Town earned a point they barely deserved in a relentlessly dull midweek encounter with fellow strugglers Middlesbrough.
Maintaining an unbeaten run, now at 5 games but including 3 largely unsatisfying draws against fundamentally mediocre opposition, Town’s supporters are grateful for extremely small mercies and maybe comforted by the sheer normal banality of it all.
For 20 minutes Town tried, unsuccessfully, to take advantage of a nervous looking Boro but alarmingly ran out of steam in a first half of rising drudgery which neither team bothered to enlighten with spontaneity or flair. Before a well executed Diakhaby free kick flew just wide and provided a rare moment of excitement, both sides had headers over the bar with Boro’s being the more dangerous of the two and from which Ayala should really have converted.
Unlike the second half revival at Blackburn, the Terriers managed to perform even more sluggishly in a desperately poor second half as the visitors contrived to miss the two or three decent chances their improvement to slightly above mediocre presented and what should have been an away victory petered out to a numbingly banal scoreless draw.
On a night more noted for Town’s regression to toothless supplication, only the performance of O’Brien provided some light amongst the pervading gloom. Schofield’s clean sheet was also noteworthy but the negatives far outweighed these clutched straws.
Elphick again gave away possession trying to play out from the back and was only saved greater opprobrium by a combination of Schofield and Brown closing down an immensely dangerous situation. His near perfect impression of Mark Hudson’s end of days performances is becoming irritatingly predictable and change can’t be much further away than the January window.
In other news, Hogg continues to berate colleagues for errors in which his own part plays at least 50% of blame. It is an irritating feature of the season so far and rather than displaying the intended look of a will to win, it portrays a senior professional consistently passing the buck.
Some early menacing runs by Diakhaby promised to herald another display of threat and pace but he was effectively subdued early on by a resilient Boro defence whose early displays of nervousness were largely overcome as the realisation dawned that their opposition were barely capable of creating moments of genuine danger.
Given their form, Boro’s support was impressively large but they left the stadium with just as many frustrations as the home support. Their team was the one which looked far more capable of a breakthrough but even when presented with an open goal they were unable to convert. Schofield’s save from a deflection off Hogg was as outstanding as Fletcher’s miss was diabolical.
It was reasonable for the Cowleys to believe that introducing Bacuna to replace the continuing struggles of Chalobah, who simply cannot find the form to display the talent he so obviously possesses, but there was no redemption this time with Boro’s tight control of the game precluding the necessary team cohesion which allows Bacuna to flourish.
The anonymous Grant, starved of anything resembling service, was moved out left to accommodate Campbell when a more obvious substitute was Mounié who may have given Boro’s dominant centre halves a little more to worry about.
However, the slow tempo, lack of inspiration (bar O’Brien’s excellent but fruitless probings) and inability to create threat was so entrenched that affecting change was probably beyond anyone from the bench.
So a deeply unsatisfying evening ended with a point which should be considered a bonus given that Boro’s profligacy cost them a win they largely deserved.
The unbeaten run should be celebrated, of course, given the context of a season and a half of perpetual loss and failure, but – and the Cowleys will know this – it looks fragile and perhaps fortunate. There is undoubtedly a stiffened resolve and enough signs of a brighter future in and amongst but, not unsurprisingly, a long, long way to go to banish demons deeply entrenched.
So, Barnsley next. The sight of 2 home fixtures against fellow strugglers raised expectations against the backdrop of improved results but last night and our Yorkshire neighbours’ performance at the Hawthorns on Tuesday have surely brought us all back to earth.