Coventry City 1 Middlesbrough 0

06 December 2010 11:40
IT was during Middlesbrough's previous visit to the Ricoh Arena that chief executive Keith Lamb started to think about life after Gareth Southgate.

Fourteen months later, courtesy of Marlon King's second half penalty, and the latest trip to Coventry City must have left Lamb wishing he had never bumped in to Gordon Strachan.

The chance chat with Strachan in the directors' box at the Ricoh last season first put the idea in to his head to replace the under pressure Southgate, this time around the Scot was nowhere in sight - but there were plenty of reminders of his 12 months in charge.

A Middlesbrough squad largely assembled by Strachan finds itself in a precarious position in the Championship's relegation zone, with his successor left with little choice but to do the best with what he has.

Tony Mowbray might have been the preferred and most sensible choice of manager when he took over seven matches ago. The reality of the situation is, though, the fans' favourite has taken over at a time when his predecessors have left him with little room for manoeuvre.

Despite spending almost £6m in the summer, on top of investing heavily on wages by comparison to other teams in division, Middlesbrough remain firmly ensconced in the relegation zone.

Mowbray might have brought more adventure and improved creativity to the way they play, but he faces the unenviable task of trying to keep survival hopes alive before trying to make a number of changes when the transfer window opens in January.

Players will come, players will go. Ultimately that is what is required if Middlesbrough are to survive the growing threat of League One football which is lingering.

But at the moment, despite indications at Coventry that Mowbray is improving the way Middlesbrough play, relegation is looking likely unless he can make the necessary adjustments in the New Year.

There might only be two points separating them from safety, but the Teesside outfit are already four points adrift of fifth from bottom. By the time he stands any chance of tinkering, four more matches will have gone and the reality is that changing the face of the squad will take much longer.

Mowbray, having endured the fourth defeat of his seven match reign, has to remain optimistic things can turn around soon enough - and he is.

"I accentuated the positives after the game because they deserved them," said Mowbray. "The players know when they have played well and when they haven't. I was a player for 20 years so I know what it is like.

"I know that the journalistic industry will comment that we lost 1-0 on a day we could have won 3-0. Like me, though, Aidy Boothroyd (Coventry manager) is interested only in the final score.

"Aidy will know he played against a decent team that over the course of a season will win games who should not be where they are.

"But the bottom line is that the players have to keep finding the perfromance levels which they did here. Nobody will give you the points. We have Cardiff next, with Craig Bellamy, Michael Chopra and Jay Boothroyd, it is not going to be easy."

For all Middlesbrough did play some neat football, that was always likely for a team with that mindset when they came up against a Coventry team that had beaten Burnley recently by making just 170 passes.

It was their intention to play up to the towering Clive Platt as often as they could and that initially caused problems, with goalkeeper Jason Steele having to be alert on a number of occasions.

But as the game developed it was Middlesbrough who created the better chances, with Kieren Westwood and a lack of quality in front of goal that cost the visitors dearly.

The most glaring were those that fell to Leroy Lita. Once he had been dragged down in the area by defender Nathan Cameron as the pair charged to catch Tony McMahon's long pass, Middlesbrough had the penalty that should have led to victory.

Instead, with Lita looking far too casual, he was denied by Westwood from the spot-kick and then he fired the rebound up and off the underside of the bar when it looked easier to score.

Westwood also did well to deny Lita as he ran through on goal after the restart and that proved to be an even more crucial moment.

Shortly after, Coventry broke and Matthew Bates, handed the captaincy again despite Gary O'Neil's return, lunged in to McShefferey 12 minutes from time in the box. King, whose last goal arrived during his loan spell at the Riverside last year, slotted low and in to Steele's bottom left corner.

Despite Middlesbrough's late rally, in which Marvin Emnes somehow hit the crossbar from close range and wasted a three-on-one situation by shooting low in to Westwood, an eighth away defeat of the campaign was sealed.

"We had the opportunity from the spot and had we scored that we would have won comfortably," said Mowbray, knowing Boro have also scored just four times away all season. " We just have to score the goals. You have to at least score one. We have not scored enough.

"I'm wary because it is a defeat but there are some huge positives. I felt we controlled the game for long spells but you have to take chances when you are in control." Goals, however obvious, are the only way Middlesbrough's position will improve.

Source: Northern_Echo