At 19:45 on a cool summer’s evening at the Riverside, Middlesbrough started their home campaign against Sheffield United – and by the 25th minute the 3 points were in the bag.
A ruthlessly efficient first half performance took the Blades by surprise and put them out of the game. For large parts, we dominated the ball. Every single player gave their all for the cause, and carried out their role with gusto.
Strong tackles, lung bursting runs both attacking and defensive, and aerial prowess all on display. There was something almost attractive about the energetic, workmanlike performance.
If there were any question marks over Martin Braithwaite’s commitment to the cause, then his display last night will put these doubts firmly aside. His performance was one full of energy and running.
He showed his predatory instinct when pouncing for the opening goal, but he showed some lovely touches in and around the box. His tracking back (at one point chasing a player to our byline) was great to see. A complete performance.
Britt also gave a solid performance. He held up the ball when possible and was direct in his play, causing problems all along the back line.
I would like to give a mention to Gorgeous George. As much as Tony Pulis is very animated and expressive on the sideline, George was as expressive on the pitch.
Lewis Wing (who I will talk about a bit later) had tracked back and won the ball back for his team, and when the opportunity presented itself, Friend was straight over to reinforce the behaviour by slapping him on the back and congratulating a job well done.
George’s gesticulating to the team when putting a shift in is encouraging the never say die attitude that has been evident in the last 15 minutes of the Millwall game and large parts of last night’s game
The aforementioned Lewis Wing was a welcome bundle of energy. He kept things relatively simple and put some dangerous balls in to the box. Seemed very unhurried on the ball and was comfortable in possession. He won the ball back when needed and wasn’t afraid to stick a foot in. His delivery from corners led to 2 of the goals.
An all action performance from someone who has been chomping at the bit for a while now and his now getting his rewards. And long may it continue.
Jonny Howson was superb. Defending or attacking, Howson was pivotal. The transition from defence to attack at times flowed naturally through him and was dictating play at times.
At one point, a friend of mine leaned in and said cheekily “I was worried when we got rid of Howson, but Rakitic seems to be playing well in his place”. Hopefully the knee isn’t too badly injured and he’s back soon pulling the strings.
And to a person that I have been highly critical of for a long time, Ryan Shotton.
He was up there for Man of the Match for me last night. His industry down the right hand side and accuracy of delivery caused chaos in the Sheff United box first half, grabbing an assist with a deep ball from the right for Downing’s smart finish.
In the 2nd half, he took on 3/4 opposition players with some great feet that got the Riverside faithful off their seats. More of that please.
Creditable mentions to Adam Clayton who was his usually disruptive self, Aden Flint grabbing his first goal in Middlesbrough colours and being a colossus in the air, and Darren Randolph for two good saves despite having not much to do for most of the game.
The whole team put the work in and the entire team deserve the credit.
If I’m nit picking, I would have liked a couple more goals. After our three goal opening salvo, Sheffield United were there for taking. Shell shocked and on the ropes, we took our foot off the pedal for the last 10 minutes of the first half.
The last 15 minutes of the 2nd half we were a little slack also as we almost gifted the opposition a consolation goal. A chance was there for us to stick 5+ past a team who were very poor for large parts of the game.
So with 3 points, a clean sheet and a very good performance in the bag, the attention turns back to the window.
For Boro, having brought in local lad Jordan Hugill and being linked with Yannick Bolasie and former favourite Albert Adomah among others, the window could be set for a frantic finish before the return of Garry Monk to our shores.
Another performance like that will see us come away with the 3 points. We’re off and running, lads and lasses!