GEORGE Friend, said Mogga, was “marauding up and down the left flank like Robocop”.
I think Robocop clunks and trundles aggressively burdened by all that hunter-killer hardware and weaponry rather than sprints gracefully but you take his point. It is a colourful turn of phrase that nicely captures the single-minded dedication to duty of a tireless man-machine on a hearts-and-minds mission to win the demoralised citizens of the Ironopolis to the forces of progress and waste the bad guys with his awesome firepower.
Well, maybe not that last bit.
Forward thinking Friend has been taking a scatter-gun approach in and around the box and peppering the area around the target from all angles and distances for weeks now without, as yet, actually hitting it.
And at one point in the assertive 2-0 win over Hull he missed when stood in space from about four feet out when a loose ball squirted at him after a bit of a scramble. Ooops.
But then, the laser sighting mechanism on the weaponry of cyborg Championship footballers is a fledgling technology. It still needs tweaking.
But Friend is getting closer. He has fired a fraction high and wide in recent outings and
grazed the woodwork once or twice then last night against Hull he rattled the bar with a point blank header.
“You have 20 seconds to let fly.”
And given that Boro can now boast 15 different scorers so far this season – Faris Haroun and Ishmael Miller were the latest additions to the net-busting roll of honour against the Tigers – it is only a matter of time. He’ll get there.
And surely I can’t be the only Teessider putting a ‘daft quid’ on him as first scorer every week. He is variously priced at between 28 and 40 to one depending on Boro’s chances. One day soon he will finally get his eye and in and we will all clean up. I’ll treat myself to a copy of the DVD. (And the Silver Bullet old school rap classic hip-hop fans)
But while the sights on his main artillery may need some fine-tuning, there is no doubt that fans’ favourite Friend is a potent weapon.
His surging runs forward down the left – and increasingly through the centre too – have become one of Boro’s best attacking outlets and one of the most exciting elements of the average game. There is a lot of bromance in the air for a player fast shaping up as the new Franck Queudrue.
He has a cavalier instinct to get forward and the pace, close control and bravery to seize an opportunity when it presents itself, put his head down and go. Fans love that.
His scything runs cutting in from the flank fire the imagination of the crowd, put the opposition on the back-foot and give Boro added bite adding width and bodies and options in attack. fans love that too. So does the boss. Joe who?
Against Hull Friend turned in a sizzling second half display of creative over-lapping and positive bursts forward that helped swing the game decisively Boro’s way. He was the creative catalyst for both goals.
He showed determination, drive and an unselfish gene once he got into shooting range as he engineered an impressive opener just before the hour mark.
Our heroes had scrambled away a ball into the box and Adam Reach was fouled by Dawson as he skipped out of the Boro area with intent. The referee played a great advantage and alert Friend deftly scooped up the loose ball and streaked 50 yards forward to glide past slow motion defenders and deep into the dangerzone before slotted a penetrating pass behind the last defender for Faris Haroooooooooooun to burst into the box to draw Amos and drill a low angled shot under the advancing keeper.
It was fantastic. A text book counter-attack and a composed finish for hard working Haroun but the star of the strike was Friend.
Then, after a scrappy spell in which Boro had to hold off a spirited Hull fight-back, Friend sparked the nerve settling second.
He cut down the left then sliced inside and wriggled between two defenders to the edge of the box to crack in a stinging shot that was well saved and when it looped kindly to Scott McDonald he put in an overhead effort that was gathered then spilled generously by the keeper for Big Ish – who put in an eye-catching shift up front that bodes well – to stab home his first goal for the club from close range.
Of course, while it is nice to have Robocop on your side, it wasn’t a one man show.
Well balanced Boro put in a very professional and polished performance and excelled in all departments and in a solid if not spectacular first half metronomic Grant Leadbitter and livewire Adam Reach were the pick of the bunch with their impressive industry and ambition on the ball.
Boro bossed the game and created some good chances but it was far from easy.
Hull had their share of the ball and a couple of spells of sustained but shapeless pressure and aside from a five second flurry – they hit the post and spooned the rebound wide – they only had one shot on target as a well organised Boro defence fought fiercely to clock up a second successive clean sheet.
In every area industrious Boro dominated the play. They out-worked Hull, contained them easily at the back and restricted them to the occasional long range effort, out-battled them in midfield and then clinically stretched them and patiently picked them apart to create a string of decent chances that initially went begging. It was great. Even at half-time with the game still goalless the outcome was inevitable.
Nerves started to creep in among the crowd as some braced themselves for a ‘typical Boro’ moment when the goal didn’t coem easily – when do they ever in this league? – but out on the pitch the team remained focussed and gradually wore Hull down.
Once the watershed goal went in there was no way back for a visiting side who lacked imagination and teeth. Boro should probably have had a few more goals in the end. Friend and Miller both missed gold plated chances, Leadbitter twice had testing in-swingers clawed out and the shot count was 17-1 in favour of Mogga’s men.
They attacked with pace, with Reach on the right and Friend getting down the left they had a nice balance and went for the jugular from the off rather than sitting back to assess the lie of the tactical land and risk the opposition imposing shape and tempo. It was good stuff: entertaining, enterprising and with a bit of zest. And of course Boro won.
So, three wins in a row, two clean sheets on the bounce and up to third spot and just three points off the top after 12 games and fans walking away buzzing. You’d have taken that if offered it back in August. Just think it they had held on against Derby. Or Leicester.
And it was a far cry from the purgatory of those sterile home games that induced an air of crisis just a few short weeks ago. But then, this is a crazy, mixed up and lawless division that needs to be taken by the throat with some assertive pro-active policing.