As a Boro fan, it’s fair to say that losing the first leg of the Play-off Semi final is more than disappointing; however, I’m going to pull out the old clichés that ‘it’s only half time’ and ‘it’s all still to play for,’ - because it is true.
I am trying to remain upbeat but my disappointment has been compounded by the fact that my best mate is a Villa fan and I know what banter awaits should the Villa advantage continue; although the fact he currently remains fairly quiet may just indicate that there’s plenty left in this tie and it would be foolish for them to celebrate too early.
Before Saturday’s game, Tony Pulis asked for the fans to be in good voice; and they were. That wasn’t really ever in any doubt, but the atmosphere was turned up a notch further when ex-Boro goalkeeping coach, Leo Percovich, was presented to the crowd just before kick-off. The Uraguayan - and now adopted Teessider - tragically lost his 2 daughters in a car accident in December and came to thank the fans for their support despite him leaving the club, and so he could support the team. Seeing both him and his son on the pitch really was a touching moment, a reality check, and bit of perspective on what life is really about. It shows what a positive difference Football, and the people involved in it, can make on peoples lives.
‘T-T-Teessiders’ was ringing round the ground and it all seemed set-up for the Boro team to come out and show Villa that we meant business; but it wasn’t to be.
So what happened?
Villa got a vital goal from a corner in the 15th minute which set the tone for the rest of the game. Jedinak met the cross and the ball found the bottom far corner of the goal.
It was a disappointing goal to concede as not only are we usually pretty solid at defending set pieces these days, if we had had a man on both posts, it would have easily been prevented. It was all a little bit school boy. Advantage Villa.
The Boro players reacted well though, they worked hard but the reality was that for all the possession and dominance on the ball, they didn’t play well. The performance didn’t match the hard work being put in. It was disappointing; however, it should give them confidence going into the next game. Why? Well other than the sloppy goal and a long range effort from Snodgrass that Boro keeper Darren Randolph pushed onto the post, Villa didn’t really offer that much.
The Villains came organised and well prepared but it felt like an on form Boro could have turned them over.
There was clearly a concern from Steve Bruce over the in form-winger Adama Traore. And rightly so. Traore has been a revelation under Tony Pulis and won himself the WhoScored player of the season as well as the Boro player of the year, young player of the year, and player’s player of the year accolades.
But Bruce had a plan for Adama, which appeared to be effective. Every time the ball made its way over to to the young Spaniard’s wing, Villa either doubled or triple marked him. As a result, he had very little impact. Now because of that, you would imagine that spaces would appear elsewhere; however this wasn’t exploited and Bruce’s tactic for Traore worked largely because of Boro’s lack of movement in the middle of the park and the slow speed in which the ball found its way out to the wing. It was all very slow and all very predictable. It allowed Villa to fluidly change their shape and played right into their hands.
That wasn’t to say that we didn’t have our chances. Pressure was mounting against the Villa side late on and as the game progressed, they dropped further back and seemed to just want to absorb the pressure and defend the 1 goal advantage.
So what now?
Well the tie isn’t over. The next 90 minutes is huge and anything can happen, but one thing for sure is that the next goal is important. If Boro get it, it’s game on and back to evens. If Villa get it, it will be a huge mountain to climb with them being the home side.
We can take confidence that even though we were awful in the first leg, we were only beaten by a daft goal; however, we need better focus and the performance needs to be as good as it can be. We will have to be quicker at moving the ball and more direct with our passes.
Villa will no doubt be confident taking the advantage home and if the quality that have in players like Grealish and Adomah is fully shown then they have every chance but the same can be said for us and some of the quality and experience we have available. It should be a cracking game.
I personally would like to see Downing play in behind the striker, a position where he was most effective in his last season for West Ham; but Tony Pulis is consistent in his selections and style of play and the starting line up is likely to see very little change with maybe the exception of Bamford starting over Assombalonga.
Pulis’ arrival turned a corner for us and whatever happens, it seems like the new Boro boss is laying the foundations for a decent season next year, regardless of the play-off outcome.
I still have the hope and belief that the Boro, who never seem to do things the easy way, can turn this play-off run in around. Bring on Villa Park.
Come On Boro!
What are your predictions for the second leg? Let us know in the comments below!