Getting by Without Help from Mr Friend

Middlesbrough 2 – 2 Manchester City (Negredo, Chambers)

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A consequence of being ill over the Bank Holiday weekend is that I’ve done very little. Yesterday I spent watching Manchester United against Swansea, before turning to our encounter with City and finally the Norf Landan derby. The latter produced an all too predictable result, the aftermath to which I’m looking forward to hearing over at Arseblog (for some reason, it comforts me to listen to supporters of other clubs moaning, like it isn’t just us feeling the pain this morning).

Perhaps appropriately, both the United-Swansea match and ours featured two decisive moments of incompetent refereeing, appropriate because they affected two sides involved in the relegation battle that could and should have deserved better from the officials. The Swans at least have a better chance of staying up than we do. For me, they spent long swathes of their game looking the better team, certainly playing as though it meant a lot more to them to bag a result.

As for us, it was one of the more surprising and pleasing displays I’ve seen from Boro in some time. If we go down having at least fought like mad dogs along the way then I can’t have too much to complain about, and here we certainly played with heart and conviction. Too little of this throughout the season, but at least we gave it a proper go against illustrious visitors who showed exactly why everyone talks about them and also why they’re far from the finished article.

But it’s impossible to approach the game without discussing the referee, and the significant supporting role given here by Kevin Friend, our old pal from Leicestershire. Mr Friend has long been a buddy of Boro’s, always helping to make  the challenge of prevailing that little bit trickier – lots of incidents he ‘failed to see’ or ‘had a hand in’  during our encounter with Stoke at the start of the season, such as his intervention that allowed the visitors to equalise. Thanks, buddy! Here, he gave a penalty that levelled the match following Negredo’s opener, a penalty that quite clearly wasn’t and Boro players let him know their thoughts in no uncertain terms. Good to see Ben Gibson doing a captain’s job as the players’ complaints grew in veracity, good also to see how much it mattered to them, especially to the lively Fabio. Aguero drilled it home without aplomb nor making a fuss about it, knowing a steal when he saw one. They were getting away with it, having failed to make the advantage of their superiority count and falling behind after the Beast had scored from Downing’s cross, a perfect example of the slack-jawed defending that has undermined City too many times. Negredo was in cracking form throughout, working his arse off, challenging meatily and having an important hand in Chambers’s goal when he just refused to give up possession to a host of Blues surrounding him. He’ll be missed. City’s second equaliser, a slightly soft strike from Jesus that showed you can’t shut your eyes for a moment against a side like this, was a blow. We’d worked so hard and showed we could be better than nineteenth. It’s not much consolation, but it’s something and all the damage had been done long before this match was played.

A manful performance then, something to enjoy amid ruefulness over the cack-arsed officiating and the sense we’d left it too late to put in a battling display of this sort. You think had there been more of this then perhaps we would be okay, just about anyway. The limitations in the side are clear enough. It would have taken 38 showings akin to that given here for us to prevail, and we just haven’t produced that. I think it’s highly significant that Gaston Ramirez was nowhere to be seen, not on the bench and certainly kept away from the pitch, which is exactly how it should be. And what a shame for all concerned; when you watch the highlights of our opener against Stoke, Ramirez was all action and involved in our best attacking efforts, which shows what he can do when he tries.

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I’d far rather focus on a decent day’s work from Boro over Mr Friend’s influence. It’s impossible, however, to omit the elbow Fernandinho shoved into Clayton’s face, an instance of the dirtiness sometimes deployed that was entirely missed by the referee. Others have suggested a level of bias from the man with the cards, such was his insistence on giving Boro nothing here. I would question his competence rather than his loyalties, but it amounts to the same thing, a scurrilous performance that played its part in snatching all three points from us. In general, I hope that wrong decisions even themselves out, but at times like these – when we fought like a team that really wanted to stay up and deserved better – I think about what we’ll lose from going down and I tend to feel less generously disposed.

Elsewhere, I think I would field Traore all the time now until the season’s end. Stuani started here, again on the right, which Karanka and Agnew appear to have decided is his position whether he wants it or not, whether he can do a job there or not (he can’t). With Stuani on the side was pressed back into its own half; Traore at least kept the City defenders honest by the simple virtue of running at them.

It’s Chelsea a week today, an evening at the Bridge by which point our overall fate will probably have already been decided because Hull are playing Sunderland on Saturday.

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