STEEL. Determination. Focus. Work-rate. Belief. Bottle. Spirit. Industry. Organisation. Bravery. Muscle. A little bit of cynicism and strategic time-wasting. Boro showed real character as they stood firm in a hostile and sometimes hysterical atmosphere to weather a second half storm and and seized the summit . It was brilliant.
There has been a bitter backlash from sour-graped Norwich fans but make no mistake, Boro thoroughly deserved their famous and potential decisive victory over one the Championship’s form sides. They have badly dented a rival and have thrown themselves right back into the battle for an automatic promotion spot and have piled the pressure on Bournemouth and Watford. And it was brilliant.
The headlines will be dominated by the masterclass in collective defensive and rightly so because bodies were put on the line as Boro dived in to block, tackle, charge down, close quickly and crowd out the Norwich in a pulsating, strength sapping second half in which they spent long spells under incessant pressure. The pivotal moment of the game may well be Ben Gibson throwing himself into a challenge that just did enough to deflect a goal-bound shot over the bar in the frantic closing stages. It was brilliant.
Yeeeeeesssssssss. The defence celebrate on the whistle
I was having palpitations. We were seriously into defibrilator territory. Norwich were attacking in ever more insistent waves, put all their attackers on and threw everything forward – including their keeper – in a final assault. Fans were squealing and feeling sick, nerves were frazzled and hearts put through the wringer. Yet, in truth, for all the fears projected onto the pitch, it never felt like Norwich would break through the red wall. Boro had dug tactical trenches and the Canaries never had the fire-power or nous to break through. Dimi barely had a save to make. Yes it was hectic stuff but largely harmless.
So that will be the story: battling Boro digging in against an all out Norwich attack played out against a hostile atmosphere, penalty calls for imaginary infringement, normally gentile City supporters baying for blood and jeering at battered red shirts for going down injured and somehow holding on against the odds with Ayala and Gibson magnificent.
But don’t let that distract you from the powerful punch that floored a shocked Norwich as Boro came storming out of the blocks in an unstoppable early onslaught. In a breath-taking opening spell Boro ripped into static Norwich with every single attack looking dangerous. They pressed, harried and hustled Norwich into a state of error-strewn shock then, having taken the game by the throat and started to punch forward with Patrick Bamford running riot down the inside left channel onto balls behind a sluggish rearguard.
In the opening 10 minutes Boro had three good efforts, brought two good saves and a header flew over and they had Norwich pinned down in their own box with seven corners before they finally – inevitably – broke through. Yes, it was own goal but that error was forced by the intensity of the attack (and Albert was claiming it assertively after the game although he was laughing). Norwich were reeling at that point. And in the spell that followed Boro could easily have had more. They could have been out of sight.
The punch-drunk Canaries only got a foot into the game because of an injury to Bamford. He went down twice needing treatment and although he carried on he wasn’t moving freely and he had lost the zip and cutting edge that was carving City open. After that Boro’s fluidity up front drained away and it became a more static and sporadic attack.
Arguably Karanka should have made a switch at the break and put Kike up front to hol dit up (or pushed Vossen up front and maybe introduce some speed down the flanks where the Canaries looked suspect) but hey, we won, so he was proved right.
So, a fantastic first 30 minutes up front and a vital goal then an incredible collective effort to stifle City, frustrate the volatile hone crowd and break up the flow of the game. City fans were howling. They appealed for about five penalties and may have had one (George came sliding in to block a Jerome cross and it hit his hand) and they jeered a string of players who went down injured including Bamford even though he spebt the next hour clearly limping and Vossen who left the pitch dazed and confused (isn’t that every week.)
They were screaming and calling Boro cheats (although it was their player booked for diving) and there was a real hostile edge to the atmosphere, which was loud and partisan throughout. They were just as jittery as Boro going into the game (possibly more so as Boro has already battered them once and they were haunted by that) and the first 20 minutes and the goal punctured their self disbelief and sparked “typical Norwich’ fears but fair play, they never turned on their own team.
It was a great occasion if not a great game. And it was MASSIVE result. It catapulted Boro back to the top and back into contention. There’s still a long way to go and there will be more twists and turns (we could yet meet this lot again in the play-offs, who knows?). But it felt like a significant step forward. After the game it was all jubilant high-fives and bear-hugs and Aitor was buzzing and the fans stayed in the ground for 20 minutes singing.
Anyway, I’ll stop now. I’m drunk. I’ve been out EIOing around Norwich. It is rammed with Boro fans partying. More later.
NERVOUS. Tense. Gripped by a heart-pumping, pulse racing, stomach churning sense of anticipation. Worried. Apprehensive. Excited. Very excited. Fearful. On edge. Agitated. Fretful. Disturbed. Jumpy. Overwrought. Keyed up. Worked up. Wound up. Pumped up. Hyped up. Going up? Worried sick. Stressed. Blessed. Frightened. Heightened. Jittery. Taut. Fraught. Optimistic. Pessimistic. Fatalistic. Up. Down. In . Out. Shake it all about.
Exciting isn’t it? It’s what we all wanted back in August. No, not to finish the season on heavy sedative medication and packing a defibrilator as part of the matchday essentials – being deep in the promotion battle with three high-stakes games to go. This electrifying run-in beats the purgatory of mid-table floundering from February onwards. And yes, we’d all like to be 12 points clear in a Charltonesque procession but we’re not and there is nothing to be gained in nit-picking about a disallowed goal here or a selection there.
We need to keep our nerve now. We need to be united. Focused. Supportive. Determined. And optimistic. Boro are still very much in this: two points off the top with three left including one of our direct rivals. Norwich is a pivotal fixture that Boro need to win to wrest control of their own destiny. Victory would put us briefly top, clip the Canaries wings and pile the pressure on Bournemouth and Watford to keep winning in the pressure cooker, Defeat wouldn’t completely kill off automatic hopes off but it would leave Boro needing snookers and some freak third party results to find the space to squeeze through.
But whatever the result, the season is not over. The battle for the top two is going to the wire. Going into this game the top four have 11 games to play between them (Boro and Norwich meet ): so there are 36 points to be won & lost. That’s a lot of wriggle room in a season of frantic flux. There could be more twists & turns than a sack-full of pythons yet.
In a crazy division full of coupon-busting results it would be a brave man who said the all the teams above us would definitely win ALL their games in the run in. They are all under pressure too. Points will be dropped. There will be stumbles. But it would be a delusional fool who said they would definitely all drop points. Form, desire, weakness of opponents and the teasing proximity of the prize suggest otherwise. But who can say?
Boro could raise their game and put a couple of six-pointer away day defeats behind and win at Carrow Road but still lose out if the others win their games. Equally, we could lose at Norwich and the others might contrive bottle it and wobble again and the agony could be drawn out another week on the rack. I can’t call it. Can you?
Usual drill: predict the score and how the game will pan out here and then we’ll all gather again later after the showdown, battered and bruised but hopefully smiling, and compare notes and sing, drink and show each other pictures of loved ones. I’ll get my impressions up as soon as possible but who knows when that will be. Hopefully I’ll be delayed by joyous EIOing around Norwich town centre long into the night.