TARMO Kink became an instant cult hero when he landed a last gasp double salvo of the Estonian Exocet against Burnley to salvage an unlikely victory.
Twice unfeasible long range torpedoes – launched from a sub remember – streaked home through crowded boxes to land a breath-taking double KO blow, to snatch three points and after a brief spell being hailed as the Baltic Beckham, to condemn him to life as the perpetual archetypal impact man.
That stirring 2-1 win, back in September 2010 and at the fag end of the Gordon Strachan era, was at the time a real collectors item: A dramatic fight-back by Boro.
Shockingly. that was the first time brittle Boro had come from behind to win a league game at the Riverside Stadium since Gareth Southgate’s first home game in charge against Chelsea in August 2006.
After the best part of four years and 82 home games that was more than a statistical quirk. It was an institutional failing, one of the fundamental flaws that saw Boro slide powerlessly out of the Premier League and sickeningly towards the Championship drop zone in three years of paralysis.
If Boro went behind they could not win. The crowd knew that and the players knew that, and quickly visiting teams knew it too. And exploited it. “Get an early goal lads and they will fold and the crowd will turn.” Visiting coaches admitted that more than once.
Sometimes if they went behind they could eek out a flailing draw but increasingly as that timeline lurched uneasily onto a damning downwards slope towards relegation and beyond, leaking the opener in a game signalled a defeat. If Boro conceded first, chances were, the game drifted away.
So if you are looking for a cypher for the transformation that Tony Mowbray has brought about at Boro, consider how his team have quickly become one of the Championship’s comeback kings.
The Football 365 stat centre has a “resolve” table that shows how teams have fared having gone behind in games.
Boro have been pretty much nailed in the bottom three of that table for the past two years but in a spectacular second half of the season since Mogga has got a grip, they have soared up to an impressive second place.
The new resilient Boro have now come from losing positions to win eight games and draw seven this term – with eight of those fightbacks coming in the last 13 games – salvaging a hefty 29 points. Only battling Burnley have a better record having taken 31.
Imagine how, under the previous tactical rigid regime Boro would have fared. Imagine what the league table would look like now without those 29 points. Hello, Hartlepool!
The scrappy win against Coventry was far from a classic game but it was one straight out the new mould. Boro played poorly and went behind but never folded and clawed back to first level and then steal a victory that maybe wasn’t totally deserved.
That’s what a team needs to do to be successful: keep scrapping and get something, even when they’re not playing well. And the gaffer admitted as much.
“We were far from our best,” he said. “There were far too many misplaced passes. It was a frustrating game but people keep telling me it’s all about winning at the end of the day and we’ve managed to do that.”
“We’ve drawn one or two more than we would have liked to but it’s important not to lose football matches and one defeat in ten is good. If you can keep that going over a season and nick the tight games and get three points instead of one, you’ve got a real chance.”
That trait has helped Boro climb to fifth in the form table and they are currently closer to the play-offs (11 points) than the drop zone (15 points). The steady progress since hitting rock bottom when Preston scored at Deepdale on December 28th and Boro responded in style to win has seen optimism and hope bubble back.
Boro have slowly been transformed from post-Premiership fragile dandies to a normal, robust blowing hot-and-cold but hard-to-beat Championship side. And if we want to get out of this league that is a good place to start.
The Coventry game was a laboured display. Boro looked exactly what they were, a patched up side who had played a tough 90 in sweltering heat two days previously.
The passing was wayward and sluggish, the team looked creaky going forward, both strikers repeatedly failed to control the final ball and squandered possession and the side were given the runaround for long spells by a limited but lively City side.
But despite that Boro levelled through Julio Arca, netting for the second game running, then withstood some routine pressure and then got lucky late on as Coventry hit the post to stay in the game. Then they clinically mugged the Sky Blues at the death as that man Kink again struck superbly in stoppage time to steal the win.
It was the third time he had come off the bench this season to score late winners. Which is a useful party piece to have for a player who rarely does enough when he starts to nail down a regualr place.
And that sting in the tail is the hallmark of Mogga’s new Boro.
It was the fifth home game in a row that Boro had stormed from behind to take points from games that seemed to be slipping away and the third time a rousing final flourish had ended with victory.
In a tense tussle between two trapdoor dancers in early March Boro went behind to Derby County in the first half but in a sizzling second half Seb Hines bundled home the equaliser before Merouane Zemmama struck the winner two minutes from time.
In the next game one of the iron laws of football inevitability kicked in early as Danny Graham put Watford in front but Scott McDonald got a quickfire leveller then Andrew Taylor sealed it on the stroke of half-time.
There followed a pulsating 3-3 draw with Leicester as Yakubu naturally scored early on but Emnes pegged it back then the Foxes built up a commanding 3-1 lead before Rhys Williams gave Boro a lifeline then McDonald rescued a point four minutes into injury time.
Next up were Barnsley and perennial tormentor Marlon Harewood netted but on-fire Aussie McDonald levelled six minutes from time to earn a 1-1 draw.
Which brings us to Coventry, the fifth game in the Riverside revival run, a win that took Boro’s recent form to just one defeat in 10 overall and left them unbeaten at home for over two months since the 3-0 reverse to QPR in February.
But it is not just on home turf that resilient Boro have proved to have a sting in the tail.
Boro have also come back to win 3-2 at intimidating Millwall and to draw 3-3 in a hectic game at Ipswich, both among the form teams in the division at the time and then on Saturday game Hull a goal start before a goal blitz built a commanding lead.
The arrival of Mogga and the subsequent rewiring for success came too late for Boro to storm from behind to snatch something this season. But like Kink, it is a useful weapon to have in your armoury and it bodes well for next season. Bring it on.