BORO got out of jail with a turbo-charged second half that kept the good form and top half place intact. Some timely much needed changes stopped West Ham’s right of way through the middle and then a show of power and pace and a flurry of chances in the closing spell had the Riverside rocking and believing it was a game that could have been won.
But let us not kid ourselves: the first half – the first hour – was woeful, it was shapeless, it lacked any zest and in truth Boro could have been dead and buried at the hands of a side that had lost four in a row. Boro were stodgy and wooden in midfield and were being torn apart by the energy and pace of the visitors but worse, they were the architects of their own misfortune. Almost every West Ham attack came after Boro had squandered possession with a sloppy ball at the edge of the visitors box and the goal came from an inexplicable Stewy Downing ball back into the dangerzone when Row Z beckoned.
It showed great collective spirit to come back from the wreckage of a lack-lustre opening period that was as bad as anything this season and left flat-footed Boro chasing shadows and in danger of being overwhelmed.
Credit to Gareth Southgate though for making a string of telling substitutions. It was brave to take crowd icon and key defender David Wheater off at the break and put Justin Hoyte on but it worked. He offered more width and a more natural attacking instinct down the right flank and almost immediately he began to link up with Jeremie Aliadiere, to overlap and to put balls into the box. He also had what was a very marginal offside decision go against him that could have capped off a dramatic arrival from the bench.
Putting Arca on was brave too. His cameo against Manchester City included an opening ten minute spell that was so out of synch with the speed and touch of the rest of the players on the pitch that it was almost that he had won a competition to get on the pitch. That said his arrival against the Hammers galvanised the Boro midfield. Almost his first touch was a 40 crossfield ball that spark an incisive attack and there followed a series of penetrative passes and deft touches that tied a lot of loose ends together. The man he replaced, Didier Digard, has a nice touch and a fine eye for a pass but still looks short of the lightning pace of the Premiership and was several times robbed in key areas or a spectator as an opposition player streaked past.
And Mido did it again. From the moment he arrived on the pitch he monstered the West Ham defence, demanded the ball, won the headers, held it up and pointed and shouted to add urgency to Boro’s offence. That he won and then scored the free-kick underlined the impact he had made from the bench and his importance as a Plan B for Boro.
That said it must be pointed out that once again it was Ross Turnbull that made sure the hard work did not go to waste with an incredible stoppage time double save. Boro’s discovery of the season is out of contract in the summer and can talk to clubs in January. After watching some of the comedy keeping over the past few weeks there are bound to be envious eyes watching. Southgate, Lambie – get it sorted… now!