Another season over, another season in the Championship. It all ended a bit flat, with an overriding sense of disappointment.
After the dust had settled, I decided to look back at the highs and lows of the season. SPOILER: There are more lows than highs.
LOW: The first 80 minutes at Millwall
Any remaining pre-season optimism was drained away in a shambolic first half in South London.
A shapeless, clueless Boro were overrun by a direct, pacey, battling Millwall. A swift counter lead to the first goal after 12 minutes, and a howler from debutant Aden Flint gifted them a second.
Millwall could and should have scored a couple more against a Boro side who looked like they were still on holiday.
Even the PA wanted to put Boro fans out of their misery, advising them to leave 20 mins early to catch a train. Many took their advice; few would blame them.
HIGH: The last 10 minutes at Millwall
Those who stuck around were treated to a remarkable turnaround. Boro grew into the game, and we saw glimpses of what Lewis Wing and Marcus Tavernier could offer.
It wasn’t until the 87th minute when Tav’s determined run set up Martin Braithwaite to halve the deficit.
Then, in the 96th minute, as Boro threw bodies forward with abandon, a scuffed shot from Wing squirmed its way through to George Friend who poked home to send Boro fans crazy.
Liverpool and Spurs eat your hearts out.
HIGH: Dani Ayala’s wonder goal
Following the Millwall debacle, Boro actually won the next four league games. The one that really stands out was the 1-0 win over WBA.
Going into the game all the talk was about West Brom’s free scoring side who had just beaten QPR 7-1.
But Boro contained them in a perfect Pulis display, and somehow nicked an unlikely victory with a last minute goal from Dani Ayala.
Nights like this almost made me like Tony Pulis.
HIGH: The Battle of Elland Road
It was 1st v 2nd under the Friday night lights and a local-ish derby to boot.
In the early stages of the season, everybody in the media was fawning over Bielsa’s Leeds side. Some were labelling them as the best ever Championship side, while Boro had gone relatively unnoticed.
That underdog tag suited Boro to a tee, and they dug in to claim a valuable point. Going into the international break, we had made a surprisingly strong start.Embed from Getty Images
Is this when the season went off the rails? 12 games in, we had only lost one, and were solid if unspectacular.
But then Aitor Karanka rolled into town, like an ex turning up at your wedding, and ruined the party.
Boro couldn’t handle the pace and movement and offered little themselves – this would be a recurring theme throughout the season.
After this, they were never quite the same at home.
LOW: Lonely at the Top
Boro had the chance to go top and relegation fodder Rotherham seemed like the perfect opponents.
But blunt Boro couldn’t break them down, and even though the 0-0 draw sent them top, the teamed were booed at the end of the match.
George Friend was not impressed, and we saw the first signs of a rift between club and fans which would rumble on for the rest of the season.
HIGH: Up for the Cup
The League Cup was a nice sideshow at the beginning of the season, as the kids made it through 3 entertaining matches including 2 penalty shoot-outs.
In the 4th round, Pulis got one over on another of his former clubs thanks to a Lewis Wing wonder strike.
It was the first home win in over a month and set up an easy quarter final against League One Burton.
What could go wrong?Embed from Getty Images
LOW: The Villans of the Piece
After a brief upturn in form, Boro were still in touch with the top 2 and in the quarter finals of the League Cup.
Things were starting to look up again. But then our playoff nemeses came to the Riverside and ran riot.
Boro couldn’t handle the pace and movement (copy-paste), and the home fans were up in arms. The promotion push was in jeopardy.
LOW: The Easy Quarter Final
Remember that easy quarter final? Yeah, about that…
Boro put in their most insipid display of the season and were outplayed and outfought by a side 33 places below them.
The promotion push was stalling, and now the cup had been meekly surrendered. The fans were in full revolt and Pulis looked like a dead man walking.
LOW: Ex-mas Blues
After a spirited win at Reading, Boro were hoping for some Christmas cheer to kick start their promotion challenge.
Instead they were haunted by a ghost of Christmas past against Sheffield Wednesday, as Adam Reach somehow evaded Boro’s 7 defenders to slot home.
By now it felt like would Pulis would not see out the year. They were in a worse run of form than when Monk had been ditched a year earlier, and fans were well and truly fed up.
