WHILE the early signs are that Middlesbrough’s home hoodoo could be at an end, the lack of killer instinct that haunted last season’s performances at the Riverside has now affected their away record.
The season is young, just four games have been played in the Championship and an international break looms, a break that Boro go into on the back of a defeat in the capital that could have been a different story had they taken their chances.
It’s not exactly a cause for concern. Nobody wins or loses promotion in the first month of the season. And while Tony Mowbray has branded his side’s start to the campaign as “average”, Boro fans know as much as any that a lightning start to the season isn’t entirely the be all and end all.
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The Teessiders started last term like a rocket, but this year’s vintage are finding their feet as a team and a 3-1 defeat at The New Den will probably not be dwelt on come May.
While Mowbray was disappointed, the Middlesbrough manager is not one to hit the panic button, and was typically pragmatic in the wake of his side’s second defeat on the road this term, which came as a result of an Andy Keogh brace after Lions captain Liam Trotter opened the scoring.
“For long spells we controlled it, yet we lose three goals and we get nothing from it,” said Mowbray, who was forced to leave Mustapha Carayol out after the winger had over-extended his knee in midweek.
“We have to keep working away. It’s early in the season, we need to get the balance right. There wasn’t enough penetration from the wide areas today.
“Mustapha Carayol’s a big loss for us, he’s shown what he can bring to our team. There was lots of decent play from us but not enough end product.
“We’re disappointed with the goals we conceded. Millwall are what they are, they get the ball in your box, they ask questions of you, they’re an extremely hard-working team and we need to defend balls a lot better than we did.
The last goal, we were gambling and pushing right on and got caught, but I’m disappointed with all the goals.
“We must have had a dozen shots but they all rolled into the goalkeeper’s hands from 20 yards, there were no clean strikes like we’ve seen in recent weeks.
“Everything was scuffed a little bit. We created enough opportunities and got into threatening areas, but we lacked that final touch, that final burst past them. We had chances at the end but didn’t stick it in their net.
“First half, the majority of the play was ours, yet we were 2-0 down. There was no tide to turn, we just didn’t punish them with our possession and play. That’s what football is, you have to keep it out at one end and score at the other end, we didn’t do enough at either end.”
Millwall bossed the early stages of the game and opened the scoring on 25 minutes when Trotter shot from 20 yards past Jason Steele .
And it was worse for Boro ten minutes later when goalscorer Trotter’s shot beat Steele again, hit the post and Keogh was on hand to slot in the rebound.
Boro reduced the deficit two minutes before half-time after George Friend – Boro’s man of the match – was scythed down in the box by Jimmy Abdou after the full-back ran 80 yards to meet Emnes’ pass. The Dutchman stepped up to take the penalty and slotted it into the right corner of Maik Taylor’s net.
Despite the goal, Boro did not really kick on in the second half, and while they offered a sporadic goal threat, it was Millwall who looked more likely to score, when on 52 minutes they spurned an opportunity following James Henry’s drilled free kick which Keogh couldn’t make count.
Friend, keen to get forward, had a shot deflected out for a corner on the hour mark after Emanuel Ledesma’s perfect diagonal ball, while at the other end Millwall’s man-ofthe- match Trotter found Keogh, who squared for Josh Wright to shoot just wide of Steele’s goal.
Then Millwall put the gloss on a well-deserved victory on 86 minutes when Keogh, signed from Wolverhampton Wanderers last season, scored his second when he converted Scott Malone’s cross past Steele.
Almost immediately, Boro registered two quickfire chances when Friend shot at Taylor, while Emnes missed a sitter on the rebound when he scooped over the bar from inside the six-yard box.
Mowbray said of his side’s start to the season: “You’d have to say it was an average start. The two away games should have seen us picking up points yet we’ve got no points.
“We’ve won two games at home, so it’s turning it a bit on its head from last season.
“A lot of changes have taken place over the summer so it might take a bit of time for us all to gel.
“You have to say we’ve been unfortunate in losing some players who may well have been involved, but that will be the case all season.
“That is why we have squads but today, collectively, we weren’t good enough as a squad.”