GORDON Strachan last night denied his slithering side are being dogged by bad luck.
The new Middlesbrough manager has seen his new side lose two games on the trot after dominating and creating a string of golden chances.
Boro were a point off the top when the Scot took over the Riverside reigns but they slipped down to tenth in the cut-throat Championship table after being toppled in a Palace coup on Saturday.
The Teessiders bossed the game for long spells and missed a string of sitters before being caught cold in the second half when Neil Warnock’s side broke out to score when a Boro corner was scrambled clear.
But Strachan refuted any suggestion that his side’s recent downturn in fortune was a case of rough justice. “We can’t say it was unlucky,” said Strachan. “A result is a result, unlucky doesn’t come into it.
If the ball is going into the net and a dog runs onto the pitch and stops it, then that’s unlucky. But when you have chances in a game and you don’t take them then you have a problem.
“And we had a fantastic number of opportunities.”
There can be no arguing with that. Boro had four clear chances to score and should have had the game wrapped up long before former Newcastle man Darren Ambrose landed the sickening sucker punch.
The first came on 18 minutes, when David Wheater went up for a free-kick and nodded down Justin Hoyte’s ball into a crowded box for the alert Adam Johnson to rob a sluggish defender then roll the ball inside nicely for Marcus Bent.
The on-loan Birmingham hitman, making his first start for Boro, was unmarked 12 yards out but with time and space he somehow screwed his effort well wide.
Then on the half-hour Johnson and Gary O’Neil combined to find Leroy Lita and Bent in the box but both declined to pull the trigger and instead passed the ball back and forth until the Palace defence got back to scramble the danger away. Boro should really have gone ahead on 55 minutes when a Palace attack broke down and O’Neil quickly sent Lita surging down the right but with Hoyte, Bent and Johnson screaming for the ball he opted to go outside the last man and kept going into the box – and his wasteful shot, when it finally came, was from an acute angle and flashed harmlessly across the face of goal.
Boro went close again on 76 minutes as another loan signing, Isaiah Osbourne, sent O’Neil through the middle and past his marker to the edge of the box.
One-on-one with Palace keeper Julián Speroni, and with all the goal to aim at, he tried to chip towards the far top corner but the shot-stopper stretched got a finger on it and tipped it over.
By then Boro were chasing the game. Palace, who had always looked threatening on the break, launched a lightning raid to score the winner on 65 minutes from a poorly-executed Boro corner. The initial flag-kick was woefully over-hit and when Sean St Ledger went out wide to pump it back in, it was cleared easily by Palace to the half-way line where Alan Lee floated a fantastic cross field ball to the edge of the Boro box.
Neil Danns out-jumped Hoyte to flick the ball on for Ambrose 12 yards out, and he showed the Teessiders exactly what to do in front of goal as he picked his spot.
Strachan admitted the outcome was disappointing and confessed his frustration at shot-shy Boro’s failure to score since he took charge.
“When you have a four against one situation and you dont score a goal at the end of it, it is nothing to do with luck,” he said. “That was surreal. It was frustrating.”
CRYSTAL PALACE: Speroni, Butterfield, Fonte, Davis, Hill, Danns (Carle 81), Ertl, Derry, Ambrose, Sears (N’Diaye 88), Lee. Subs (not used): Clyne, John, Moses, Scannell, Djilali. Booked: Butterfield.
Goal: Ambrose 65.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Jones, Hoyte (Arca 69), St. Ledger, Wheater, Grounds, O’Neil, Williams, Osbourne, Johnson, Lita (Franks 77), Bent. Subs (not used): Coyne, Yeates, Emnes, Bennett, McMahon.
Referee: James Linnington (Isle of Wight).