Boro on the charge
Written for Sky Sports.com
In the season when games come thick and fast Middlesbrough have now proven they are the real deal. Throughout December Boro remained unbeaten, with some brilliant performances and even better results the team really have pulled out all of the stops.
Mowbray’s men have closed the gap on what seemed like the run away two in West Ham United and Southampton. A month or so ago it looked like the top two would be uncatchable and their lead would be extended with Boro left slugging it out for a play-off place at best. The home defeat to West Ham was a crushing blow leaving supporters in limbo whether promotion was achievable. Although it appears to have refocused the team and the defensive play since has been excellent.
Matthew Bates and Rhys Williams are too good to be playing in the Championship, though I really think they will stay with us in January and fight to play in the Premier League with their home-town club next season. The centre-back pairing are keeping the experienced Stephen McManus out of the team and the Scot was one of Boro’s better players last season.
Jason Steele has proven that he has all the attributes to be a top goalkeeper and whilst still only being 21 he has matured really quickly since Tony Mowbray deemed him number one. With three clean sheets in his last five games confidence is high and carrying that form into 2012 Boro will be hard to beat.
Mowbray has won me over with his tactics, regularly shifting from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 with a slight positional change to match up against the opposition. Boro always seem to be clued up to the opposition’s style of play and how we can counteract their play. This is something past managers have failed to do.
The belief appears to have spread from the squad to the terraces as supporters rallied behind the team on Monday as Boro snatched a late victory over one half of Boro’s former “Midget Gems” in Nicky Barmby.
A season’s best of just under 28,000 filled the Riverside stadium to watch Boro take on Hull on Boxing Day. The game looked to have had 0-0 written all over it until lion-hearted Barry Robson unleashed a rocket from all of 35 yards. The Riverside roared like it once did on those two UEFA Cup “Lazarus Comebacks”.
The follow up to the Boxing Day clash was a controlled game against Peterborough which Boro dominated for 80 minutes. Scott McDonald was once again on target and hit the woodwork on two occasions as Boro tried to kill the game.
The missed chances came back to haunt Boro as the visitors snatched a point with three minutes to go. Mowbray’s side will feel they did enough to have won the game but it was two points dropped rather than one point gained.
2011 was certainly Boro’s year and if the first five months of 2012 are the same then we can look forward to being back in the Premier League.