JOB done. It wasn’t a classic or memorable match and it didn’t have intensity on the pitch or in the stands that reflected the high-stakes – Aitor may have thoughts on both those factors – but it was three more precious points in a routine win over Rotherham.
The first half was stodgy although Boro dominated throughout. They bossed possession and forced Rotherham back and penned them in their own box but then struggled to get the final ball through a massed defence, although they did have chances. Two efforts were cleared off the line, lively Albert Adomah brought two good saves and fit again Daniel Ayala hooked an overhead effort into the keeper’s arms.
The first half wasn’t anything to write home about but it wasn’t bad. It was typical Championship fare with one good side being held by one lesser one. We’ve seen it a dozen times this season… yet incredibly the side with the upper hand were booed off by a section of the fans. Not for losing or playing badly but presumably for not winning easily.
That may have been an sarcastic verbal flicking of the Vs from terrace wags toward Aitor for his “negativity” comments (top #bantz), it may have been politically motivated militant libetarian malcontents pointedly exercising their birthright to boo, it may have been Pavlovian proof that the was bang on in what he said about the atmosphere around the club or it may have been just the product of the end-of-term tension getting to some more emotionally fragile fans. But it was a strange brew and out of synch with the game.
And relax: Lee Tomlin cracks in a nerve settling solo opener
The second half wasn’t too much different in style of shape but Lee Tomlin got a nerve-settling early opener and after that the Riverside relaxed. Real chants broke out. There was an upsurge of optimism. Aitor was requested to and gave us a wave. Boro started to stretch Rotherham more, the quality gap started to widen and soon they carved out a second to seal it. Patrick Bamford slotting home to equal Fabrizio Ravanelli’s 16 league goals for the season, the joint best tally ever in the new ground.
Bamford has been top notch this term as he has grown into the campaign with a calm assurance and an increasingly impressive strike rate – 18 in 39 appearance in all despite starting the season on the bench and six in the last eight as the season comes to the boil. He is Boro’s most potent player, the club’s most important transfer target for the looming summer and should be regarded as the key man in the final fixture flurry.
So who’d have thought at that point that our top goal-getter would have ended up getting booed by sections of the North Stand? Crazy but true as the terrace sniping identified by the boss took a surreal turn. Surprised Bamford found himself being jeered for the crime of being the designated penalty taker. He did that job even after Kike stamped his feet petulantly in a bid to take the stoppage time spot-kick he had won despite his team-mates intervening to try to end an embarrassing spot-kick squabble. In fact the selfish Spaniard appeared to still be chuntering vocally as Bamford took his run up.
And incredibly as Bamford prepared to take the kick, some misguided loyalists with an axe to grind were clearly chanting Kike’s name – distracting at best, downright stupid and overtly counter-productive at worse – and continued to do so – and some to even boo the on-loan Chelsea man – after his penalty effort was saved. God knows why. That said, I almost joined in myself, although mainly because I had 3-0 on my bookies slip.
Still, another one for Aitor to consider – both the bizarre booing of the main marksman from supporters and Kike’s act of open dissent against clear team orders. Some people are suggesting Kike should have been given the chance to score for sentimental reasons, or to boost his morale after a goal drought or because he is “our player” rather than a loanee (and some appear to be retrospectively validating their position because it was missed) but I can’t see Karanka taking any of those viewpoints.
The negativists and conspiracists will have a field day looking for imagined dark nuance in the spot kick squabble (an echo of Bernie and Parky wrestling at Ayresome Park) but the pair made up and had a man hug in the warm-down. Bamford later stressed he was in the right but revealed he had diplomatically said sorry to Kike as he felt guilty for missing. He said something about the booing too but I’m saving that for the paper next week.
Squandered: Bamford kick blocked after spot-kick squabble
For me it was a solid days work at the business end of the season. They won, kept their impressive home record going, kept a clean sheet, bedded Ayala back in, Forshaw was decent, Clayton didn’t get booked and they got a result which will keep confidence high in the squad and hopefully among fans too. We are still in the title chase after all.
Victory was the only thing that mattered and Boro did what they had to do on what turned out to be weekend when all the team above us won – although none of them were particularly polished either. The summit squeeze remains as tight as ever: we are two points off the top and one point off the automatic spots with four games to go. We are still in the mix. We still have a chance. The best chance in years. It is still all to play for.
The basic situation remains the same: if Boro win their last four they will almost certainly go up – Aitor thinks so – especially as that would mean they had torpedoed Norwich. But there will be twists and turns along the way. I don’t think in a crazy coupon-busting division like this it is possible for all the teams at the top to go through without dropping points. Somewhere gaps will appear above us and we will need to take advantage.
To be successful Boro will need to stay focussed, keep on doing whatever it takes to win and remain ambitious and united. And that applies to fans too. They will need to do their bit – if not by actively urging the team on, at least by not booing. Jesus wept. Get a grip. There are four games left. We can do this. Keep the faith.
COME ON BORO!
AITOR Karanka has built a good team that is still firmly in the promotion mix so is puzzled at the “air of negativity” from some fans, some questions from the media and the low key atmosphere in home games. He discussed it at the weekly pre-match presser yesterday and the issue has set the Gazette website on fire. Phil Tallentire, who asked some of the questions and observed the body language believes it was something he had been thinking about for a while and was carefully considered. His bit’s here.
Here’s a sociology lecture I did to outline some of the nuances of Teesside’s peculiar football culture, its history and current convolutions. I think this – twitching nerves expressed as fear and pre-emptive pessimism at what is seen as inevitable impending failure when success is within grasp – it will be the first real brush Aitor has had with the complexities of the concept of “typical Boro.”
Remember, we are used to it. We grew up under the crossfire from philisophical polar extremes of foam fingered ra-ras and the Chickenrunning rusties. We know how the eternal batole plays out and can tune out. We know how that informs every debate, no matter how trivial, we know the code words used to frame an argument and we are acutely attuned to how events, results, situations will be viewed and shaped then packaged and projected to feed into and reinforce our own personal perspective. Aitor doesn’t…