Back to league action and this time Blues had the chance to ruin everyone’s weekend a bit earlier than usual, thanks to Sky deciding (for some reason) to broadcast this absolute blockbuster of a match.
It was a short turn around from the last time we played Boro and the horror show from that afternoon was fresh in the mind for many. But after a slightly ‘spirited’ second half performance against Manchester City last week, Blues had a small foundation to build on.
One of the many gripes people have had with Blues is they don’t seem very comfortable in possession of the ball, however you wouldn’t think that was the case as Blues eased themselves into the game, keeping the ball well and not needlessly giving it away at every occasion.
There wasn’t a lot to shout about within the first 20 minutes, which may have been the reason why Sky decided to label the fact Ivan Sanchez killed Paddy McNair’s pinky toe, at any given opportunity. Despite the persistent labelling of this massacre by Danny Gabbidon, Blues managed to provide a bright spark and take the lead midway through the first half. A well worked move down the right hand side from Sanchez and Colin meant Scott Hogan could tap home from 6 yards to net his 3rd of the season. Who are you and what have you done with the Blues we know?
Following the goal, Boro upped their energy levels and with that came a real moment of madness, a ball floated into the back stick was nodded back across goal and Morsy’s header came back off the under side of the bar and fell thankfully into the arms of Neil Etheridge, despite Jon Toral’s best efforts to outdo his teammate between the sticks.
Blues were then happy to control the ball a lot more and see the game out until half-time.
The second half arrived and with it came the triple substitution from Neil Warnock. On came Assombalonga (here we f*cking go again) and he almost levelled the game within minutes, thankfully he latched his golden opportunity wide.
Much like the first 10-15 minutes there wasn’t a boat load of entertainment, roles did seem to reverse and it was Boro who were enjoying slightly more of the ball but not making any real significant chances.
Karanka decided it was time to make a tactical change, which saw Roberts come on in place of Jon Toral and what appeared to be a 5-4-1 without the ball and a 3-4-3 with it. A brave call considering the amount of points we’ve thrown away from winning positions this season.
It definitely seemed Karanka was happy to tighten things up in the middle of the park and allow Boro more of the ball and to try and to force a goal from a seemingly resolute Blues defence. It wasn’t long before a few half chances did fall Boro’s way, however Etheridge stood firm to Whatmore’s effort and then punched the rebound clear to give Blues a bit of breathing room, before a cross drilled across the box went out for a goal-kick.
On came Jutkiewicz for the goalscorer Hogan, who was definitely brought on to hold the ball up as much as possible and allow his team mates to get out of their defensive third.
The final 10 minutes came up on the board and Blues had half a shout for a penalty. The referee waved it away to not much appealing and on second viewing it would have been soft, but I’d put my money on those being given up the other end.
Despite the substitutions and the old cliché of the team 0-1 holding onto the game for dear life, Blues looked far the more likely to go on and add a second, a terrific run from Bela almost broke nicely, but he couldn’t quite get free from the pursuing Boro defenders.
Usually I cannot bare to watch the final 5 minutes of a Blues game when there’s only one goal in it, due to being unbearably nervy, but this was the complete opposite and we looked comfortable throughout.
In the end it was a thoroughly deserved and somewhat rare win on Teesside. Scott Hogan’s goal the difference maker and maybe, just maybe a slight spark to ignite a run of results and breed some much needed confidence into this team.
I have to say, people are quick to point out when Karanka has got it wrong, so they should definitely be just as quick to point out when he’s got it completely spot on, because today it was the perfect game plan.
Next up is Preston at home, which is a difficult task considering both teams form at home and on the road. Could Blues take 6 points off them? Let’s hope so.
Enjoy the weekend and up the Blues!