Football: Robson comes to terms with another kind of life: Rude awakening for Middlesbrough

IT IS always difficult for a quality player to lessen his expectations when he drops into a lower standard of football, especially when his reputation and livelihood become reliant on inferior players' performance. The sight of a frustrated Bryan Robson cajoling and cursing his Middlesbrough team- mates during the 1-1 draw at Watford on Saturday suggested he is still making the transition.

But perhaps that was only a hangover from the morning, when he had been working with the Premiership's elite at England's training camp, for by the end of the match the player-manager seemed resigned to his side's limitations. Afterwards he appeared to welcome the sense of perspective this disappointing result should introduce into Middlesbrough's promotion bandwagon.

Having begun the season with four straight wins, Boro's large and vocal support were convinced that they were destined to mirror neighbouring Newcastle and romp the Endsleigh League's senior division as a prelude to becoming a power in the Premiership.

After seeing their team surrender a lead against a side reduced to 10 men for more than an hour, the 2,000 travelling supporters can report back that things will not be so simple. Though Robson's presence inspires his team-mates and intimidates some opponents it stimulates others, as can the atmosphere engendered by Middlesbrough's fans. After initial uncertainty, during which Middlesbrough could have scored twice inside five minutes, Watford warmed to the occasion and the former non-League international, Andy Hessenthaler, typified their refusal to be overawed as he traded bruises and words with Robson.

Watford became even more motivated after Kevin Miller, their goalkeeper, was sent off in the 23rd minute for bringing down Robson on the edge of the area. Though the tackle was ill-timed rather than malicious there was no question that he should be sent off even if Robson, running on to a searching through pass from Alan Moore in a way that rolled back the memories, was going away from goal at the moment of impact.

Reserve goalkeeper Perry Digweed, sensing the chance to regain his first-team place, was stripping off even before the red card appeared; the unfortunate Dominic Ludden - on his debut - made way. Though Digweed was to make two high-class saves from the raw but promising Jamie Pollock he could do little when, 11 minutes later, Clayton Blackmore drove a poor clearance from Neil Cox's cross into a corner of his net.

Since Middlesbrough had not conceded a goal in five matches that seemed to be that. They clearly believed so for they arrogantly eased back and waited for the whistle, only to be undone when Richard Johnson's 25-yard drive was deflected in off Nigel Pearson 12 minutes into the second period. Though Middlesbrough tried to re-ignite their game the momentum had gone and, surprisingly for a team marshalled by Robson, they quickly decided it was one of those days and settled for a point.

Watford, who had worked astonishingly hard, might even have finished up with all the points. As it was, the manager Glenn Roeder had to settle for 'a moral victory'. They ought to be strong enough to avoid last year's struggles for they have some impressive players in core positions - notably Hessenthaler and Johnson in midfield and central defenders Colin Foster and David Holdsworth. But they also have too many moderate ones and, until rebuilding work at the ground is finished, lack the finance to replace them.

Middlesbrough have loftier ambitions but on this evidence not yet the personnel to achieve them. Though Pearson was commanding elsewhere they were more competent than dominant and if Newcastle's achievements are to be matched so must their approach.

When Kevin Keegan's side began their rise from the equivalent division two years ago they opened the season with 11 victories. Their fifth was at Bristol Rovers, where only a brilliant performance by goalkeeper Tommy Wright enabled them to avoid a heavy defeat. Keegan hailed it as 'as good a performance as I have ever seen - and that includes my Liverpool days'. Nine matches later Wright was replaced by Pavel Srnicek and was last seen with Nottingham Forest reserves. Of the Newcastle side at Twerton Park that day only Barry Venison remains in the team.

The Bolivian striker Jaime Moreno ought to be Robson's next purchase, except that after five weeks his work permit has yet to negotiate the Byzantine workings of the Department of Employment. Perhaps the official responsible is the same one who has gone on holiday while dealing with Leeds' attempt to register the South African, Lucas Redebe. No one else, apparently, can do it.

Middlesbrough suffer few startling deficiences - though the quality of the final ball into the box on Saturday was dreadful - just a general need to upgrade as the chance arises. One player who, for the time being, Robson intends to retain is himself. 'I intend to play the season out, unless Viv Anderson (his assistant) decides to drop me,' he said.

It could happen, for the years have taken their toll and, judging by his tired face, so too have the first months of his new position. But it ought not, for he remains a magnificent player and if the covering tackles were absent on Saturday there was little call for them. Instead he concentrated more on those surging runs.

It was a quiet performance by his standards but that was partially because he was as concerned about the performance of others as his own. As better players arrive, and as he settles into his dual role, Robson the player should become the influence Robson the manager needs him to be.

Goals: Blackmore (34) 0-1; Johnson (57) 1-1.

Watford (4-1-3-2): K Miller; Bazeley, Foster, Holdsworth, Ludden (Digweed, gk, 23); Johnson; Hessenthaler, Ramage, Porter; Moralee, Mooney. Substitutes not used: Nogan, Millen.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): A Miller; Cox, Pearson, Whyte, Fleming; Blackmore, Pollock, Robson, Moore; Hendrie, Wilkinson. Substitutes not used: Mustoe, Morris, Roberts (gk).

Referee: C Wilkes (Gloucester).

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?