BLOODY hell Boro! There had to be a stumble at some point. This is the Championship. And in the wider scheme of things a defeat now is not a disaster. Especially when it the first of the year after nine unbeaten. And when it is the first at home since August. And it leaves you top (albeit briefly) with 14 games left. But did it have to be bloody Leeds?
Well, I suppose it did really. Leeds have only lost once at the Riverside. Someone who keeps records of these things said Boro have only ever been in front against Leeds at the Riverside for EIGHT minutes in total – once when Juninho set up Fjorfoft before being quickly pegged back and then again after Curtis Main scored late on. So if Boro were going to blow up we should have known it would have been to them.
It was a very frustrating game. A 1-0 home “derby” defeat is always a kick in the teeth but there was a feeling that this was self inflicted, partly because of the cheap goal conceded and partly because of the failure to make a blizzard of chances count.
The early goal against was a comedy of errors -a poor throw out by Mejias (now firmly back in the scapegoat frame) to Leadbitter who nodded off and allowed it to be stolen away, then a collective failure to not retrieve the situation and close down Cook, then a deflection off Ben Gibson to send the shot squirting home.
One concourse critic was really laying into Big Ben at the break citing two own goals, a soft penalty and getting Dimi sent off in the past few games which seems harsh. Especially as that was his first time on the losing side in the league this season.
No way through: Boro battling through the massed Leeds defence
After the goal Boro went for it, pressing forward, getting bodies into the final third and pinned Leeds in their own box for long spells but then they struggled to find a way through the crowd with crosses being nodded away, shots being blocked and with creative players getting in each others’ way and struggling to find any space.
Most of Boro’s 27 shots were from awkward angles or distance and the vast majority were charged down in the forest in the box. And, as usual, the keeper was on form and Silvestri “had an Eastwood” and made a string of fairly routine saves plus two very good ones.
It felt like “one of those days” when no matter what Boro did they were never going to score. And when it felt like Leeds may get another. As Boro committed men forward it left space and Leeds looked sharp on the break with Cook and Mowatt very lively on the counter and there were a few scary moments. And in truth Leeds had the two best chances of the game but one free header flashed wide and another hit the bar.
Aitor was happy. Not with the result obviously. But he was satisfied with the team’s endeavours, creativity and energy in keeping creating right to the end. Although he was at a loss to explain how they had not scored. And his team are still well placed.
Still, a good game. Entertaining, enterprising, full of action (even if much of it was scrappy and frantic) and there was a crackling atmosphere with both sets of fans in good call-and-response form, taunting each other but roaring the teams on too. The Red Faction unveiled a new banner giving their verdict on the club’s ownership – a massive image of Steve Gibson with the slogan “Fit and Proper,” a statement of both the integrity of the Boro boardroom but also a barbed dig at the visitors’ behind the scenes soap opera.
Ouch: Jelle Vossen spark out
Jelle Vossen – who had been a lively presence up front – was rattled by a clash of heads and was left spark out needing lengthy treatment before being stretchered off needing oxygen. With all the subs already used Boro were down to 10 men for the second game running for the last five plus 10 minutes of stoppage time. He Belgian striker later tweeted from hospital to say he was alright but didn’t remember a thing (insert your own joke here).
It was a slip up but not a disaster. Boro got away with it and finished the day still in second place as Bournemouth lost at Brentford and both Ipswich and Watford lost too (although they went down to Norwich which may not be all good news).
It could even have been an unbelievable clean sweep and an but Derby came from behind to win at Sheffield Wednesday who had their keeper sent off to concede a decisive late penalty.
Which makes it all the more frustrating that Boro have taken just one point from two games this week and failed to press home their advantage at what may have been a pivotal point of the season. Looks like we’ll have to do it the hard way
Here’s the pre-match stuff….
TIGHTENING tourniquet tension. Nervous twitching and beads of sweat. Excitement. Expectation. Anticipation. Euphoria. Sudden bubbles of fear forcing their way up through fissures in the fragile facade of confident swagger. Bloody hell. It’s going to be like this going into every game all the way through to May now isn’t it?
Aitor insisted in his pre-match briefing that there is no pressure on the team and that the hard bit was getting to the top. But life in the promotion pressure cooker is getting tough for fans, especially for those of nervous galls empty disposition who are anxiously looking for any signs of wheel-nuts loosening along the road to glory. And it’s Leeds next!
But this is what we all desperately wanted. We wanted to elbow our way to the front. We yearned for and dreamed of being in top spot. And we deserve it. We’ve served our time. It has been a long wait through teeth shattering false dawns and morale sapping long nights dark as Satan’s soul. Boro have rebooted, instilled a steely philosophy, recruited well in terms of quantity and quality, played some sizzling stuff at time and dug deep and ground out the results when needed. They have clawed their way to the Championship summit with a focussed zeal and we should be enjoying it. But it has been torture in recent weeks.
Blackpool last week was a taut affair. Watching other results on Saturday was a turn of the screw even though most went our way. Tuesday night on twitter was a long drawn out agony as Derby fought back to draw at Rotherham. Boro fans were on mogadon and we weren’t even playing. And watching the game on Wednesday at Birmingham constituted a breach of European human rights legislation as a cruel and unusual punishment as with top spot on offer Boro went behind and went down to 10 men before a galvanised second half show salvaged a point and put our heroes to the front of the cut-throat pack.
And there’s still almost three months and 15 games to go. There are going to be emotional casualties from all this. People will crash and burn watching dodgy-vision streams of games that don’t go to script. Relationships will crumble on ill-timed stupid questions asked innocently under the intense pressure of wartime conditions. And that’s after a nine game unbeaten run (won six, drawn three) and with Boro top of the table. Imagine the squealing, hysteria and meltdowns that beckon should they wobble. Draw a few say. Or even forbid lose a game in a crazy division with coupon-busting shocks as a default.
That’s the landscape as we go into the culturally charged retro-derby with Leeds. Imagine how psyched up some people will be on kick-off with the traditional hostile atmosphere added to the mix. It is bad enough being desperate for the points to cash in for a bigger prize without having to worry about more parochial concerns like the battle for bragging rights or the prospect of sporadic sniping from our southern hinterlands. Given the volatile mix, just think of the raw tangible neurotic tsunami tides that will sweep the stands if Leeds score first. Or at all. I can’t bear to consider the explosive possibility.
On a cold, analytical level I think Boro should win. And will win. They will be motivated slightly by a desire to put right the 1-0 early season defeat when Albert Adomah’s over-head kick was ruled out. Had it gone they would have eased to a routine win. But the bigger incentive is the points needed to open – briefly – a four point gap at the top and tighten the screw on their Championship title rivals.
Adomah the top: Albert’s acrobatic effort ruled out for dangerous play.
My daft quid is on 2-0. Leeds looked deep in trouble in six weeks ago then dragged themselves to safety with recent revival but Aitor Karanka’s side are in excellent form, whatever the fears of their mortality. They have won five in a row at home beating Derby, Nottingham Forest, Huddersfield, Cardiff and Charlton, scoring 12 and leaking just two. At times they have played some exciting fluid high tempo football that has been a delightful to watch but when necessary they have dug in and ground it out. Good signs and all part of the promotion palette. But that won’t stop twice bitten Boro fans worrying.
Anyway…. usual drill. You can post your pre-match score-casts here and predict how you think the game will unfold then we can all regroup after the match to point and laugh at how wrong the the wild-eyed optimists/doom-mongers were. You can give your on the whistle debriefings and I’ll get my own impressions up as soon as possible.
COME ON BORO.