UNLEASH the fogs of war…
As the mists that shrouded the Riverside Stadium cleared and the debris of a furious battle was cleared away, a drained Boro side could smile and proudly survey the scene of a famous victory.
Passionate Boro showed the bottle and battle, the hunger and the ruthless desire needed to win things. By hook or by crook. By sheer force of will. By somehow getting over the line by sweat-soaked industry and fierce mental strength no matter how bruised and drained the bodies and no matter how long it takes.
They may have left it late to write off Reading in the tightest of 2-1 wins but it was worth the wait. It could prove a watershed. It could turn out to be the moment Boro seize control of the Championship promotion race.
The celebrations on the whistle were incredible. There was an intensity that spoke volumes about exactly how significant the stoppage time sucker punch was. And it was well deserved after a Trojan team effort.
It is nice to have flair and finesse and play with a bit of a swagger – and Boro showed that they could do just that in a cavalier opening spell as they carved Reading open with some delightful football.
But sometimes you need to get down and dirty, you need to throw bodies in the firing line and keep plugging away.
Sometimes you need to show spirit, strength and a cut-throat malice. You need to kill teams off even if it means tooth-and-claw, hand-to-hand combat.
And that’s what Boro did. Having lost the lead, lost the initiative and, it seemed, lost ground in the promotion push, they fought back with a tangible hunger and desire while Reading fought among themselves.
Battling Boro showed nerves of steel and the zealous belief in the cause that wins wars. And wins titles.
And the supporters stayed with them all the way too. The roar in the closing stages was in perfect harmony with the exertions on the pitch. Admittedly that backing was not without flinching and fretting in a frustrating finale as it seemed Boro would squander a golden opportunity to seize the summit and the title initiative.
It wasn’t a display for the faint hearted. Boro nerves were stretched to breaking point. Again. Stomachs were knotted to the point of pain. Again. Bodies and minds were wracked by a combination of fear, adrenaline and nausea. Again. That’s this season all over.
And as the clock ran down, and the pressure rose the was a growing sense of hysteria that mounted and threatened to explode the Riverside.
The soundtrack in the final frantic phase was high pitched yelping and nervous squealing. Then Pinball Wizard Adam Forshaw slammed in the winner after a bout of bagatelle in the box – possibly the most beautiful and dramatically scripted goal since Massimo Maccarone – and there was a sonic boom as the emotional dam burst and tear-flecked relief flooded freely in a frenzy of stranger hugging EIO-ing.
And then that roar was echoed by the sharp crack of hearts breaking in Burnley and Brighton.
Boro have put down a massive marker now. They have shown can handle the heat in the promotion pressure cooker. After Hull and then this, they have shown they have the steel and the spirit to do this.
And they showed that whatever the others can do – Brighton grabbed a late winner to plunder precious points – they can match it. And raise the stakes.
The scene was set for a dramatic and cinematic night before the game as the fog rolled in, Teesside was wearing its spring finery, a thick murky shroud of mist.
On the approach the stadium there was some confusion as none of the usual landmarks were visible: no Transporter, no Temenos, no ship…. no stadium until it loomed up as you reached the Ayresome Gates.
It wasn’t anywhere near the fog-horn inducing precipitation levels of the imfamous Manchester City League Cup pea-souper in 1991 or Huddersfield two years ago on kick-off but it was enough to give the ground an eerie feel. As if we weren’t all feeling B-movie sinister shivers of dread already.
And as the game wore on ever more wispy strands drifted in from the river and crept over the East Stand roof and by half time it was quite hard to see the far side and the meagre huddled group of 148 travelling fans.
Boro were fine. They had Grant Leadbitter’s laser stare and Adam Clayton’s psychic spatial SatNav to pick their way forward through midfield while Emilio Nuse was lighting up the final third.
Stewart Downing had a bright game too, with some lively movement and deft distribution after slowly feeling his way into a central role.
But the beacon for Boro was the performance on the left of George Friend and Albert Adomah, both battling as if their families were being held hostage.
The pair were studies in perpetual motion and instrumental in almost everything creative that Boro did in a blistering first half and at the heart of the hand-to-hand fighting as the game wore on.
It was the same all over the pitch. And in the stands. Everyone believing and fighting and willing to sacrifice for a common cause. A team and town united.
That’s the magic mix that wins things.