Box-Ticking Boro’s Last Gasp Christmas Gift

ANOTHER big box ticked: If Boro are to get promoted then that was exactly the kind of game they will need to win.
It was a comatose encounter ignited at the death by a contentious penalty – but Boro made sure it counted. And for all the visitors howling about a grave injustice with the spawny spot-kick they didn’t do enough to win. Boro did. Just.
It was a massive result that could prove vital come May.

In a cut-throat division, when your rivals drop points you have to take advantage if you have any serious ambitions of success. And sometimes you have to do that by winning ugly, by hook or by crook, even if you are leggy, laboured and lack-lustre and even when you are playing a long way below your best.
It’s a cliche bingo catchphrase that: ‘Good teams win even when they don’t play well.’
And Boro didn’t play well. In fact, the display against Wolves was as poor at home as we’ve seen all season. It was timid, toothless, disjointed and shapeless. There some early tentative probes and the odd flurry of punchless possession. There was no rhythm or real sense of menace. It was poor fare.
It was all very well saying the team were tired and had a hangover after the heroics at Swansea in midweek but there were six changes. There were plenty of fresh legs and plenty of incentives to play well.
Yet Boro huffed and puffed and passed and pressed without ever carving out a clear cut chance. It was far from scintillating. And Wolves weren’t any better. They looked a vague threat on the break at times and, especially in the second half, they were a bit more direct than Boro but without ever seriously testing Jason Steele.
They drilled a few shots from outside the box straight at the keeper, he had to be sharp once in the first half to save low at his near post when the wall jumped over a free-kick and a stinging shot through a crowd rattled his shins once.
The most danger he was in all game was when he got crunched by Seb Hines.
Boro were rigid at the back with the impressive central defensive pairing of Jonathan Woodgate and Hines dealing routinely with whatever the tame Wolves had to offer. They tidied up and worked hard and never looked in danger.
And Boro worked hard enough as a unit in midfield too, beavering away to close and chase and tackle. It was a battling but blunt performance.
Going forward they hadn’t really clicked. There had been some early buzzing and positive probing with Ginger Messi Luke Williams having a few snapshots but that soon shrivelled.
And the spells of promising possession proved fruitless and became rarer.
It was fizzling out into what would have been the first goalless draw of the season. That would have been disappointing and a missed opportunity.
With two minutes left, most of frustrated crowd were resigned to a point and just praying for the whistle to put them out of their misery. Or, if you are a of pessimistic bent, digging in ready for the red zone sting of a cruel but predictable sucker punch.
A far from memorable match was already being airbrushed from history. Had it finished like that there would have been a lot of concourse chuntering and the post-match moan-in switchboard would have melted down. Imagine only drawing at home!
Instead we went away laughing at an injustice in our favour right out of the blue. Boro were gifted a late match-matching penalty. “You’ve seen them given” – but it was very harsh on Wolves. Although we’ll take it.
Scott McDonald was wandering down a cul-de-sac on the right when he floated a hopeful ball into a crowded box that hit Karl Henry on the hand. The player had made some hard to discern minimal movement and that was enough to convince the linesman. My instinct was it was never a penalty. It was cruel. Had it been given against Boro we would have been screaming blue murder: incompetence, conspiracy and infamy! How we laughed.
But the linesman flagged immediately and the referee agreed and pointed to the spot and the Wolves fans went mental while giggling brass-necked Boro supporters were open mouthed in glee and gratitude.
Coincidentally, the same Robert Madley gave Boro their last penalty at home, 44 games ago in February 2011 during a pulsating 4-3 defeat to Swansea. Arca missed it. This time, after the furore died down, Marvin Emnes stroked home casually. He is so laid back that any amount of rioting around him wouldn’t have fazed him.
And to twist the knife further and make a drab encounter look far more convincing than it was, Emnes set up McDonald to seal it with a second deep into stoppage time.
So just a few minutes after looking to have skulked to a solitary unsatisfying point the home side were celebrating a barely credible Riverside ram-raid to steal all three.
Wolves players were furious. On the whistle the manager Stale Solbakken was quickly onto the pitch to herd them all away from the referee. The last thing he needed was a post-match red card or two.
After the game an angry and bemused Solbakken was reduced to an unconvincing bout of charades as he tried to explain the mechanics of his man’s movements but you could tell he didn’t really buy his own mitigation.
The ball wasn’t blasted at him. It wasn’t one of those from six yards where there is not time for evasive action. The ball was in the air a long time – Henry had time to reposition himself – and despite that he leaned into it and put himself at risk.
While his steaming Wolves team-mates protested, Henry himself was left looking sheepish. He knew he had put himself in a risky position and invited the decision. He was asking for it. It may have been a soft one but it was penalty.
And Boro made it count.
It was a poor game. But all we will remember about it come May is that we won ugly and plundered two goals and three points at the death – and on a day when the top two both dropped points.
It could yet be a watershed moment.


