COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY
We started the half on the front foot, dominated, ended the half on the front foot but somehow failed to score. We had chances; Pienaar had the ball in the net but it was ruled out for a foul on the keeper. Pienaar again but this time he hit the outside of the post; Gosling was put clear after good build up but he seemed to freeze a little and dragged well wide.
Neville was allowed to progress from midfield and his shot was just wide, Neville claimed a corner by way of deflection but the ref ruled goal kick.
The ref, one Mr Riley, seemed determined to ref this game by the letter of law and the watching assessor in the stand rather than the feel and tempo of the game which resulted in frustration and bewilderment for both sides. Fellaini with his ungainly approach soon totted up enough minor fouls for the ref to issue card number nine for the season!
Someone had got me a 'Tear-Away Ref' for Christmas to relieve frustrations. I imagined using it should Clattenberg reappear but I was getting plenty of practice today with 'Old Mother'.
We still persisted for the remainder of the half and saw Gosling have one deflected wide and the odd sight of Lescott shooting the wrong way when well placed in the six-yard box.
For all our dominance, the Boro' had one chance when Fellaini got little distance on a clearing header from a corner and O'Neil fired in hard and low through massed ranks which brought a great diving save from Howard to turn it around. He must have seen it late and it says a lot for his concentration as he had been grossly underworked on a day when the temperature seemed to be dropping by the minute.
The half came to a close with us on top and the ref still whistleing but he had introduced us to a new offence, thou shalt not breath heavily on a goalkeeper. Half-time and we wondered would we pay for our missed chances?
Boro did start as though they had recieved a rocket at the break but this just lasted a couple of minutes and it was back to us on top. Five minutes in and a poor cross from Baines is booted out for a corner by a spooked Riggot. Arteta took it, one of his better ones, missed out the first men and with the Blues having no-one near the keeper due to the new rule, Cahill rose majesticly and powered in a header their keeper with no excuses left spilled the ball, a scramble ensued Cahill had a couple of stabs at it but the third one found the net, no whistle, no cornerflag punching just unbridled joy for players and fans.
Could we now go on and make it safe? Well we stayed on top, Gosling had two more scorable chances but failed. As the half wore on, although looking comfortable, we did tend to drop that bit deeper. Southgate hauled off Tuncay for Alves amid much booing from the Boro faithful. Alves although looking big and strong seemed to want to hit the deck more than hit the net.
Still we looked capable of opening them up and the home fans could see this so either booed or left. Southgate threw on winger Johnson and he did look lively and when he went down in the box with Arteta in close attendance... I feared the worst as the Ref charged forward pointing, but he chose to book Johnson for diving so I stuck two bits of him back to my 'Tear-Apart Ref'.
Four minutes went up. Big Vic was got ready, and you just wondered, even a little bit — after all our dominance and a poor Boro side having one last hurrah — could they spoil our day?
Almost the last minute of injury time, Bic Vic still not used, a long hopeful ball into our box is headed on. Alves is clear, all breath is held, he boots it high over the bar... the party begins.
What to make of the match? A good all-round performance with a Gosling debut (he could have been a 'Hat-trick Hero') that looked promising and at 18 years of age, if the manager gets the right times to put him in and take him out, I think we might just have a midfield talent on our hands.
After both Pienaar and Arteta looked poor against Chelsea, today they looked different class and I made Pienaar my Man of the Match, he seemed on a one man crusade to show his worth.
The manager and players will be heartened by the support given to them by the faithful as all the player and manager songs were sung out with gusto. The Riverside might be in the middle of a dreary industrial park miles from anywhere but the Blue hoards lit it up.
Sunderland next in short order and barring any unseen knocks we should have enough to register much needed home points... but isn't that the snag — we are at home.
See you tomorrow. UP THE BLUES.
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