IF YOU believed the habitual moaners in the underpass, Boro had just spawned their way through a turgid slug-fest and the result could be overturned on appeal by the massed ranks of the national media on the grounds that it was dull, dull, dull. Get real. It was a fantastic cup tie. Boro stood up to a team of spirited underdogs that came to the Riverside to spoil the game – and, in fairness it must be said, almost snatched it – and they created a flurry of excellent chances playing some delightful attacking football.
Sometimes I wonder what people – fans and journalists – want from a game. Boro had 27 shots on goal and nine on target, had 12 corners and brought some excellent saves from Paddy Kenny; Afonso Alves made his first start and showed some sublime skills, some brilliant touches and excellent movement plus a stinging free-kick to show a delicious potential that should excite all but the kind of stony hearted killjoys that populate FA committees; two young lads played in a makeshift back four and were outstanding against a robust, experienced and direct Blades side in a demanding, high-risk atmosphere; the always amusing sight of a keeper coming up for a last gasp corner and then having to peg it all the way back when it is cleared; Stewart Downing was simply brilliant; a bizarre winner from “one Paddy Kenny”; and – most importantly – Boro are through to FA Cup quarter-final (again) at home to a lower league side with Wembley beckoning and the season poised to explode into orgasmic joy. Who cares if the nationwide armchair army of big club groupies didn’t enjoy it?
At root is the obsession that the media have with the big clubs. There is an unspoken under-lying assumption that only a match featured the G-14 sides and football’s pin-up boys can be interesting and entertaining to a small screen audience. And that despite the inescapable reality that most games between Arsenal/ManU/Chelsea/Liverpool are tetchy, ultra-cautious snoozeathons. They are only made to sound exciting because of the sycophantic idiocy of the star-struck commentators, obsequious cheerleaders for the elite. Anyone else need not apply.
The truth is this: had Man United played out a one-sided game like that against, let’s say Boro, the purist pundits would have been gushing at the chance after chance created, the silky skills of this boy Alves and of Downing’s trickery and they would have slated the upstarts for their determination to stop the entertainers playing with rough-house tactics and the killjoy perspective of coming in the hope of getting penalties.
It all makes me puke to be honest. Most of the hacks had their ‘boring Boro’ story written before kick-off and the BBC can hardly complain about the nature of the game as they have picked Boro consistently throughout this campaign hoping for a giant-killing and knowing full well that the minnows would dig in, keep it tight and try to stop any sign of open, free-flowing football.
Meanwhile there will be eyebrows raised at the size of the crowd and that will be dumped on Boro’s doorstep too, not least by the confederacy of dunces on the Three Legends. But hold on a minute. Fingers should be pointed at Sheffiled United here surely? The BBC and the tabloids have been building the Blades up – big club, proud tradition, sleeping giant, passionate fans, blah, blah, blah – yet they did not turn up. Sheffield United were unbeaten under their new boss, it was just down the road, it was cheap, it was there chance for glory and to keep their season alive, they will feel they did in the first leg…. yet only 1,400 or so travelled. When Boro went there for the televised first game 6,000 went with them. Yet Boro’s “low” crowds still get stick. I am bored stupid with the lazy willful ignorance that goes with this story now.
Man of the match: Steve Gibson – pre-match dynamite on Sky followed by a half-time hand-grenade on Match of the Day. The Boro chairman combined a chord-striking principled populism with a shrewd political sense of exactly where the FA’s weak spot lies and a ruthless streak when it comes to delivering a killer blow. Even if Boro lose this battle he will have gained ground, allies and respect in the wider scheme of things. Not a man to be messed with.