WHERE do you start with that? Seriously, where? That was a crazy game of ups, downs and disbelief that captured the agonies of the entire season so far. And made Boro hostage to fortune in the play-off lottery.
The low-key first 45 that felt like a mid-table dead rubber as Boro floundered and failed to find the terrifying tempo and growling gear going forward they showed as they ripped into Wolves and Norwich that forced the gaffer into admitting it was ’embarrassing’,
Or the pulsating, end-to-end shapeless schoolboy frenzy of the second half assault that was barnstorming stuff that nearly paid-off?
It’s that ‘Bournemouth look’ : Kike devastated on the whistle
The flaccid frontline in the opening hour as two not quite fit forwards struggled to penetrate one of the worst defences in the Championship? There were chances: Grant Leadbitter’s flick and volley free-kick was an inventive flourish and had it gone in would have been a beauty. But apart from that Boro huffed and puffed and laboured but couldn’t get a grip.
Or do you start with Boro’s own frailties at the back as the league’s most water-tight rear-guard suddenly fractured to conceded an unchallenged ‘red zone’ header from a poorly marked corner, then contrived to give away two penalties and were caught at the death?
Or maybe we should hail the incredible fight-back that almost – almost – salvaged something as Karanka made a Football Manager style treble substitution and was very nearly rewarded as Boro hit back from two goals and a man down to square the game going into stoppage time?
That was crazy. Aitor abandoned his Mourinhoesque caution and went gung-ho in a hell-for-leather assault that saw scapegoat-elect Adam Reach claw one back, Dani Ayala score one and graze the bar and then nod on in scramble for naughty-step Spanish striker Kike to come out of the cold and score a last gasp leveller.
Instant impact: scapegoat-elect Adam Reach starts a spirited fight-back
Had it finished there it would have gone down in folk-lore as a famous fight-back, a precious point wrought from adversity and a show of steel that, whatever the first hour’s drab ineptitude, would have inspired supporters to #believe and maybe eat into the confidence of Bournemouth on Monday.
But with the hard work done and a precious point retrieved Boro somehow contrived to throw it all away in injury time.
Most of the post-match angst will obviously centre on the costly keeper clanger as Dimi got caught cold. Karanka put his hand up and said he had urged Dimi upfield as he wanted to win the game. It was his fault.
You can see the logic. Fulham were wobbling and you could see the attraction of forcing a late winner in a frantic scramble and taking all three points to force the pace at the top.
But, really, how often does a keeper have an impact in the box? Yes, he is an extra unmarked body but it leaves the back door swinging wide open but it just adds to the chaos.
Fans always laugh in disbelief when they see the big lad trundling forward knowing full well that in five seconds time he’ll be sprinting back as the ball gets hoofed the other way. Once in a while they actually get caught out.
As Fulham hoofed the corner away Tomlin had a chance to bring McCormack down then, incredibly Dimi got back into the box and he had the opportunity too but was tuned and Boro’s former transfer target slotted home easily.
I suppose we should think ourselves lucky the finish was so simple. In a game like that you wouldn’t have bet against either of the Boro players getting red carded to miss out on the play-off and really twist the knife – or Dimi giving away a penalty so McCormack could complete a hat-trick of spot-kicks.
That would really have put the tin hat on a crazy game on a crazy day in a crazy division.
It was a case of stick or twist. Karanka took a big gamble and lost. And bust Boro’s automatic promotion hopes.
Had Boro finished 3-3 it would have been a very useful and potential decisive point. The defeat has all but ended any prospect of the top two.
And it has put Teesside on a downer going into the sell-out home game with Brighton that could have been a promotion party.
Still, “Que Sera Sera…” Wembley here we come.