37 thoughts on “Box-Ticking Boro’s Last Gasp Christmas Gift

  1. I will take the three points but no posts saying ‘last season….’ Please!!!
    We were due a pen and duly got one against a relegated team. They have decent players despite the sales.
    Are we sponsored by Rayboulds? The number of hammies is unbelieveable. I went in to Tesco and Boro players were in the chilled section. The good news is the were in the non smoked section so they are taking their carers seriousl.

  2. The opening 20 minutes saw some neat interplay and slick passing in the middle of the park but no end product. Miller lumbered out wide ineffectively, instead of being in the middle on the end of passes he was providing to the diminutive McDonald, a lone figure in the box.
    Tactically it all seemed a bit messy and a bit disjointed. Whether it was down to fatigue, malaise, enforced changes through injuries or simply that Wolves are a half decent side finally finding their way is open to debate. Regardless of the reason it was hard work to watch with ittle to get worked up aboout.
    Indeed it was so bad that it was only when the ref ridiculously stopped play for a foot injury to a Wolves player when Boro were breaking out that the home crowd started to wake from their mid-winter slumber.
    We witessed a turgid, drab evenly balanced affair which had 0-0 written all over it. It was so dire and bleak that at 80 minutes I contemplated the unforgiveable and get home early and beat the traffic.
    Fortunately my heart ruled my head and stuck it out to witness a fortuitous penalty award and an Emnes conversion that was a relief and a turning point. With only the three added minutes remaining Wolves attacked with anger and determination when a hoofed out clearance found Emnes who broke from the middle of the park to feed a marginally offside looking Scotty who had forlornly scrapped and battled in vain all afternoon supporting the midfield to deservedly slot home our second.
    As bad as it was as a spectacle there were some good performances from Woody, Hines, Steele and Leadbitter in the middle worthy of note.Three points are three points and as dire as it was I much prefered the outcome compared to say the recent Birmingham, Swansea and Cardiff games.

  3. Poor game, great result. But a confirmation that this is the greatest sport in the world. Smog Jnr was there today, and was a bit upset that his hero Marvin wasn’t playing. He’s only four and Georgous George soon became a favorite.
    So imagine his delight when ‘Marvin Emnes Superstrike’ scores. ….’Dad, I’m so happy, I could burst into tears’
    Football. Bloody Hell.

  4. Dreadful call for the penalty. The handball rule needs sorting out as week after week we see players being struck by the ball and these decisions are spoiling the game.

  5. Do I take it that Saturday evening saw The Gazette hold its office Christmas Party?
    **AV writes: Yes, we were in a place that was part-bar, part-tattoo parlour. Sat in waltzers. Whatever is the world coming to?

  6. AV, do you think we have money to strength the side in January if needed? I mean we sold Bennett but did not use the money in September. So any chance of a high quality player arriving in January if Mogga wants one?
    Of course I am thinking about Stewie Downing coming on loan with a permanent deal in the summer if our dream come true.
    Also I think we should really think about our strikers. Are they all good enough? I wouldn’t be surprised that we off-load one – for form or salary (Scotty Mac). If it were the latter then we could go for Danny Graham of Swansea. He needs to be playing and has proved his ability in the Championship.
    Of course this is just speculation at the moment but it’s nice speculation. Are we already safe from relagation yet?
    Up the Boro!
    **AV writes: Whether there is cash in January depends on where Boro are in the table, whether crowds can nudge up a bit towards the breakeven point and whether there is a compelling case for a particular player in a specific position. It could also come down to some jiggling. There won’t be a ‘warchest’ to dip into

