WHAT. A. GAME! Football eh? Bloody hell! Where to start? Pulsating. Dramatic. Nerve-wracking. Electrifying. Faith affirmative. Energising. What a game! And what a trio of sizzling goals! Three unstoppable exocets each more outrageous than the last.
Here’s a remix of my bit for today’s paper…
HAS ANYONE got any spare superlatives? We’re going to need them.
Because Boro’s blistering show against Burnley was a fantastic, pulsating, dramatic, absorbing, emotionally engaging and faith affirming affair that was a pleasure to behold.
That is exactly why fans go to watch football. The power to astound, inspire and surprise.
It was exactly the kind of game fans demand, full of passion, spirit, hectic action peppered with quality cameos and fairytale finishes. It was brilliant. What a game! What a team! What a crazy air-punching, laugh out loud, shouty, sweary celebration of the return of our heroes football to the hallowed turf.
And what a way for the team to answer their critics. And there were plenty after an opener that killed off burgeoning August optimism. But what a response. The second half against Burnley was as entertaining a 45 minutes as you will see this term.
This was the emotional polar opposite of the frustrating, soul-sapping, disappointing, laboured chore of a fruitless curtain-raiser at Barnsley.
Those refuseniks that stayed away from the Riverside in a defiant nose/spite situation over the ‘typical Boro’ flop at Oakwell or who had prematurely decided this fledgling team couldn’t entertain and couldn’t deliver and couldn’t score goals will bitterly regret it. Humble pie all round. And they really should know better. This is Boro!
The clash with the Clarets was a classic. It was a match that will pass into terrace legend, a real ‘I was there’ game. If only for the outrageous goals, each more audacious and further out than the last. Like John Hickton’s penalty run ups, the distance involved will grow with every telling. In decades to come, when the Ginger Messi is old and grey, that winner will have been leathered in from North Ormesby. Swear down.
It has become a moaners mantra that there is a dearth of entertainment at the Riverside
but the last game was a televised tonking of Southampton with a crackling atmosphere and so far this term has been brilliant! Alright, it is only the first home fixture but we have set the benchmark very high and we have already been blessed to witness two credible contenders for the Boro – and possibly the Championship – goal of the season. Seriously.
You have got to feel sorry for midfield terrier Nicky Bailey. On any normal matchday his dogged latching on to a loose ball to unleash an ankle high exocet for the first half leveller would have won the plaudits – especially as it was fuelled with high-octane dramatic tension and came within 60 seconds of Clarets drawing first blood.
On any normal matchday he would have made the intro and the headlines too.
Bailey scored another screamer against Burnley last term, his first for the club. This unstoppable second from outside the box made him like a ginger Tarmo Kink, a specialist to be deployed strategically against the shell-shocked Lancastrians, a bogeyman figure to scare the children of Burnley. And their defence too.
But Bailey’s bullet will just be a footnote when the game is recalled in years to come. The real story will be the debate over which of the two wonder-strikes by Boro’s Academy kids was the best.
Alistair Brownlee, never short of a bit of colourful hyperbole, framed the question in Samba style as he likened the magic moments to the best of Brazilian giants.
When young lion Adam Reach scored a sublime strike to put Boro briefly ahead late on there was a real Roy of the Rovers feel to it (one for older readers there) and excitable Ali gushed improbably that it was “like Pele in his pomp.”
Reach had scored a deft goal on his debut against Doncaster Rovers two terms ago then made sure he marked his first league start in even more audacious and joyful fashion.
He picked the ball up just outside the box on the right and with team-mates making runs he opted not to play the pass but to check inside and go for goal from a distance and angle out of a geometry text-book. You should only be able to score from there on FIFA.
It was a beauty, a pearler, a ‘worldie’. It was #tekkers (there, some cultural box-ticking to even it up for the younger end of the demographic)).
The opposition were caught in an envelope of slow motion as Reach collected a threaded pass from Grant Leadbitter and made his move, shifting the ball inside to find the space and then effortlessly, from the corner of the box, he swung straight through the sweet spot and it streaked beyond a spectating shot-stopper and into the far to corner.
Technically it was a beautiful goal. Aesthetically it was divine. It was the kind of goal you only score in a day dream. That should have been that. The ‘Reach For The Stars’ headlines were written and the Gazette stars were with the engraver.
At this point Boro were playing with a real swagger, passing and probing and finding width and getting behind the defence with crisp interchanges and the meagre crowd, who had started the night pensive and nervous, were responding with a rare magical mixture of throaty partisan roars and genuine applause. And laughter. It was exhillirating stuff.
Burnley rallied and started pumping balls forward and after a few scares they scrambled level five minutes from time and there was an audible groan. Not again. Surely they couldn’t throw this away now after doing all the hard work!
But with time running out and the tension mounting in a frenetic final few minutes Luke Williams staked his own claim for goal of the season with another staggering strike.
Maybe technically it wasn’t quite as polished as Reach’s rocket but it was delivered with clinical precision when the pressure was on, time was running out and there were so many anxious fans breathing in that oxygen levels were crashing dangerously. And it was from far further out.
Bailey’s opener had been fired in from 25 yards; Reach’s second from 25 yards too but with added geometric difficulty; but Williams stretched the tape-measure as well as credulity as he hammered home his howitzer from fully 35 yards out. It was awesome.
“If Reach is Pele then Luke Williams is Jairzinho!” exclaimed Ali Brownlee in high-pitched ecstacy as Williams leathered a ludicrous laser-guided missile home.
What a crazy, crazy game. Fans who spent much of last season growling or sat in stony faced silence were chuckling with unalloyed glee .
Even without the goals it had been an instructive and progressive evening as the new look Mogganaut started to tick over in a far more convincing fashion that in the stuttering show at Barnsley.
There was an added balance to a solid three man midfield, a more solid, composed look at the back with Woodgate’s instinctive positional sense and Williams class and athleticism showing early signs of what could be a formidable pairing and there was far more incisive movement up front.
Impressive new boy Josh McEachran was at the heart of the crisp and fluid interchanging, showing Premier League quality in the range and well judged weight of his passing as time after time he threaded killer balls that scythed through the Burnley backline.
And Justin Hoyte was also influential, getting forward quickly to link up with the midfield and add width and pace and an attacking intent and three times he had good efforts blocked. Whisper it so the #haters don’t hear but he was a three star contender. If not for the goals he would have been my man of the match.
It was a great team performance showing a promising mixture of patient and enterprising passing, resilience and belief. And the burgeoning team spirit – obvious whenever you hear any of the players speak – was evident out on the pitch in a post-match huddle engineered by Mowbray, a tradition he introduced at Celtic as an inspirational skipper.
After two years in charge without such a visible symbolic act of unity maybe the gaffer feels now is the time. Maybe he feels now it is finally his team. And what a team!
Of course, it wasn’t perfect. Whatever Ali may say, they are not Brazil. There were rocky moments. At times they looked vulnerable to Burnley’s blistering pace down the flanks onto quick diagonals and once again poorly defended from crosses: routine balls in caused some jitters and led to both goals. And for long spells, for all the precise passing and patient possession in the opposition half, there was a lack of real bite inside the box.
But hey, that is just quibbling. That’s for another time. Let them bask in the spotlight after that display. And beside, who needs to show bite in the box when you can just whack in wonder-goals like that from miles out.