Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

We're Getting Stuck in the Middle; Boro's Soft Centre Needs Attention. the BIGGER Picture THE Lesson from the Defeat at Portsmouth Was That Boro Need to Address Problems in the Engine Room. Gareth Southgate's Men Found Themselves Bossed out of It in the Midfield, Says PHILIP TALLENTIRE

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

We're Getting Stuck in the Middle; Boro's Soft Centre Needs Attention. the BIGGER Picture THE Lesson from the Defeat at Portsmouth Was That Boro Need to Address Problems in the Engine Room. Gareth Southgate's Men Found Themselves Bossed out of It in the Midfield, Says PHILIP TALLENTIRE

Article excerpt

Byline: PHILIP TALLENTIRE

APPEARANCES can be deceptive.

Portsmouth spent the vast majority of the second half of Saturday's match camped out in Boro's penalty area. Must be the fault of the back four then? Not so.

The first line of resistance is your attack, the second line is midfield and the third is defence. The only thing the goalkeeper can influence is the 18-yard box.

You hope your forwards will make life difficult for the opposition when they build from the back and, when Boro have the ball, hold it up in the final third.

Mido certainly put in a decent shift at Fratton Park but Afonso Alves was less effective.

However, midfield is where Boro are losing games. This isn't even a new problem and Saturday was just the latest example.

For most of last season Gareth Southgate tried, and all too often failed, to find a successful blend in the engine room.

Tuncay was needed up front, Julio Arca lost form, George Boateng's legs were going, Fabio Rochemback lacked heart, Gary O'Neil struggled to impose himself, Lee Cattermole wasn't trusted and Adam Johnson couldn't be accommodated.

Only Stewart Downing could really look back on last season with a feeling of satisfaction at a job well done.

Somehow the team struggled through to the end of the season but the manager knew changes needed to be made, hence the departures of Boateng, Rochemback and Cattermole.

New blood was introduced in the shape of Didier Digard and Marvin Emnes and with O'Neil putting his problems behind him and Arca due to return from injury, Southgate declared himself reasonably satisfied with his acquisitions.

However, both new boys are young and raw and the addition of an experienced goalscoring box-to-box midfielder in the shape of Jimmy Bullard would have greatly improved the centre of midfield.

Now, just four weeks into the new season, the same old problems are emerging.

Portsmouth enjoyed the freedom of Fratton because they bossed the centre of the pitch.

Lassana Diarra was able to run the show because Boro failed to close him down successfully. It was clear in the first half that he was the fulcrum of the team, so why didn't Digard or O'Neil go man-to-man on him after the re-start? …

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