Phew Christmas is Rescued by Boro Friend
By Rob Nichols
Sunday 23 Dec 2018 10:36:00
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Boro fans were driving home for Christmas with a precious 3 points in the bag thanks to a captain's knock and goal from George Friend. And there was a whole lot of unseasonal grit on display as well as we finally stopped the rot and ended that alarming slide. Could this be a line in the sand? Could it turn out to be a hugely significant win? Is Christmas back on for Boro fans.

Another long, long journey in December and how many Boro fans like me were held up by an hour long delay on M40? We are only on the motorway for 5 miles. Five miles at a standstill.

Still it would be worth it if Tony Pulis side found the right recipe for a change.

News at the turnstiles was not good. Five at the back in a very defensive set-up that seemed to almost totally lack any creativity. Stewart Downing not even in the squad. The omens were not great and the grumbling, audible.

It has been an alarming slide of late and then came that shocking cup exit, slipping up on the banana skin at home to Burton. The pressure was on. But somehow the Christmas spirit pervaded at the Madejski, or was it just as case of their downfall is worse than ours. Without a manager and staring up from the bottom of reaches of the Championship. Perhaps the plight of the Royals is a sobering reminder that things could be a whole deal worse for Boro and Boro fans.

Boro were given an early fright when Darren Randolph's out-stretched leg came to the rescue to save us from going down to the home side. As a positive though Boro looked really lively down the right flank where Jonny Howson and Ryan Shotton were combining to great effect. In an obviously pre-planned tactic Ryan Shotton marauded forward, overlapping beyond Howson and forcing several corners or making dangerous crosses.

On the Reading left Barrow is an attacking winger that rarely tracks back. This left them vulnerable time and again in this fixture but when he got the ball and ran at us at pace it sparked the home fans to life. Yet Shotton, Ayala and McNair coped for the most part and Reading were undone time and again from the poor defensive cover on that side.

Britt Assombalonga charged into space down the right but was denied by a strong save by the Royals keeper.

Boro then had the ball in the net from a free kick. Our celebrations were cut short by a linesman's flag. For a minute Ryan Shotton thought he had capped a superb attacking display with a headed goal. Ironically he scored in the Saturday before Christmas last season and we all know what happened after that game.

Shotton's game was to go from euphoria to abject disappointment when he had to limp out of the action soon afterwards. Let's hope it is not another long lay off because he has been one of our better performers this season so far.

It was Paddy McNair that replaced Ryan Shotton in a straight swap. The former Sunderland midfielder and Man United full back has not had the most confident of starts to his Boro career and now he was thrown in to a pressure cooker situation and facing winger Barrow as well. But how well he responded and what a significant part he would play in the crucial goal.

The second half was much brighter than the first 45. Played out on a mild December afternoon Boro were now attacking the end housing our strong travelling contingent. There were chances at both ends of the park. Randolph getting down to turn a shot around the post and Flint sticking out a leg to block a goal bound effort.

For Boro we were stuttering somewhat as Howson and McNair tried to spark something down the right. Britt was banging his head against the wall as a lone forward and soon got the hook for Hughill with Besic being replaced by Wing.

There were loud boos by Boro fans at the straight swap of centre forward for centre forward. Grumbles of Pulisball and negativity and old fashioned tactics rippled around the South Stand. But I am sure everyone would concede that they were switched that ultimately worked a treat.

Sometimes when you are in a hole you have to pull up the barricades, fall back on discipline and roll up your sleeves and fight, That is certainly what Jordan Hughill brings to a game. Back to the goal, broad shoulders spread, he fought tooth and nail for every ball, holding it up and bringing others into the game in advanced areas. Lewis Wing opened areas up with his vision and craft and not a little Northern League grit to go with it too.

But it took two full backs to make that all important breakthrough goal. George Friend had already shown what he is all about by being forced off the pitch and crashing into the advertising boards only to pull himself off the deck and try to retrieve the ball. McNair had shown growing confidence when he cut inside and shot for goal. Wing caused the keeper problems with a swerving shot. Then McNair once more rampaged goalwards from a Howson flick.

Minutes later Howson cleverly played a ball around the corner to McNair, he powered in towards the posts and pulled the ball back where George Friend met it perfectly crashing t home with his wrong foot. Gettinnnn.. how he celebrated. How we celebrated. What a moment in the game, in the season.

Minutes later quick thinking by Lewis Wing almost made it two. He sprinted away from a free kick towards goal. He flicked it over an advancing defender but was denied by a smart save. George Friend then headed against the cross bar from a goalmouth scramble. Hughill was chopped at the waist by a frustrated Royal.

Reading now had to go for it and Boro had to weather some stormy waters late on. A mixture of commanding goalkeeping, strong keeping and woeful finishing kept our lead in tact. Still, our hearts were in our mouths late doors when with seconds left of time added on, Reading seemed to have the goal at their mercy only to blaze high and wide. Phew!

Boro fans were dancing between their seats to Jingle Bells Jingle Bells … Oh what fun it is to see the Boro win away. The when Chris Rea's Driving Home for Christmas came over the PA we were dancing with delight all the way back to our cars.

It has been a woeful few weeks and a terrible 8 days. The pressure was on going into this game. Tony Pulis Boro retreated into defence but found a shape and found the players with the courage and the heart to take the 3 points from the Royals. Now we are back in 4th place. We have two home games against struggling sides over Christmas. Can we now go on and give all the Boro fans a present for Christmas with 6 points hopefully followed by a couple of new signings. Suddenly a season that appeared dead as a Do Do could be revived. That is the magic of Christmas. Small steps of course but we can hope once again

George Friend has rescued Christmas.

Merry Christmas Boro fans.

Reading 0-1 Middlesbrough – scorer George Friend.

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