IT TOOK the rude awaking of a galvanising goal from Barnsley to wake up a .game that had been on snooze-control.
Boro had stretched and yawned and scratched and rubbed their eyes for 20 minutes but quickly took casual control of a low-key game. Casual control; not assertive or aggressive or urgent control. They dominated possession and space and created some decent chances with routine ease but squandered them in the same unflustered fashion. No problem. It was all so casual they may as well have been playing in smart chino slacks and Fred Perry shirts.
It wasn’t just Boro that were going through the motions in the 3-1 Riverside win. Barnsley were just as languid and with less excuse. They were supposed to be snarling and scrapping for their lives, they were supposed to come and show some spirit and tenacity. In fact they arrived with the non-committal aura of a pre-season friendly. And considering it was a do-or-die ‘Cup Final’ for them and only a short haul trip from South Yorkshire they brought a meagre scattering of fans – 700 or so – and they barely made a noise.
And it was Barnsley’s own fault they got beat. Had they not scored the opener the whole game would have fizzled out into a frustrating goalless draw against a background of stony faced chuntering.
The first half hour was low-thrills, low-intensity and low-tempo. Then Boro sparked into life and had four or five good chances in a lively period when Luke Steele – their Luke Steele, not our often mislabelled forgotten shot-stopper – made some excellent saves.
After the break Barnsley scored in a languid fashion, M’Voto getting to a poor (and cheaply conceded) corner that bounced through the box and hooking a scruffy ball that skidded past Dimi and sneaked in.
That woke Boro up with a start Sting into action they levelled within a minute as Varga played the ball forward and Tomlin barged forward and then lost and regained the ball twice – once after a pass from M’voto before drilling home.
Then after a relatively high-tempo scrappy spell Boro rammed home their advantage with two equally scrappy goals: unmarked Graham slammed home from close range but only after Adomah had shanked a sitter at the keeper and it rebounded kindly to the on-loan hitman eight yards out then Tomlin played a good one-two with Adomah to carve through a Keystone Kops defence to rifle in a low drive.
It was an all action end to a game that for long spells spluttered and creaked and the finale sent the fans away happy and with a flicker of optimism again in contrast to the mumblings of mutiny last weekl. The pendulum of public opinion.
Then there was a lap of ‘appreciation’ that would have been a lot better received had they beat Millwall last week and at least turned up at Reading to make the far-fetched play-off lunge at least a bit more dramatic if still ultimately fruitless.
Still, it showed they can beat lowly sides when they get their act together which has been a big problem, one flagged up repeatedly by the gaffer and by players . And Tomlin is showing signs of turning some of that bustling energy into a potent (if not always graceful) attacking force. And it made up for the red-faced rout at rock bottom Barnsley that saw off Mogga in October.
And, there were flashes from a couple of other players too:Jozsef Varga played well, returning wideman Adam Reach was lively in the first half before fading and Jacob Butterfield linked up well with the frontmen in his obligatory hour before being subbed.
Still, plenty to talk about… mainly, which of the players waving to the crowd were waving goodbye to the Riverside.