WHITE hot iron. Red hot steel. It will be a potent cocktail ion of industry, work-rate, intensity and passion that gets Boro promoted this season.
On the day that the Riverside Stadium staged a show of popular support for the “save Our Steel” campaign, Aitor Karanka’s side combined to deliver exactly the kind of productivity and relentless, mechanical energy that made Teesside a global powerhouse.
The 3-0 win over Leeds was a tough and testing shift and at times the game was scrappy but battling Boro beavered away non-stop in a sweaty, steely show of dogged determination. They worked, they chased, they closed, they harried, rattled into tackles, they passed and probed and they fought tooth and nail and when the pivotal points on the pitch appeared through the haze of hard labour they were ruthless.
And the crowd played their part too with a constant partisan racket and in an emotional opening they stoked up a temperature like a foundry. There was an incredible atmosphere and from the moment the early opener flew in they were in the aural ascendancy and the normally vitriolic visitors were meek and muffled.
Of course, Leeds played a role too, we can’t forget that. They battled away but without the potent threat Boro carried. They worked hard. They never let up. They made a real match of it after the break. They gave it a crack and had enough possession to send shudders around the ground and had they scored there would have been a familiar tension.
But limp Leeds had little up front. A good Mowatt free-kick towards the top corner was superbly clawed away full length by Dimi and the goal given offside as the defence stood rooted (it was probably a good goal but ruled out in a karmic realignment after Albert’s acrobatic effort at Elland Raod last term) but that was it. They had some good spells of possession but they couldn’t bring to bear the intensity needed to break through Boro’s red wall with Ayala and Amorebieta impregnable.
Ultimately a Leeds team lacking cohesion or spirit rarely matched a Boro side playing well within itself. And the were their own worst enemy. They were the architects of their own destruction. Which was funny.
Cruel press-box wags said the Leeds central defensive pairing were Boro’s two most creative players and there was a strong case to give one of them them a coveted Gazette star. The Giuseppe Bullusci diving bullet header – the second goal – was rammed home with an unstoppable vicious intent a striker would have been proud of. Boro fans celebrated with a mixture of jubilant EIoing and side-splitting laughter. It probably the best own goal at the Riverside since Frank Sinclair’s 30 yard drive. It was certainly the funniest.
And the comedy of errors for the third – a poor back-pass, a woeful touch from the keeper, a banana-booted stumble from Sol Bamba – before Diego nipped in to seal it gleefully was sheer slapstick before Diego Fabbrini’s smashed home.
But while Leeds certainly did take aim and fire straight through the extended toes of their own size 17 clown boots it was the relentless pressure of Boro that forced them into jittery panic. Their predicament was completely self-inflicted.
In a blistering opening spell rampant Boro tore into them, stretched them with sharp passing moves down both flanks and forced them into chaotic, aimless scrambling at the back to set the tone for the game. Leeds were awful in their box in a pulsating opening blitz by Boro and almost every cross looked like it would force a goal or a fatal error.
Leeds couldn’t clear their lines. Poor headers and untidy punts out of the danger-zone inevitably fell to a Boro player as the next wave crashed forward and Aitor’s army turned the screw.
In midfield the high-octane engine-room revving of the highly efficient holding pair, and especially dynamic ex-Leeds man Adam Clayton, simply over-ran the visitors. In Boro’s box, for all their second half huffing and puffing, Leeds never looked like breaking through
And in and around the Leeds penalty area their creaking and jittery back-line was never allowed to settle because of the perspiration soaked perma-pressure applied by perpetual motion poacher David Nugent.
Yes, Boro fell short of their best and they could not sustain the early attacking impetus but they were still far too strong for a soft-centred Leeds and all across the park they played at a relentless industrial intensity that simply ground the opposition down. Boro have played well below par twice this week and won 3-0 both times.
That industrial work-rate overwhelming opponents has been a central and decisive feature of many of the games in the current sizzling sequence of seven straight victories.
It has meant that Boro have motored to the top through a series of functional wins without ever really hitting top gear. Already with just nine games gone Boro are five points clear of third place, they have conceded the fewest goals and scored the most in the Championship… and they haven’t really got started yet.
That anticipation of what the team could be when it is fully fledged, a look at the table and a hoodoo-shattering win over Leeds will have helped put a smile on Teesside face after a difficult week. It won’t solve the headache for steelworkers and the wider community as they face up to the threat of losing their jobs but it will have been a brief respite.
Unity is strength on Teesside. The area is at its most potent when we are under attack, when we circle the wagons and when we harness our history and channel our parochial pride. When we act as a single entity. This game underlined that.
The match started with a poignant colourful demonstration by the club and supporters of the massive cultural and economic importance of the Redcar plant to the area. Many fans will work in the steel works and related industries or who have had historical links with what was once our defining feature so the prospect of SSI closing their Teesside works would be a damaging blow to our psyche as well as our economy.
“We Built The World” an earlier Red Faction banner declared. And that is true. Much of our proud historical identity as a hard working town and area has been cast by iron and steel and that forms a key part of our face to the world.
So it was appropriate that a fixture with a national and international audience offered a stage for Teesside to stand united in a public protest. The club will not be leading the revolution – although Steve Gibson has been forthright this week in demands for government action – but they are keen to be visible in the campaign, as they were last time Redcar was under threat. There were banners in the East Stand and the Red Faction area of the South Stand and the players wore T-shirts with the SOS slogan while warming up.
Then as the teams ran out there was a huge roar and a simultaneous show of support from both ends of the stadium. There was a simple but effective big card display in the North Stand picking out the letters “SOS” and a huge banner in the South Stand echoing the message in the colours of Ironopolis by night. Leeds fans deserve great credit as they backed the show and clapped generously – then normal service was resumed as hostility levels shot up on kick-off.
After the game Aitor was quick to dedicate victory to the steelworkers and hoped it would give them something, however briefly, to be happy about. The win will help. If Teesside loses steel it will have only its team to carry its banner. He is working on that too