Against Leeds United on Saturday, I have not heard the Riverside like that since Brighton at home in the promotion season. The place was bouncing. The fans were up for it, the team was up for it. Tony Pulis got his team and his tactics spot on.
In the first half I felt we were the better team, crafting chances and frustrating the opposition in equal measure.
George Saville was lively around the box, fizzing a couple of shots at the keeper. Saville, Lewis Wing and Jonny Howson showed some nice neat interplay around the area without really cutting Leeds’ defence wide open.
Aden Flint missed from almost under the crossbar and Ryan Shotton had a glorious opportunity after a fine ball by captain George Friend across the six yard box from the left found him all alone with just the keeper to beat.
We came out front foot second half and got the goal through the effervescent Wing after more good work down the left and a pull-back from Friend.
We then inevitably withdrew deeper and deeper as time went on. Understandably I suppose.
A lot will point out that we sat too deep, I also agree we should have gone for a second but as the game progressed, the chasm of risk versus reward of chasing a second goal against a team of Leeds’ class going forward was too great.
We coped with a majority of what they threw at us – shots on target repelled by the colossal Darren Randolph (with yet another outrageous double save); Patrick Bamford fluffed his lines from a rebound off the woodwork.
And then came an agonising 101st minute equaliser from Kalvin Phillips.
Two games between the sides yielded two draws. PulisBall successfully nullified BielsaBall.
Result aside, that performance was needed. After the farce at Newport, renewed effort was minimum, and we got it in a massive way.
As I mentioned earlier, Tony Pulis got his team and his tactics spot on. Every player gave their all for the cause.
The aforementioned Wing was as bright as ever and George Saville was excellent providing neat touches around the box with the ball and energetic off the ball, hounding Luke Ayling every time he was in possession.
Jonny Howson put in a massive shift against his old club both defensively and offensively. Jordan Hugill was a big Boro battering ram, bouncing off their centre halves, backing in and scrapping for every single ball.
Pulis employed a high press which was a staple of our early season good form and it rattled Leeds and got them out of their rhythm. The crowd responded with every tackle, every forward pass, and every chance at goal. It was a fantastic atmosphere. That should be the blueprint going forward.
Whatever you think of Pulis, whatever your thoughts on the window, whatever your thoughts of the state of the club, they need to be put on the back burner for now. Pulis is in charge, these are the players we have currently and this is our club and they need our 100% backing from now until the end of the season.
I have been a critic of Pulis for his style of play and the club for the lackluster recruitment but there is a time and a place for this.
We are 5th in the league with a game in hand on the top 3 after taking 4 points from the teams in 2nd and 4th (Leeds United and West Brom) and we play 3rd place Sheffield United on Wednesday evening.
This is a massive period of the season, and we are more than holding our own against the team around us. A win against Sheffield United and we are bang in the hunt for an automatic place and the only way we will get there is together.
I have been skeptical about our chances of going up automatically for most of the season, but Saturday enthused me for the first time in a long time.
And it wasn’t just the players on the pitch, it was the fans in the stands. The crowd were fervent and the players responded, which only spurred the fans on more. Both groups feeding off each other, it was hair-raising stuff.
Hopefully we can continue our good away form with a win against Sheffield United which would see us climb to within a point of them with a game in hand.
Billy Sharp is in exhilarating form at the minute and we will need to be watchful. He is the top scorer in the division (22) and is currently averaging a goal every 100 minutes. That is exemplary.
Daring to look beyond the next game, there is a run of very winnable games and we could really get some momentum going heading in to the home straight.
Bristol City are currently snapping at our heels with some extraordinary form and if we can improve on our position stay in front of the chasing pack after playing the teams in 2nd 3rd and 4th, then we are in a great position for a grandstand finish.
We need the team to give their all. The team need us fuel the fire. When the team and the fans are pulling in the same direction, incredible things can happen.
2-0 win against Sheffield United. A George Saville goal if he isn’t too knackered after Saturday’s efforts.