By Rob Nichols
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Boro saved their best until last. Just when it looked like there was no hope left, Boro won the game of the season to spoil Southampton's promotion party. Amazingly we suddenly have a slim chance of reaching the play offs again. But even if we fail at least we have bowed out at home with a thrilling victory.
What an incredible turn around from the dismal fayre on Tuesday night as Boro came back from a goal down to topple mighty Southampton. And I mean mighty Southampton because I do firmly believe we defeated the best team we have faced all season. They are a team that look equipped in the same way as Norwich to contest and survive in the Premier League. And what a battle it was to secure those points. And a victory that can wipe away a few of the poor, poor memories of our home season. It is something we can build upon for next season or who knows build upon in the play offs. As you would not bet against us beating Watford away and as for Cardiff they are certainly no certs to win at Crystal Palace. I cannot quite believe it but going into the last game we are still in this race, after all.
There was a massive travelling contingent making it a Saturday teatime carnival at the Riverside. Many Boro season ticket holders had seen enough on Tuesday night in the damp squib v Donny and stayed behind to watch the game on their tv screens. They were to miss out on the best league game we have seen at the Riverside in a long, long time. But all those Boro fans attending were determined to put on their own show of solidarity and passion for the football team that is deep in their hearts.
Even when Southampton's Billy Sharp scored within seconds of the kick off Boro fans did not berate but instead stayed behind their team. It was almost like an awayday atmosphere. And the spirit the Boro team showed in fighting back also seemed more reminiscent of an away game where players and fans alike always believe we have a better than even chance of victory. Collectively we need to take that on into next season and apply it each and every week at the Riverside. Oh and maybe into the play offs.
Boro had other chances before Nicky Bailey hammered a shot, low and hard into the corner of the net to rock Southampton. Half time was approaching and the away fans were silenced as Boro had the away team on the ropes. Lukas Jutkiewicz broke through against his old side but his well taken goal was flagged offside. Wrongly offside. Southampton had a lucky escape.
The long time league leaders kicked on in the second half forcing us back deep into our own half. Boro were forced into a conceding a succession of corners as Southampton powered on in search of a goal to recover their lead. Seb Hines was booked for a physical challenge on the touchline and when the Saints flooded through the centre he was lucky to stay on the field for a trip just outside the box. Ricky Lambert fired the free kick just wide of the post and Boro survived again.
Joe Bennett had come on for the injured Justin Hoyte just before half time and both he and Tony McMahon were busy sweeping up on the flanks and behind the centre backs when the Saints forwards occasionally got in behind. One saving challenge by McMahon in the first half saved a certain goal and kept us in the game. Bennett had a superb comeback after falling victim to the boo boys on his last appearance.
Boro gradually wrestled the initiative and got back on top. A double substitution took back the initiative as Rhys Williams returned in midfield and Curtis Main added a second target man up field. Barry Robson had made way for Williams having played his heart out for an hour and twice narrowly failed to put shots under the bar. He applauded the crowd on leaving the field who reacted with chants of Barry - Barry Robson. An emotional final game at home for a player that has never given anything less than his all for our club. Or will he get an encore in the play-offs?
Rhys Williams picked up the captain's armband and powered through the centre in the fashion that terrified Sunderland in the FA Cup. Another turning the clock back to those cup encounters was the returning Faris Haroun who showed a phenomenal engine in fighting for the ball over every square inch of turf.
Lukas Jutkeiwicz was really putting in a shift against his hometown club. Contesting every throughball but not getting the rub of the green on decisions as he struggled against the centre backs. That was until he was clearly held back when trying to penetrate between the centre backs. The referee rightfully awarded a free kick.
Tony McMahon had just forced keeper Kelvin Davis into a smart save with a free kick from full on 30 yards but this time Zemmama picked up the ball and waved the full back away. He was taking it and no one was going to stop him. Despite the wall taking an age to retreat Zemmama kept his cool and calmly chipped the ball into the top of the net for a fantastic finish. He celebrated wildly as did the fans. What a wonderful moment. And unlikely as it seemed before kick off the dream was on again.
Boro had to withstand a barrage in the last ten minutes plus time added on. But the defenders stood tall. Rhys instilled discipline and calm and Curtis Main provided another battering ram up front to disrupt the Southampton lines. By the time the final whistle was blown there were thousands of fans paying homage to the chant, “Stand Up if you still Believe.” Amazing!
Boro live to fight another day. A miracle in its self. But on this day we swept aside the best team in the Championship and destroyed their chances of winning the league title, Boro are back and you better believe it.
Middlesbrough 2-1 Southampton – scorers for us Bailey and Zemmama.
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