Middlesbrough must quickly get back to basics if they are to flourish in the Championship.
That was the frank assessment from boss Tony Mowbray after the toothless Teessiders slumped to a 3-1 defeat at no-frills Ipswich.
Boro’s intricate passing gave them an early lead through Albert Adomah, but they failed to build on that and when Mick McCarthy’s Tractor Boys stepped up a gear they had no answer.
Ipswich increased the pace, snapped into tackles high up the pitch to force rattled Boro into mistakes and started to pound the visitors’ box with testing crosses as they eased to victory with two strikes from David McGoldrick either side of a Luke Chambers header.
Chastened Mowbray has warned his team they must quickly learn to deal with what is a familiar format they will face frequently this term in an unforgiving division.
Mowbray, a play-off winner and Wembley goal-scorer with Ipswich, said: “Ipswich deserved the victory for the honest and hard work they put in. I don’t think we can argue too much. For 20 minutes, we played pretty decent football and put ourselves in front – then we stopped doing what we were doing well.
“Ipswich are a team who do the basics well and if you don’t do the basics well too then they will punish you. They close you down, put their foot through the ball in defence and ask questions of you and we fell a bit short defensively.
“We need to learn lessons and find a way to play against teams who work so hard to press the ball. We didn’t ask enough questions of Ipswich in the second half.”
Once the hosts got a grip of the game Boro were in trouble. The home side hustled them out of possession in midfield and got the ball wide to quickly whip in crosses that pinned Boro back and piled on the pressure.
Mowbray said: “They put a lot of balls in the box. You have to be able to defend that.
“We talked in the build-up about how the stats showed Ipswich have put more balls into the box than any other side in the Championship and when teams do that you have to make sure you keep heading the ball away, clearing the ball. Ultimately we didn’t do that. The second goal was a simple ball into the box and we didn’t defend it.
“We can’t keep losing basic Championship goals like that.”
Boro started brightly and piled on the early pressure with patient passing and probing. They went ahead on 12 minutes as a half-cleared was nodded back into the crowd for Adomah to hook from eight yards to claim his first goal since a £1m eve-of-season move from Bristol City.
Ipswich, though, gradually gained the upper hand and started to bombard the Boro box.
They levelled on 34 minutes with a cracking goal as McGoldrick wriggled past former Sunderland man Dean Whitehead to send an angled 22-yard curler beyond Steele and inside the far post.
Ipswich took the lead on 57 minutes as full-back Cresswell surged down the flank unchallenged to put in a cross for unmarked Chambers to power home a header.
Boro threw everything forward in the closing stages and after a few half chances had a good chance to level at the death as a superb cross from Marvin Emnes picked out Adomah at the far post – but his header squirted wide. Then, deep in stoppage time, Jonathan Woodgate failed to deal with a long ball forward – leaving McGoldrick to burst clear to seal victory as he drilled in his second.
Mowbray said: “Winning and losing games is part and parcel of football. The good thing is we very quickly get another chance to put it right on Tuesday when we go to Nottingham Forest .”
Boro can take heart from the displays of some of their new recruits.
Adomah scored and £500,000 midfield debutant Jacob Butterfield showed an instinct to get forward before fading, while £900,000 striker and fellow deadline-day signing Kie Kamara showed in flashes he can be a handful in the box.