Birmingham City 3 Middlesbrough 0
ONLY time will tell how costly Middlesbrough’s defeat at Birmingham City will be to their promotion challenge, but they now face fighting to stay in the mix for a play-off place without key man Rhys Williams.
In the wake of his side’s disastrous performance, Tony Mowbray revealed that Williams will be missing for a number of weeks after suffering an ankle ligament injury.
The Australian international hobbled off midway through last weekend’s defeat to Leeds United and the Boro boss confirmed that Williams’ ankle has been placed in a protective cast for two or three weeks to help it heal.
It is uncertain whether Williams will feature again this season, but the news will come as a massive blow to Boro’s promotion aspirations.
Williams has cemented himself as a crucial part of Boro’s promotion-chasing team, both in midfield and at the back, and Mowbray’s admission that his absence will be “like losing two players”
speaks volumes for the Australian’s importance.
Boro are already without Faris Haroun and Barry Robson through injury and suspension respectively and Mowbray admitted the fresh injury blow will leave a gaping hole in his team.
The news could also see Mowbray step up his attempts to sign a midfielder on an emergency loan deal before this week’s deadline, with the Boro boss still keen on Liverpool’s Jonjo Shelvey.
“I don’t think Rhys will be back soon. He’s damaged the ligament in his ankle and that’s never a week or so, it’s always a few weeks,” said Mowbray, who takes his side to Upton Park to face West Ham United tomorrow night.
“Let’s hope we can see him again this season, the physios hope he still has a part to play, but we’ll assess it.
“He’s in a cast for two or three weeks and then we’ll assess it once he gets that off and starts running.
“It’s a blow, but that’s why we have a squad of players.
We have to keep going. The loss of Rhys is a blow, as is Faris Haroun and Barry Robson, particularly away from home.
“Rhys is a blow because of his versatility. Some days we need him to play at the back, others we need him in midfield, so it’s like losing two players really and that’s more of a blow for us, the lack of options, because he takes away a couple by being out.”
Mowbray was far from happy with his side’s disastrous display at St Andrew’s, particularly given their impressive record on the road this season and he was particularly disappointed with the slack defending, which gifted Chris Hughton’s side three simple goals.
Eleven minutes in, Nikola Zigic was allowed to head past Jason Steele unmarked from six yards out after Kevin Thomson had allowed Chris Burke time and space to get the cross in from the right.
Lukas Jutkiewicz missed a great chance to level not long after when Justin Hoyte broke down the right and crossed in to the middle, but the ball came to the striker on a difficult angle and he could only direct his effort wide.
Boro did have the ball in the back of the net early in the second half when a delightful chip from Adam Hammill sent Bennett racing into the box, but his low finish was disallowed after the linesman had flagged for offside.
That proved to be a false sign of a revival though, because within five minutes of the disallowed goal Boro somehow found themselves 3-0 down after some more dithering.
Boro clearly hadn’t learned their lesson from the first half and Pablo Ibanez disposed Hammill. He sent Burke down the right with time and space to send another cross in to Marlon King who finished from eight yards out.
Three minutes later Keith Fahey stole the ball from Hammill in his own half and broke forward before cutting inside and drilling his low shot into the bottom corner.
Boro’s frustrations were summed up late on when Boaz Myhill denied Seb Hines’ close range header with a brilliant save, but rather than missed opportunities it was Boro’s defensive frailties that ultimately cost them.
“We lost because of too many elementary mistakes, which is something I haven’t said a lot of the season,” Mowbray said.
“The resilience of the side wasn’t there and yet for spells of the game we looked threatening, but if you give away the goals we did then you’re not going to win any football matches.
“For me you can’t give goals away like we have the last couple of games. They didn’t really have to work for their goals. Today they were 3-0 winners and a lot of it was of our own making really.
“You get to know your players after results like this and to be fair to them for the vast majority of this season they have managed to bounce back from the adversity of a poor result and hopefully they can do that against West Ham.”