Crystal Palace 1 Middlesbrough 0: match report
Two matches, two defeats. Gordon Strachan's reintegration back into English football is starting slowly and painfully, and given his side's feeble display at Selhurst Park he could be forgiven for regretting his decision ever to return south of the border. Trailing to Darren Ambrose's 64th minute strike, Middlesbrough could barely muster a response, save for Gary O'Neil's miscalculated chip and a Jonathan Franks shot straight at Crystal Palace goalkeeper Julian Speroni. Related ArticlesChampionship tableTelegraph player raterChampionship fixturesEmanuel Pogatetz out for six weeksStrachan to give his players a chanceSport on televisionThis is the time of year for fireworks, and Middlesbrough will need some from their new manager over the coming weeks if they are to spark their faltering promotion challenge back to life. Following their morale-sapping home defeat to Plymouth in Strachan's first match in charge, it must have come as something of a relief for Middlesbrough to be performing away from the Riverside. Prior to this trip to south London, seven matches had garnered an impressive haul of 14 points from a possible 21 on the road, four more than a deeply-disappointing home return. But against Palace, marooned in the mid-table wastelands of the Championship, Middlesbrough faced a stern test of their promotion credentials. Neil Warnock is well-versed in the prosaic qualities needed to escape English football's second tier, and at worst will always strive to ensure his side is battle-hardy, organised and tough as teak to break down. Strachan's remit is somewhat different. Middlesbrough fans, tired of the football played under Gareth Southgate, are demanding more from their team. Not only do they want to win, but they want to win in style. On this evidence, there is still much work to be done. An instantly-forgettable first half contained little of note, and even less quality. almost opened the scoring with a superb free-kick after two minutes, but that was an anomaly. After that attempt it was a desperate, dire affair. Thankfully after half-time the tempo of the game increased, from a standing start, and Palace made the breakthrough in the 64th minute when Ambrose, experiencing a welcome rejuvenation to a career that had been stuck in reverse for years, opened the scoring with his 10th goal of the season. The goal itself was pure Palace. On the counterattack Alan Lee, until then anonymous, fired a long ball from the right touchline to the onrushing Neil Danns. The former Birmingham midfielder headed the ball on to Ambrose, who kept his calm and slotted beneath Brad Jones. Middlesbrough's response was tired and tepid, but Strachan's growing irritation on the touchline was hardly improved by the gift O'Neil passed u after being put clean through by Leroy Lita. Franks was presented with Boro's final chance to snatch a point in the final moments, but his finish, like his side's performance, was lacking in poise and precision. Strachan has much to consider, Middlesbrough do not look like promotion material on this evidence. Match details Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Speroni; Butterfield, Fonte, Davis, Hill; Danns (Carle 80), Derry, Ertl; Ambrose, Lee, Sears (N'Diaye 87). Subs: Clyne, John, Moses, Scannell, Djilali. Booked: Butterfield. Goal: Ambrose (64) Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Jones; Hoyte (Arca 69), St Ledger, Wheater, Grounds; O'Neil, Osbourne, Williams, Johnson; Bent, Lita (Franks 76). Subs: Yeates, Emnes, Coyne, Bennett, McMahon. Booked: Osbourne. Referee: J Linington. Attendance: 15,321.
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