HUDDERSFIELD away in September was when the season really started. After a unsettled August and a blip of back-to-back home defeats to Sheff Wed and Reading there had been an international break. That allowed Aitor Karanka to complete his squad building and spend two weeks instilling the “methodology and philosophy” into the new boys. Then the real Boro were unleashed at the MacAlpine/Galpharm/John SmithsBeerdome…
That game was a bit of grind at times and there was a frantic finale but Boro showed spirit before winning. It was the day when Clayton showed why he was a better bet than Butterfield, Dimi showed he was a safer pair of hands than Meijas, and Grant Leadbelter announced his howitzer intent for the season with an outrageous molecule melting 35 yard “thunderbastard.” There was a loud and proud sell-out 4,000 travelling army there as well. That game was a sign of things to come: that match was the start of a now well balanced Boro’s long climb towards the promotion pack.
Fast forward five months and Boro ground out another win against Huddersfield that could prove just as crucial and just as timely a boost as that first clash. And which was just as tense right to the final whistle.
On a day when six of the top seven won to make it very tight at the sharp end of the table and to really ratchet up the pressure it was crucial not to slip up as Derby had. The Rams being felled by Forest was a big boost but with all the top teams having ‘gimmee’ games (if there is such a thing in the Championship) it was a day when Boro had to win by hook or by crook. And they did that. It wasn’t pretty. God no. In fact the last 20 minutes was as pock-marked, shaven headed, snaggle-toothed broken-nosed bruiser of a game as we’ve seen all season but you could still pucker up and give it a big kiss at the end. Three beautiful precious points.
It wasn’t one for the purists, even if Huddersfield were wearing a Brazil kit. Boro made hard work of a game they dominated for a hour, passing and probing with a swagger against a side that had come for a draw, started with five at the back and who dug in and dug trenches from the off. But despite the visitors work-rate and organisation Boro still carved through repeatedly and created good chances without forcing a save.
Then, after Tomlin got the awesome opener, what should have been a routine victory slithered towards a chaotic and threatening finish as Boro lost their grip and the defence started to creak and spring leaks and Huddersfield threw everything forward.
Thunderbastard! Lee Tomlin unleashes an exocet for the opener
Otherwise erratic and over-elaborate Lee Tomlin may have redeemed himself with those goals – an absolute screamer to start and a cool headed sweep into an open goal on the break at the death – but the points were secured by Dimi Konstantopoulos. The keeper barely had a thing to do for 70 minutes then suddenly was the center of the action with a string of superb safe hands stops to deny ex-Boro man Butterfield then Nahki Wells twice while the latter also crashed a shot against the post in a coronary inducing last 20.
The Greek shot-stopper left the boss gushing after the game and Aitor even admitted he was close to agreeing a new contract with a keeper brought in under Mogga just to help out with the numbers in training. He has kept four clean sheets in a row and 13 in 23 this season. Yes, he is playing in front of a well drilled defence but that is impressive stuff.
Many of the recent problems were still evident though, not least the lack of a cutting edge. After two frustrating league games that have seen a dozen or more good chances go begging, severe woodwork rattling, balls (plural) scrambled off the line and some spectacular goal-keeping displays, Boro still seemed totally unable to hit the net.
Whether they are trying too hard I don’t know. Are they rushing it? Are they scared on taking responsibility? Are they just not good enough? I don’t think so. Karanka said they have been practising finishing all week so they know there is a problem and are trying to rectify it. It will come. It is an easire problem to solve than not creating chances at all.
But for a while it was a case of “here we go again.” Kike fired against the post, Patrick Bamford shaved the outside of the upright with a close range header and the rest of the relentless flurry of chances being carved out were deep in banjo/cow interface territory.
When the goal finally came on the hour it was an unstoppable rocket. It was in before it left the sweet spot. And That should have been that. There were chances to seal it… but then suddenly Boro were deep in trouble and the normally rigid rear-guard suddenly looked porous and all around me people were squealing and biting their nails. It was as tense a finish as we have had to endure since the Mogga era when it was our default.
Then their keeper went up for the stoppage time as the kitchen sink was thrown into the box and in a moment of football comedy gold he was left stranded as Jelle Vosen pushed a half-cleared corner forward quickly for unmarked Tomlin to trundle forward with two defender in hot pursuit and the crowd urging him to “shoot! shoot!” before finally slotting home. I like to think he was laughing with childish glee as the open goal loomed.
So, frustrating at times, and a tense finish that was a flashback to more chaotic times but overall a good day’s work. Goals for the first game in three games. Another clean sheet (four in a row now and 14 in 26 games overall ). Unbeaten at home since August. One defeat in 13. Still well placed and in touch with the top. Tomas Kalas made an impressive home debut. Boxing Day blip aside, the crowd continues to nudge up slowly by the game. And for a change it was our keeper having a worldie.
Cardiff next. Then Man City. Then Brentford away… it’s not going to get any easier over the months to come. Just as back in September, victory over the Terriers has to be a step change and the start of another sustained push. Come On Boro!