Magnificent Ten Men Boro Dig In at Villa
By Robert Nichols
Wednesday 13 Sep 2017 15:47:00
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It was a game that was turned on its head in the 4th minute. The red card for Adama Traore turned Boro attack to ten men defence. At times we had some very fortunate escapes but we surely earned our luck after playing with such grit and determination in the face of a storm from the elements and a tidal surge from Aston Villa. Boro might not have managed back to back wins but last night’s point feels like three.

Boro fans were so excited by the win at Bolton that even with a weather warning many made a snap decision to go and paid on the door. Much of the pre-match buzz surrounded Adama Traore and what he might potentially do to John Terry.

Right from the kick off an unchanged Boro went at the home team. An early corner was met with the full force of Ben Gibson’s head and only a flying save denied us an early lead. But it was from a corner that the Adama Traore incident occurred. The ball was scrambled away to the wing and Traore raced across the pitch to make a block. But rather than blocking the ball he took out the man. The home fans immediately were baying for their former player’s blood. The referee waved everyone away, took his time with the linesman and then much to our astonishment held up a red card.

Many Boro fans weren’t even in the ground, others didn’t immediately realise what had happened. It was far too far away through a rain and windswept night to see it properly and it had all happened so quickly. Traore rightly got a yellow card for being out of control at Bolton but at Villa he had been sent off from virtually his first action on his return to his old club. It seemed harsh at the time, it seems harsher still watching replays where he misses ball and man with his front foot but catches the player only with his trailing leg.

Anyway, he had to walk and from almost that moment on it would be all hands to the pumps. Garry Monk had stressed before kick off that it was all about the team and not individuals and that is exactly how it panned out as everyone dropped into a tight defensive formation and resisted everything that Villa and the weather could throw at them.

Gibson and Dael Fry were like the twin peaks. Clayton and Leadbitter grafted tirelessly ahead of them. Fabio and Christie still tried to spring forward with attacks and Stewy Downing closed players down all over the park. When the ball did get through our vice like grip Darren Randolph wrapped his arms around it. The Boro keeper made one amazing reflex save from a Villa forward who suddenly appeared well in front of our defence. It looked very offside. Anyway, Randolph made his astonishing block but then appeared to grab and pull the Villa man to the ground for a stonewall penalty. So stonewall that some Boro fans chanted “that was a penalty.”

Garry Monk made a change at half time sending on speedster Marvin Johnson for Stewy Downing and immediately we attacked from kick off. A brilliant run and centre by Cyrus Christie was so close to finding the boot of Assombalonga in the middle. The Middlesbrough centre forward was putting in an epic shift or strong man front runner.

Garry Monk must have thought there was no way we could hold on for 90 minutes all out defence, hence his attacking substitution. A substitution that was to bear fruit when Marvin Johnson cut a swathe through the centre only to be scythed down by Henri Lansbury. It was a bad tackle, not just a trip as Steve Bruce said but he wasn’t the last man. Yet the “last man” is no longer relevant to the rules (thanks Henry Carden for this clarification). However, just as with Traore a yellow would have been the accepted norm from most referees in most matches. But now we were evens.

Lewis Baker ran across to our fans to beckon us to lift our roof and we duly did. Baker also put in one heck of a shift all over the right hand side of the pitch. Although we were now 10 v 10, Villa’s extra man for nearly an hour meant they had a significant edge in fitness and that told as Boro were forced back again.

We had some incredible escapes in the second half. On two occasions the ball richoted around the box, striking players and woodwork but somehow evading the back of the net. One goalbound Villa effort looked a certain goal until it careered straight into a claret and blue team mate.

By the same token Britt blasted a path through the middle and a cannon ball shot brought a top class save to keep it out.

We were relieved there were only adjudged to be 4 minutes time added on. Somehow. And we continued to just about hung on in there until the final whistle sounded.

A great performance then, in real adversity. Boro had melded togther. We had combined to deny eleven man Villa. While you have to feel extreme sympathy with Traore we had passed a real test as a team. Win on Saturday against QPR and this becomes the most precious of points gained. It also signals that this team is on its way.

Aston Villa 0-0 Middlesbrough

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