A MULTI-ZILLION-PETRODOLLAR-JUGGERNAUT deservedly beaten. The champions. On their own patch. What a day. It was a famous FA Cup coupon-buster as brilliant Boro battled and showed silk and steel to see off City.
Boro acquitted themselves well at Anfield in a pulsating and proud performance but that side was disjointed and demoralised and had a few ring rusty players and has gone on to be distinctly average this term. But the win at City was several gears up. They are a far better team. And a far richer team. The home side started with £170m worth of players on the pitch and had another £70m on the bench. They are the reigning Premier League champions, are second this time round and are in the Champions League. They included Galaticos like Navas, Zabaletta, Aguerro and Silva. And Boro beat them.
And it wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t a spawny win. Boro deserved it. They earned it. They worked for it. They matched City tactically and bettered them when it came to energy, passion and motivation. They were organised, disciplined and focused and they carried out out Aitor Karanka’s meticulously prepared game plan to the letter.
All pile on: Boro celebrate Patrick Bamford’s opener
Boro bust a gut to press and harry and close quickly and contain a fantastic forward line, they sweated and ran and ran up front to deny City any time on the ball to build moves from the back, in the middle to to shackle the creativity and along across the rearguard and drew the sting then gradually, slowly, they started to probe themselves and looked increasingly dangerous on the break. And they finished on top.
It wasn’t easy though. No way. Let’s not kid ourselves. City were fantastic at times and the first 20 minutes was a masterclass in electric collective movement as they zipped the ball about at bewildering pace and buzzed about in and around the Boro box and but for a superb show of shot-stopping from much maligned second string keeper Tomas Meijas it could have been over before the half-hour mark.
As City repeatedly carved through an initially rocky rearguard in a torrid first phase – especially down the right leaving George Friend dizzy at times – Meijas made a series of full-length blocks to deny them and dish out several thousand portions of humble pie while he was at it. At that stage it was fingers-crossed. The balance of play was overwhelming and there were fears that one goal could led to a deluge.
But gradually Boro got a grip. They weathered the storm. They tuned into the pace and pattern of City’s movement and started to match it. The tackles were flying in, crosses cut out, runs tracked, space squeezed, crosses blocked and the insistent early pressure started to ease a bit as the back-line grew into the game.
Having blunted City’s attack Boro started to find space and hit on the break. They finished the first half with a flurry of tentative attacks and came out after the interval looking sharper and showing more intent and were quickly in front. It was a scrappy opener but it was deserved, Boro prised open City’s defence and forced a string of errors and punished then. It was a good run and determined pressure by Adomah on the keeper and force the error and a perceptive run and slide by Bamford to anticipate and stab home the hapless attempted goal-line clearance by Fernando.
Get in there: Perceptive Bamford comes sliding in to stab home
After that City increased the pressure and intensity but lost some of their finesse and while they pushed forward in greater numbers you felt belief was draining from them and they and their fans grew frustrated. No wonder. Every single Boro player suddenly grew a foot and found an extra yard in a Titanic defensive display of bodies on the line blocking and tackling, snapping at heels and charging down shots in a frenzy along the 18 yard line and there were some far-fetched penalty shouts waved away.
But there was more heat than light. For all their urgency City barely got a sight of goal and having been the busiest man on the pitch in the first half, Meijas was barely tested in the second. Lampards’s shot deflected off Clayton looped up and hit the post but that was it.
But up the other end Boro looked dangerous on the break, taking advantage of the space as City pushed more men forward. Some quick balls upfield sent Tomlin, Adomah and Bamford to threaten a second and a Leadbelter rocket was bravely blocked and the balance of the game swung tangibly Teesside’s way.
Boro’s Begkamp: How did that not go in?
Tomlin, who had scored three in the previous two games without being at his best, was a galvanising figure who worked hard and took his share of the defensive burden and kept going well beyond the point he often fades but he also showed some real guile too to find space and play some sublime balls to scythe through the City back line.
Tomlinho should have sealed it as he picked up a ball from Adomah and back-heeled and spun superbly to beat his man with a balletic Berkampesque swivel then stabbed a low effort against the inside of the post and across the face of goal in a mouth-watering moment that later had the national pundits gushing.
Then Adomah and Vossen and Bamford all had chances – and Lampard hit the post – before Kike sealed it late on, slotting home after the ref played a good advantage after a foul on Bamford.
And what a party that sparked. Kike practically went crowd surfing among the ecstatic EIOing army of delirious dancing Boro fans before everyone piled on and soon after, when the whistle went, the entire team were back down in front of the travelling Tees army with players and fans celebrating together, reinforcing the growing bond that unites us all now.
What a game. What a team of heroes. What a dream time season of golden possibility this is turning into. The players were gushing after the game. And a beaming Aitor said it was his proudest and most emotional moment at Boro. It may be – but I think people are now starting to believe there are a lot more to come.