Saturday, 2 March 2013

Battling Boro Play Their Cards Right

On a momentous day in Derry-Londonderry, where 5,482 lads and ladies, old and young, turned up in the light of Ebrington Square to smash a Guinness World Record and spread goodwill around the City Of Culture, nearly three times that number showed up at the Riverside Stadium for what, to our eyes, was a similarly momentous occasion. For this wasn't just about Boro beating the league leaders and possibly - possibly - putting our seemingly derailed promotion campaign back on course. It was about new and unexpected heroes.

Few things are more satisfying, especially in football, than seeing a much maligned figure bounce back and prove his critics wrong. Think of Aime Jacquet, described by the press as "paleolithic" and "incompetent" before he accomplished what no other French national team manager has, leading the national team to the World Cup in 1998. Or, closer to home, Hamilton Ricard. He looked out of his depth in both our promotion campaign and in France '98, and many questioned why Bryan Robson bought him, with some supporters even dubbing him "Hamilton Retard". By the time he left Boro, three years later, he had scored a total of thirty-one Premier League goals and forty-three overall, figures that no other Boro striker in the Riverside years has matched.

Fast forward to the present day, before today's match with Cardiff. In fans' eyes, Tony Mowbray's tinkerman tactics and Kieron Dyer's dire performances are among the chief scapegoats for Boro's horrendous 2013. Additionally, poor Sammy Ameobi has been written off before he's even kicked a ball. After all, who needs Dyer and Ameobi when we've got Richie Smallwood and Adam Reach, the latter of whom isn't even in the squad these days?

Well, for once I'm happy to admit: what do we fans know?

For four magical minutes today, it no longer seemed like a hard knock life (pun intended) for Boro as the Red Dragons were effectively slain by goals from our "Geordie rejects". A tap in from Dyer - his first league goal in six years - and a Juninho-esque (if you believe Anthony Vickers) goal from Ameobi saw Boro progress into an impervious position. Ameobi, in fact, was a revelation during the first half, inspiring the team's attack in a manner not seen all season; we wouldn't have been flattered had we been completely out of sight at the break.

But we weren't, and after we were made to pay for failing to defend a set-piece yet again, we found ourselves clinging on for a win that could easily have been much more comfortable. It was an identical result and almost identical performance, it seemed, to that which saw off Crystal Palace at home last August. But hey, we're used to it, no matter how much we wish we weren't.

Arguments will, of course, persist. Bailey at right-back, again? (My answer: It's out of necessity these days, with Woodgate, Bikey, Hoyte and Parnaby all unavailable.) Why Ledesma, and not Smallwood? (My answer: Ledesma can still be quite effective on his day. Maybe Mogga feels he's best as an impact sub.) And why is Miller keeping Main out of the starting line-up? (My answer: You could also ask why Rooney and Welbeck are keeping Hernandez out of Manchester United's starting XI. Strike rate and sharpness isn't necessarily everything; managers look for physical presence in their forwards too, and Big Ish's is admittedly greater than Main's. On the other hand, goals count...)

I'll leave you all to debate those. For now, it's best to end this post with a message for both Dyer and Ameobi; keep on scoring, lads. You may yet become cult heroes, like the guy below.

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