Oh, where to begin?
Another night of frustration. Another game at Carrow Road that ended in boos and the smattering of ‘Wagner Out; chants.
But is it disingenuous to blame the head coach when, once again, City were undone by some catastrophically poor individual play?
The game started reasonably brightly for City. Onel Hernandez had a couple of early moments when he was able to nick the ball off Jonny Howson. City, with Marce;ino Nunez freshly back from injury, were able to effectively press the Boro back line, winning the ball as it was hurriedly cleared into midfield.
Boro were playing some neat football out from the back when they broke the press but made little advantage from it.
City had the best chance after 10 minutes. Kenny McLean picked the ball up and rolled it into Nunez whose shot was saved by Dieng, with a blatant shove into the back of the Chilean going unnoticed. Still, not the biggest thing Simon Hooper has missed in recent weeks…
Then Gabriel Sara clipped an excellent ball into the area. Had it been Josh Sargent or Ashley Barnes on the end then it was a goal. Instead, Hernandez made a half-hearted effort to get his head on the ball and the keeper was able to grasp it.
City had another chance. This time Hernandez found Jack Stacey but his cutback to Jon Rowe was poor and the youngster, despite twisting and turning, hit his shot over the bar.
After an initial 25 minutes where City were pretty much in control of the game, Middlesbrough gradually began to establish a foothold in the contest, and as the half wore on exerted more and more pressure upon City.
On the half hour, the pressure nearly told. Sara made a truly awful mistake and Boro pounced; seizing the ball and flashing a shot across the area. Shane Duffy stuck an outstretched leg to stop an inevitable goal before Ben Gibson cleaned up.
Regrettably, the last five minutes of the half were, for me, ‘buffering’ – the joys of foreign hotel internet. When I finally restored a picture, it was the second half and City were 0-1 down.
The goal, apparently came 30 seconds into the second half. A truly woeful pass infield by Dimi Giannoulis put Boro straight through with a 3 v 2 and Greenwood calmy stroked the ball home.
Giannoulis was clearly rattled by his mistake, but he nearly made amends five minutes later. After exchanging passes down the left with Rowe he cut one inside to Nunez who hit the bar with Dieng well beaten.
Then Rowe received the ball with his back to goal. He was flattened by the defender behind him but his appeals were ignored as Boro broke, again with a man advantage. This time, George Long made a good save with his foot, conceding a corner.
Then City broke back, moving swiftly from a deep defensive position and ending up wide right were good work from Adam Idah won a corner.
On the hour mark, Idah was in the action again. He battled for the ball in the box, won it, beat his man and then, with players in the middle waiting it, inexplicably he chose to shoot.
Moments later, he did well battling a Boro player and winning the ball.
It was immediately after this that Wagner chose to substitute him to a chorus of boos as the Carrow Road faithful expressed their displeasure. Hwang replaced the Irishman, who left the field shaking his head in frustration. There was also a long-awaited home debut for Borja Sainz, who replaced Hernandez.
The Spaniard was immediately into the action, forcing a corner. Nunez took it and Dieng was forced to palm the ball over.
The second corner was initially cleared but Stacey knocked an inviting ball to the back post where Gibson was unlucky to see his header go just wide of the upright.
City were beginning to build some pressure and showed some quality, moving the ball from back to front in a slick move, ending when Sainz cut inside, curling his shot high and wide.
Boro were still dangerous on the counter. Hackney burst through the midfield but couldn’t decide whether to shoot or cross and put the ball wide.
The visitors tried to take the sting out of the game with a succession of feigned injuries and excessively long substitutions. To an extent, they succeeded as City’s gathering momentum was halted.
On 77 minutes, Przemysław Placheta replaced Giannoulis and ChristianFassnacht came on for Nunez. Within seconds the Pole had hit a great cross. Hwang was nowhere near it and the defender put it behind. Goal kick given. Classic Mr Hooper…
Then Fassnacht won a tough battle in midfield. The ball ran towards Placheta who, inexplicably, just left it. Fortunately, nothing came of this bizarre incident.
With the clock running down, Sara hit a ball in behind the right back van Den Berg. Placheta steamed past him and hit a great cross, which went out for a corner.
Again, Boro played for time with ‘injuries’ and substitutions, and it was no surprise when a minimum of nine minutes of added time were signalled.
It was building up for a great finale. It didn’t last.
Duffy, coming back from an advanced position, launched a towering header from around the halfway line, to go out for a throw near the corner. Boro went back Dieng and launched the ball long. Duffy got a first touch on the ball but it was picked up by Silvera. As the City defenders backed off, he was able to comfortably curl the ball home to kill the game.
There was lots of huffing and puffing, but City were going nowhere. A lot like Rowe when he picked up the ball on the edge of the Boro box with two minutes left. He powered forward before lashing the ball home from a tight angle.
Alas, it was too little, too late.
So to the original question. Is it Wagner’s fault? No head coach in the world can train to eliminate moments of individual stupidity. Without the hideous Giannoulis pass, Cty would have been in a good contest.
Yet his was not the only simple mistake. Sara got away with one in the first half. And what was Duffy thinking with that header?
City seem to have a self-destruct mode. And its effects are spreading.
Wagner cannot stop the individual moments of stupidity. Some may argue that he needs a more robust defensive shape in order to counter this. Indeed, some may say a whole new playbook is needed.
It isn’t just the obvious errors though. There seem to be errors cropping up all over, allied to a loss of form. Stacey’s crossing is nowhere near as dangerous as it was. Fassnacht is miles off the form he showed earlier in the campaign.
With three weeks to go until a new Sporting Director arrives at Colney, Wagner must know that he has a few weeks to sort it. But patience seems to be running slow amongst City fans.