HIGH: 5-Star Boro
It was only Peterborough, but then it had ‘only’ been Burton.
Boro played with an unfamiliar verve and swagger, putting Posh to the sword in the second half.
Another Lewis Wing wonder strike was the highlight, but a rare goal for forgotten man Ashley Fletcher was also a touching moment.
Goal of the Day came from Middlesbrough’s Lewis Wing who scored a corker from range in Boro’s emphatic 5-0 win against Peterborough in the FA Cup 🙌 pic.twitter.com/thBoWJueeW— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 5, 2019
HIGH: Brum Brum
Lewis Wing continued his one – man show with a goal and an assist to see off a Birmingham side who were creeping up on the playoffs.
LOW: The Transporter Derby
Another ‘easy’ home tie in the FA Cup, this time Newport were the visitors.
Boro laboured to a 1-0 lead, then inexplicably set up to defend as if they were playing away to Man City.
In the wind and rain, another former player Matty Dolan tapped in a late equaliser to force an unwanted replay.
HIGH: Boing Boing Boro
Boro continued their unbeaten start to 2019 with a big win at play-off rivals West Brom. A late Assombalonga double helped Boro come from behind and suddenly it felt like the promotion push had some life again.Embed from Getty Images
LOW: Newport No-Show
One step forward, two steps back for Boro. Their first defeat of 2019 came in miserable fashion.
On a cold and rainy night in Wales, in front of the BBC cameras, Boro made League 2 Newport look like world beaters.
They lumbered around the pitch, aimlessly hoofed the ball forward and barely laid a glove on their opponents. It was pretty much all lows after this.
LOW: Leeds Late Show
Despite a decent run in the league, Boro still hadn’t won at home in the league in 2019 and had only won one of the last 10.
A win over fierce rivals Leeds would have been the perfect tonic and morale booster, and another Lewis Wing strike looked set to seal it.
But predictably, Boro buckled in injury time, and Leeds snatched an unlikely point.
Boro desperately need a win at home. Ashley Fletcher has given us an early lead. There are 30 minutes left to play. What do you do?
If you are Tony Pulis, you take off your top scorer and bring on a defender to shut up shop against a team in the bottom half.
Typically, Brentford scored twice in 3 minutes to turn the tie around. It was the first time Boro had lost a match after going ahead for almost 5 years, and fans were baying for blood at Pulis’ decision.
To be fair, we might have lost without that substitution, but the timing and the subsequent result will forever be held against him.
LOW: Villans strike again
After two straight defeats, hopes were not high for a trip to in-form Villa.
Pulis risked further ire from fans as he set the team up without any attacking intent, and it badly backfired as Boro were overrun by Villa’s pace and movement (copy-paste).
Villa were 2-0 up at half time and another former Boro player, Albert Adomah, added a late third.
A chorus of “We’re f***ing s***” rang round the away fans towards the end.
LOW: Bristol Bruising
A home defeat to Norwich had pushed Boro out of the top 6 for the first time since August.
But the next match against playoff rivals Bristol City gave them the opportunity to get back in the mix.
Needless to say they failed to take advantage of that opportunity. A string of wasted chances left Pulis and fans alike frustrated, and by now it seemed like playoff chances were dead in the water.
It was soon followed by another morale-sapping defeat at Swansea and many felt the season was over.Embed from Getty Images
HIGH: A strong finish
Credit where it’s due, Boro did make a fight of it having looked completely down and out after six straight defeats. They won their last 3 home games and won 5 of the last 6 overall to take it to the last day.
LOW: Forest at the Double
This might be one of the most frustrating results of the whole season. Having recovered to win 3 in a row, Boro capitulated at Forest and lost 3-0.
The irony of Pulis complaining about the cost of Forest’s squad was not lost on Boro fans who watched £50m worth of players lumber aimlessly around the pitch.
In the end, this result could have been the difference between 6th and 7th place.
Boro somehow went into the last day still with a faint hope of making the play-offs.
They had to win against Rotherham and hope Derby slipped up. they did their part, comfortably bearing Rotherham, and for a brief spell in the second half, it looked like West Brom might do us a favour.
But then in three short minutes, Derby scored two vital goals to finish off the match and Boro’s season.