THE EMOTIONAL explosion on the whistle was almost orgasmic as a pent up Riverside exploded with passion.
The stoppage time winner – the best kind – sparked a pitch-side party as beaming Aitor Karanka leaped from the dug-out, roared and punched the air.
Gladiator Leo, the club’s lion killer elect, ran over to scoop him up and hug him then turned to beat his chest and point at random people in the crowd just as the rest of the bench arrived to join in the elated huddle.
And it was the same in the stands as supporters leaped, and screamed and shouted and swore and EIO-hugged their neighbours. And that was just the press box.
There were moist-eyes and choked throats and a draining whoooosh of spontaneous release as a week of condensed angst gushed free and the enormity of the split-second dice roll that may have saved the season hit home. It was like we had qualified for a cup final.
The sonic boom that rocked the Riverside was part the knee-jerk triumphalism of last gasp victory in a massive match: we had dented a rival, swung the stats back our way, regained an automatic promotion spot and regained some Championship escape velocity.
But the cheers were amplified by an audible sigh of relief that rang out from Ragworth of Redcar. Boro are bloody lucky. But lucky is good. Aitor Karanka is a manager blessed with good fortune. And that could just be the key ingredient in the weeks to come.
It was massively important that Boro won to draw a big bright neon line under a stormy and surreal week that threatened to derail the promotion push and puncture the entire Karanka project. That was a huge goal.
It was important to put on a show that sent out a clear message that Boro are back, they are united, and they are very much a factor in the title chase.
Boro did that. It wasn’t the most entertaining of matches. After a fairly fluid start that Boro edged – they had one cleared off the line and there were flashes of attacking intent – it fizzled out into fruitless flailing and at times fans were frustrated by some familiar flaws. Crosses invariably failed to beat the first man.
There was a touch and a pass too many. Jordan Rhodes gets little service and when he gets the ball he has perfected the art of turning to fire into a pair of shin-pads while stray passes were cut out in midfield and the back was too often disjointed and exposed and as the match wore on Hull looked the more likely – although they also looked like a side who have won just once and scored only three in seven as they hurried their shots, fired from distance and screwed efforts high and wide.
That said there were no questions about Boro’s work-rate, application, or spirit. At times the game was so scrappy that had it been weighed in it would have helped clear the national debt but Boro never stopped working.
Hull almost stole it. They arguably had the best chances – Dimi had to make a couple of good saves – and in the second half, once they tentatively started to consider actively trying to win it, they looked sharp on the break and there were real fears that Boro would get caught napping. It was a tense stuff at times.
But all that was washed away in the cleansing wave of emotion as David Nugent glanced home a red zone killer goal that ignited celebrations to make Carnival week in Rio feel like a Presbytarian church hall disco. Phew.
It had been a high-stakes and emotionally testing night after a torrid week of fevered speculation and rising fears that a season of hope was evaporating. It was draining. The “Flamingoland derby” threw fans into a rollercoaster of sickening, adrenaline splashed highs and lows and gravity defying switchback twists.
Nerves? The tangible tension before the game was incredible. You couldn’t cut it with a knife. No way. This was a job that required specialist diamond tipped machinery that would have to be put out to tender.
Stomachs were knotted, throats dry and had fans been wired up to the national grid the nervous energy would have safely powered most of Teesside for a week.
But the atmosphere was healthy and supportive. Given the political fall out in the build-up and bruising back-to-back defeats to basement battlers no-one would have been surprised by a shroud of cynicism over the crowd.
A week of twitter-tattle and rumour-fuelled intrigue left factions of fans fraught and grinding axes but little of that came through the turnstiles. The Gazette yes/no survey suggested well over 80% of fans backed the boss and that was evident from the off.
There was a great turn-out and the fans were loud and proud and in great voice long before kick-off. The surfer was out. A smoke bomb went off in the Red Faction area and the supportive singing started to take root.
Before the game a brief “get behind the lads” message from Aitor Karanka was read out by MMP (who also peppered his play list with classics like “Back For Good”) and the rallying cry sparked a rousing round of chanting of Aitor’s name and that fuelled a feisty feel to the opening period in which Boro looked assertive.
