Friday, 11 May 2012

Back In Time: Middlesbrough 8, Manchester City 1, 2007/08

In a week of nostalgia, Si's Insights looks back at a game that pulled the wool over everyone's eyes...

With our season over, the last week or so has been one of "looking back" on Planet Boro. We've already reminisced about our promotion-clinching 4-1 win over Oxford United on May 3, 1998 (which will feature in next week's "Back In Time" column) and, of course, Eindhoven, which had a build up to remember but an aftermath to forget. Instead of being the new beginning we hoped it would be, it was the beginning of the end, with a crippling debt and gradual mismanagement of a solid spine eventually leading to a relegation we've still to recover from.

Today (May 11) sees the anniversary of both the worst and best of Boro - Juninho's tears at Elland Road (1997) and one of the most incredible but ultimately irrelevant results in the history of the club (2008). Yes, it's four years to the day since we battered Sven's men.

What a day it was. Regardless of how divided Manchester City were, how little both sides had to play for, and how different the scoreline might have been had Richard Dunne stayed on the pitch, you couldn't help but react to the scoreline with amazement. Boro hadn't scored more than two goals in a match all season prior to this game. They'd won just twice in thirteen league and cup games prior to the previous match, a 2-0 home win against a Portsmouth team who had one eye on the FA Cup final. And no Boro player had scored more than once in a game until Afonso Alves suddenly and inexplicably netted a double in April... against the future double winners.

On the surface, this really was perversity of the highest order. Stewart Downing netted twice in a match for the only time in a Boro shirt (and his second was a beaut). Fabio Rochemback literally saved the best for last with a hard working, clever performance featuring a free kick that still has to be seen to be believed. Afonso Alves scored his one and only Boro hat-trick.

And, even more importantly...

Our biggest Premier League win, the then biggest win for anyone in the Premier League this century (until Spurs bettered it with a 9-1 trouncing of Wigan), and the first Boro player to score a hat-trick in four years.

How could any self-respecting Boro fan not be filled with self-belief after a game like that?

Alas, the trouncing of Manchester City was a mirage, not an oasis.

The summer of 2008 saw Rochemback, George Boateng, Lee Cattermole, Mark Schwarzer and Luke Young all depart, without really being replaced. New signings Justin Hoyte and Didier Digard were exposed as lightweight the following season, as was Alves, despite free kicks like this one. Tuncay picked and chose his games, Downing had an off season. Just about everything that could go wrong for us in 2008/09 did.

And you may not have seen it at the time, but the 8-1 win over City and its aftermath actually foreshadowed 2008/09 pretty well. Just how well would Boro have coped that day against eleven well-organised men who actually had something to play for? If you look at the goals again, you'll notice that Alves had a ridiculous amount of space for all three of his goals. The same is true for Downing's second goal, well executed though it was, and Aliadiere's goal. And, lest we forget, Adam Johnson's goal needed a deflection to find its way into the net.

The truth is, despite the sporadic promise we had shown in Southgate's first two seasons, we had really only just escaped the dreaded drop... on both occasions.

Should we really have been that surprised that trying to enforce Southgate's Arsenal-lite style of play with an even weaker squad would lead to relegation?

And, while both Manchester City and Boro have faced their fair share of trials and tribulations since that day,  nowadays, we're really little more than an average Championship side, while City are set to be crowned champions of England.

Afonso Alves, who we thought was the answer to our goalscoring problems, eventually left for Qatar, while Adam Johnson, who at one point couldn't even get into our first team, is on the verge of picking up a Premier League winners' medal.

Who would have seen that happening four years ago?

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