GOOD Friday? Bloody Fantastic Friday. Boro won. Former leaders Bournemouth drew 1-1 at Ipswich. And Watford – who kicked off in second – dropped points in a draw at Derby. Boro go to Watford in top spot on Monday. The Hornets had Marco Motti sent off, Matej Vydra limped off injured at half-time and they ended up chasing the game furiously at the death as they clawed back to draw 2-2. The first words of the post match player interviews were: “We’re all shattered.” Good.
That adds up to a good day’s work. Results elsewhere fell right while Boro did exactly what they had to do. Win. Although it was far from pretty. In fact the game was so scrappy that had you left it on your drive it would have been whipped away on a flat bed truck and weighed in for a fortune within minutes. It was disjointed, laboured and littered with wayward passes and woeful touches.
But do we care? Do we buggery. The time for aesthetics has long gone.
A low-thrills 1-0 win over a doomed Wigan side. Nothing to write home about. But at this stage you just win by hook or by crook. Like the grind against Bolton only the result counts or will be remembered. Aitor said as much. Three more points, one less game: That has been the mantra at the club in recent weeks as the finishing line looms.
Right now it doesn’t matter how you get the points so long as you get them. The bruising Bournemouth set back may still smart a bit but Boro have won three of the last four, have badly dented rivals Derby and Ipswich and go to Watford on Monday in an automatic promotion spot and ready to scrap to stay there this time.
It wasn’t a game for the purists. It started slowly, was creaky and nervous and Boro were laboured until they got the goal – a fortuitous deflection maybe but, hey, they all count – and it was frustrating and frantic fare early on. After that Boro relaxed and played some good football for half-an-hour with Albert Adomah running riot and a string of half-chances were carved open against a shapeless side that looked resigned to relegation.
But Boro let them off the hook. They failed to kill them off with the second goal before the break and in the second half Wigan looked energised, made a few personnel changes and started to knock it long. For a spell Boro looked nervous and shaky. Or was that just me?
In fact, it was only woeful Wigan’s institutional ineptitude that stopped them getting something from the game as Fortune brought a good save when he cut back to carve out space 10 yards out then a chip into the box after a scramble found un-poppylar boo-boy James McClean unmarked 12 yards out and with time and space he somehow failed to connect with his swing as the ball dropped perfectly in slow motion and comically screwed the chance wide. That was their moment. His failure to take it handed the initiative, the game – and top spot – to Boro and banged another nail in the Cloggies coffin.
It was very physical though with Wigan’s man mountain defence roughing up Boro’s front men with Vossen taking the brunt of the battering. Again. Still, at least he didn’t finish up in James Cook this time or wearing his now familiar blank shirt after being bloodied.
Bamford took some knocks too but shrugged it off to play with finesse in flashes while Albert was also on song all game and at the back broken-toed veteran Woody dominated the penalty box, reading the Wigan aerial assault perfectly and heading away crosses and cutting out slotted passes with panache. He held together a rear-guard that had to beaver away as Wigan went more direct and put on some scrappy and shapeless pressure. The defence may have looked flustered at times but did enough to block and tackle and head and clear and do whatever it took to keep them out. In fact the whole team worked hard in a typical Championship grind and got their rewards.
So, another three points banked. Another slip up for the team on the precarious pedestal at the peak – Bournemouth could only draw at Ipswich (the early Tractor Boys goal sparked a roar from the Boro changies that echoed down the tunnel as we waited for Aitor’s interview) and then Watford slipped up at Derby too, maybe found a fracture or two in their own self-belief after yet another missed chance to open a gap, were shattered after they had to chase the game and wear themselves out then got home late and maybe demoralised while our heroes were under their duvets. Every little helps.
Meanwhile Patrick Bamford got his 15th goal in the league moving him level with Hamilton Ricard in 1998-99 and edged him just one behind Ravanelli in the surreal 1996-97 season. He has six games to to become Boro’s most prolific single season league striker in the Riverside era. Considering he only got two in his first nine outings that is pretty impressive stuff. Since then he has scored 15 in 28… he’s that mythical beast, the one in two striker. And with four in four and five in six he’s on a hot streak at just the right time.
Boro go to Watford on Monday in top spot. That is fantastic. Its a great place to be with six games left. but the job is not done yet. Up to now every team that has reached the summit has stumbled and crumbled and quickly fallen back.
It is time to dig in, show a mean mentality, fight to stay there and show a nasty and ruthless streak to stamp on the fingers of those scrambling up behind us, cut their ropes, push away their ladders. Be mean. Don’t lose this now. Come on Boro.