EYE-CATCHING movement, some intricate footwork and plenty of energy.
No, not Albert Adomah busting some impromptu moves with the Yeovilettes, although our foxy flanker’s twerking on the whistle was certainly entertaining.
His spontaneous, smiling gate-crashing of the home side’s end of term awards earned rave reviews in Somerset cyderspace. But then, everything about Boro did. The Yeovil fans and club staff were gracious and friendly and full of praise for the Boro taking 1,300 fans on a 700-mile, 10-hour round trip for an early kick-off in a dead rubber and for the atmosphere the Parmo Army generated in their last Championship game.
And even though they had just been spanked 4-1, they didn’t take offence at Albert stealing the show as the video went viral.
It was a fitting end to an afternoon of sun-kissed, sexy football that deserved a wider audience. Like Albert and his post-match posse, Boro had some excellent rhythmic co-ordination and well-drilled moves to please the crowd.
Boro were shaky at times at the back but they had plenty up top as they finished the season with a flourish.
It was a fitting end to an afternoon of sun-kissed, sexy football that deserved a wider audience. Like Albert and his post-match posse, Boro had some excellent rhythmic co-ordination and well-drilled moves to please the crowd. Boro were shaky at times at the back but they had plenty up top as they finished the season with a flourish.
In “typical Boro” fashion a lot of the talk in the aftermath was about which of Danny Graham’s two open-goal missed sitters will scoop the Golden Banjo award for the worst of the season. And that’s fair enough, both were comical barndoor/blunderbuss slapstick masterclasses worthy of any blooper compilation
But that would be cruel and pointless. Boro won 4-1. And Graham actually had a great game. He worked hard, he punched holes in the Yeovil defence with powerful runs, he held the ball up well, he terrified the opposition keeper as he closed quickly, he dropped deep, he linked up superbly with Lee Tomlin and he scored one and helped tee up two more. That’s not a bad day’s work.
There was a nervous start to the game: Seb Hines twice dropped early clangers as he tried to remember what to do, Daniel Ayala misjudged a bounce but wriggled off the hook as the Yeovil striker got clean through but then stumbled and Jason Steele fumbled a cross under pressure and was relieved to see the loose ball spooned over.
But once Boro settled into the game and started to press forward with incisive flashes of creativity there were sparks of potent power that offered plenty of promise for next term.
In particular the burgeoning relationship between Lee Tomlin and Danny Graham was a delight to watch. The instinctive interplay, the mutual movement and support and the vision in picking out runs speaks of long hours on the training ground that is finally starting to bear fruit…. although it does throw up a massive question-mark as Graham’s future is out of Boro’s hands.
When they both arrived on deadline day the moves raised eyebrows and led to some background chuntering.
Graham was getting splinters on the Hull bench after a frustrating six months loan spell.
It followed an equally under-employed spell at Sunderland. In the year before he joined Boro he had scored precisely one goal, and that inevitably was against his former club Swansea.
He was ring-rusty, unaccustomed to the pressing aspects of the role Aitor Karanka had him pencilled in for and had a lot to prove.
Boro had almost signed him the previous January and were ready to put together a hefty £5m package but he went to Sunderland instead and his subsequent year of firing blanks left many thinking we had dodged a bullet.
Not least when Lukas Jutkiewicz, squeezed out on loan to Bolton to make way for him in the team and in the wage budget, started to score goals
Likewise Tomlin arrived to cause some raised eyebrows. He had come from a lower league, arrived with a three-match suspension to serve and on his first few cameo outings looked sluggish and seemed to be carrying a bit of timber. There were cruel jibes about sponsorship deals being lined up with Greggs. And when his loan deal was quickly converted to a £1.5m real deal a lot of people asked if the money had been wisely spent.
The pair had arrived at the start of what was to be a club record goal drought and the doubts deepened as the pair failed to break that. Spurned opportunities, mis-timed runs, stumbles over balls in good positions, dead certs poked weakly wide. It wasn’t great.
But they were both learning the nuances of a new system, feeling their way into a rigid framework and trying to forge partnerships with the strangers around them.
And, it must be said, it appeared that both were trying too hard and getting frustrated as Boro’s long ice age of impotence stretched out over eight full games and 12 hours. The pair, signed to solve the problems up front, took some caustic criticism from increasingly edgy supporters as the situation seemed to be getting worse.
Now, just a few short weeks later, they look the kind of potent frontline that can give Boro a cutting edge next year. They look like the kind of frontline that could fire Boro into the promotion stakes. And they look like they are enjoying it.
Graham went six games without netting after announcing his arrival with a laboured, lost-looking display at Doncaster and one weak shot that bobbled wide.
But since getting off the mark with both goals against Ipswich he has looked sharper and hungry, a much more productive part of the team. A good fit. And, importantly, since then he has scored six goals in 13 games.
A strike rate of almost one in two is a fantastic return in the Championship and if he could manage to do that over the season he would be that most mythical of beasts, the 20 goals a season Boro striker. That could make him a crucial component of any tilt at the top.
Tomlin, too, is a good fit. He is powerful, direct, aggressive and determined. He set up the winner at Burnley with a snarling application of a Half-Nelson on a defender as he barged into the box to tee up Jacob Butterfield for the goal. Flashes like that, and the wild passion of celebration after his goal against Birmingham have nudged the portly poacher towards cult status.
But he “can play a bit too”. At Yeovil he showed a string of silky touches to carve open the defence. For his goal he burst towards the advancing keeper then pushed the ball past him with a deft little flick before darting in to steer home from an angle.
And his cheeky touch through a sluggish marker’s legs to surge into the box and draw the keeper to square for Graham (who somehow spooned wide) was an instinctive moment that showed guile and vision.
And he, too, has found some teeth. He went eight without a goal in a shaky start as he came to terms with the intensity. But, since getting his first to cap a commanding and spirited display in the 3-1 win over Birmingham, he has scored five in six and looked like a constant threat. There are early hints of Hendrie about him.
Tomlin has the potential to be the key man in Boro’s armoury next season, the tabled No 10 that makes Karanka’s 4231 shape work.
Two months ago most Boro fans probably thought Graham was shaping up to be a flop and were keen to quickly despatch him back to Wearside and resume the frustrating seasons long search for a prolific frontman. Now most would probably think securing him is right at the top of Aitor Karanka’s “to do list” for the summer.
Getting the front-line right is the key to making Karanka’s systen work and it is the one area the club are likely to push the boat out in the summer recruitment. Graham has certainly put in a convincing CV for the role.
And he is out of favour at Sunderland. They would be open to him leaving. Especially if they pull off a Great Escape and stay up. Poyet will want to bring in his own people and will be keen to shift his wages. Boro, especially if they flog Lukas Jutkiewicz to willing buyers Bolton, could cover that. But will there be a fee? Or other suitors.
But certainly should he sign now Boro fans would be far happier with what they were getting than they would two months ago when he looked ungainly and shot-shy.
Similarly Tomlin. Two months ago most thought he was well short of the standard required and a lot of money wasted. Supporters are quick to judge like that. Now he is seen as a popular and potent player vital to next term’s prospects.
The fledgling relationship – or one similar to it – can make the system work. And if Boro can do that and continue their current form, August can’t come quickly enough.
This side, still a work in progress, has finished with six wins out of eight including wins over promoted Burnley and play-off hopefuls Derby and Brighton. The last few seasons have fizzled out in the final few weeks, this one has burst into life. Now there are more reasons to feel more optimistic on signing off now than for years.
No wonder Albert was dancing.