Strachan suffers mettle fatigue in Boro's slide

Middlesbrough 0 Cardiff City 1: Home defeat to Cardiff echoes gloom of local industry, writes Jason Mellor
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The Independent Football

Club officials staged a laudable attempt to highlight the plight of local steel workers after the latest round of job cuts, but who will do the same in support of an ailing Middlesbrough Football Club? Theirs is a decline which mirrors that of heavy industry on Teesside.

The similarities even stretched to the "Corus" of disapproval that met the final whistle, from the few supporters remaining from the Riverside Stadium's lowest league gate of a little over 17,000 who had bothered to remain until the bitter end, to vent their frustration.

A sixth defeat in eight home games, from which just four points have been gathered, means Gordon Strachan has just a single victory in seven matches in charge. When the Scot (right) succeeded Gareth Southgate at the end of October, Middlesbrough were fourth, a point shy of the Championship summit.

This morning they languish in 11th, a daunting 17 points behind leaders Newcastle United. Their last home win, a distant memory, arrived almost two months ago. Bizarrely, it ended up costing Southgate his job, such has been the skewed logic of Steve Gibson, the chairman, this season.

Strachan was nothing if not a little paranoid as he sought for reasons behind Middlesbrough's continued fall from grace. "I have got some ideas," he insisted. "But if I give you those ideas then what usually happens is that they're taken by you guys in the press and turned into excuses."

In a classic example of attempting to shoot the messenger, he added: "If you're asking for reasons then I'll probably give you reasons, but your editors will write them as headlines to turn them into excuses. I don't think I've done anything cosmic since I came in.

"The four midfield players did well and overall I don't think we deserved to get beaten. Our lads can walk out of here with their heads held high which they couldn't after Tuesday's result against Blackpool. It only becomes a problem when you have to slink out and can't look anyone in the eye."

That Boro's top scorer and best player, Adam Johnson, limped off with a hamstring problem which threatens to keep the England Under-21 midfielder out for a lengthy period, merely rubbed salt into the wounds, although a similar misfortune had struck Cardiff before the interval when the division's top scorer Peter Whittingham succumbed to a groin problem. "We don't know the extent of Adam's injury," Strachan added. "We'll have to wait and see."

It was one of those days for the former Celtic manager, so it came as little surprise that it was a former Rangers player who should strike the latest blow to his tumbling personal stock. Chris Burke scored for the third consecutive match when the midfielder's hopeful free-kick from near the left touchline was allowed to bounce through a crowd of players and into the far corner past a leaden-footed goalkeeper Brad Jones, who might have expected better from the defenders in front of him.

"It's a goal we'd expect to defend," Strachan conceded. "Apart from that, Brad didn't have much to do." When David Wheater's header hit the bar in the prelude to a scramble where both Sean St Ledger and Leroy Lita saw their follow-ups hacked off the line, Middlesbrough sensed it was not to be their day.

Cardiff clearly benefited from the squad's collective decision to pay out of their own pockets to fly to the North-East and avoid a lengthy 10-hour round coach trip, and this victory was met with far less fanfare than their previous win here 18 months ago, en route to the FA Cup final.

"I've got a lot of time for Gordon and I had a lot time for Gareth," Dave Jones, the manager said after a third consecutive victory pushed the Welsh side back up to third, two points behind West Bromwich Albion in second.

Jones added: "Brian Laws has just lost his job at Sheffield Wednesday and it's a harsh business to be in sometimes, but I'll go down and have a drink with Gordon now. I've just done battle with him and I've been trying to make his life hard, that's just the way it is. We have sympathy along the line but that stops as soon as the whistle goes."

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Jones; McMahon, St Ledger, Wheater, Pogatetz; Johnson (Emnes, 68), Williams, Osbourne, Yeates; Kitson (Lita, 62), Bent. Substitutes not used: Coyne (gk), Hoyte, Arca, Hines, L Williams.

Cardiff City (4-4-2): Marshall; Quinn, Gerrard, Hudson, McNaughton (Matthews, 52); Burke, Rae, Ledley, Whittingham (Etuhu, 32; McCormack, 82); Chopra, Bothroyd. Substitutes not used: Enckleman (gk), Kennedy, Taiwo, Wildig.

Referee: G Hegley (Hertfordshire).

Booked: Cardiff City Gerrard, Quinn.

Man of the match: Burke.

Attendance: 17,232.