Tangerine Dream: Blackpool Beaten
THIS YEAR started with a nightmare trip to Blackpool. It was a freezing New Years Day. Bloomfield Road was Baltic, windy and sleet lashed. The facilities were poor, we got no food and the wifi didn't work. Brittle Boro got battered 3-0 by a gung-ho Ian Holloway team with frightening pace and trickery up front on a day with absolutely no positives. It was to be the start of a jittery, injury ravaged January that cost a play-off place. I lost my house keys. I crunched the Gazettemobile in an unlit wasteland car-park and limped back over the top of the icy tundra of the A66 at minus six. Happy bloody New Year.
It ends with buoyant Boro having finally beaten Blackpool - the first victory in the league since Mogga was a player in 1987 - to lay a few ghosts, with the team in third spot having won four on the bounce at home and warmed by a pulsating 4-2 display at the Riverside. It feels far longer than just 12 months book-ended by Blackpool. And, despite the similarity of the table right now, it feels like a lot has changed for the better.
Yes, it was a nervous finale, but hey this is Boro. That's why we all got valium and whisky for Christmas. And it is the Championship where every game is decided by fine margins. In this case it was decided by shot-stopper supreme Jason Steele's superb spot-kick save from highly-rated but largely anonymous Tom Ince when the pressure was on.
That pivotal penalty save killed off a spirited second half revival by Blackpool - who have noticeably gone backwards since they monstered us in January and again in early September - it calmed nerves on the pitch and in the satnds and set Boro up to seal it with a fourth to make the score look far more comfortable than it actually was.
But look at the positives. Boro totally bossed the first half in a display of polished passing, fluid off the ball movement and assertive, attacking football that was as good as any 45 minutes this year. Grant Leadbitter's corners are brilliant. Steele is the best keeper in his league (HANDS OFF!) Big Ish scored again (his goals/minutes ratio is starting to look very good), Dormo Destroyer Richie Smallwood celebrated his 22nd birthday with a smooth strike. Enigmatic Emnes decided to have an "on" day and lit up the first half with electrickery (although he faded after the break). Scott McDonald - playing his 100th game - was excellent, hard-working in an alien role and notched again. Rolls Rhys got through his first 90 minutes for four months. Adam Reach bounced back with a goal. We got away with a penalty which despite the 'controversy' was nailed on. The scran in the restaurant - I was suited and booted and living it up in hospitality - was superb. It was a very entertaining game.
Derby next. Get set for a Rams raid.
Happy New Year.