FANTASTIC. Finesse. Flair. Fight. Fans. And plenty of other ‘F’ words. Especially in a nerve shredding spell in the second half when Wolves threatened to gate-crash the party with a goal on the break and a shot that hit the bar leaving loyalists needing defibrilators.
I would say Boro “held on” but I’m not sure that’s true. On balance – our own jitters aside – it was probably a more comfortable win than our racing pulses and valium consumption suggested. Boro could have been out of sight before the break as Albert Adomah whacked against the woodwork after a beguiling weaving run and Patrick Bamford also hit the bar at the death with a neat lob. Boro were the better team where and when it mattered through. Even Wolves boss Kenny Jackett admitted as much.
Sprint starters Boro raced into an early lead then grabbed the game by the throat and, with the crowd right behind them from the of,f showed a hunger and spirit that suggested they are still very much in the battle for a top two spot. It was a brilliant team display reminiscent of the December dismantling of Derby.
Clinical, organised, physical, motivated, threatening and lightening on the break: tactically that was as good a job as Boro have done on anyone this season. The first 45 minutes was imperious and industrious in equal measure and a joy to watch.
Obviously an early goal (or two) helps frame the narrative and the shape of the game, settle nerves and stokes up the atmosphere – excellent and inspirational from before kick-of with any hangover from Aitor’s frustration and with the tetchy Rotherham rumble blown away – but even before Jelle Vossen ahd slotted home the opener on three minutes the template of the game had been set.
Something to celebrate: Patrick Bamford beats Ravanelli’s record
Buzzing Boro played with a high tempo, pressed high and went snarling into tackles, hustling and harrying mob-handed and forcing normally imposing Wolves into some early mistakes. But the muscle was combined with some delightful deft touches.
It was hard to believe it was the same imposing, intimidating and direct Wolves team who had bullied a meek Boro aside back in October, in a game the Black Country press pack told us was “their best all season.” Don’t people tell us that almost every week?
Tim Nash from the Express And Star, Wolves’ Eric Paylor, wrote on twitter at the break: “I can’t recall a team coming at Wolves with such ferocity as Boro have this season. Wolves don’t know what day it is at the moment.”
It was a perfect start. The opener came as Bamford mugged sluggish central defender Stearman to reach a lofted pass that sent a bouncing ball to the edge of the box, then subtly slipped it inside and bang into the path of Vossen to slot in to an unguarded net.
With Wolves rocking the second came as Adomah sent Tomas Kalas carving down the inside right channel and into the box and he drew and held off two defenders then squared to Bamford, who with his back to goal flicked it up and spun around in a poetic single sweep and then fired in from close range. Exquisite.
That was the fifth home game in a row Bamford has scored in and took him ahead of Ravanelli as the Riverside’s top league scorer in a single season. He now has 19 in all competitions with three games to go. He’s been a revelation.
Boro’s effective silk and steel combination was on view all over the pitch, as Boro barged strapping rivals aside and played incisive passes to swiftly apply pressure to Wolves.
Adam Forshaw, who appears to be sporting Adam Clayton’s discarded hipster beard, was excellent, putting in a high-energy display as a midfield destroyer but combined with a creative instinct and some perceptive passing; elsewhere both full-backs pressed up to block up the flank and prevent Wolves playing the diagonals that had ripped Boro open in the reverse and also adding bodies to support the attack
Adomah was brilliant, weaving and jinking and teasing the Wolves defence but also working hard in his defensive duties, tracking back closing down and getting challenges in. At one point he put in a tackle like a snow plough, hitting his man low and scooping him uo and throwing him over his shoulder to leave him in a pile on the touchline.
The front two worked hard to close down the Wolves back four, never gave them time to settle and certainly never gave them time to knock the ball down the flanks to tunr Boro and apply some pressure.
The defence worked hard too in the second half as Wolves stepped up a gear and had a more assertive – if frantic and scrappy – spell . But they got a grip on their men and never gave them much space in dangerous areas, nodded away the high-balls, cut out all the knocks in from the flanks and when the pressure was on and fans had their hearts in their mouth, the team got bodies back and threw them in the ever more hopeful shots.
Who haven’t we mentioned? Oh yes, the fans. The supporters certainly did their job. There was a real racket from before kick-off as Boro more than answered Aitor’s appeal to get behind the team – and they stepped up a gear in intensity after Wolves scored to get back into the game. And it came from all directions. Both North and South stands were roaring in stereo and in a radical development another area found it’s voice as the refrain: “We’re the East Stand, We’re the East Stand, We’re the East Stand Red Army” rang out. It will only take the West Stand to join in and start waving the tartan blankets and flasks and the Riverside will have an awesome quadrophonic suround-sound effect.