  7. AV –
    Well impressed that you went out last night and blogmeistering this morning, my daughter went out last night and doesnt want the ritual Sunday egg and bacon sarnie.
    The Stewie can leave story is doing the rounds again. I cant see us having the funds available.
    Big mick is still injured so that is wriggle room unavailable. It would appear unlikely that Scottie will be leaving but who knows if the right offer comes along. He is playing is best football since joining and netting.
    And it doesnt look like there will be a huge increase in attendance.
    The key is getting everyone back fit. Then Mogga can make a judgement on what is needed.
    Steele, Leutwiler, Riply.
    Parnaby, Hoyte, Woodie, Bikey, Hines, Williams, Friend, Halliday.
    Carayol, Ledesma, Reach, Smallwood, Bailey, Leadbitter, Arca, Haroun, McEachran.
    Miller, Juke, Emnes, Scottie, Williams.
    That leaves plenty of options. The key is the players being avaiable and a willingness to use them.
    No point spending money on new players if they are not better than what we have. The problem then becomes that if we get better can we afford it?
    Jarkko –
    I watched quite a bit of Stewie against Villa. At left back he looked to be doing a job, nothing more. Safe and unspectacular. I dont know if it is lack of confidence but there were no sparks of what we know he can do.
    The problem would be how much we could afford to spend and what he would add to the team. Of course there could a be a lift in attendances which could be self financing.
    In the current climate we will probably use what we have already got.
    **AV Writes: I agree. I think our additions in January will be Rhys & Muzzy. Maybe a bit of tweaking but not much. And not for the sake of it.
    Mogga is more concerned now that any new faces are exactly the people he wants rather than just those who are available. If has to be someone who buys into the project and does not change the dynamic of a very happy squad and bubbling team spirit. I’d rather use the fringe lads than risk bringing someone in unless it is a copper-bottomed import that Mogga has vetted thoroughly.

  8. A quick PS
    At the stage last season we had 41 points from 22 games, a plus 9 goal difference and were in third place.
    We are a goal ahead.

  9. That to me was the best three points we’ve won for a long time.
    I was really worried prior to the game after the trials and tribs; at Swansea, was just hoping for a point. It says a lot about the players resolve and character to play two games in a few days against a fresh side, I’m really happy.
    I realise that some will come back and say that they are professional sportsmen, they should be able to play two games in a few days and I agree but when you are at 90% fitness and the other side is at 100%, therein lies the problem.
    Onwards and onwards.
    Did I say I was really happy .

  10. Selling McDonald in Jan would be SUICIDE! Plain and simple. He is proven in our squad. Juke is not scoring as many as he did for Coventry so is it confidence or is it fitness but it just goes to show players cant always keep their form when they change clubs .
    As for Downing playing left back for Liverpool….. what the hell…….

  11. After the Swansea game I was starting to recognize a pattern in your writing AV. “We were the better team, but…”. It started with the Cardiff game.
    According to you and fellow bloggers we were the better team. Indeed, if you believe what you read on this site, we ARE the better team. But they won the match, and still remain three points and five goals clear of us.
    So it was a relief to read a different tale…we were distinctly average but we managed to get three points. Here’s to more days like today.
    Ian’s observation is very telling…basically no change from last year. Like Ian, I think we’ll fall short again this year. Let’s hope my football tipping is as bad as my horses!

  12. AV and Ian –
    I agree. Not big changeS needed or expected. But I think there could be some leeway if a player is needed by Mogga.
    I still think we could do with another striker though. But if we get Marvin fit, he might be the new player up front. For example Mogga said Marvin was sent home by a doctor on Friday.
    Up the Boro!

