen as a lone striker and thus isolated. The fact that the Reds somehow managed 11 shots in the game compared to Boro's 8 suggests a different game but a lot of the Reds' panic only happened in the last eight minutes when they were a goal down.
The first half was largely uneventful but the second saw Boro pin the Reds into their own half. A backs to the wall performance against a side who have lost their last few games is not one we seemed able to get around. Indeed Boro had a goal disallowed in the second half for offside although the way they created the chance was worrying.
By playing four central midfielders the Reds are always tucked inside and any side with knowledge of this simply play the ball wider and attack the exposed full backs. The fact that we have been seeing more cross go in the box of late shows this to be right.
With so much pressure it was always going to be a nervy end to the match wondering if the Reds could hold out. The fact they didn't and they hadn't left themselves time to get back in to the game is sad. You can sit back when you're five up not at 0-0. Credit to Boro though for playing as they did and they got what they deserved in the end. The goal came with eight minutes to go. A corner came in high and under pressure Dudek failed to hold the cross from Nemeth. As the ball dropped Southgate forced the ball home. The Reds complained there was foul play but in fairness there was none.
It was only now that they were like a wounded animal did the Reds make a real effort to score and Heskey went closest late on but his shot went wide. Boro should really have made it a 2-0 lead although Boksic slipped when the home side were swamping the Reds' back line.
Overall the game was dull and the Reds never looked like getting anything. They tried for a 0-0 and lost. Once again they played with a sheer lack of width and opposition teams are seeing this and exposing it time after time. We have got away with it on a couple of occasions but against Boro they didn't and the game was lost.
MotM : Djimi Traore - on a day when we had to endure so much pressure at the back Traore dealt with it well. Just sad that the defence had so much to do.