TONY Mowbray had urged his team to “stand up to the bullies” before the Titanic tussle with Neil Warnock’s shocktroops.
By the end he was almost pulling them away and pleading: “They’ve had enough. Come on lads, they’re not worth it,” as victorious Boro eased off and our long time Nemesis slinked away bruised and beaten.
It was Boro’s first league win of 2013. Their first victory over Leeds on Teesside since the
4-1 Ayresome Park gubbing of Howard Wilkinson’s then champions in 1992. It was welcome win over arch-pragmatist Warnock, who has thwarted Boro across a string of clubs and division since the dug-out dawn of his anti-football fundamentalism.
It was fantastic.
The wounded Leeds boss himself was furious and stomped off angrily down the tunnel to give a tetchy post-match press conference – not least because the game finished with the visiting fans loudly booing and berating him and chanting that it was ‘time to go’.
Yet the vocal condemnation on the whistle could so easily have been the other way round. Had the high-stakes ‘not a derby’ showdown gone the other way, had Boro lost a sixth successive league game to our Southern cousins, then the simmering frustration from some sections of the crowd could easily have been aimed angrily at the other dug-out. At Mogga.
But in a energising display of spirited toe-to-toe street-fighting, battling Boro kicked the
living daylights of any notion they were a brittle side deep in a terminal crisis.
Stung into action, Boro showed real steel to more than match the route one physicality of the Championship’s most institutionally robust outfit and claw to a famous victory over an Ancient enemy.
It was brilliant. Brutal at times, yes. And there was little room for too many moments of
short-passing artistry and finesse out the Barca-lite Mogga mould. It certainly “wasn’t one
for the purists.”
But it was exciting. Hostile. Edgy. Simmering. Passionate. Absorbing. Memorable. Bruising. It was terrific entertainment. It was exactly what supporters want from a game
And the narcotic intensity and animosity of that partisan atmosphere was exactly what Boro needed to kick-start a faltering campaign. A mundane match against one of the lower level makeweights backed by the massed ranks of 412 barely audible away supporters would have left the Riverside muted and inert and even a victory – ‘papering over the cracks’ – would done little to ignite or unite the crowd.
But a electric wave of parochial righteous anger… now you’re talking. Especially when
aimed at the old enemy. It’s your civic duty to join in the emotional outpouring.
After a slow and nervous start the passion in the crowd synched with the obvious spirit on
show on the pitch and it was infectious.
It came to a head when serial spit-spat ‘sewer rat’ and all round hate-magnet El-Hadji Diouf came off the bench to a sonic boom of high-volume vitriol, a white noise of snarling and booing and that followed him around the pitch with laser guided precision.
But the intensity had been there from the whistle.On and off the pitch, Boro were smarting from the accumulated angst of five bleak weeks and were right up for it.
That much was obvious from early on when lively Mustapha Carayol was wiped out by a hefty tackle by Peltier that sparked a brief melee and seething man mountain waded through the crowd seemingly intent on cult-hero vigilante action offering every single one of the Leeds players out, one at a time or all together. He looked to be making a grab for the ref too at one point but team mates hauled him back. Just.
Bikey picked up a booking for his aggressively ticking body language but that set a high
standard of commitment that the team and the crowd met in spades.
Everyone got stuck in. Mustapha Carayol was kicked and scythed and mugged but kept going. Rhys Williams was roughed up. Stuart Parnaby was wiped out. Bikey took a point blank piledriver in the chops and shrugged it off.
And Boro dished it out too. There were several heart-in-mouth moments of audible collective wincing as crunching tackles flew in. With Boro digging in at the end, Ginga Warrior Nicky Bailey launched into a full-blooded sliding challenge on the edge of the box that hit poor Ross McCormack like a juggernaut.
It was clean and clinical but the seismic impact reverberated through the crowd and there were gasps and maybe a frissson of fear for a fraction of a second before the shell-shocked striker wobbled away drunkenly with his head surrounded by cartoon stars and birds tweeting.
Soon after Andy Halliday rattled Diouf with relish in the most popular cornerflag drive-by
since James Morrison launched Christiano Ronaldo into the crowd.
Ironically, for all the high-impact tackling Curtis Main was pedalled for two of the softest
yellow cards of the season; a gentle poke of a loose ball back in the general direction of a Leeds player that fell short was deemed to be ‘preventing a quick free kick’ then two minutes later a brave attempted leap into an aerial block of a hefty clearance was harshly judged to be a deliberate hand-ball. But he was a hero by then anyway.
But it wasn’t all about muscle. Boro played well too in the second half and created a string of good chances – a Leadbitter free-kick, a Williams stabbed effort and McEachran’s stooping header straight at the keeper before drawing first blood.
The goal when it came was a cracker. A thundering Williams tackle – he grew into the game after a very shaky start in midfield – sent the ball squirting to Big Ish Miller who carried it forward then arced in an inviting cross for Curtis who had to reverse into the flightpath before looping in a superb looping effort that sailed in slow-motion into the far top corner to spark an EIO explosion of crisis-killing joy.
There were some scares too, not least late in the first half studless shot-stopper Jason Steele charged out intercept a long diagonal ball into the box but slipped – again – leaving McCormack to collect, check back inside and stab the ball goalwards from an angle but somehow Jonathan Woodgate was back to block on the line.
It was a much needed and hard earned win in a high-stakes cauldron of a game and Boro deserve all the plaudits for a sweat soaked and passionate performance that ticked a lot of boxes.It halted the slide, got the precious points to reignite a stuttering play-off push and, perhaps most importantly, physically forced the crowd back on board.
If we can harness that emotional power from a revived and refocussed Riverside support and unleash it on unsuspecting visitors with even half that intensity for the rest of the season it will scare the hell out of them.
And if the team can reproduce that winning combination of pumped up physicality, sheer determination and a hunger to build the relentless pressure to force a goal then we have every chance of clawing our way back into the promotion frame.
Crisis? What crisis? Bring it on.