UNTYPICAL Boro? Last year Boro would have lost that game. Either because they would not have recovered physically from the early aerial assault as a long ball outfit grabbed the game by the throat and turned it into a toe-to-toe war of attrition and would have wilted and leaked under pressure, or because they would not have recovered mentally from the blows of missing the penalty and then leaking an own goal. Last year after the set-back of the oggie they would have unravelled in the closing stages and also conceded a last gasp winner.
SOMETHING’S got to give: players who want to be starting for the first team and who know they have something to contribute to the team and managers who need to stick by a team that is performing well and find a shape and selection that gets what they believe is their best team on the pitch.
THAT BORO fans were left devastated by the last-gasp sickener at Anfield hints at an unusual optimism bubbling up through the cracks in our traditional Teesside armour of cynicism.
In times past the trip to Anfield would have been written off when the fixtures came out. None of the current team were even born last time Boro won a league game there in March 1976 and the gaffer was only five so it is not normally a happy hunting ground. A battering is usually budgeted for and getting out with pride intact and a narrow defeat has been claimed as a moral victory before now. Even the wild-eyed ra-ras high on foam finger fumes only ever argue for the possibility of nicking a spawny draw.
So for Boro – team and fans – to be genuinely desolate at losing there is a real sign of progress.
BORO were forced into a late change of their line-up as keeper Brad Jones njured a hand in the warm-up and Ross Turnbull stepped up to take his place between the sticks.
Boro were otherwise unchanged as skipper Emanauel Pogatetz recovered from a midweek knock on international duty with Austria to take his place in the centre of defence as David Wheater continued at right-back and new boy Justin Hoyte had to settle for a place on the bench.
Boro started brightly with some good early probes but it was Liverpool who threatened first on four minutes as Kuyt sent Torres forward then got to the edge of the box for the return but Turnbull went full length to push the crisp shot behind.
BRILLIANT. Bubbling Boro eased to a first ever victory in a Premier League curtain-raiser at the Riverside as they saw off media darlings Spurs in style. The scoreline flattered Spurs. On another day it would have been three at the break with Alves looking sharp and David Wheater having a perfectly good goal ruled out.
Tuncay was magic. Alves excellent. The makeshift right-back as good as ever. Digard looked impressive when he came on and even the under-pressure keeper kept the lynch-mob at bay as he survived some shaky moments and flapping in the box to pull off a superb point-blank save with the game still in the balance at 0-0. In the end it took a Boro player to beat him. All that and a 32,000 plus crowd revelling in a display of enterprising, open, fluid football that bodes well for the future.
FULL STEAM ahead for another blistering nine month blur of net-busting action at either end, nail-biting angst and recriminations punctuated with sporadic bursts of elation and frustrating glimpses of glory. There will be moments of defiant pride in our Infant Hercules when it all clicks and we look to be poised to finally claim our place in the spotlight – and moments when the icy hand of fear grips our hearts. I can’t wait.
I am duty bound at this point to make some kind of prediction and I am not usually reticent in making myself hostage to fortune. It’s an occupational hazard. But swear down, I really can’t call this season.
LETTING Luke Young go is a disaster. Cashing in on fringe players is one thing but selling your best performers – and let’s be emphatic about this, Luke Young was the best perfromer last season – is a high-risk strategy that sends out chilling messages to supporters, to the rest of the dressing room and to other clubs.
SO WHO will Boro be measured against this season? What is the yardstick of acceptable success? Above the soap opera side at Sid James’? Higher than serial Spurs seconds signing Sunderland? Closing the gap on the Man City side we spanked 8-1 on the final day? “Doing an Everton”? “Doing a Blackburn”? Or just one place above the newly promoted cannon fodder ?