As the game wore on the nerves started to creep in. That was to be expected. We know that if Boro don’t score early the intensity and supremacy drops along with the chance of winning. Then as Hull pressed the tension was racked up. Things got twitchy. And bitchy. There were some isolated outbreaks of sniping over tactics and poor touches and a lack of cutting edge and a couple of individuals took some flak.
And when scapegoat elect Stewart Downing – “one of our own” – came on there was a sour sprinkling of booing among the clapping, cheering and chanting.
Booing your own player as some kind of motivational reverse psychology is something I can never get my head around. Especially when it is so clearly linked via hearsay to the unrest we have had. There is nothing to be gained by targeting individuals that are wearing the shirt. It seems like self indulgent point scoring.
That first sign of division ushered in a spell of heightened insecurity in the crowd (although Downing worked hard, pressed, tackled, closed down and generally did well) and nerves inching towards terror… there was a fear of the inevitable… they looked dangerous… they are going to score aren’t they?…
But then GOAAAALLLL. All the fears dissolved in joy.
What a team. Never in doubt.
BORO fans: time for a massive show of unity.
We’re on the box and our promotion rivals will be gleefully watching for fissures and friction to be exploited. They will be hoping to see Riverside rifts in the team and in the stands are a stormy and surreal week on and off the pitch. The will be hoping to see divisions that suggest that Boro will unravel in the run-in.
And if we do crack now it would be a disaster. We are so close. It has been frustrating – infuriating – to see once commanding position fumbled. But we are still in it and a win tonight would put us back into an automatic spot.
The rest, not just Hull but Burnley and Brighton and the teams behind will be looking for weaknesses, for division, for signs of a tensions within the camp and the crowd.
So we need to show a united front. We need to send out a clear and powerful message that Boro are still in business and still gunning for the title. And that the whole of Teesside is ready to throw their full emotional weight behind that goal.
The team must perform, must show the pride and passion lacking at Charlton and in a clinical edge missing in recent weeks. They must grab the promotion race by the jugular and show a hunger for the fight and a zealous desire to win promotion. They must provide the spark. They must ignite the Riverside. That’s the key part of the equation.
But the crowd have a crucial role too. The supporters must be right behind the team – no matter who plays – for the full 96 minutes. They must create a hostile atmosphere to make Hull hearts wilt and to inspire urgency and confidence in Boro.
There will be a crackling spirit at the start, we know that. And if Boro score it will explode. But it things are sticky we must stay resolute. Steve Bruce is not daft. He will know the lie of the land. He will send his side out to “keep it tight, quieten the crowd, wait until the supporters start to get on their own players’ backs....”
We can’t allow that. We can’t start picking out individuals in our ranks. If we are to succeed this season we will do it as a collective, a team. And however tempting it is, if tensions rise and the game is difficult – which it will be – we can’t start sniping.
We have all heard the lurid rumours and know the names. He said, she said. Forget that. It isn’t important now. It will all come out in the wash and enter our camp-fire folklore but for now it doesn’t matter.
All that matters is raising the bar over the next 10 cup finals and getting over the line.
And for that to happen we all have to be united. The team have be united, reach their potential and deliver on the pitch and we have be united, to back them, trust them and stick with them if there are stumbles along the way. And there will be.
Matchday is no time for the scape-goating of individuals based on twitter tattle, point-scoring and recriminations. That is for the pub and for the internet. That is for the summer.
But for now we must rally around and roar them on to success. Boro supporters have been fantastic in adversity this season and it is time to show that again.
You’ve rallied around the SSI workers and united in emotional circumstances after the passing of Ali Brownlee. With banners and light-shows and some truly touching moments of sensitivity and fierce emotion, Boro fans have shown themselves to be a powerful force when motivated. The crowd have done themselves proud this season.
And they have never flinched in their support. Boro have travelled in huge numbers across the country week in, week out, and shown they are loud and proud and unparalleled in their support for the team. They – you…. WE – have delivered when it mattered
We just need to keep it up for the final push.
COME ON BORO
Usual drill: forecast the scores, how the game will pan out, the crowd and the number of reported cases of spontaneous human combustion. Then all back later to swap notes.
I’m going for 2-0. An early one then an excruciating 75 minutes of slowly building nervous tension and a heart-attack as they hit the bar before a late, late second. Downing (90+1)