A FORMER fragile Boro would have lost that game. Nailed on. Back to the bread and butter games after an emotional high of a midweek glamour game and with expectations high after three wins in a row and a 4-0 Riverside romp against Brentford. Throw in a huge travelling support buoyed by optimism and all the ingredients were in place for a “typical Boro” defeat – probably thanks to a Bikey goal in the 93rd minute.
But this Boro are made of sterner stuff. Even with 10 men. Even after a leggy last half hour as the strength-sapping 120 minutes of the Anfield epic started to catch up with them and Charlton stepped up a gear to pile on the pressure late on. They dug in. They put bodies on the line. They closed, tackled and blocked, they rocked as an opportunist hooked shot came back off the post, then the stayed sharp to resist a stoppage time assault as Dimi made a wonder save then Clayton hooked a goalbound header away.
The 0-0 draw at Charlton is the kind of game that under the previous few managers Boro would crack in and slip to defeat. To a last minute set-play. Probably scored by the serial Nemesis or the former Boro donkey every battle-scarred cynic had their daft quid on.
This Boro didn’t fold. They dug in. They worked hard. They fought for the team and for the point. They looked lively and bossed the first half but after failing to score from a couple of decent chances they faded, they lost some zip and lost the initiative and ended up battling to stay in the game. And they did. Boro were far from at their best at the Valley but they came away with a precious point that could yet prove very important.
Let’s be clear. That is a good point. Charlton are the highest placed team Boro have played so far this term. They are unbeaten. They had won four out of five at home. Under Bob Peeters they are organised and work hard. They were up for it and in the second half turned the screw but Boro held on. That is the kind of result that gets you promoted… especially if you then take advantage of playing the bottom two at home.
Aitor was proud after the game because his side had produced. And for this we are happy.
A few things:
That is three clean sheets in a row. With Dimi in goal. Hmmmm. The keeper is not the only reason for that – the team have looked solid across the back and midfield has been impressively impervious too – but he has looked solid.
Fans’ favourite Dimi – “Chewbacca” to his friends – has made a few fumbles that would have had lynchmobs gathering for other keepers but he has shown that when called upon he can make the decisive saves under pressure.
Notorious hatchetman Albert Adomah is an unlikely villain but the Charlton fans were baying for his blood after a heavy 50/50 challenge that led to controversy. “Typical Miwdesbowwer, they always kick us off the park,” came one anguished cry from just behind us as he trudged off.
He was already on a yellow for clipping Cousins from behind (just after Clayton had failed to bring the player down with an outstretched ankle height hand) when him and Wiggins both went sliding in for a loose ball right in front of the press box. Initially it seem the ref, six yards away, had given the free-kick Boro’s way. Then he was called over by the linesman who was 30 yards away and then his decision was reversed and Adomah was penalised, shown a second yellow at then a red.
Now, you can say that the linesman is there to assist the ref and it is a sound principle that the official should consult widely and get the fullest picture before making a match changing decision. Fair enough. And we had all winced when the tackle went in.
But the same linesman had missed what looked a clear cut flying elbow from BIkey when he was just six yards away so that calls into question his judgement. And eye-sight. Boro’s former human hand-grenade was caught out by Patrick Bamford’s pace, knew he had lost out and even took a little look round before cloths-lining the striker. That was clear cut. We know Bikey can be a little volatile. And we know he was going to either score or chin someone so Bamford had had literally taken on from the team.
Naturally the Charlton fans decided Bamford had dived. It was the only possible explanation. After the game Charlton keeper Henderson – probably the closest player to the action and with a clear sight-line – did a bit with the local press and donned his WengerGegs to say 1) he never really saw the incident ; and 2) we all know that Andre’s “not that type of player.” How we all laughed.
Adam Clayton was brilliant. Again. He has been working his nuts off in the last few games. He is a good destroyer but also has a great range of passing. He has settled into the new team and has flourished. Soon he will add goals and be hailed by the fans as a brilliant buy. Is there anyone who still questions why Karanka let Butterfield go?
Boro fans… just wow. Another 2,000 turn out. Brilliant support, and not just in numbers. They were noisy throughout again. I think the supporters this season have been energised because they can see the bits falling into place. I think people are starting to react to the feeling that something special is starting to happen.