Tuesday, 12 February 2013

How's That For A Main Course?

Now that feels good. Three points. And a clean sheet. For the first time in 2013.

It was nervy. It wasn't pretty. But after witnessing so much attractive passing football that got nowhere, frustrating both the fans - and Mogga, as he tinkered repeatedly to find a winning combination - tonight called for commitment and passion. And despite a few close calls - a goalline clearance from Woody, some good saves from Steele and a series of late Bailey blocks that reminded us of the passionate dogfighter we know he can be - we delivered the goods.

Or should I say Curtis Main delivered the goods? The Main Man both up front and in name, he not only did what Grant Leadbitter, a recalled Josh McEachran, a much improved Rolls Rhys and most embarrassingly Faris Haroun failed to do (put the ball in the net, of course), but took his overall Boro strike rate to 25% (pretty impressive for someone who's featured sporadically) with his second goal in two games, a fine looping header from an Ishmael Miller cross. Main is starting to come across as  Boro's Chicharito, an arguably unfairly marginalised player who has a habit of coming up with the goals when it matters. I emphasize the word "arguably" in our case because the words "Boro" and "false starts" go together like peas in a pod. Some may also point at a rash temperament due to his late red card, but considering the harshness of the refereeing decision, it wouldn't be right to dwell on it. (Nor should we bother appealing it - the suspension is only for a single match, and some of you may remember what happened when we appealed against Jeremie Aliadiere's sending off at Anfield in 2008...)

But while Main will dominate the headlines, just about everyone on the night was a hero. Our first home league win over Leeds in nearly two decades - since the 4-1 triumph during Ayresome Park's only season in the Premier League, actually - was achieved not only by a greater all around fighting spirit but greater all round tactical acumen. No players were played out of position here, with Stuart Parnaby deservedly recalled, Rolls Rhys moved back into the centre and Muzzy Carayol playing where he seems to play best - just off the lone front man. Some may argue that Juke or Miller should have played alongside Main from the start, but leaving said players - and Andy Halliday - on the bench gave us fresh attacking options with which to stretch a tiring Leeds side later in the game. Whereas once we had appeared short of both width and penetration, Carayol's presence and the proper deployment of Parnaby, Williams and later Andy Halliday gave us power and width to go with the possession that gradually came our way in the second half tonight. Power and width - the very things that we had been short of 2013, and the very things that could spark the team into life from this moment on. Including the benched Ledesma and the absent (injured?) Emnes, hopefully...

It still may be too late. Five straight defeats when you're on the brink of the automatic promotion places is a hard psychological blow to fully bounce back from, and I'm all too well of how the season ended the last time Boro gave us renewed hope in this manner - on Valentine's Day 2012, when we beat a Forest team who hadn't lost on Teesside for nearly four decades. Far better, though, to be full of hope again rather than no hope - and the way Lukas Jutkiewicz celebrated at the end, despite the fact that he didn't play, is a sure indication of both the spirit in our ranks and what this talented team - because that's what it is - still has to offer in all areas of the pitch.

Onwards and upwards!

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