I’LL BE WITH YOU SOON. Got tomorrow’s spread to write. In the meantime, if someone wants to kick off with an appraisal of mighty Boro’s glorious defeat of table-topping Burnley and the impact of former frozen out flanker Emmanuel Ledesma, crack on….
But a few brief observations:
**As Roy Wood would have it… “I wish it could be Christmas every day”…. Boro have just clocked up their first back-to-back first back-to-back wins since this time last year when they beat Blackburn and Blackpool. They hadn’t claimed successive victories at all in 2013 before Burnley.
**Still on a seasonal riff, that was our Snata-hatted heroes fourth successive win and fourth successive clean sheet at home in Boxing Day fixtures after beating Scunthorpe 3-0 in 2009, Hull 1-0 in 2011 and Blackburn 1-0 last year. It is New Year that is the problem….
**The steely defensive show made it Boro’s first back-to-back clean sheets since October 2012 when Mogga’s men were flying and they got a double blank at Brighton then at home to Hull. They won the next game 2-1 then got another clean sheet in the 1-0 League Cup win away at struggling Sunderland.
But Boro gradually lost cohesion at the back and had only seven clean sheets in the league last season. This term so far they have had five – with three of them in the last six games under Karanka. Of the others the first came under Mogga with the 1-0 win at Charlton and the other the 4-0 ‘Spirit of Teesside’ demolition of Doncaster with Mark Venus in charge.
**Ledesma will take all the plaudits – and after an eye-catching intervention at Millwall then the winner against Burnley that is fair enough – but the win was based on the solidity of the once brittle defence. Not just the back five but as a collective Boro worked hard to press high, close quickly and defend from the front. The goal came after Emnes won a physical battle!
Both centre-backs were superb (on the whistle Woody struggled to remove Ings from his pockes, the full-backs have had their cavalier tendencies curbed and are now operating primarily as defenders – both George Friend and international right-back Jozsef Varga made crucial tackles in the box as well as blocking off the flanks – and on the three occasions Burnley broke through Shay Given made magnificent saves.
My highlight of the game was when Friend, in the past too often brushed aside amid suspicions that he was “too nice”, charged through a crowded box to muscle aside a Burnley man and ferociously attack a cross to get in a powerful clearing header with real distance and in the process clattered poor Daniel Ayala dumping him on the turf with those little cartoon birds tweeting around his head. Obviously its not good to crock a team-mate but that tunnel-visioned will to win and get a head on it despite risk of personal injury is exactly what has been missing.
**Burnley arrived having lost just twice all season, having beaten QPR, Leicester and Forest, unbeaten in nine and boasting the 17 goal Championship top scorer in Danny Ings (briefly on the Boro radar last summer) but on that showing it is amazing they are top of the league. They worked hard enough and had a lot of possession in the second half but they didn’t have too much up front and struggled to beat a Boro whose recent record is unremarkable. Which says everything about this division and shoudl give hope that with a bit of confidence and a bit of momentum there is still plenty to play for.
I like football bouncer Sean Dyche but his remarks after the game – his side had the bulk of possession, made Boro play like the away team and the home bench had ‘gone mental’ and celebrated ‘like they had won the World Cup’ – were ungracious and short-sighted. Boro did a job on his side tactically and out-worked the league leaders and deserved a bit of praise.
**That was Boro’s first win on a Thursday since the famous fightback against Steaua Bucharest in 2006. I’m not drawing any parallels of making connections. Just saying.