Middlesbrough 0-1 Coventry City: play-off heartbreak for Boro

“Deep in my heart I believe,” cried a banner on the South Stand at Riverside Stadium on Wednesday night. The hope – the belief – was that Boro would travel to Wembley and the Premier League.

Since Carrick’s arrival in October, Boro has seemed to lie in wait for as long as a Premier League side this season, beating away the visiting teams at the Riverside with ease.

But in those sides’ third meeting in nine days, the tenacious Coventry City did what no team had done since Carrick’s arrival at Teesside: prevented Boro from scoring at the Riverside. And so it was Gustavo Hamer’s goal three minutes to the hour that ended a nervous and tense second leg.

Only Burnley had beaten Carrick’s Boro at Riverside before Coventry.

Aside from Burnley, Boro were the best team in the Championship for much of the second half of the season. However, they lost some of their rhythm in the final weeks of the season and the well-organized Sky Blues prevented the home side from performing at their best again. Mark Robins’ team did a good job at Boro.

It’s been quite a brilliant season and it’s the next season Boro has come closest to a return to the Premier League since retiring from the top flight in 2017. There are so many positive things to build on and they undoubtedly have the right man at the helm. Boro can recover and come back stronger next season. But right now, it’s a great pain at a missed opportunity.

On Wednesday evening, the Riverside crackled with anticipation. Fan groups and club staff were in the stadium until Tuesday night to prepare. Flags were left at every seat and waved in a powerful show of unity, blaring ‘Oh Carrick said’, a new twist on last season’s favourite.

Ahead of the game, Darragh Lenihan expressed his surprise at Boro’s “incredible” support this year and urged fans to do their part. Carrick said something similar. The fans were duly obliged.

And Boro reacted early. Marcus Forss, who came on for Isaiah Jones, had a shot after 13 seconds. And it was Coventry who had started it. The Sky Blues had held Ryan Giles well at bay in the first leg but after just four minutes he produced a brilliant display that deserved the finishing touch.

It was always crucial for Boro to repeat his Sunday win and tie up Viktor Gyokeres, who was barely touched in the first leg. But the 21-goal Coventry striker came close to opening the scoring when a back pass from Tommy Smith went under. Luckily, Zack Steffen was alert and got out of his blocks just as quickly as Richard Kilty to get past the loose ball from the striker.

Boro dominated the fight in the middle in the first leg, prompting Robins, who signed a new contract with the Sky Blues just hours before the game at the Riverside, to tweak his system and add an extra midfielder. It helped.

And so, unsurprisingly, it turned into a tricky, tricky affair. There were four yellow cards in the first half, but the first shot on target came in the last second of the first period when Lenihan easily saved a header.

Previously, it had been difficult to find vacancies. Jamie Allen looked like he had his sights set on goal for a moment, but Giles, Boro’s best player of the first half, came on lightning fast and made a crucial save. On the other side, a shot was deflected by Forss.

It took a moment, a hero.

And for Coventry it should have been Jamie Allen. When Akpom was expropriated midway, Boro appeared to be in trouble. Gyokeres set Sheaf off to the left. He crossed to Allen, but with the goal still open, he missed his finish when it seemed harder to miss.

Coventry seemed more likely and the 2,000 away fans felt that too. In the 57th minute they celebrated the opening goal.

Giles conceded the ball with a sloppy pass just into Boros half and the visitors took full advantage of the ball. Sheaf routed Gyokeres, who rounded Steffen but went wide of the gate, allowing Boro to regain the bodies. It didn’t matter, Hamer picked up the loose ball and found it in the top corner with a great finish.

Sky cameras show Aaron Ramsey in the stands with his head in his hands. How Carrick wished he could call on the Aston Villa loanee. He had Jones to turn to and the winger was immediately sent to warm up.

Jones came on as a substitute midway through the second half along with Barlaser and Dijksteel. The home side desperately needed a spark.

But they almost went two behind when goalscorer Hamer was just inches from a second and his free-kick from 25 yards out hit the bar.

Boro tried to get through the aisles and created his best chance since the goal when a McGree shot was blocked in the box after Giles’ free-kick was only half cleared.

Matt Crooks was sent on hoping he would have another big moment. Archer had the ball in the net a few moments later, but the flag went up. Eight minutes of stoppage time offered hope but ended in heartbreak.

https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/sport/23530085.middlesbrough-0-1-coventry-city-play-off-heartbreak-boro/?ref=rss Middlesbrough 0-1 Coventry City: play-off heartbreak for Boro


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