IT WAS a good point. Any away point is always a good one.
It may not have felt like it when former Boro target Jordi Gomez rocket of a free-kick clipped off the wall and spun home for a barely-deserved Wigan equaliser late on but, be honest, you’d have taken it before kick-off.
Yes, the sucker punch six minutes from time – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – hurt because we were all emotionally tuned for a second successive away victory by that stage.
It stung because Boro really deserved to win.
They were well balanced, did most of the attacking, controlled the midfield, were mainly solid at the back and contained the opposition threat, set the shape and tempo of the game and Wigan’s keeper Scott Carson was forced to make a string of superb saves from a potent looking side.
So leaving with just a solitary point at the end smarted a bit.
But remember, Wigan could have had a couple of penalties in a chaotic spell – they actually got given the softest of their three spot kick shouts – and they took an early lead.
That left battling Boro needing to claw from behind again.
And for the second week running they showed spirit and resolve to do just that. In style.
They wouldn’t and couldn’t have done that in last term’s slump.
Boro showed an admirable mental strength and determination as they fought back.
They imposed themselves. They worked hard and stopped the opposition incursions then set about them with real zip, playing some neat interchanges of quick passing and they probed deep into dangerous areas. And they created chances. Plenty of them.
Crucially they did it in controlled fashion and with confidence in the style and shape and each other’s abilities.
And that was against one of the big spending bookies’ favourites. In Championship terms, Wigan have spent heavily in the summer, dipping into the parachute payment and money raised by letting manager Roberto Martinez and striker Aruna Kone go to Everton.
They have brought in the likes of James McClean from Sunderland, Scott Carson from Bursaspor, James Perch from Newcastle and proven Championship goal-machine Grant Holt from Norwich and are expected to be among the title chasers this term.
And Wigan went into the game with a bit of a buzz. The town was on a high after the groundshare eggchasers the Warriors won the Rugby League Challenge Cup at Wembley on Saturday to add to the FA Cup Athletic won in May, a mighty impressive cross code double for such a small town. Respect.
But on this showing Boro are the better team. It was a solid “team” display that once again shows that a real framework is emerging here.
After the first fledgling signs of a coherent side showing up in the 1-0 win at Charlton and then the determination shown to salvage a late leveller against Blackpool, the draw at Wigan was another step forward.
It wasn’t perfect. This is the Championship. By definition teams come with flaws.
There was a rocky early first half spell when McCann and McArthur were putting some good balls into the box and both Holt and Marc Antoine Fortune were causing problems – that’s when the three penalty calls came.
For the first shout George Friend got in a tangle with Fortune and sent him tumbling and for the third Holt got the wrong side of Woodgate – a rare positional error from the Boro defender – and was brought down. Both times there was a wave of relief when the referee waved play on. They were errors that could have proved costly.
Sarcastically Wigan were awarded their spot kick as (after a cheaply-conceded throw in) Fortune cut inside past wrong-footed Friend who reached out and was penalised for tugging his shirt after minimal contact.
At that point Boro were under the cosh but they quickly got a grip both of the attacking threat and the supply line and soon were in the ascendency.
After that they were rarely troubled and Jason Steele only had one routine save to make.
But the late leveller was pretty much self-inflicted.
It was a chain of mistakes. Rhys Williams trapped a high ball superbly on his thigh just outside the box and it should have been thumped upfield or into Row Z.
Instead he rolled it inside and Dean Whitehead – otherwise superb – who miscontrolled and turned inside to recover and was robbed then failed to make his attempted foul to salvage the situation.
That forced Jonathan Woodgate to get into the Wigan Warriors Challenge Cup vibe and haul his man down a yard outside the box to concede the fatal free-kick. Then the wall proved less than solid and the Gomez howitzer slammed into it and deflected off Andy Halliday’s hip and fizzed past wrong-footed Steele.
It was a bitter blow. But Boro were the better side and can take heart from that.
They were undone by a penalty – the softest of three spot-kick shouts – and a sloppily conceded deflected free-kick.
But there were far more positives than negatives.
As well as the collective display there were some superb individual shows.
Woodgate and Williams were both impressive. They have now played every minute of the four league games together – hands up who thought that was possible before the season started – and are starting to develop an understanding.
If that can continue it will go a long way to solve the problem of the shifting sands of stopper uncertainty that undermined the defence last term.
Friend too put in an eye-catching display. It was the Friend that won plaudits in the first half of last term for his marauding runs down the flank rather than the post-injury limp and laboured left back of the second half slump.
He over-lapped and linked up well with Mustapha Carayol and put in some good crosses and then, for the first time in 44 games, he cut inside and drilled home a goal. After that Friendinho unleashed a cavalier flair with fancy flicks, drag-backs, step-overs and nutmegs.
Lukas Jutkiewicz deserves praise too. Once again he came off battered and bruised after beavering away in and around the box, fighting for and holding up balls then bringing in the wide men and midfielders into play.
He takes some flak for “not scoring enough goals” but as the focal point of the attack he plays a vital role well winning quick balls forward and from out wide and getting knockdowns and flicking on.
But more importantly than individuals canvassing for Gazette stars, it was a solid collective display. Boro now increasingly look like a team. With belief and shape and a discernible style, with organisation and belief.
That has been the real story of the season so far.
And it was a hugely enjoyable game too. It was pulsating stuff, packed with attacking intent and great entertainment. Some people will tell you that doesn’t matter and that ultimately only the points matter.
But then, if Boro ground out a win those people would probably complain it was dull.