By Rob Nichols
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Boro's play off challenge finally ended last night in a sorry damp squib of a game at the Riverside. A more than half empty Riverside. Boro failed to find the right formula to defeat already relegated Doncaster. A team that for some unknown reason time wasted their way to a completely meaningless draw. It was a sad way for the campaign to tail off, with a whimper rather than a bang.
Boro never seemed to find the right tempo or hit the correct gears to shoot down Donny. Dean Saunders side were free of their on loan mercenaries and looked very well organised and demonstrated the kind of fighting spirit they had sacrificed for much of the season in order to put players in a shop window. What a mistake by them. Yet it was an opportunity begging for us and we couldn't take it.
By contrast Boro did not look united as a side, the tension of the evening transmitted between players and fans and back and forth. We all seemed frozen and fractured and largely unable to even sustain a chant in the stands or an attacking spell on the pitch. It could be that Tony Mowbray had opted to use the tactic he laid out to me at the press conference last week. If you read last night's fanzine you will see that he believes we were getting too hyped up, roaring out of the blocks and leaving ourselves wide open to be hit and hurt on the counter attack. The result being we lose goals and the initiative very early in home games.
Whatever the tactics we couldn't muster any sustained pressure last night in either half. Our best player and our main goalscoring threat, Marvin Emnes was hampered by his knee injury. He had to play a deep lying role before limping from the field midway through the second half. Scott McDonald's touch was not there, maybe all the minutes he has spent on the field since returning from injury caught up with him, he hasn't actually been subbed once. He was also to miss a complete sitter, a header from a few yards out in the second period that would have settled everyone's nerves and the result. Justin Hoyte's excellent cross was served up on a plate for Scott and Jutkiewicz racing in behind him at the back post. Somehow the Aussie striker headed wide with the goal gaping in front of him.
There was no avalanche of chances in this vital game as Doncaster assembled their lines of players and disrupted our flow forward. We looked leggy and lacked pace. How we missed Faris Haroun, who made such a difference at Derby. There were little spells where we all got excited and thought this could be it. Barry Robson had numerous shots on and off target. There was a massive corner count. And time and again efforts from Robbo, Emnes, Bailey and others were blocked by the crowd of Rovers players filling their box.
With the clock ticking down Mowbray made his substitutions hoping that Adam Hammill could finally show the class that made him the most exciting prospect in the Championship when at Barnsley. The Wolves player came on, took on his man, did a barrel load of step overs and tripped over the ball. A poor introduction. Curtis Main also came on, we hoped he could repeat the impact shown at Derby. Sadly, not. Finally, to a few boos, Kevin Thomson came on to try and give us a midfield base (amazing that people will boo a Boro player in these circumstances when we have to win).
In the closing minutes we gradually turned the screw. Hammill weaved inside and lofted the ball onto the cross bar. Jutkiewicz glanced a back post header which was saved on the line. Curtis Main burst through but his shot was brilliantly parried over the top. There was corner after corner but we couldn't convert.
Eventually injury time ebbed away and the referee blew his whistle on the match and effectively our season. It was gutting, absolutely gutting. You think back over all those miles and hours and pounds on the road and it all finished like this with a 0-0 draw in front of maybe 10 000 fans. It is hard not to be disheartened. Down and out in a half empty stadium.
I hope once the dust has settled that we do not all fight amongst ourselves and tear ourselves apart. We have to take lessons from this campaign and that means we have to be united once more. Everyone is massively disappointed but we have to get some togetherness back between now and next season. We have to shout down the disaffected trolls that try and stop us going to the Riverside and put some spirit back into the place. We have got so much of our pride back under Tony Mowbray and can take so many positives about the way we have bounced back from Strachan's Titanic disaster to a team mounting a realistic challenge again. We were heading straight for that iceberg, incredible to think how Mowbray and Gibson have turned it around again. We must now build on that pride and come back stronger and fitter for the task.
But first I reckon I'll be mourning. Drinking the downhearted blues after a season that withered away and died in a damp squib of a night to be forgotten. Sad times at the Riverside. Sad times indeed.
Middlesbrough 0-0 Doncaster Rovers – Nothing to report here.
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