MATHS of the Day: Two games, four goals, six points. Second place. One point off the top. Two ‘doubles’ in four days. Unbeaten in six. Undefeated at home in 11. Four successive home wins with nine goals scored. Six clean sheets in eight games. Only 18 goals leaked in 27. One goal conceded in 581 minutes. Stats pretty good no matter how you look at it.
Boro may have ‘leeked’ late on but they did a professional job against hard-working Cardiff to clock up what felt like a second successive significant important result at a pivotal point of the season – and on a night when leaders Bournemouth slipped up at Leeds, a results that prompted a very Riverside rare cheer for our Southern cousins. Boro are now just one point off the top. Is it only a week since it felt like we’d lost ground?
Of course, some will take a more jaundiced view of the 2-1 win over Cardiff. Listening to some of the more morose half-time concourse chuntering about Boro’s blunt front-line being totally unable to score and the defence looking fragile you would be forgiven for thinking that this was a team in trouble, an impotent side with shaky foundations that had lost momentum rather than one who had been awesome at home for ages . And they they leaked a goal late on and had to dig in for a frantic finale was treated as a personal insult, a twist was described sneeringly as “typical Boro.” What do these people want? Borocelona?
Penalty? Close call but it looked it to me. Great angle here – you decide.
Yes, the past two home games have been hard work and have involved long spells of scrappy grind and jittery closing stages. The two before that were stalemates. But ‘typical Boro’ would have seen those games being thrown away late on. That isn’t happening now. Just as the ‘down with the decorations post-Christmas slump’ hasn’t happened.
The team is well drilled, well organised, well motivated and is producing results. That is the reality and it is recognised further afield where rival managers and press say on a weekly basis that Boro are the best team in the division. Yet a narrative has developed on Teesside that Boro lack creativity, don’t dominate midfield, chop and change and are somehow lacking and the past two games fans were just starting to get vocally anxious before the team scored. Yes, sides around us – and behind us – have been winning and it has not been the promotion procession some had hoped. But hey, that’s the coupon-busting Championship for you. Bubbling Bournemouth lost to leaky Leeds.
Sometimes we are guilty of tunnel vision and we focus on the presumed flaws of our own team but there are two teams on the pitch remember. The other lot have not read our script. Or have read it but are not prepared to follow it. They are there to spoil, frustrate and impose their own dramatic tension and game plan. And Cardiff were good. Seriously. They may not play the kind of flowing football to please the punters but they set about their job effectively and stopped Boro being as fluent as they would like. Aitor Karanka admitted it wasn’t the best of games but insisted that it is the points that count.
Cardiff pushed high up the pitch and stopped Boro playing it out from the back, they closed quickly and swamped Boro’s dynamic duo in midfield leaving little time or space to impose a pattern or set the tempo and tried to drag the game down to a long ball exchange that suited them. And for spells they succeeded in that. They made the game scrappy. Tetchy. They dragged Boro away from a technical short passing approach and tried to get it bogged down in the gutter and it wasn’t really one for the purists.
But Boro were still on top. They had the upper hand in the first half and created the bulk of the chances, had a couple of decent opportunities and had a strong penalty call when Kike seemed to be bundled over as he tried to round the keeper. The ref didn’t see it as a foul but didn’t book him for diving some he must have fallen in a very grey area. Boro edged the chances after the break too, although the balance of play was far more even and Dimi did have to make a good full length save from Harris.
But in the end quality told. Boro matched Cardiff tactically and physically and worked harder, kept stretching them at high intensity and eventually they dipped and cracked and Boro scored two well worked goals. As they did against Huddersfield.
Lee Tomlin – starting to take some tentative early sniper fire a week ago scored his third goal in two games and Patrick Bamford, himself attracting some tutting, also netted. Kike worked hard but didn’t get the goal he deserves after recent shows so will no doubt be the target for gripes this week. The midfield were forced to work harder than they have for a while but coped while the backline looked comfortable until the final 15. They were gutted to have leaked for the first time in almost seven hours to a late Kenwyne Jones header. “It felt like a loss,” said Ben Gibson. That’s the sign of a team with a winning mentality.
It is still too early to invest too much anxiety in the now very tight table or fret too much about the results elsewhere – but Boro are back in an automatic promotion spot for now. And deservedly so.
Now we can take a break from the bread and butter of the league and enjoy a glamour trip to the top flight Champions in the FA Cup. That will be a great day out with no pressure and the opportunity to pull off a shock. But I can’t wait to get back down to business straight after that go to fifth placed Brentford. This season is starting to get really exciting now. Let’s enjoy it.
While you are waiting have a quick glance through these bits I’ve done in the last few days:
Here’s my bit on clean sheets and how Boro’s Greek Demi-God between the Styx is heading for legendary status; and here’s this week’s Big Picture column on how small screen fixture switches make it testing times for travelling fans.