PHEW. Job done. Pompey seen off in a fixture that could so easily have been staged at Wembley if the season hadn’t taken a frustrating and disappointing detour. Still, two good goals – ironically from set pieces and against a poorly executed man marking system – after a jittery start and the full three points that make the table a less painful read. Sighs of relief all round.
And what could have been a major dropped clanger with the recalled Riggs – the underpass consensus was that he would be never able to motivate himself having been called back from the chance of promotion glory at Stoke – proved a managerial masterstroke as the Emmerdale lookalike defender got his Easter Island head to a superbly delivered corner on 40 minutes. That was his first goal since the Steaua semi-final so he knows when to deliver.
And Tuncay also got in on the act, scoring another from early in the second half, making a well timed run from 12 yards out to get to Stewy Downing’s in-swinger. Boy can he celebrate. He loves every single goal and has a smile as wide as the Transporter when he hits the net. That took him to eight, level with Downing as top scorer (a fact that may just take a little bit of the pressure on Stewy to both create and score).
Tuncay worked his nuts off. He runs and harries and scampers all around the pitch, following the path of the ball and closing in and yapping around defenders’ ankles like a hyper-active Jack Russell in Albert Park. He must have been knackered after the game. His relentless energy and willingness to chase lost causes forces the opposition in mistakes, unsettles them, puts them under the kind of pressure that they should really – but rarely – get from Boro’s slo-mo midfield. No wonder he is adored by the supporters. With a season under his belt and a beefed up engine-room behind him he can finally be ‘spectacular’ next season.
It was a strange game. Boro started slowly: the midfield was the least pacy possible option and given the way Boro had ripped into Bolton in the last home game it seemed crazy not to start with Aliadiere on the right and opt for steady and solid Boateng instead. And on the left Mad Dog seemed out of sorts in the left back role – a string of early Portsmouth attacks scythed through that area and twice Baros went close leaving the Riverside crowd groaning inwardly and there were some audible yelps as the nerves kicked in.
But after 15 minutes Pompey suddenly realised that this wasn’t the cup final and decided to save themselves for the real thing. No matter what professionals say, or their manager’s insist, you can’t tell me that two weeks before the FA Cup final these lads will risk getting crocked or sent off in a 50/50 challenge in a nothing match. And having done enough in that opening spell to assuage any guilt about lack of effort they eased off just enough to let Boro take control.
The players relaxed. The crowd relaxed. And Boro actually played some neat football at times. Downing looked lively on the left, Young was getting forward and over-lapping the Boat on the right to put some good balls in, the ever-frustrating Rochemback had one of his better games and was playing his high-risk flicks and tricks on the edge of the right box and Tuncay and Alves looked to working well together, although despite that Boro still struggled to either pick a way through with the final ball or beat the Land of the Giants backline when crosses came in.
After Riggott scored there was only ever one outcome.Tuncay’s second capped it and there should have been what would have been a delightful third as Tuncay and Rocky combined to pick out Downing in space in the box on 78 minutes but his low shot was well held.
A word for the ref. The officials have taken some stick in recent weeks (and the man in black got his share of the mandatory boos yesterday too, not least when he sent Wheater off for treatment leaving Boro to defend a corner a man down) but he let the game flow, played the advantage law at all times and there was a commendable outbreak of common sense in the second half as Downing and Mvuamba grappled on the by line after the Pompey man had blocked a cross. The ref started running to intervene almost before they hit the ground and by the time the legs and arms started flying he was there to drag them apart. Five yards slowly and one of them could have landed a haymaker.