Middlesbrough fans knew that they could not afford to lose against Bristol City last night, and that even a draw would probably not have been enough to save their season.
But at half time in a game the Teessiders had dominated, even the most ardent of Boro’ fans would have taken a draw in a bid to halt the losing slump that has seen them go from play-off certainties, to virtual outsiders, looking in through a locked window.
The home side had more possession, more passing success, more shots — both off and on target — and won both the aerial and tackling duels.
So how did they manage to lose the game?
The same way they have in its predecessors — a lack of ability in front of goal.
They have failed to score in their last three games, and have not scored more than one in a game since their last victory against Hull in February.
As the phrase goes — it does not matter about all the little stats displayed, the only one that counts, is the one in the top left corner of the screen. Unfortunately, that one showed Boro’ 0-1 Bristol City.
Fans are divided over who to blame. A majority lay it all at the door of Tony Pulis, as was evident by the “Pulis Out” chants that rang out as the game ended last night.
But after the dust had settled a little, other fans were adamant it is the players who need to take the brunt of the anger, with their inability to convert chances costing Boro’ the points.
While it is right to question the players, it is the manager who picks the team. The manager who coaches them on things like finishing. The manager who is supposed to be able to motivate a team to get that extra level of performance from them. So, ultimately, the blame must lie with him.
Many managers would realise they have done all they can, and step aside for someone else to have a go. It would probably be the only thing left for Pulis to do, to regain any modicum of respect from Boro’ fans.
It would be the honourable thing, and the right thing.
But he vowed to “just keep going” in the aftermath of the match, saying he had “been in this position before”. He stressed it was Steve Gibson who “will make the best decision” for the club.
What is becoming clear, is that the “best decision” for the club cannot include Pulis.
He has been unable to inspire results, and is certainly not getting the best from his players.
Where the club turn afterwards is open to question.
One report suggests they will turn to Boro’ old boy Jonathan Woodgate, but that same report — from a couple of days before last night’s defeat — also claims that Gibson wants Pulis to stay.
But surely, with a club in turmoil and looking somewhat directionless, an experienced head is needed to steady a quickly sinking ship.
Whatever happens, something needs to change. Although looking evermore distant with each defeat, sixth place is still only two points away, but regardless of play-off implications, Boro’ need to halt the slump, and turn the page on what is becoming a farcical end to the season.
What do you think the future holds for Boro’? Should Pulis take the blame? Is it the players’ fault? Would Woody be the answer? Let us know your thoughts on what is going on…
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