MIDDLESBROUGH ......................................................... 2 It’s tense but there was no intensity
ANOTHER RESCUE MISSION FOR BORO
ANOTHER Saturday, another rescue mission required.
But Garry Monk will be tearing his hair out as his Middlesbrough players again sleep-walked into the half-time break. Why is it coming to this?
Boro emerged with a point and twice showed character to come from behind, with Martin Braithwaite and Fabio da Silva on target to give the Teessiders hope of another dramatic late show.
But the winning goal didn’t come, unlike against QPR a fortnight ago, and Boro supporters head into the international break ultimately dis-spirited after another frustrating showing.
It’s now four games in a row where Boro have conceded the first goal, and the third consecutive time it’s happened at the Riverside.
In fact, Boro have done so more often than any top-half side in the Championship this season.
While Monk will cling to crumbs of comfort, he will know there’s a concerning trend that’s fast becoming a major problem.
Intensity. That’s what Boro fans who made their way to the Riverside demanded before the game after Tuesday’s no-show against Norwich.
And it no doubt will have been the pre-match message from Monk inside the home dressing room, given Boro’s tendency to start slow in matches this season.
But whatever the message was, the players didn’t hear it in what was comfortably the worst first-half performance of the season.
In came Ryan Shotton for his Boro debut along with fit-again Martin Braithwaite in two changes from that Canaries defeat, with Dael Fry and Lewis Baker carrying the can for a team display that left much to be desired.
But the Championship’s relentless schedule can be a positive on the back of a poor result. Here, the visit of a Brentford side who started the day outside of the relegation zone on goal difference, was a chance for redemption.
It didn’t start brilliantly. The home faithful took a deep intake of breath after just seven minutes as Adam Clayton dangled out a leg inside his own penalty box which midfielder Kamohelo Mokotjo needed no second invitation to stumble over - but referee Paul Tierney waved away the muted protests.
That momentary fright looked set to be the incident that sparked Boro into life - and it almost looked like it would be the case as Clayton chipped a ball forward into the channel for Britt Assombalonga to chase.
And the striker’s clever movement almost brought with it great reward as he found Braithwaite at the edge of the box, but his drilled effort crept just wide of Darren Bentley’s far post.
That was Boro’s best spell in the first half; Adama Traore looked lively and tested left-back Rico Henry at every opportunity. But he didn’t get the ball enough - or for a sustained spell.
When they did have it, it was laborious, slow, lethargic - exactly the opposite of what was expected.
And as the minutes passed without incident, the roars of frustration grew louder - with an attacking corner eventually finding Darren Randolph with the ball at his feet in the opposite box.
Then came the inevitable opener - the fourth game in a row when Boro have conceded the first goal, and the sixth in total this season. No top-half Championship side has done it more often.
That’s now becoming a major concern for Monk, and it was far too easy for Boro’s limited opponents to seize the initiative on 28 minutes as Yoann Barbet ghosted into the area and glanced a header past Randolph from a free-kick.
Monk may have been annoyed by the decision, given advantage had appeared to have been played, but he will have been more frustrated with his defenders.
Another game, another rescue mission required - and Boro’s first-half was best summed up as Braithwaite looked to break with Assombalonga running beyond - but the Denmark international mis-controlled in full flight and the ball rolled out for a throw-in.
Brentford almost got a second before the break as Marvin Johnson’s midfield pass didn’t find its target, allowing Neal Maupay to be played in over the top - but he could only prod wide while under pressure from Shotton.
The half-time whistle was met by boos from the home fans and a look to the skies, no doubt, by Monk. Things could only get better?
There was a moment in the second half when the Riverside came together in one voice; and it was Grant Leadbitter’s name that rung around all four corners of the ground.
For Boro’s midfield was lacking bite, energy and invention.
But like he did against Norwich on Tuesday, Monk instead used his changes to throw on more attackers - strikers to get Boro back into the game.
Ashley Fletcher got the nod at halftime, replacing Traore, and that change did make a difference - with the former West Ham forward stretching the play in a narrow 4-4-2 alongside Assomba-
Martin Braithwaite and, inset, Fabio da Silva celebrate netting equalisers for Boro in a match the side again had to rescue