  13. Ian & AV –
    There’s Cammy Park, Zemmama and Curtis Main to add to that list too. Not to say Big Mick and Gibbo minor if we end up with both back.
    I just wonder if Bails is destined for the exit in January from his semi-gulaging and whether M&S is still interesting any – I don’t see Swansea under Laudrup still sniffing around. Thomo’s surplus anyway, but shifting his wages off the books might be a challenge and – if Bails goes – Mogga may want back up for Smallwood until the Scot’s contract expires in the summer.
    With Bristol City’s finances in the mire, we could be in the queue for Albert Adomah – Mogga always expresses interest and he always plays well against us. The Owls right winger – Antonio – impresses in a struggling team, too. As well as being quick and powerful, he would give us more height in the side.
    But, I agree that it would be better to manage with the group we’ve got unless there’s a gem to be unearthed and retain any headroom for a ‘just in case’ loaner to plug a gap, if such arises.

  14. John –
    Remiss of me not to mention those three though Park is a fringe player to the fringe.
    Bob –
    I think next season will be our best bet. There may be a difference this time round in that Mogga seems more willing to use his subs.
    Despite what others think it looks like we are being more positive at home especially since the Leicester match. Not schoolboy attacking but more progressive – Bristol apart!
    Lets see who is fit to play at Leds, a good result there will set us up for the festive period.

  15. The last five minutes of the match were excellent value for the £38 it cost for my son and I. The first 89 minutes was a turgid affair, it had 0-0 written all over it. I saved a quid because I intended to put it on a 4-0 Boro win with Woody opening the scoring, fortunately the Ladbrokes kiosk was closed (due to lack of interest?).
    At the start of the match I was pleased to see Friend back and both Ledesma and Emnes dropped because I thought they were weak last week. But we were short of pace and inspiration in attack, Downing on loan in Jan please! Still, we are winning without playing well which is always a good sign.
    Over the last ten games we’ve accumulated 19 points , despite a run of three defeats in four within that run of ten , that is pretty much promotion form.

  16. Got out of jail and a penalty to boot. When did we last get a penalty?
    As for January, I think TM will be more worried about who is being watched by the Prem clubs. If we continue to win a few games and the top two falter like they did on Saturday we could be top by then.
    Hopefully we can hang on to our stars as normally in January things happen at deadline time and there is no time to replace except loans which we really don’t want unless its maybe Stewie.
    Any way good win up to third as we attempt to climb out of the smog.

  17. I thought we had a reasonable game considering the number of lads we had out there who had ran their socks off against Swansea and had last minute fitness tests.
    Smallwood hasn’t impressed me much this season, but against Wolves that was probably his best display for a long time. He was everywhere, involved in everything and generally very tidy on the ball.
    Leadbitter looks like he could use a rest, but I believe he’s one of those who won’t accept that and will keep going.
    Luke Williams really needs to decide if he is going to be a footballer or not and start learning…fast! His first touch needs improvement, but his biggest issue is his awareness and decision making. He gets caught on the ball far too often and the game stops at him. Got plenty of ability, but needs to learn some vision and urgency and be aware of what is around him. You can’t play with your head down at this level.
    Emnes has been out of sorts lately so it is interesting to learn that he has been under the weather these past few weeks. A fully fit Emnes can make a difference to our team. For me, a defining moment in the game was when he wasn’t getting much luck, got clattered from behind and was upset that he didn’t get a foul. But he actually took the next opportunity to clatter their player back, winning us a throw in.
    A little bit more aggression from Emnes and he really could destroy teams. If we can get him fit and fired up, then he can get back to the form that saw him deliver the goals last season.
    Woody was of course immense in the heart of defence and Hines continues to show he can do a job and is an important player in this squad.
    I thought we were lucky to get the penalty, but having watched it a few times over now, I think it was a good decision. As Mowbray said, it wasn’t from just a few yards away. The ball traveled around 15 yards before hitting the players arm, which has to be said was down by his side. But for me, the player leaned his whole body into the direction of the ball and therefore placed his arm in its path.
    I’d guarantee in this same situation, at least 8 times out of 10 a penalty would not have been given, but I think replays show it was a good decision.

  18. Brighton are eighth in the table, three points off the play-off places, despite only three wins in 15 games.
    Their manager Gus Poyet told to the BBC: “Without winning games we are there. It shows you how average this division is. Competitive, but average.”
    We don’t care as long as it helps us be the top two in May. But he might be right considering where we are after some terrible results at Birmngham and Cardiff. It is what it is.
    Anyway we must win the next three matches to get to the level Mogga wants Boro to be. To accumulate two points per game we need to have 50 points after the next three matches (25 played then). So hard work in front – but then we would be top of the division, me thinks.
    Up the Boro!

