AS FAR as ‘papering over the cracks’ goes, you can’t do better than that. An 8-1 hammering at home will certainly send the supporters home smiling, even it is only in bemused disbelief at the on-going perversity of a side that has averaged less than a goal a game at home signing off with an avalanche of net-busting action to send the anoraks rifling through the record books.
Yes, it was against ten men. Yes, it was against a crisis club with a manager and board at loggerheads and the fans in open revolt. And yes, it was the last day when there was nothing to play for and with no pressure on. Who cares! It was a glorious goal glut the memory of which will be handed down in Teesside folklore for generations, with each and every strike getting better with every telling. It offered sublime skills, magical movement, a string of sizzling goals – and it offered hope that next year can be far more rewarding than this.
It was all nicely set up: City arrived divided and distracted and with a UEFA Cup Fairplay lucky losers wildcard at stake they were not likely to be looking to mix it. Rocky crunching Benjani after just five minutes and Luke Young’s version of the Nutcracker Suite played out on Petrov’s undercrackers not long after probably mentally swung the game Boro’s way. Richard Dunne walking on 20 minutes for some stupid minimal contact almost certainly sealed it. The red card and the uproar at the end among the fans may even see City’s Fairplay backdoor slammed.
The City fans had been brilliant all game – noisy, funny, passionate and essentially good natured – so the scenes at the end were shocking and totally out of kilter with the tone of the day. There is no excusing seats being ripped up and thrown, boozed up XXXL semi-retired terrace warriors wobbling down from the back row to join the scrum, fat lads in Hawaiian shirts grappling with police and the sight of grown men in six foot comedy banana costumes throwing punches in an outbreak of hand-to-hand Fyfeing have no place in the game.
But, remember, it is only a couple of weeks ago that Boro fans were on the wrong end of some indiscriminate heavy-handed tactics at Sunmderland that sparked similar scenes that were widely condemned by Boro fans and the media. We all know that when it comes to policing fans all too often the first instinct is to go route one.
Whatever is said about the City fans now it should also be mentioned that their eighties retro Imre Varadi inflatable tribute and some lively chanting helped raise what could have been a very flat last day atmosphere. The chant to the tune of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ (“We don’t need no Phil Scolari, We don’t need Mourinho, Hey! Thaksin! Leave Our Sven alone!”) is sheer genius. To be fair, Boro’s response whenever Sven appeared in the technical area – “sacked In the morning, you’re getting sacked in the morning” – was very funny too.
Some stats and facts:
Biggest win at Riverside ever
Biggest Premier League win since 1999 (Man U 9 Ipswich 0)
First time scored eight since a home win over Sheff Wed in 1973-74
First time scored eight in top flight since an 8-0 home win in 1950 v Huddersfield
Alves hat-trick was the first since Hasselbaink away at Blackburn.
And the first at the Riverside since Branca in a 6-0 v Swindon in 1998.
It was the first hat-trick at Riverside in top flight since Ravanelli v Derby in 1997.
First time this season Boro have scored three goals – avoiding an unwanted record of being the first season EVER the club have failed to score that many goals even once.
What is it with the Riverside micro-climate? It was tropical when I set off from Acklam at 1.45pm. I’d naively slapped on the factor 15 and brought my shades and given the shirt-sleeve order of the fans mooching outside listening to the band by the Ayresome Gates, everyone else had been bussed in from sunnier climes too. Yet as soon as we walked in the ground the temperature dropped, the wind chill factor kicked in and at one point in the second half as the mist started to creep over the East Stand roof I thought we were set for a repeat of the night at Ayresome park when a match against City was played out in eerie muffled foggy mystery. Brrrr.
The enigma of Fabio Rochemback is deepened. A brilliant display of hard work, incisive passing and excellent assists topped off with a sizzling free-kick fit to grace any stage. Now he does it! Just when everyone is resigned to him zipping off back to Sporting. By taxi, naturally. It has probably come to late to rehabilitate him though. There have been far too many poor, frustrating performances of sloppy distribution, over-elaborate and wasteful fancy-Dannery and costly cheap free-kicks conceded in dangerous areas. But if he goes at least he goes with a bang.
Likewise George. Another sterling display from one of Boro’s great servants. Great industry, some sublime passing and – as usual – a moment of totally unorthodox control, this time a flying ninja touch of mid-air kung-fu high kicking in which the Boat sprung eight foot in the air, twisted and extended a leg out behind him to pluck a high ball down in a move that defied gravity. And defied logic too as it was going harmlessly out for a Boro throw.
If he leaves – and I for one hope he doesn’t as he clearly has another year in him as a squad player before leaving for Feyenoord on a lucrative Bosman – it will be those moments (dropping to his knees at Arsenal to chest down a low ball that he could easily have stayed upright and controlled calmly with his feet was another) and his forthright microphone style that will be missed most.
Finally the parade…. kid watch report…. Mark Schwarzer and Boateng saluted the crowd with nippers in tow, which as we know is always a sure sign that the getaway car is revved up by the exit door. Worryingly, the boss had his kids out there too and Emanuel Pogatetz was also accompanied by a child – gulp! – although with the Mad Dog there’s always a possibility that the ankle-biter was just a high carb, raw meat post-match snack.
BORO LEGEND Frankie “Bam Bam” Boynton made his return to the Riverside after a long illness. The Bam, a vocal, colourful and highly visible character who has kissed and cuddled every individual who has ever stood on the Holgate, died for eight minutes, was in a coma for two weeks and then was nursed back to health deep in enemy territory in Newcastle. He has missed most of the season while convalescing but was back to see the hammering. It will be a great tonic. Welcome back Bam!