WEMBLEY-bound Boro’s semi-sonic boom blasted second best Brentford to bits as Aitor Karanka’s historic March To The Arch continued.
Red hot iron, white hot steel: the atmosphere was molten and magnificent and Teesside was totally united in pursuit of the promotion prize. A club united like that is hard to beat. Everyone was on their game. Every single person in the ground from battle-scarred diehard to wide-eyed youngsters was energised and totally engaged in an emotionally intoxicating evening, a memorable “I was there” moment , the best night since Steaua.
The crackling crowd were fantastic throughout as leather-lunged loyalists kept up the insistent urging throughout a famous fixture that will go down in folklore and the players reciprocated, delivering a dream display of the kind such sizzling support deserved with an emphatic 3-0 victory in the play-off semi-final second leg.
On a pulsating night at a sold out and rocking Riverside, the North Stand supporters – organised by the Twe12th Man group – picked out an inspirational pre-match message in red and white big cards: #Believe. And with a powerful performance, determined Boro showed a zealous and intimidating belief – on and off the pitch.
Wembley on the cards: fans show their faith before the game
The supporters certainly showed they believed. They did their bit. There were stirring and sarcastic songs, time honoured battle hymns and banners that boasted; there was colour and smoke, clapping and whistling, cat-calls and chants, laser guided booing, drums and flags and smoke; there was a twinkling smart phone torch app to illuminate an historic passage to the final; there was a good natured pitch invasion on the whistle; there was fanaticism, fun and a narcotic sense of history unfolding.
And there was even a football fairytale as born-and-bred Teesside incarnate and ageing icon Jonathan Woodgate came on at the death to take the armband and play his role in taking his hometown team to Wembley. As Woody stood on the touchline with the clock running Karanka was urging his players to put the ball out so he could get the club skipper on because he understands symbolism and has a touch of humanity and class about him.
In the pre-match build-up the supporters battled with the PA for a good 20 minutes before the Mark Page MegaMix was suddenly cut 10 minutes before kick-off. Credit to the club for that. It allowed a natural and spontaneous swirl of audible anticipation to bubble and build to a crescendo and infect the senses.
Pulling the plug gave the fans their head and boy, did they seize the moment. You could hardly hear yourself think. It was a magnificent, noisy, colourful sustained sonic spectacular, a wall of sound that piled on loud layers of emotion that was breathtaking and spine-tingling and gave me goosebumps but which must have cowed poor booed Brentford as they lined up in the tunnel and then ran out into a maelstrom.
Fans had seized on tetchy, thin-skinned comments from the Brentford camp after the first leg that Boro deservedly won 2-1. They moaned that Karanka’s side were overly physical. That Boro were one dimensional. That they had ‘disrespected’ the Bees by daring to celebrate a 93rd minute winner as if they were already at Wembley. That Boro were “limited” up front and could only score from set-plays… an aggregate score of 10-1 over four games left eating their words as Boro served up a treat. Even Aitor had a little pop after the game as he praised the team, the crowd, Gibbo and relished Wembley.
Brentford as a whole were booed and jeered and had waves from the extremes of the animosity spectrum aimed their way with the chief architects of those provocative “pin it on the changies wall” comments – keeper Button and hapless defender Harlee Dean given a roasting every time they touched the ball. I like that. Boro’s innate anger and perma-seething sense of injustice should always be directed at the opposition rather than internalised in fraternal bitching. We are at our best united against the world.
That said, Boro fans gave the Brentford fans and the team generous applause as they left the pitch at the end and Bees boss Mark Warbuton was gracious in defeat and admitted Boro were just two good over the two legs so we’re all friend again. Which is nice.
Put your shirt on it, Boro are going to Wembley
And to match the pride and passion in the stands, there was a terrific team display out on the pitch. Boro were superb with every department functioning with ruthless efficiency. The snarling, solid, energetic midfield grabbed the game by the throat early on and never let go. The defence was rigid and robust and snuffed out blunt Brentford’s rare forays forward. And Boro’s front pairing were bright on the break, sharp and inventive with their movement and interplay leaving Brentford looking bewildered and insipid.
There were some fantastic virtuoso individual outings too – Adam Clayton and Albert Adomah were both magnificent while Kike had a great game too. And there were three great goals, well engineered and well finished. And not one from a set-play.
We are not quite there yet. We can’t take anything for granted. There is one more massive match to go. And it is at Wembley. But if we can harness that collective energy, if the team can perform in the final as they did in their second leg shoot-out with Brentford then we can travel to London for the £100m winner-takes all showdown with confidence.