FOOTBALL… bloody hell. Nine man Boro beat Birmingham in a pulsating 3-1 win which was by far and away the most entertaining spectacle of the season.
It wasn’t always pretty but it was gripping, energising non-stop drama climaxing with a breakaway first goal for Lee Tomlin to seal it after Boro shrugged off a Blues barrage in an incredible atmosphere. There was pride, passion, spirit, skill and a real will to win and an almost tangible sense of unity between crowd and team. It was fantastic. It was exactly what supporters are talking about when they demand their team “give it a go.” It was the kind of game that creates a word of mouth buzz and shifts tickets.
Aitor Karanka – still dizzy after a nasty bout of the dreaded lurgey – described it as “crazy” and said it could have finished 7-5 and that for a coach it was heart-stopping stuff. It was the same for everyone else. Heart-stopping. Breath-taking. Crazy. Dramatic. Absorbing. And at times barely believable.But it was brilliant. And it bodes well for the future.
Where to start? The two red cards? Ben and Ken both got pedalled, both for second yellows and both cheaply. Ken got one for body-checking Ibe as he burst through and took one for the team… although there was a sense of injustice as the move (which also saw Ben Gibson rugby tackle Zigic) started with a foul on Ledesma in the build-up. That left Boro, then 2-1 up, with 10 minutes to dig in a man down.
Then, five minutes later, in a frantic spell Gibbo got his marching orders for a tug in the middle of a chaotic scramble. Everyone thought the whistle had gone for a foul by Adomah in the crowd but eagle-eyed offence detector and former Premier League ref Jeff Winter called it from the press box immediately – “Gibson is off here” – even before the man in purple had stomped over.
So two reds – that’s a record 11 for the season, well done everybody. Down to nine for the first time since Arca and Thomson both got pedalled for slow motion stupidity at Coventry in January 2012. The two against Brum leave a looming defensive crisis for the trip to Burnley. Not least because hugely improved and influential potent attacking outlet George Friend also limped off in the first half with a groin injury that didn’t look good. That said, Chalobah and Woody (fit for now) plus the possible return of Daniel Ayala isn’t a bad pool to patch it up from. And the pair will only miss one game.
Where to start? The goals. Graham’s opener wasn’t bad, turning neatly to stab home from a well worked corner… that nudges a man who was deep in cow/banjo territory during the goal drought up to a respectable four in 13, the kind of ratio that had some Boro fans declaring Scott McDonald the Messiah. And after he scored he came alive with some great runs, touches and knock-downs although he twice messed up good one-on-ones after deft balls in from under-rated Jacob Butterfield.
And talking of Butterfield, Jacob’s Cracker was a beauty. He turned well and let a quick throw from Varga drop over his shoulder then cracked a half-volley from the corner of the box that curled over the keeper and inside the far post. Here’s footage of it..
That looked to have sealed it but then City struck out of the blue as young midfielder Emyr Huws – “is he Welsh?” someone asked – collected a harmless looking ball down the right then cut inside and unleashed an absolute “thunderbastard,” a sizzling 35 yard angled exocet that screamed past Dimi’s dive and in. Here it is.
At that point it had been a scrappy game in which Boro had taken control against the run of play and only the two peaches illuminated a high-octane but low quality half.The second half was more of the same but with Boro in the ascendency – and someone had hit the fast-forward button: sweeping attacks, incisive movement and a flurry of chances peppered with mistakes that left Birmingham on the attack.
Some fantastic perceptive and well weighted balls from Butterfield sent Graham into the box but he couldn’t get a shot off ;Ledesma stabbed one down that bounced up and the keeper finger-nailed it over; Chalobah, Ledesma, Tomlin all had chances with every attack turning up the volume and intensity of the crowd, by now almost hysterical.
Then came the sendings off and it was suddenly City piling forward looking for a leveller and some chaotic last ditch defending (Albert at left-back sliding into tackles) in a late Blues barrage as ball after ball awas aimed at penalty box lamp-post Zigic.
But after a series of desperate scrambles a well picked out long ball forward from Adomah sent Tomlin bursting forward and as two defenders got in each others way he fired in a shot and when it came off the defender he slammed home at the second attempt. “We only need nine men” roared and laughed the crowd as the team all ran over and piled on top of the portly poacher. An excellent feeling.
Tomlin needed that. After a series of frustrating displays when it seemed he was trying too hard we are now seeing flashes of what he can offer. That may relax him and we may see the that on a sustained basis. Ditto Butterfield. Ditto Graham. Ditto the team as a whole. Things are starting to fall into place.
It was a good display. The defence looked solid, Dimi is increasingly impressive, Chalobah – unshackled from his anchor role – looks like the player who ripped us open at Watford rather than the lack-lustre ghost at Forest, Butterfield and Tomlin are starting to click and Graham now looks like a player who can unsettle defences if not yet one who will rattle in double figures before the end of term. It is coming.
Boro’s stats now look quite impressive. They have lost just one in eight – and that to the bottle top bobble – despite a run that has included a string of team above them in the table: Ipswich, Bournemouth, Derby, Forest, Brighton… they are now a team that are solid at the back, have confidence and spirit and increasingly have a cutting edge up front. There is a bit of momentum and buzz building now just as the season is winding down.
Three wins on the bounce now. Five games to go… and just six points behind three teams locked in joint seventh… let’s go for it.