Middlesbrough’s goalless run in the Premier League is threatening to morph from northern realist drama to gloomy mini-series and finally into a fully-blown miserable epic, one with a limp yet disastrous denouement.
Supporters currently watching each episode through their fingers in the stands might be behind the settee at home come May. And Boro will be heading for the old second division for the first time in 12 seasons. This performance had early moments of promise, notably from Stewart Downing and Adam Johnson, but as even the ever-more-defiant manager Gareth Southgate admitted, it petered out with 20 minutes left. Others might argue it was well before that.
So it is five games without a league goal; one goal in the last nine. And Boro play Liverpool next. “It looks like we can’t buy a goal,” said Emanuel Pogatetz, the captain. Yet that is precisely what Middlesbrough thought they were doing 13 months ago when they paid a reported £12.7m to Heerenveen for Afonso Alves.After Boro had sold Yakubu to Everton for a similar fee and lost Mark Viduka on a Bosman six months earlier, Alves arrived with a CV that showed he had played for Brazil and scored as many goals in Dutch football in one season as Romario and Ronaldo.
But Alves has become a problem as much as a solution. Southgate defended him, saying the service was not good enough, but Alves’ unwillingness to challenge for headers on Saturday clearly curbed the enthusiasm of colleagues, as well as fans.
But Southgate’s alternatives are not numerous. He left Tuncay Sanli – joint top scorer with four – on the bench, while Marlon King was ineligible. Jérémie Aliadière is not prolific. “We have to believe that looking at the last couple of matches, he has been the player who has looked like scoring for us,” Southgate said of Alves. “Today that wasn’t the case, but did we create anything for him? Probably not.”
With their late run to survival last season Wigan set an example which could inspire Boro. They were third-bottom at the end of January – after a 1-0 defeat at Middlesbrough – but won five of their last 14 games. They scored a mere 11 times in those 14 games.
Emile Heskey scored three of them. How he was missed here. “But that’s Wigan,” sighed a melancholic Steve Bruce of selling such players. “That’s what we’re about.”
Middlesbrough (4-4-1-1): Jones; Hoyte, Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz; O’Neil, Digard (Walker, 24) Arca (Aliadière, 54) Johnson (Tuncay, 62); Downing; Alves. Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Bates, McMahon, Emnes
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Melchiot, Boyce, Bramble, Figueroa; Watson, Cattermole, Brown, N’Zogbia; Kapo (Rodallega, 62) Zaki (Sibierski, 76). Substitutes not used: Kingson (gk), Edman, Cywka, Routledge, Koumas.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Booked: Middlesbrough O’Neil, Alves; Wigan Athletic Watson, Cattermole, Kapo, Zaki.
Man of the match: Boyce.
Attendance: 24,020.Reuse content