NO EASY games… quagmire pitch … blah blah blah … crazy division… not bad at home… blah blah… a lot of changes…. our cup final … blah blah blah. Forget the post-match white noise. Boro can be pitch perfect on the Bloomfield Road Pleasurebeach.
Blackpool are rock bottom for a reason. They are a club in total disarray with fans and board at odds and a poor, hastily cobbled together team on a white knuckle ride that ends up inevitably in League One and Boro need to be focussed, ruthless and at their professional best to help send them screaming through the next dark tunnel with a towering display. Life must be depressing enough for Blackpool having the hang-dog expression of one man cloud of gloom Lee Clark as a permanent feature of their landscape. Boro can make things a whole worse for them.
It is a potential pivotal night as Bournemouth plat Derby and Brentford play Watford elsewhere. It could be that the table turns decisively in our favour with results going our way. It could be that the top is tightened again beyond belief and the pressure and stakes rise in a congested month. Boro can’t leave that to chance. They have to make sure they take charge of the one part of the equation they can control. They need to win.
For my money, they will. Boro have played on poor pitches before. Donkey hoof and divots should be no big deal. Wigan and Reading were both cut up by egg-chasers. We’ve had hard and bobbly, sticky and soft. That shouldn’t be an issue. If the pitch is poor then it is harder to play on for technically poorer players. And if Blackpool opt to go long Ben, Ken and the returning Dani Ayala have all showed they can nod it away all night long while up front Boro now look sharp and hungry. And they will be motivated. You can be sure of that.
I’m going for a good night: fish and chips and a bracing walk beforehand, a straight-forward 3-0 win by a polished team unfazed by the surface and a nice trip home as table-toppers after results elsewhere go our way. Bring it on.
Usual drill: give us your scorecast and predict how the game will pan out (this is where the nervous types forecast Tony McMahon to win with a worldie at the death). We can come back later an check out your prescient punditry powers. Then after the game you can be the first on your block to put your match reports up . I’ll get my own impression up ASAP but don’t expect anything tonight as I don’t expect to get home until after one.
******************** UPDATE *********
JOB done. A toe-to-toe scrap with frantic basement battlers on a ploughed pitch …. those are the games that win you promotion. Boro’s 2-1 win at Blackpool was a significant moment in completing the jigsaw. The picture is emerging.
Gerrrrrinthere: Warhorse Woody forces home the opener
Yes it is nice to turn it on and play pretty football against like minded rivals who are well drilled in a passing game and there is plenty of quality on show. Then you can see the flashes of a team with top flight aspirations. Then you get time on the ball, good players get a chance to show what they can do, teams can zip it about and pass and probe and weave patterns. Those are the high-water mark games that people remember and buzz about and point to as proof that a team can flourish next season.
But half of the games in the Championship are far more no-frill and functional. Good teams have to be able to mix it too. They have to be able to deal with teams that are frantically battling for survival in the bottom half, to scrap with trapdoor dancers who have long ago abandoned any hope of playing their way out of danger and opted for hand-to- hand combat, teams that dig in, knock it long, try to make a scrap of it, that want to bog you down 25 yards out along their rigidly prepared tactical trenches and barbed wire.
Boro showed at Blackpool they can do that. They came to terms with what must be the worse surface in English professional football, passed as long as they could pick out patches of grass on a rapidly chewed up pitch and matched the aerial approach of the desperate opposition. They showed they had the physicality to cope with the conditions and a steely determination to bounce back from a late leveller and force their way to victory in a tense finale. Even lugubrious Lee Clark – a man who permanently look as if his dog has just died – was full of praise for the way Boro adapted to the conditions.
So often in the past Boro have cracked at that point. In previous seasons Boro would have been bullied on that surface and by that kind of street-fighting functional team.
They would have buckled under the weight of expectation and the long ball barrage. And had they clawed ahead, they would certainly have collapsed into chaos after the being pegged back at the death. Late winner. From a corner. We all know that to be true.
But this team have shown they are made of sterner stuff mentally and physically. They have shown they can stand up to teams who want to rough them up – at Cardiff and Bolton and Blackburn. They have shown they can resist long spells of pressure as they did at Manchester City and Brentford. And , crucially, they have showed they scrap it out of a cabbage patch when the they need too. They are all important parts of the promotion skill-set. And for this one reason, Aitor was happy.
It was a massive night for Boro. And not just because they banked the points when rivals stumbled. It was a night they settled some nerves among supporters and showed they had everything that it takes to get out of this division.
It was a scrap. It was tense. It was frantic. It was nerve-shredding and at times the away fans were yelping with anxiety as it seemed it would never come. They were already in a state of turmoil after a tactical and personnel curve-ball from Aitor on a high-stakes evening with the top two in action elsewhere. With the crowd knowing Bournemouth and Derby were drawing and top spot was up for grabs things were taut.
The team were booed off at half-time by a large section of the crowd which was harsh. They may not have been winning but they were working their nads off in difficult circumstances and always looked the better side. The substitution of Vossen was booed too by a section, presumably because they would rather Kike or Reach had gone off. The nerves were showing on the crowd in the closing spell.
But the players never showed signs of the unbearable tension. They stuck to the task, kept plugging away and tried to stretch Blackpool out of shape and put pressure on, they kept the tempo up and they kept pushing for the win.
Skipper Jonathan Woodgate got the goal his display deserved. He was making his first appearance since August on an unforgiving pitch must have hammered his veteran muscles but stayed composed throughout and put in a masterful display.
Then after Ben Gibson’s unfortunate intervention Kike head home the winner, in off the post – another deserved goal. He was getting stick but he never stopped working on a culture-shock surface he must never have seen before in Spain.
Job done. A pivotal night. Boro are defusing the #fixturebomb deftly so far. Of course “the week of doom” is looming in March… but we’ll be six points clear by then.