THE MILLERS Grind wouldn’t make any Boro’s Greatest Hits album. It probably wouldn’t even make an Berlin drugs phase B- side. It was a flabby filler on the difficult third album. No one would ever claim it as their favourite and all but the most ardent fan will forget it immediately and, to be honest, on CD most people would just skip it. But it is there, part of critically acclaimed wider body of work that has some far more memorable stuff on it so you tolerate it and accept it for what it is: a bum note in a classic collection.
Sometimes you have to work through those numbers as part of the build-up to get to the big anthemic crowd pleasing finale. The 1-0 win over Rotherham was like that. A downbeat, going through the motions set-padding kind of fixture where Ringo or Sid or the Edge was allowed to do the vocals.
And after the triumphant headlining glory of Old Trafford it was all a bit of a comedown but so long as Boro are topping the charts come May, no-one will worry too much about the last couple of solid but unspectacular shows.
Manchester United was a fantastic experience. Playing on a star-studded bill in a breath-taking stadium and deservedly blowing away the punters and the pundits alike could easily be a distraction. All that champagne and caviar.
But nothing says welcome back to the Championship bread-and-butter than two basement battlers on the bounce. The last pair of back-to-back routine Riverside games have been archetypal Championship fare: stodgy and solid, filling but far from tasty.
First a fragile Charlton in disarray and with a new boss and then rock bottom Rotherham also under new management. Hardly mouth-watering clashes. And the flat atmosphere echoed that. There was a workmanlike air that said: let’s just get the job done with no fuss, get the points bagged and get the hell back home and under the duvet and then we can start to ponder the trip to Hull.
But however mundane the matches, these are the important ones. Yes, Manchester United will live longer in the memory. The night we took 10,000 and out-sung, out-fought and out-gunned will go down in folklore and in years to come no one will remember these two humdrum encounters except maybe the mascots.
Boro worked hard in the first half against second bottom Charlton without reward before winning 3-0 in a late flourish. Then they started brightly against Rotherham and Stewart Downing got the vital goal before the game lost its way a bit, the tempo dropped and after spurning chances to seal it – Boro hit the woodwork twice – they may even have been caught at the death. But weren’t.
It is cashing in these functional fixtures for precious points that will really count come May. Winning the contractual obligation games is what builds the platform for promotion.
And you don’t have to thump the opposition. You don’t need to dismantle them ruthlessly. You don’t need to batter them 4-0. Yes, it would be nice but we have been in this league long enough to know by now that those displays are just punctuation in writing the long story of the season.
And the season is bound to be a long attritional slog and while they won’t set the soul alight, occasional, solid workmanlike wins will do. Grinding it out will do. If we are honest, snatching it late on with a smarmy deflection will do.
The wins over Charlton and Rotherham have been professional and controlled but rarely exciting and that may be frustrating for fans – but it is far better than the dark days of even the recent past when Boro regularly messed these games up.
Terrace legend has it that “typical Boro” always hit the self-destruct button against the whipping boys. We all have the scars from the many nightmare times when a high-flying Boro have taken out their Colt 45 and fired it squarely through their own size elevens in a coupon-busting implosion.
A dismal draw at home to relegation-bound Blackpool at this time last season put the brakes on the Boro bandwagon and dented morale and contributed to just missing out.
And the two home defeats this calendar year have come to a woeful Leeds side in free-fall last term and a limited Bristol City side who were without a win before the team bus pulled up at the Riverside and who have since taken up residence just above the trapdoor.
So we all know the risks. We all know what can happen in the Championship if you take your eye off the ball, if you start to “think you are better than you are.”
But since their blip Boro have looked sharper, more ruthless and more determined to make every game count. Since Aitor’s selection gamble and the fight back away at Wolves cleared the air and re-energised the season, Boro have won three on the bounce with a the spot-kick shoot-out success at Old Trafford along the way.
None of them have been classics. They won’t take up much time on the highlight DVD. But the points still count. And it was vitally important for Boro to win to keep the momentum going. It was a crucial fixture in the flux at the top of the tightly bunched Championship table when the result was far more important than the performance.
On kick-off four teams had hopes of taking a share of the summit with Brighton so there was everything to play for. The Seagulls slipped up with a draw but Derby, Burnley and Hull all won so the top of the table is tighter than ever.
It is starting to shape up like last year with a leading group turning the screw. We can’t afford for Boro to be the team that cracks this term and is left playing catch-up after slipping at crucial moments. Every point is precious. Every win vital.
The one against Rotherham may not have been as popular or memorable as Manchester United and supporters won’t all be joining in the chorus of praise to it, but come May we could be singing and dancing to glory and it will be just as important as the big hits.