Sunday, 16 March 2014

Boro hold Cherries to their first goalless draw (photo gallery)

Match Report
AFCB 0 v 0 Middlesbrough
15 March 2014
Attendance: 9710

I would be lying if  I said this was a thrilling game. Perhaps Cherries fans were being spoiled last time at home with that 5-0 win. Boro were far stiffer opposition and were so disciplined that there defensive lines were like military rows that would have needed a tank to break through. Even though the Cherries blazed away it was the first day this season when the home crowd would not see a goal at either end, or at least not one that was allowed. For Lewis Grabban did have the ball in the back of the net on 38 minutes when he robbed Dimitrois Konstantopoulos who seemed to have lost control of the ball after a frantic race with Grabban, on the left edge of the box, and while Grabban stroked the ball home from an acute angle, referee Frederick Graham ruled it out for an infringement on the Boro keeper.
The teams are out.
AFCB match photo.
There were other close calls as well for the Cherries in particular but there seemed to be no space on the pitch for this game for either side to break the deadlock. That was mainly due to the way Middlesbrough's experienced Dean Whitehead and captain Grant Leadbitter closed down play and were extremely well backed up by the central pairing of Kenneth Omeru and Ben Gibson.

The huddle.
There are more photographs now up on the Match Day Gallery.

Eddie Howe had tried to freshen things up a little this game by giving Mohamed Coulibaly his first home start while Ryan Fraser dropped to the bench. I marked the occasion by getting Coulibaly's number on the back of my away shirt and adding Mo's name to it. While Coulibaly did not tear Boro apart he was one of the bright sparks in what became a tactical battle between Eddie Howe and Aitor Karanka for possession of the ball in a contest that had its fiery moments.

Straight from the off it was Middlesbrough that wanted to put themselves about as they looked to catch Bournemouth in possession high up the park. It has been a while since we have seen the Cherries back four put under such pressure as they looked to stroke the ball about at the back. I hoped the early warning shot over the bar from Danny Graham in the opening minutes woyld wake AFCB up after Elphick's slip up. Boro were creating real pressure by hounding Bournemouth players in their own half. Cook was next to take a sharp breath as his pass to Elphick was so nearly intercepted with the goal beckoning, while Lee Tomlin soon forced a corner off Elphick.

AFCB struggled to break free of this strangle hold but when they found an outlet ion Coulibaly on the left wing and O'Kane decided to have a shot from distance, Grabban headed it forward trying to catch Konstatopoulos out but it took most of the speed off the ball.

Surman, Arter and O'Kane were doing everything they could to hold back the Boro surges. Most of the Cherries best forward work was coming through Surman, but there wasn't much of it and Boro won a second corner on 10 minutes when Lee Camp had an uncharacteristic juggling fit with the ball before holding on to it to release Ritchie on the right. Bournemouth themselves won a corner on 12 minutes with Grabban and Ritchie conjuring up a cross that went right across the six yard line before Gibson cleared. The following corner was more easily dealt with.

Francis had another tricky winger to deal with all afternoon in the shape of Mustapha Carayol who it was perhaps easier to foul than keep up with. Still Francis made up for that with a good defensive header to clear any danger. Meanwhile, Middlesbrough's high line was enough to catch Grabban offside. 

The first real moment of frustration happened when Ritchie tried a quick turn on Leadbitter and as they both tumbled to the floor Ritchie looked like he was being held up trying to get to his feet so he pushed Leadbitter's head down only for Leadbitter to react right in front of the assistant ref who helped the referee come to the decision to put the number 7 in the book with 19 minutes gone. Harte took the free kick but a Boro header cleared the ball just over the bar for a corner. 

Danny Graham was proving a real handful up front and Francis and Elphick were resorting to launching long balls up field to try and set Grabban away but without much luck as the ball was not holding up with the wind behind it kicking towards the Ted MacDougall stand. Elphick put in a big tackle on Graham which had the fans shouting his name but AFCB could not get any pattern to their play going.

It was Boro forcing the issue with Carayol on the left wing raising the expectancy levels with a deflected shot that went out for a corner in 27 minutes. This was a scary one with Francis and then Elphick bobbing headers upwards rather than clear before camp got his hands on the ball in the six yard area. 

Ritchie and Coulibaly decided to swap wings to see if that might help matters. But Surman was seeing his passes intercepted and Harte's crosses were only finding Boro's keeper (I forget his name :-) on purpose).

At the other end it was Cook making a great block on Tomlin's well struck shot. This was already looking like a stalemate as neither team was able to get a break. Even an AFCB corner went straight to Konstantopoulos who had time to drop it down before reclaiming it.

O'Kane was tripped after that and won a free kick which Ritchie hit the wall with. But a moment later Coulibaly did a delightful step over in the box before finding Surman and Harte, but when Surman got the ball back he shaped to shoot on his left and then cut back to his right only for the shot to be blocked! The incident that followed was Grabban disallowed goal having stole a march on Konstantopoulos.

A constant run of free kick followed and some neat play from the Cherries before Coulibaly fouled an opponent. From the free kick Graham passed to Carayol and his cross was met with a sharp volley from Tomlin but it was well over the bar from around the penalty spot. A let off! the rest of the half fizzled out with Surman having the final shot at goal from distance but it was well wide. 0-0 at half time.

