TYPICAL Boro! Squandered a load of chances, rattled the woodwork twice and had two good penalty shouts waved away then got caught cold at the back!
Sorry. Habitual stock kneejerk reaction. But it is a fair point. The historic rampant display at QPR – not only did it break the new broom’s dug-out duck but it was also Boro’s first ever win at Loftus Road – was little different in general complexion from, say, the Preston, Palace or Peterborough games.
Boro weathered an early storm, clawed slowly and surely into the game, they dominated for long spells, they played at a high tempo and pushed high up the pitch, they pulled the opposition defence all over the shop and in a pulsating period of sustained pressure they carved out a string of golden chances.
The key difference this time was that when they were on top they looked hungry, sharp and clinical in front of goal and actually put the ball in the net. Repeatedly. Almost at will.
They played with a swagger and a resurgent belief. And it was fantastic. And maybe more telling, the team showed a mental toughness and a ruthless streak when it really mattered.
Crucially, Boro scored at just the right times: during their first real spell on top after Rangers’ bright start; immediately after the break following the opposition’s chance to reorganise at half-time; and very quickly after QPR pulled one back to kill off instantly any hopes of a revival… or head off any prospect of an all too familiar collapse if you are that way inclined.
What a refreshing change. So often Boro have laboured to get a goal then failed to react when the opposition responded with a more urgent, direct style and retreated meekly to invite pressure and imploded as the inevitable goal came.
This hammering showed exactly what this team is capable of if it plays to its full capabilities and is mentally strong.
They DO create chances. We know that. The need to convert them and turn a narrow lead into an unassailable one has long been the problem. It is what got Boro relegated and what has left us floundering well off the automatic promotion pace this term.
After the disappointment of twice losing the lead at Peterborough loan star double goal getter Dave Kitson declared: “I’m loathe to say it but someone is going to be on the end of a good hiding soon.” And boy, was he right.
Gordon Strachan insisted after the Rangers game that his side had created enough chances since he arrived to win four out of the five games. That sounds a lot more convincing now, after three unbeaten including four points from two games with play-off rivals than it did when a stuttering side had taken two points from 12 and only one from matches against the bottom two.
So where did it all go right? What, apart from score, did Boro do differently?
It is telling that they fielded a team that had a real balance to it, and one that is close to what the gaffer probably regards as his ideal first XI right now.
Emanuel Pogatetz has added solidity and nouse at the back on the left and Rhys Williams in his natural role on the right has brought a touch of calm quality to what has long been a problem position.
Pogatetz neutralised the threat of dangerman Routledge while after a torrid opening 10 minutes Williams got a firm grip of Taarabt to stifle Rangers movement down the flanks.
The central defensive pairing looked stronger than of late with Sean St Ledger’s cavalier attacking tendencies held in check. That solid platform unit was comfortable as Rangers went longer and more direct after their thrust down the flank was blunted.
In the engine room the simple, unfussy short quick passing and constant availability of Isaiah Osbourne has helped Boro retain possession, especially when the opposition up the tempo, and he has quickly developed an understanding with the more creative and dynamic Gary O’Neil.
Between them they closed down quickly, snapped into tackles and stifled movement through the middle pushing Rangers ever deeper and forcing them to bypass the problem by hoofing it long.
Down the flanks Boro were quick and creative. Mark Yeates had probably his best game for Boro as he stepped into Adam Johnson’s role on the left to run at the full-back, get crosses in and drift inside to unleash some fierce shots.
On the other side Julio Arca has taken in the unaccustomed role of right wing with some zest. Despite his lack of pace he has rarely been exposed, he gets back to defend, slots into the middle to cover when O’Neil goes forward and shows creative instinct when he joins the attack.
But the big difference is up front where Kitson has transformed the team. The ball sticks to him. He makes it. He works hard to be available and to make sure he wins it.
And he does it in the box or drops deep to the halfway line making it very hard to mark him. That means he is always available as an out ball for the midfield and he can hold it up and bring others into play.
He has scored three in two games himself but has also brought the best out of Leroy Lita who before was trying to play some of the Kitson role himself and doing his best work 30 yards out and with his back to goal.
Now, with someone doing the spadework, he is bursting forward to use his pace, strength and close control in the box. He has had more shots in the past two games than the rest of his games for Boro put together. The pair of them terrified a good QPR side.
That of course presents a problem. When Kitson goes back to Stoke on December 28th the problem up front will re-emerge. Either the Ginga Warrior must be secured or someone equally adept needs to be brought in so the shape can be maintained.
Of course, one swallow doesn’t make a summer. The five goal romp will count for little unless we beat Blackpool, get something from Cardiff and/or Newcastle and go into the second half of the season with a real momentum.
**This column is also available in old fasioned print format in today’s Gazette.