WELL, Boro made hard work of that and left it very late… but at least they clawed their way through. We don’t have to go to deepest Hampshire for a replay. And we are in the hat for the last 16. And that’s all that counts. Job done.
There is no automatic right of passage for the higher placed team. Ask Norwich and QPR. Ask Aston Villa. Twice. And ask Sunderland and Newcastle. These games are always a grind. Expectations are high and rarely met. You just have to get through.
There was a lot of dark muttering about how useless Boro were, and yes, the first half especially was very stodgy and low tempo in the build up and it was very hard work breaking down a side that are struggling in League Two. And there were a few very poor individual. Yes we are looking at you Marvin. It was very frustarting.
But it is not just about Boro being sluggish. Credit to Aldershot: they were well organised and well motivated and came with a plan. They were very tight at the back, they worked very hard without the ball to close Boro quickly and squeeze the space. They did a decent job as an away team playing a higher tier side. They did what we did at Sunderland. Only not as effectively. Aside from their goal – which was well taken after a superb first touch – they did not force a single real save from Jason Steele.
They came close and in Danny Hylton they have something to celebrate. His goal made him top scorer so far in this year’s cup with eight and he has scored in every game since they entered at the first round proper. That goal had the national writers in the packed press box delighted with an easy intro (no Newcastle or Sunderland games for our regional writers this week so they all wanted a slice of Boro)… and all the Teesside press corps (us, the Beeb, Cox and the Echo) cringing at the prospect of a long trek to Hampshire on a Tuesday night.
But yes, credit to Boro too. For all the problems they stuck to the task. They ground Aldershot down and then having been pegged back clawed over the line seven minutes into stoppag time. Dogged stuff. And for all the frustration it was not as if Boro struggled to create chances. Boro bossed possession and carved them open often enough.
Their keeper made a string of excellent saves that kept them in it: from Nicky Bailey’s downward header, from Stuart Parnaby’s angled drive, from Zemmama’s low effort, from a Jutkiewicz shot, from Williams’s cracking angled wallop on the over-lap. And another effort from Williams through a crowd was blocked on the line by a defender too.
On another day one of those early efforts would have gone in and maybe the game would have fizzled out into a dull routine 1-0 or 2-0 win, never to be mentioned again, filed away under functional but uninspiring. At least now it has a story: the late, late show in injury time added on for a crocked lino… and another object lesson to the habitual early leavers in why they should never slink off before the final whistle.
And there were a couple of good individual displays that deserve mentions. Adan Reach was lively and direct and put in a couple of excellent crosses while industrious Jutkiewicz worked himself to destruction and took a lot of knocks for his trouble and then scored two good goals to take him into double figures (from just 14 starts). Not bad.
So it wasn’t the best display but job done. We’re in the hat. In cup games that’s all you can really do. Mogga was talking about wanting to draw a big club to excite and test the team. No thanks. I’ll be happy with Luton at home and the best possible chance of progress. We are two wins from Wembley.
Come on ball six!