  19. Hey AV, I hope you haven’t woken up with any unwanted tattoo’s!
    **AV writes: We have just been laughing about that in the office. It was a close run thing. I was asked when I left and I said at I’d dipped out a fairly sensible time. Which is when exactly? Which is when a big gang of drunk people start talking about getting tattoos… including one particularly suggestible individual who proposed getting the entire Bible inked in a very delicate place. “In the beginning was the w….”

  20. I was speaking to my Derby colleague about their match at Bristol. Reckons they are the worst side he has seen this season.
    We then discussed the penalty against Wolves. I said having watched it a few times the player definitely leans into the cross and it was from a cross from a decent distance away. Having just logged on to the blog it appears some have the same view.
    It was one of those times where you give the officials a chance to make a decision. May not give it every time but the lean looked suspicious.
    Whatever, it still says a penalty in the papers.
    The only blot is the realisation that having booked to go away at New Year I miss the Derby match at Pride Park. Damn and sundry buggers.

  21. I fully take your point, AV – but with a big caveat.
    Yes, it’s important to be able to gain points even when playing badly. All successful teams have that knack. The great Liverpool teams were renowned for grinding out points on bad days.
    However that characteristic of successful teams is in the the exception: the occasional poor performance in the midst of a series of scintillating games. That isn’t the case with Boro because this wasn’t a blip.
    This was just one of several poor performances but one in which we managed to extract three points. The 3-0 vs Huddersfield was probably our last good performance – and that was seven 7 games ago.
    We looked good – very good – against Cardiff and Swansea. However analysis in the hard light of day reveals how little we troubled their keepers: it was attractive football but ineffective.
    Against a weak Posh, we were awful for an hour and did well to come away with a win. The dire defeats to Bristol and Birmingham speak for themselves.
    So this was just one more weak display in a series of them.
    The only reason we’re still in the running is because, in this mediocre division, nobody is much better than us. As Poyet has been observing at Brighton, even though they’ve been losing, they’re still in touch because nobody is good enough to pull away.
    Ian Gill’s point was a pertinent one. That suggests we are likely to finish in about the same 7th position. However I think we’ll do better. We have important players about to return. More importantly, this year’s Championship is inferior to last season’s. There’s no Southampton or West Ham making the running and there’s no sign of a Reading coming with a surge. In short, with less to beat, I think we’ll make the play-offs at least.
    However, if we get promoted, God help us.

  22. Next Saturday Cardiff are away to Leicester then on Boxing day Cardiff are at home to Palace and Leicester are away to Hull, on the 29th December Cardiff are home to Millwall.
    Some interesting fixtures coming up that will definitely see points dropped from some of our rivals. If we can keep things sensible and steady over Xmas and New Year we could be in a very healthy position indeed.

  23. Nikeboro –
    I was listening on the radio to discussions about West Brom and their model for the football club: Steadily does it and dont panic if you go up and come down again.
    I wouldnt be the slightest bit bothered if we struggled in the top flight, I would rather be there and get the money and the parachute payments than stay in this division.
    Stability has come to the club, performances have been mixed and no matter what we think it is no easier or harder to get promoted than in previous seasons. The current league positions of last seasons promoted clubs are no worse than in previous seasons.
    Last season at this stage after 22 games
    Soton 43 points (from 21 games)
    West Ham 43 points
    Boro 41 points
    This season
    Cardiff 44
    Palace 42
    Boro 41
    The view that we are that much stronger than last season is also a fallacy.
    If the division is weaker and we are stronger why do we have the same points tally, position and goal difference as last season?

