BATTLING Boro made it a perfect 10 of fantastic Friday wins with a double digit demolition of QPR.
The pulsating 3-2 win at Loftus Road was the tenth straight Friday night triumph under Aitor Karanka, an incredible calendar coincidence. And with back-to-back wins – Hull and QPR- firing Boro back into the promotion hot-spots, Friday is fast becoming Teesside’s favourite day of the week.
Shhhhhhh: Grant silences QPR fans who had jeered his penalty miss
Before the Rangers routing Boro had won nine on the spin in that slot under Karanka
Hull (h) 1-0
Wolves (h) 2-1
Ipswich (a) 2-0
QPR (h) 1-0
Brentford (h) 3-0
Brentford (a) 2-1
Forest (h) 3-0
It may be a statistical quirk but it is one that has helped Boro’s TV stars galvanise a campaign that had been stuttering.
The Rangers win was massive. They all are. But this one felt psychologically significant beyond the norm. Boro barged back into the promotion hot-spots with a pulsating performance that sent out some powerful signals.
They stopped the rot on the road with a vital victory after three away defeats on the spin. Those defeats to struggling sides – Blackburn, Rotherham and Charlton – had left the season in the balance and had fostered dark fears among fans that the season was starting to crack.
To go away to a team that had won five out of six at home including their last three and a test in real style showed spirit and resolve. That was important. Important too to do it after the Hull game, a politically charged game that was driven by the need to show unity.
To do it again in the next ‘routine’ game was crucial to keep the promotion charge alive. Boro are often accused of lifting themselves for champagne games with title rivals but flopping in bread and butter ones but there was none of that.
Boro grabbed the game by the throat with Adam Clayton dominating, a midfield terminator with a psychic satnav that saw everything before it happened.
Another positive was the way they bounced back from having a lead chipped away with a sizzler at ‘just the wrong time’ and roared out of the blocks after the interval when they are so often accused of coming out flat.
They responded to missing a penalty in the most emphatic style possible, a steely Grant Leadbitter punishing the spot-kick save with a laser guided whipped corner delivery that was just as deadly.
They rammed home their advantage when Rangers were rocking to show they do have a ruthless streak, they do have teeth, they do have goals.
And they dug deep to hold on against a late assault, a goal being clawed back and an intense atmosphere. A lot of fans were braced for a brittle side to implode. They didn’t. They stayed strong. They stayed focussed. They were physically and mentally strong.
It was fantastic to watch a team ticking all the boxes of the promotion palette.
There were some other important markers put down too.
Textbook: penalty box predator Jordan Rhodes does what he was bought for
Jordan Rhodes got a morale-boosting goal straight out of the poachers’ text-book to set the ball rolling. It wasn’t the prettiest goal but it was exactly what he was brought in to do: he anticipated the squirt from the defender’s head, reacted superbly to peel away, get onto the bounce, find space and steer a diagonal sweep goalwards having left the keeper dazed and confused.
Yes he got lucky. With the glance, with the bounce, in the defender missing a chance to clear off the line but so what. That’s what he is there to do.
It was another hoodoo smashed. Boro had only won ONCE at Loftus Road ever before this. After Ipswich, Forest, Wednesday and Wolves that pile of historic debris is mounting fast.
And it was important too to get a result that would pile the pressure on the other promotion pretenders. Brighton take on Burnley today knowing that if they don’t win they will be behind Boro having played a game more leaving them playing catch-up and with a visit to the Riverside looming.
Now let’s see what they are made of.
HAVE you enjoyed the international break? All relaxed? Heart-rate dropped back to normal? Stomach unknotted? Nails grown back nicely? That will soon all suddenly switch back with a frightening physical intensity as we get thrown back into the maelstrom of teeth-clenching emotional agony and nerve-wracked nausea. Or ‘normal’ as I call it.
The trip to QPR will bring another massive hike in temperature inside the promotion pressure cooker. Boro need to get something. A draw would take them above Brighton on goal difference and set them us for the Titanic three home clashes in a row but a win at Loftus Road would really turn the screw on Brighton who face table-toppers Burnley in a summit six pointer on Saturday.
If the Seagulls kick-off trailing Boro (who will still have a game in hand and a better goal difference) the pressure will all be heaped on them. They can’t afford to lose. That would leave them playing catch-up with a game fewer and Boro to visit on the last day.
So it is another massive weekend looming. QPR is a massive games. All the other games are huge too. And the top of the table is still in flux. Everything is up for grabs.
Of course, Boro need to get something at QPR. They need to put on a solid show and stop the rot on the road after three damaging defeats on the spin away from home. They need to send out a powerful message that the grit and unity on show against Hull wasn’t a one-off, that the mysterious unspoken “everything that happened” is behind us. And they need to emphatically show Boro are very much still promotion – and title? – contenders.
But if Boro get something at Loftus Road – never a happy hunting ground – then what? What is the best outcome for us on Saturday? Where is our collective proxy support and the tangible waves of will power being directed?
Do we want Brighton to win to peg Burnley and take some steam out of them, dent their confidence and make concrete the lack of conviction shown in recent games and maybe open the door to a serious Boro push for the top spot? If we win our game in hand we will be breathing down the necks again with Turf Moor to visit. It will be game on.
Or do we enter a Faustian Pact with football bouncer Sean Dyche and write off our own title prospects and instead urge the Clarets on to to win? That would badly dent the Seagulls surge and boost our own bid for second spot. If they were to lose and Boro were to win we would go two points clear with a game in hand. Which would do nicely.
Obviously a draw would be nice too. Ish. That would mean we could close in on Burnley a bit, or at least they wouldn’t be heading towards the horizon – but it would boost morale for Brighton, enhance their own ambitions for the title and leave an ever tighter three-way squeeze at the top. I’m not sure Teesside’s fragile psyche could cope.
Usual drill: predict the score and how the game pans out, and the Brighton v Burnley score too if you fancy. I think Boro will edge the tightest and tensest match possible at QPR. I’m going for fit-again set-piece penalty box pest Dani Ayala to bundle home in ungainly and disputed fashion from a corner. Possibly in the last five minutes. I’ll be hysterical by then.