BORO served up the mandatory nervous finish after failing to make some good possession count and supporters who expected some post-Cardiff compensation in the shape of a net-busting goal spree against a dire Derby team bidding to be the worst in Premier League history were left sorely disappointed. And with the game failing to warm the cockles of the purists, a blustery Baltic blast that saw brass monkeys donning long Johns was compounded late on with flurries of snow. It was far from being a feast of football fun…. but hey – three points. Job done.
With everything set up nicely for a “typical Boro” bullet through size nines moment – the team had just picked up two impressive unbudgeted bonus points that could easily have been six with a pair of gritty away displays against top of the table sides – the team failed to fold and lose to the rock bottom whipping boys.
Most seasoned observers of this long running tragicom of ours would have half-expected a defeat, after all, Boro handed over the only away win of the season to the previous worst Premier League side – the comically inept Mackem side that finished with 15 points but who managed a 2-0 win at the Riverside with Julio Arca on the scoresheet with a curling free-kick.
And some would argue that Boro did their best to give Derby at least one point this time out, failing to press home their advantage when dominating before slowly, painfully, ominously retreating and surrendering the initiative to rely on the low banjo/cow connection properties of one time failed Riverside trialist Robert Earnshaw to keep their goal intact.
But none of that matters. We are at the business end of the season and at the wrong end of the table and there are no marks for artistic interpretation, chances created or attendance. Nailing Derby into their coffin has helped Boro make an ungainly lurch towards the safety line and back into that precious 12th spot at the head of the Group of Death that is the Premier League’s third division. In what is shaping up to be the tightest, scrappiest, lowest points scoring, worst season ever in a bottom half paralysed by fear, Boro are almost but not quite there. They may only need four or five more points from the last seven games to be – and two will possibly do it if they come from Bolton and Sunderland.
There were some positives. The crowd was far higher than many had predicted. Boateng’s recent revival continued and both his sizzling second half shot and the deft touch on the flank to send Tuncay weaving in towards the box to score were a delight. Cattermole’s buzzing and battling unsettled Derby (although he still picked up his habitual needless booking). Aliadiere showed flashes in the first half, especailly in linking up with the tricky Turk (although he then faded in the second half). But for a couple of good saves and a couple of penalty calls waved away ait could have been far more comfortable. And Alves put a dampener on the wilder speculation on the Teesside rumour mill by shrugging off his frustrating compound cold/hamstring to make a cameo that showed he was still around (although still not fully tuned to the pace of the Premiership.) But again, none of that really matters right now.
As a display and as a result it was far from inspirational… but it will do. With tough games against Chelsea and Manchester United coming up it was crucial to get something in the bank ready for what is sure to be a cut-throat few weeks.