BORO in “doing it the hard way” shock! Our heroes gifted the minnows a goal with a dysfunctional offside trap, then hit the post, hit the bar, came from behind and then missed a penalty before going ahead in extra time only to throw a comfortable lead away at the death. Extra time and pennas to beat a team that should have been dead and buried long before the 90 minutes were up.
Here’s a few observations:
SPOT OF BOTHER: Penalty king Yakubu has made the laid back penalty into an art form with an exquisite range of deft chips, flicks and casual strokes of audacious quality. Yeah, yeah, but sometimes you should just welly them.
The Bristol shot-stopper has obviously been watching the videos – Yak had scored 17 out of 18 in English football before tonight and has slotted away five this season, all “cheeky” ones. They have relied on a supreme steely nerve in the run-up brinkmanship, waiting for the keeper to go before selecting his spot and stroke. Weall just stood and waited and the Yak ran out of time to choose. Other Premiership keepers will have taken note. As did Yak. His shoot-out effort was just belted and it came off the post. We must hope his confidence is not dented.
The chatter in the underpass suggested the extra-time penalty was the worst ever for Boro. Don’t be daft. Don’t you remember Juninho’s effort at Old Trafford when, after the United players had mugged Andy D’Urso for daring to even award it, the pint-sized dream weaver hit a shot so weak it barely reached the goal line and the keeper was laughing as he came out to collect. And what of the fabled Bobby Thompson effort that hit the cormer flag? Or is that urban legend?
Whatever the Yak’s problems here – he shoud just whack the next couple before trying any more funny stuff – the rest of the spot kicks were brilliant and it was fitting that super-sub Magic Johnson got the winner after an electrifying contribution and a piledriver that rattled the bar.
On the other side of the shoot-out Mark Schwarzer deserves credit for two match winning saves. I was initially harsh on him for not saving the opener but having watched it again he did his best and the inquest will surely point the finger at a badly executed offside trap and the sluggish reaction of poor Andrew Taylor on the far side.
WIZARD OF OZ: Mark Viduka was brilliant. Within minutes of coming on he had galvanised a side that had looked pedestrian in the first half and sparked a string of exciting attacking moves. He was holding defenders off, turning his marker and slotting some neat balls into the box for Yakubu to run onto and really he should be revelling in a Man of the Match display that produced three or four assists. He had chances himself – he scooped one over after Johnson’s shot came back over the bar and had another overhead effort off target too – but it is the ease with which he carves open defences that is the most significant aspect of his game.
That he is yet to be signed up for next season will be cause for some alarm for Boro fans who see week after week that he is the player who makes the team tick up front.
STREAK OF LUCK: After a weekend when a drunk staggered onto the pitch at Chelsea and wandered around telling the players they were his best pal and when a potential nutter jumped out of the crowd at St James’ brandishing what appeared to be an iron bar it is reassuring that Boro can still produce the traditional harmless idiot when it comes to streakers.
Our man, a fat lad in what appeared to be comedy outsize Y-fronts, jumped out of the North Stand when play was down the other end and wobbled off toward the half-way line accompanied by laughter before turning back and trundling into the box where he slide on his knees to the penalty spot arms aloft to acknowledge the crowd’s roar of ‘you fat bastard’ . He was last seen heading off between two beefy stewards to claim his place in terrace folklore.
We do good streakers. The nun and chicken earlier this season were very funny while the tabloid prompted sexy santas that snogged Gazza are fondly remembered too.