Argh, have I really just written that as a title? Apologies, one and all. Unfortunately I couldn’t think of anything that rhymed with Alex Nimely.
It’s kind of right, mind you. Three positional changes in the starting line up, three goals for the first time in about 3000 years, and three valuable points have brought us much closer to all the other useless sods fighting against Championship relegation.
To stretch the made-up importance of the number three a little further, that now leaves our form at three wins out of five, and more notably, three home wins on the trot. Given our away tally thus far, this points collection at the Ricoh is doing enough to keep us competitive.
So, ta for your importance this weekend number ‘three’ – marvellous effort, there.
Anyway, ignore that pig’s ear of an intro. I trust everyone enjoyed Saturday as much as me?
From the moment I entered the ground and was greeted by 400 Richard Keoghs (and six Gary McSheffreys), to the evening’s Football League show where we received significantly longer than the usual ten second highlights; good old City actually kept me smiley all day long. Everything went right for once, which given our standing in the table, it’s clear that hasn’t happened in a very long time.
I don’t really think there can be much argument about any of the key decisions during the match (contrary to the objections Tony Mowbray has managed to conjure up). If Manish, Steve, and just about everyone else at the Football League show reckon they were right, that’ll do me. The Boro boss has a different view, blaming the referee’s ‘man management’ for the red, and questioning why he let the heavy stuff go in the opening 15 minutes. The alternatives are to start booking immediately, or to let the heavy stuff continue all game long. As far as I could see, he showed some leniency to begin, then when the tackles became excessive, he took a stand. Just happens two of those occasions were by the same player.
Mowbray, who actually turns 103 this year, has spent all week getting on my wick with his condescending manner. Family roots mean I’ve always had a slight fondness towards Middlesbrough, so I don’t mean them any ill-will; it’s very much Grandpa Tony who winds me up.
Anyway, I digress. The performance itself, regardless of the red card, was an enjoyable and solid one. Thorn made a few key changes in bringing Nimely and Herman straight into the starting line up, whilst removing the once again mis-firing Carl Baker and dropping Gary McSheffrey back into that floating role. This move particularly, paid the most dividends, as we were able to integrate the uber-impressive Nimely into the team without impacting too much on the relatively good form of McSheffrey. We all know what a fragile soul he can be – the worry was that dropping him out of the front line would cause him to go back to regular Gary. Luckily, this certainly wasn’t the case, and with Clive Platt having his most effective game of the season, for the first time in a long time, our attacking unit was the most impressive throughout the side.
Key to all of this was the exuberance and pace of debutant Alex Nimely. The Manchester City loanee settled immediately, and to see a young player’s confidence grow so visibly throughout a game was really quite pleasing, I’m sure you’ll agree.
The boys had to overcome a shaky start before the goodness arrived, though. Sammy Clingan appeared extremely rusty for most of the opening exchanges, and Hreidersson (who being new, will be immune from slaggery for a couple of games at least), treated us to few De Zeuww-ish moments while he re-acquainted himself to the pace of the Championship. They both turned it around though, and became more assured as the game wore on.
The opening goal was a combination of invention, pace, luck and confidence. It’s not often we attempt a one two around the box, but a quick interchange with Nimely allowed McSheffrey to burst past the Boro defence into the area. His touch was a strange one, as the ball to him had a tasty zip to it, but by luck or design it moved him into a great position where he was able to confidently stroke it home for his third goal in three at home. Nicely.
No question the turning point came with the two bookings which resulted in Kevin Thomson’s dismissal in the first half. The first was a pretty saucy tackle which fell just short of sending Cyrus Christie into orbit. Loathed am I to use the phrase “modern climate”, as I pride myself on not being Alan Shearer, but you just don’t get away with those any more. The second was probably the more contentious of the two, as it was one of those when the player’s just trying to block the clearance. But having just been booked for rash challenge, the sensible in the profession would try and keep their nose clean for a while. Thomson decided against this approach and threw himself in again, and paid the consequences.
As always, there was a concern that we’d be on the receiving end of a ref trying to ‘even things up’ after Gary Deegan was booked in the first half, so he was sensibly removed by Thorn at the interval and was replaced by birthday boy David Bell. This was to prove to be a shrewd move by Forny – something he’s been accused of lacking lately – and was just one of a string of sensible and well-timed decisions by him.
The second half was where the fun really began, as we were able take advantage of the extra man and grab two goals in seven minutes; 2-0 coming thanks to a terrific leap by Nimely which looped over the line according to the linesman, and despite the best karate kid efforts of the Boro defender. The third gave us a glimpse of Nimely’s flair as he sent Bell to the by-line with look-away reverse pass – the kind of thing Robbie Keane used to do – with the ball eventually being turned into his own net by Bates, to the great relief of Clive Platt who had just missed his chance entirely.
Needless to say, this sent us all delirious, and it must have done something to our defenders too as they lost all shape and resistance to allow McDonald to nip in and give the away fans a reason to take an interest again. Joe Murphy, having been in the form of his life over the Christmas period (apparently), crowned a pretty unconvincing individual display by somehow managing to avoid being hit by McDonald’s point blank shot. Think Vince Vaughn in Dodgeball.
But the comeback didn’t materialise, and we were able to see out the match with relative ease, and could have even managed a couple of more, with Nimely’s impressive take and shot from Bell’s curling ball, probably the closest to making it 4-1.
Julio Arca compounded the Boro fans miserable afternoon with a rash lunge on Sammy Clingan which found him come nowhere near the ball, or the man for that matter, but the intent and lunacy of the tackle was enough to see him receive a straight red. Not even the curious protestations of Clingan (clearly because he knew the game was over – I see you, Sammy) could spare Arca, and City, from the “nine-men” headlines. To the passing reader this’ll present a false impression of events, but given the difficulty we’ve had in the past to capitalise on a man advantage, I think it’s fair to say this was as strong a performance as we’ve put in this season.
I’m also especially happy to see the back of the three-goals-in-a-game hoodoo which has blighted us for so long. That was getting embarrassing.
Speaking of embarrassing, do spare a final thought for young Cyrus Christie who managed to give the entire JSB section a front-row view of his bottom as he rolled over in the opening moments of the game. Poor lad refused to go near that corner for a good ten minutes afterwards, going some way to explaining the barrage of attacks we had to withstand in that time.
Who needs complex tactical analysis, eh?