ZEMMAMA’S the Daddy! Well it’s a headline writers dream and I might as well get it in now and beat the rush. The pocket-sized play-maker – the \Moroccan Juninho – was a game-changer: a sublime slotted pass through to the feet of Scott McDonald teed up the Aussie to blast Boro into the lead then a deft bit of close control to bring down an awkward on the flank and a pin-point cross into the box dropped beyond the defence to let Leroy Lita head home the winner.
The two sparks of instinctive creativity were eaxactly what Boro have been missing for years. They brought the best out of McDonald, who had been too deep and pushed around by the monster Millwall backline, and out of Lita, who has the first touch of an elephant and who left to his own devices and given time always takes it too wide before shooting.
So, do we have a new icon on our hands? After the original diminuitive dreamweaver (see last blog) and then Benito Carbone he can be TLF III. Let the hype machine begin to roll: if only he had a decent nickname. I hereby give notice that over the next few weeks I intend to roll out “Zemminho,” “the Maradona of the Maghreb”, “the Lion of the Atlas” and “al-little fallaha” … as well as trying to jam contrived phrases like “terr-Rif-ic”, “operation Berber-rossa” into the paper.
But we should be wary of expecting too much, too soon. He is not long back from a cruciate, he is acclimatising to the physicality of a league that is a war of attrition and he is new to the club and the team. The management plan to blood him slowly – although they will now find themselves under pressure to start him.
Zemmama was great… but don’t let that overshadow the incredible performance of Andrew Davies. In the first half with the defence in disarray and Millwall roaring forward and snarling at the jugular, second time debutant Davies held the team together through sheer determination and a frenzied one man all out assault on every ball that came in the box. He headed what seemed like hundreds of high balls and threw himself in front of shots and crosses, blocking goal-bound efforts with his feet, knees, back, shoulder and ear.
It wasn’t the most cultured of displays. At times it was chaotic, ragged and scrappy and twice he was a fraction away from turning low balls into his own net but escaped bya fraction as they looped over the bar. And Boro needed him. In a one-sided first half Seb Hines and Jonathan Grounds were bullied into submission, left out of position by Millwall’s speed on the break and looked brittle beyond belief. Without the whirlwind defending of Davies Boro could easily ahve been four or five down at the break.
Mogga gave them a rocket at the break and it was a different side that came out for the second half with a better shape and a higher tempo and they finally started to hurt MIllwall. “Dead ball specialist” Tony McMahon – his words, not mine – sent a beauty in to equalise and shift the balance of the game Boro;’s way.
Enter Zemmama and Boro pushed home the advantage and even though Millwall clawed one back, a newly fired up team held on, grabbed the winner then dug in through a very long six minutes added on for a riot stoppage.
That came when Millwall were rattled by Boro going ahead – the McDonald goal which was a tight offside decision – and the animals in the crowd were suddenly off the leash, shouting and throwing missiles and surging down to the front of the Dockers Stand where the police and stewards went into a containment corden with a sigh and with practiced ease. The local press people said it was a depressingly regular occurance.
Bottles were thrown at a linesman and then at Jason Steele and the refereee seriously considered taking the players off the pitch. There was a debate between all four officials and the managers while the stewards tried to quell the pathetic posturing.The crowd were baying for blood. There was no real contentious decision or foul to spark the anger, it was uncontrolled set-piece bile from a section of a crowd who have been allowed by their own club heirarchy to play up to their own Danny Dyer ‘pwopa nawty’ stereotype of intimidating violence. The tension continued after the game as Boro players had to be held back in the ground until a hostile crowd could be cleared by police and it was safe to get on the bus..
It was a great result against an in-form team. Millwall had won seven in a row at home and leaked only one goal. It was Boro’s first win there since 1973 when Malcolm Smith scored, and only the third win in 16 trips. It was also the first time Boro had scored three goals in back to back games for 18 months. So plenty of positives.
Naturally there will be some renewed exciteable talk of the play-offs. It is the Boro way. Forget it, we are 17 points adrift. Even with title form we would need results to go our way to scrape into sixth. Let’s just concentrate on staying up.
Two tough games coming up against QPR and Forest. If we can show the same determination and resilience and if we can engineer some goals then we may scrape some points from those games. If we do it should be considered a big bonus – but there is still a lot of work to be done with an anorexic squad after that to guarantee safety.