Riverside blues continue to leave Middlesbrough’s fate still in the balance

Not happy: Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock walks off after the Sky Bet Championship match at the Riverside. Pictures: Tim Goode/PANot happy: Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock walks off after the Sky Bet Championship match at the Riverside. Pictures: Tim Goode/PA
Not happy: Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock walks off after the Sky Bet Championship match at the Riverside. Pictures: Tim Goode/PA
DURING the Covid-19 crisis, there have been many privations for football supporters.

Being unable to attend home matches at the Riverside Stadium has not been one for Middlesbrough followers.

It has probably been a blessing, to be honest.

Appalling was the word which Neil Warnock chose to describe Boro’s home form ahead of this visit of one of his former clubs.

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Challenge: Middlesbrough's Anfernee Dijksteel and Cardiff City's Joe Bennett battle for the ball.Challenge: Middlesbrough's Anfernee Dijksteel and Cardiff City's Joe Bennett battle for the ball.
Challenge: Middlesbrough's Anfernee Dijksteel and Cardiff City's Joe Bennett battle for the ball.

Plenty of Teessiders would choose to be more colourful in their language to sum it up.

Boro have not won on home soil since Boxing Day – 11 games in all competitions – with their Riverside campaign ending in thoroughly predictable fashion.

It has been a long, long season that everyone connected with the club will be keen to draw a line under and start again – as a Championship club.

A poignant post-match picture of one of the club’s real loyal servants and a former promotion hero in George Friend sitting alone in the home dug-out, deep in thought after what could be his final home match in a Boro jersey aptly conveyed the fact that this has been a bruising and thoroughly challenging year.

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Punch: Middlesbrough goalkeeper Aynsley Pears clears the ball.Punch: Middlesbrough goalkeeper Aynsley Pears clears the ball.
Punch: Middlesbrough goalkeeper Aynsley Pears clears the ball.

The best result that Boro received was elsewhere before play got under way, with Charlton’s draw with Wigan meaning that should the Latics’ 12-point penalty for entering administration come into play – they are appealing – then they are already safe.

If the deduction is not applied and Boro lose on the final day at Hillsborough – and a freakish set of results transpire elsewhere, they could still go down.

Expect plenty of litigation if that occurs.

Warnock, for one, is calling for the Wigan issue to be resolved before his side step out at Sheffield Wednesday – also waiting to hear their fate with the club facing a potential points deduction if they are found guilty of breaching ‘Profitability and Sustainability’ rules.

Specifically on the Wigan situation, Warnock said: “It is to be hoped that everything can be put to bed by then (the final game). They must know how important the appeal is. They cannot just drag it on forever, can they. Hopefully, we will get a decision by Wednesday.”

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A Cardiff side that Warnock built and are very much in his own image never looked in any serious danger in their quest to claim the victory to put them on the cusp of play-off participation.

Solid at the back, with authority in midfield, pace on the flanks, strength up top and a bit of class in former Boro favourite Lee Tomlin, Cardiff look the real deal.

Saturday’s events confirmed – not that it needed reasserting – that Boro’s squad needs major surgery and it will take all of Warnock’s dexterity to sort it out in the close season if he elects to stay beyond this month should the Teessiders stay up.

A day which started well enough with the scoreline at The Valley soon descended with an awful early concession.

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It did not get any better after. The incessant squawking of the seagulls which flew above the Riverside resembled mocking laughter and the noise of the scrambling bikes practicing around the area was also as irritating as events on the pitch.

Several choice touchline F-words from Warnock provided the only animation in an unsatisfactory first half.

Boro were up against it right from the moment some schoolboy defending gifted Cardiff a fourth-minute opener, which was as soft as it gets.

The hosts ball-watched from Joe Ralls’s well-flighted corner and big Sean Morrison was in splendid isolation as he obligingly headed home.

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The second goal just after the break was even worse with Anfernee Dijksteel leaving an ocean of space and allowing substitute Josh Murphy to race away unhindered after latching onto Tomlin’s pass.

Murphy bundled in a late third after Nathaniel Mendez-Laing outpaced Dael Fry before Britt Assombalonga’s fine free-kick saw him score a consolation goal for the second successive home game, which ended with a late dismissal for Jonny Howson.

Aside from that goal, a strike from the impressive Marcus Tavernier which hit the bar and the result at Charlton, there was little else to enthuse about.

Middlesbrough: Pears; Dijksteel (Assombalonga 58), Fry, Friend, Spence, Howson, Saville (McNair 58), Johnson; Tavernier, Roberts (Coulson 58), Fletcher (Nmecha 67). Unused substitutes: Stojanovic, Wood, Wing.

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Cardiff City: Smithies; Bacuna, Morrison, Nelson, Bennett; Mendez-Laing (Sanderson 90), Vaulks, Ralls (Bamba 90), Hoilett (Murphy 17); Tomlin (Pack 72), Glatzel (Ward 72). Unused substitutes: Etheridge, Flint, Smith, Paterson.

Referee: J Simpson (Lancashire).

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