Sunday, 21 February 2010

Play-Off Push Stalls

“Play to the bloody whistle,” screamed Mick from the touchline. The ref hadn’t given a free-kick; but there I was, 40 yards away from the play, whining about a decision going against me.

The other side didn’t score from that move, but I still got a rollicking from my coach. Rightly so. I mean, it was huge game after all – a top-of-the-table clash with Riverside Rovers in the Teesside Junior Alliance Under-14s Division Three.

We went on to get beat, while Rovers marched on to promotion. But for the remainder of that season – and the remainder of my fledgling Sunday morning football career – I would never stop playing until the man in black blew his whistle.

Lita celebrates a goal at QPR earlier in the season

Every 13-year-old is told the same. And presumably Leroy Lita was no different. Yet yesterday afternoon, the 25-year-old had a Michael Hunter circa 2000 moment.

He might have deserved a free-kick on the edge of the Forest box after Kelvin Wilson manhandled him from behind. But Lita, frustrated, stopped still and flung his arms in the air. If he’d put Wilson under pressure instead, the lanky centre-half might not have been able to pick out a teammate; and the home side might not have went on to create their game-winning chance for Chris Cohen.

Aside from that, it’s hard to criticise the team’s performance. A nil-nil would have been a fairer result, despite Forest crafting out one or two clearer openings. We were full of endeavour, and seemed a little more willing to get on the ball. Unfortunately, we found Forest’s rearguard too tough break down, much like the promotion hopefuls found Wheater and McManus difficult to penetrate.

The frontline of McDonald and Aliadiere – our 14th different strike pairing of the season – was ineffective. They offer similar attributes – both relying on cute balls into the channels – and both would be more threatening with a big, bruising foil in the mould of Kiwi Chris Killen, who was on the bench after an injury niggle.

Despite his costly histrionics, I still rate Lita as our best striker. He’s strong, he’s quick, and he’s willing and able to fashion his own chances. Same can’t be said of Ali, who again had a lacklustre game along with Boro’s other one-time Premier League regulars.

Poor: Arca has barely shone in a Boro shirt

Pogatetz and, in particular, Arca, were guilty of slack moments down the left. The latter is fast becoming the pantomime villain among the Boro faithful – his every hopeless pass and missed tackle met with suggestions of a return to Argentina – and his days at the Riverside are numbered under Strachan if heartless performances like yesterday’s continue.

The play-offs are now an even more distant hope than they were at the start of the weekend. And as miserable as that might sound, we can console ourselves by remembering there are others who are worse off right now.