Taking a chance on Adama Traore doesn't pay off for Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough found themselves on the wrong side of a couple of key moments as they went down 2-1 at the Riverside to Arsenal.
With a draw not being of use to either side and with the game delicately poised at 1-1, Steve Agnew took a chance and substituted on the frustrating starlet Adama Traore to give Boro some presence in the final third. But it backfired, as the pacy winger lost possession in a key area, leading to Mesut Ozil's winning goal.
Now six points adrift of safety with six games to play against the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, it's looking certain that Middlesbrough will play their football in England's second tier next season.
True to the context of the game, Middlesbrough's players left every ounce of their energy out on the pitch. The much-maligned Antonio Barragan turned in his best performance of the season in shackling Alexis Sanchez, and Daniel Ayala was a rock at the heart of the defence.
The number of chances created also was much improved, but, despairingly, the ball would just not get over the line on a couple of occasions before Boro were undone at the other end.
With Middlesbrough having looked the more likely side, a poor challenge from Adam Clayton gave Sanchez a free kick in the perfect position to strike one beyond Brad Guzan. Traore had a glaring opportunity 8 yards out to shoot for goal or pass -- only to end up doing neither before giving away possession and allowing the Gunners to net their winner.
The negative tactics earlier this season and not going for the win in games have killed Boro, but no such accusations could be leveled at this spirited showing.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Agnew's decision to leave Traore and Rudy Gestede on the bench raised eyebrows before the game but was largely justified. Gaston Ramirez turned in one of his brighter showings and Stewart Downing linked up superbly well with a stunning delivery for Alvaro Negredo to stab home the equaliser. Agnew's substitutions attempted to push Boro over the line but ended up opening the game in Arsenal's favour.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Brad Guzan, 5 -- Was largely under-worked but was poorly positioned in failing to get anywhere near Sanchez's free kick.
DF Antonio Barragan, 7 -- A much better evening's work for Barragan saw him hold his position well, keep tabs effectively on Sanchez and also get forward with aplomb when the opportunity arose.
DF Daniel Ayala, 7 -- Some fantastic tackles kept Boro in touch with Arsenal, and Ayala was also clever with his distribution.
DF Ben Gibson, 6 -- Another wholehearted performance from Gibson, who was unlucky not to get on the score sheet with a half-chance from a knocked-down header.
DF Fabio, 6 -- His time on the pitch was cruelly cut short, as he had to leave the field after suffering injury in the 17th minute.
MF Adam Clayton, 6 -- Gave everything in the ferocious battles of central midfield but too often was guilty of poor decision-making with the ball. Gave away a cheap foul in an area that was exposed by the class of Sanchez.
MF Marten de Roon, 6 -- A consistent and committed performer but was another one putting his side under pressure with the amount of fouls he gave away.
MF Grant Leadbitter, 6 -- Effective in switching the ball to either wing and marshaling his men but didn't do enough to hurt Arsenal with his own efforts.
MF Stewart Downing, 6 -- Exploded into life after a poor first half with a scintillating assist for Negredo before wasting a golden opportunity on his favoured left to fire Boro ahead.
MF Gaston Ramirez, 6 -- Bright and energetic on and off the ball, looked dangerous throughout his 68 minutes on the field.
FW Alvaro Negredo, 7 -- Held the ball up expertly and was the right man in right place to capitalise on Downing's cross and prod home Boro's equaliser.
DF George Friend, 5 -- Lacking match fitness and carrying an element of ring rust, Friend did not have the ball truly under his command at various points and will be upset that he couldn't do more.
MF Adama Traore, 4 -- From the sublime to the ridiculous, the curious case of Traore continued as he tormented Nacho Monreal to almost put Boro ahead before giving the ball away in a criminally poor position and had to be berated a few times by his colleagues for his lack of awareness.
FW Rudy Gestede, 5 -- Offered a more direct threat but came on at a time when Boro were physically and mentally shattered, which rendered him ineffective.
Catherine Wilson ESPN FC's Middlesbrough blogger. You can follow her on Twitter: @Basslady