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Steele rues Lowe wonder strike as Boro suffer a narrow defeat yet again
Final Score: Blackburn Rovers 1 Middlesbrough 0
HAVING trained alongside Blackburn Rovers midfielder Jason Lowe for the last two seasons as part of the England under-21 squad, Jason Steele felt he had a pretty good handle on the limitations of the 22-year-old's shooting prowess.
“I'd never even seen him shoot, let alone score,” said Steele, with grim resignation. He has now. A game that looked destined to end in an uninspiring goalless draw was settled when Lowe picked up a loose ball midway in the Middlesbrough half and, with Richie Smallwood standing off marginally too far, cracked a searing 25-yard drive into the corner of Steele's net.
“I've known Jason for a while now and he had a laugh at me at the end saying he'd never hit one like that in his life before,” said Steele. “I don't know, that's football isn't it?
“It's hugely disappointing because I felt I was playing all right and thought it would take something like that to beat me. Unfortunately, he came up with it to win the game.”
Ninety minutes of honest toil and endeavour, if limited invention and attacking inspiration, rendered irrelevant by a moment of brilliance from the opposition ranks.
Taken in isolation, it is an unfortunate tale. But it has happened far too often to Middlesbrough to be written off as an aberration, and for all that the wholesale defensive collapse at Barnsley hastened Tony Mowbray's departure and resulted in Mark Venus' promotion, it is the loss of matches when there is little to choose between the two teams that is the most pressing weakness that the current caretaker must address if he is awarded the manager's position on a permanent basis.
Saturday's defeat means that Boro have now lost 12 Championship matches by a one-goal margin since the start of 2013. In the same period, they have recorded four such wins.
Given that the difference between nicking a late winner and conceding a late strike is three points, it does not take a mathematician to conclude that the disparity has had a chronic effect on Boro's position in the table.
In simple terms, they desperately need to learn how to win tight matches. Does that mean being more adventurous from the outset, or should they be looking to keep things tighter for longer in the hope of forcing an error from the opposition? Either way, with an eight-point gap to the play-off places already representing a considerable margin, Boro cannot afford to continue squandering points at their current rate.
“I wouldn't say this is something we've got used to, but we've suffered this kind of defeat too many times,” admitted Steele. “It's something we need to address quickly because we don't want to create a negative environment to go to work in every day.
“We need to get back to learning how to win games again, like we did last year. I know it's a long time ago now, but we need to try to draw on those experiences because it's been tough.
“Don't get me wrong, I don't think we were really bad here. There have been a few times this season when we've been embarrassingly bad, and this wasn't like that. We weren't embarrassing, but we set high standards for ourselves and we can't afford not to match them.”
Would Mowbray's side also have lost this game? Almost certainly. There must have been a temptation for Venus to name an unchanged line-up given the strength of his side's performance against Doncaster, but he recalled George Friend at left-back and preferred Jozsef Varga to Mustapha Carayol in midfield in an attempt to give his side a more robust appearance.
The changes largely worked, with Boro restricting Blackburn to a handful of opportunities despite the presence of Championship top-scorer, Jordan Rhodes, who barely threatened.
Steele produced an excellent save to deny the Scotland international eight minutes before the break, flinging out an arm in one direction even thought he was moving in the other to turn a close-range header around the post.
Lucas Jutkiewicz unleashes a shot on goal in the second half
Other than that, though, Rhodes was well shackled, and while Blackburn might have had a penalty when Jonathan Woodgate chopped down Matt Kilgallon in the box following a mix-up between Smallwood and Rhys Williams, the hosts were no more creative or adventurous than their opponents.
However, they came up with the game's one moment of genuine class, and for all that Lowe's strike came out of the blue, it still served to accentuate the lack of attacking threat at the other end of the field.
Kei Kamara saw a first-half header turned around the post by Jake Kean, and while Venus felt that by stationing the American on the left-hand side he had increased his attacking threat, it was hard not to feel that Boro's most potent attacking performer was not in the position where he could have inflicted most damage.
The late arrival of Lukas Jutkiewicz finally gave the Teessiders a more direct attacking threat, something that was surely required given the rain-lashed conditions that were always going to make patient passing moves difficult, and the substitute came close with an 87th-minute header that flashed past the far post.
On a positive note, this was another committed display that helped prove Boro's players are fully behind Venus' elevation to the manager's position. Whether Mowbray's former number two is capable of engineering a radical break with the failings of the past, though, remains up for discussion.
“Mark's taken the reins now and is doing a good job,” said Steele. “He's taken a squad of players and clearly thought he needs to change certain aspects of our mentality. We got off to a great start against Doncaster, but this was a setback.”
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