  24. A clean sheet, a last minute goal and three points. If we do that for the rest of the season then we’ll go up.
    I have to agree that it would be madness to sell McDonald on his current form. Unless of course we can convert him into a Stewart Downing.. (And assuming Mogga wouldn’t then play him at left back)
    I think the attendance demonstrates ever more clearly the need for the Ccub to embrace creative pricing initiatives.
    **AV writes: I find it a bit strange that some people in some quarters have pointed to the crowd and sneered with a hint of contempt about ‘where are the people who turned up for the offers now?’ Simple. With prices back to normal the gate has gone back to normal.
    Did they think that after one or two offers for people who have been priced out would suddenly mean they could afford £27? Or more if they go in groups (as most people do?) The harsh reality is that the flat- lining Teesside economy has not changed overnight. People still have to make difficult choices on their disposable income (especially a week before Xmas.) They don’t magic up extra cash just because are higher up the table. And maybe not in massive numbers even if Boro get promoted.
    The club are lining up another couple of offers – one will be outlined this week – but there is no magic bullet on this. There can be no wholesale price cutting without undermining the season ticket and the club have no intention of doing that. But some way must be found to deal with the huge disincentive of a hefty walk-up price if we are to boost attendence to generate revenue to fund the squad and support a club that is still running a substantial annual deficit on wages and costs.
    Everything that was said a month or two on pricing and the need for some creativity still stands. But it will take a lot of slow and patient work to square the circle.

  25. nikeboro –
    “God help us if we go up”… we have played Sunderland three times and Swansea last season and this and in the four matches we more than held our own so i dont think we should be afraid of going up.
    It is a financial no brainer even if we did come straight back down as i believe the parachute payments last for four years from now,making the new financial fair play rules look a mockery,although looking at the relegated three from last season it hasn,t done them any good so far.

  26. Several years ago I brought up some friends from Derby and they wanted to go to the seaside – no surprise as it is quicker to get to the med than the coast from where we live.
    As we drove down the Trunk Road they kept asking what was that on the left and then on the right. I kept saying British Steel and ICI. They had no idea of the scale of industry that has gone missing.
    It isnt just on Teesside. For a home match my ticket costs £70. If anyone comes up with a BOGOF for a gallon of diesel let me know.

  27. We should never be complacent against any team. If the journalists and fans assume we only need to turn up to beat an opponent, it’s hardly surprising if the team do the same.
    POSH beating Cardiff was a big surprise, Boro losing at home to Bristol City was similar.
    Comments like Peterborough ‘a definite to go down’ is hugely disrespectful and inaccurate. It certainly does nobody at Boro any favours and only helps to breed complacency.
    Keep everyone’s feet on the ground and give every team the respect they deserve, regardless of their league position.

  28. As I opened the front door to leave the house for the Wolves game, my wife said she hoped it would be a good match. I told her that I wasn’t really concerned about whether or not it was a good game, so long as we got the three points.
    The quality of the football left a lot to be desired. Passes went astray and we didn’t really look like scoring. We didn’t deserve to win, just as on other occasions it might be said that we hadn’t deserved to lose. But we did get the three points.
    And some say that God doesn’t always listen!

  29. GHW and Percy –
    As you say good news about Parky, it will be great for him to be at home, hopefully it will take some strain off the family as well but it will be hard work.
    Puts the grumbles about footie in to perpective.

  30. Just reading this morning about the possibility of the London matches being called off by the clubs because of the tube strike.
    Where does it state in the FA rules regarding fans being required to attend a football match, call a match off because you can’t put a team out and you lose three points.

  31. Ian –
    the view that we are stronger this season than last is not a fallacy, you are using stats out of context to suit an arguement.
    This season Boro have performed much better at home than last season, we have got where we are this season despite several injuries to key players. Last season a limited squad performed to its maximum up until january,then one or two key players got injured the squad wasn’t strong enough to cope and the wheels fell off. That isn’t going to happen this season, one of last seasons key men, Bailey cant get into the team now for goodness sake. Have some faith!
    Nikeboro –
    God help any promoted team, if Boro go up they’ll be no different to any other promoted team. Even if we get relegated we’ll have the benefit of the financial injection from Sky plus four years of parachute payments to enable the club to continue developing and building. You never know we might be another Stoke or Swansea.
    Dear Santa, For Christmas I’d like for tonights Leeds v Chelsea match to go into extra time and then penalties with Leeds loosing, thank you.
    **AV Writes; And picking up a couple of injuries and suspensions too!
    As for going up and coming down… it’s the new preferred business model for the medium term for Boro and similar sized clubs. Go up, don’t go crazy, take the cash, build a side for the next promotion push. These days we aspire to be a yo-yo club.

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