Half time cross bar challenge.

Second Half
AFCB went straight on the offensive as they kicked towards the Steve Fletcher stand. Ritchie set the first moment of panic in Boro's defence as his cross from the right turned out to be more of a shot as it curled right on to the left post from an acute angle, taking everyone by surprise. While Whitehead and Gibson were proving difficult to get past Ritchie seemed the best bet as he fired in crosses one of which Grabban got a head to only to force the ball upwards into Konstanatopoulos' safe hands that were waiting under the bar. That was a moment when you though if only Kermorgant had been there.

AFCB were picking up the pace though and Surman was next to see his deflected shot go wide for a corner on 52 minutes. It was still a scrappy battle though in midfield.

Middlesbrough blinked first by bringing on Nathaniele Chalobah for Lee Tomlin on 57 minutes. AFCB the brought on Ryan Fraser for Mohamed Coulibaly. It was Bournemouth doing the defending though with Cook conceding a corner on 64 minutes.

Pugh was also brought on to replace Ritchie on 67 minutes with Fraser switching to the right.Gibson was being truly masterful for Middlesbrough at the back while there best hopes of a breakthrough were probably with Carayol on the right wing.

Omeruo was next to stop a flowing AFCB move with Grabban and Surman, but the crosses kept coming with Friend suspicious of a possible handball before clearing. O'Kane was then given a yellow card for simulation in the box but it was hard to see from where we were whether he was caught or not.

Next it was Pugh who wriggled himself into the box only to see his shot blocked when he was favourite to get it on target - Gibson again!Chalobah and Adomah were making some progress on the left but it was Bournemouth turning the screw and Karanka made another sub on 76 minutes with Leadbitter being replaced by Emmanuel Ledesma. It was swiftly followed by Grabban's air shot swing at a ball in the box and Pugh's cross that was too high for Surman. But then Francis decided to have a crack from 25 yards out and rifled a shot at the Boro goal on for the Greek goal minder to tip it onto the bar and over!

It was a few minutes before Fraser had the next shot at goal that went over on 79 minutes. There were more mute calls for handball on Chalobah but no real conviction to them. Boro were weathering the storm well and with George Friend making more runs up the left wing, his cross to Graham deserved better as the front man shot wide on 85 minutes. 

Everything was set up for a spectacular finish and Andrew Surman so nearly provided it as he was found by Harte and cut in across the box from the right and unleashed a powerful shot that was headed for the top right corner of the goal until the Greek stopper pulled off a stunning high-flying save at full stretch! 

Ian Harte was playing like the proverbial wall at the other end as he started to get the better of Carayol. Eddie Howe made one last sub with Rantie coming on for Surman on 87 minutes. Ian Harte went back to work on Carayol and his stiff shoulder barge saw the flying winger hit the deck so hard that he needed medical attention before being stretchered off. He was replaced by Curtis Main as the fourth official put five minutes of extra time on the board.

Omeruo was holding AFCB at bay now as they looked for the winner. A foul by Ledesma on Arter gave Ian Harte a chance to get a ball into the box but O'Kane and Pugh quickly lost the ball. Omeruo's strong defiance and attempts to run everything out of Boro's half finally saw him fall over in front of the main stand and the referee saw it as simulation to try and waste time. Another one in the book. 

While there was time for two more AFCB corners it was just one of those days when the defenders stayed on top all afternoon 0-0.
End of the 95 minutes.

Middlesbrough players go over to their fans.

You can never be too disappointed to see your team win a clean sheet and considering this was the fourth in a row for AFCB it was fitting that a defender was given man of the match - Steve Cook in this instance. I think that Boro's Gibson and Whitehead probably did a lot more work but you can't give the award to an opposition player now can you.

It was good to see Coulibaly show he still has the pace and skill to be two or three players in a line easily and he had plenty of good touches. Even better was the fact that Lee Camp had a quiet afternoon and Ian Harte is now showing everyone why Eddie Howe thought he would be a good fit for the team with another strong performance. It may have been nice to see Rantie come on a bit earlier to see what he could do having caused so many problems up at the Riverside. With Kermorgant also rumoured to be ready to play when he feels the bruise on his heel no longer hurts to run on, Eddie Howe may have to think deeply about who should start on Tuesday. Overall another point closer to safety and a good draw against a tough opponent is nothing to worry about at this stage of the season.    

Camp, Francis, Elphick, Cook, Harte, Arter, O'Kane, Coulibaly (Fraser 58), Ritchie (Pugh 67) Surman (Rantie 87), Grabban.

Allsop, Smith, MacDonald, Pugh, Fraser, Rantie and Pitman.

AFCB Ratings
Camp 6, Francis 8, Elphick 7, Cook 7, Harte 8, Arter 7, O'Kane 7, Coulibaly 7, Ritchie7, Surman 8, Grabban 7.

Konstantatopoulos, Gibson, Adomah, Varga, Friend, Graham, Omeru, Whitehead, Tomlin (Chalobah 57), Leadbitter (Ledesma 76), Carayol (Main 90).

Boro Subs
Main, Ledesma, Chalobah, Steele, Butterfield, Williams, Atkinson.

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