After the game the manager and then both Forshaw and Friend were gushing as they hailed the fans – Aitor dedicated the win to them – and clarified his earlier statements with a bridge-building charm offensive and some pointed praise. The supporters, partly prompted by Aitor’s appeal but also responding to the all-or-nothing high-stakes nature of the game, more than played their part. And for this one thing he was happy.
And as I was down in the tunnel I can confirm they weren’t reading from prepared statements. George in particular seemed genuinely impressed by the show of strength although both players mentioned the surprise (distraction?) of seeing the sudden smart-phone Scorpions concert lighter aloft moment on the hour. Maybe a Wind of Change is flowing through the crowd as renewed optimism gets a grip.
Ayazz that knacks: Albert get treatment for a kick to the foot
It wasn’t all good news. Albert took what looked like a kick on the foot and was limping heavily for a while before he went off and he will need to be assessed. Woody went down with a hamstring and looks to be ruled out for a week or two (should we end up in the play-offs I’ve got him pencilled in to bow out with a last gasp fairytale Wembley winner) and Dani Ayala will almost certainly miss at least the Norwich games with twinges in his thigh injury after his return against Rotherham.
Still, it was a good job well done. Six points in four days is a great return from the two home games everyone said we had to win to be in with any chance of an automatic spot. A play-off place has now been secured after the win (“that’s safe, that’s yours to take home”) but no-one – at the club or among the fans – is settling for that now.
That would feel like a disappointment now. But let’s not even think about that yet. Boro are still in the chase for an automatic spot after a good few days work and have kept up with the pace the top as both Bournemouth and Norwich won…. and the results piled the pressure on Watford who go to Forest now needing to win or risk drifting away.
And we can take confidence from that performance into the next big crunch clash with the Canaries on Friday. Another massive must win game. My heart is going to explode.
COME ON BORO.
BEFORE the game myself and Gazette Boro digital king-pin Dom Shaw were interviewed on camera by the lads from the One Boro forum. We had to shift half-way through as MMP whacked the volume up to full on aural assault (the ground was still empty) and we moved down to the press lounge but I’m sure they can do some edit-magic to overcome that.
I waffled on a bit. No doubt it’ll be up on-line soon. I’ll let you know when.
Tables turned: being quizzed on camera. “That’s football.”
SO: WOLVES. Another massive much win match in another “Week of Destiny”. It doesn’t get any easier and the pressure doesn’t let up. High-stakes. High wire emotions with every jitter appearing to threaten a fatal plunge. Just stay steady. Keep the balance, Don’t look down. Don’t do anything stupid. Just get across. Exciting isn’t it? This is what we wanted: a campaign that went right to the wire rather than fading in February.
We have everything to play but plenty to lose. Let’s hope the players can settle our nerves early on (Bamford, pen, 6) and then can relax and enjoy it. Wolves are difficult to play against with quick, direct balls forward to the big lad up front – exactly the type of team we struggle against – but then we should be used to that now.
With a full strength team out, highly motivated and a good home record behind us we should be fired up. Having the crowd behind the team too may make the difference and if you’re not up for this one then you need to check your vital signs. Your heart and pulse should be at about 196 bpm, like a hi-energy nu-rave track on fast-forward.
Let’s do this thing….
Here’s some good stats spotted by Redcar Red on a betting site:
“The West Midlands outfit have put up some impressive numbers when it comes to attacking, averaging two goals per game recently. Wolves have found the net with every fifth shot during this period and that puts them on a par with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain.
Middlesbrough hold the edge in three of the four defensive categories, matching Barcelona, Real Madrid and Chelsea by conceding to just 9% of the shots taken against them. The men from Molineux have not done a bad job at the back themselves, however, conceding only 11 times in ten matches of late.”
So Barca/Real/Chelsea against Man U/Arsenal PSG. That should get the pulse racing.. as if we needed any help on that front!
Usual drill, predict the score and how the game will pan out here and then we’ll all meet back here later to cheer and recalibrate the top two target – or wail and bemoan missed opportunities back in August and co-ordinate diaries for the play-off.
I think I’m going to 2-0 again. An early one then a long grind before sealing it late on after surving a pummelling for a spell. #DaftQuid
COME ON BORO