WELL who’d a thunk it? Suddenly the play-off door has creaked open again and suddenly Boro are just four points and a fairytale final flourish away from an unlikely encore.
It was frighteningly scrappy for long spells – especially in a sluggish and often chaotic first 20 that really should have been punished – and it took some frantic defending, another solid show from Corporal Jones and spawny strike for Super Mac…. but Boro won ugly on a day when a couple of other results went our way to revive hopes.
Blackpool got battered by the jubilant Geordies but perhaps more importantly wobbling dragonbothers Swansea – one win in eight – also lost against Bristol and suddenly they look very vulnerable in sixth spot. Is it on? We still need to overhaul Blackpool and catch the Swans. We have recent Nemesis West Brom away then Coventry at home before a last day shoot-out at Leicester. We still probably need to win them all. It is still an outside bet… but you never know.
If Boro are to pull it off they will have to play far better than they did against Sheffield Wednesday though. We won’t come up against such a profligate strikeforce again. As the Owls squandered chance after chance it was hard to avoid the thought that it was like watching Boro.
Wednesday arrived in the bottom three and without a win away in seven but they tore into Boro from the off and there were some seriously scary moments. Jones had to make three good saves and there were bodies being thrown in the way to block shots and make last gasp tackles in a series of scrums in the box.
In the middle Boro looked sluggish with Arca and Franks having nightmare starts on the flanks and even super Barry Robson being dispossessed time and again in a frustrating first half. Somehow Boro went in ahead after a spawny deflected goal.
After the break – and a half time rocket – things improved. Wednesday still got the ball forward frantically and livewire Johnson was still a threat and they went close as Varney put a backwards header against the bar but Boro looked more organised at the back, had stepped up the tempo and looked far more threatening on the counter.
Both full-backs pushed on more after the break to get crosses in, Robson was sharper and playing some fantastic through balls and the pace of McDonald and Lita caused all kinds of problems. The pair worked a neat one-two late on and Lita should have scored to wrap it up.
So, 11 unbeaten at the Riverside and eight without defeat home and away plus back-to-back clean sheets for the first time since the first week of the season. There were only three survivors in the Boro side from the sizzling 3-1 win in the reverse – Wheats, Arca and Williams – which shows exactly how far Boro have been revamped under Strachan. Things are slowly slotting into place. But is it too late?