Middlesbrough are underrated
Today, less than 72 hours after gaining a quarter final cup-tie draw at The Valley, Middlebrough took on Champs league chasing Bolton at the Riverside and defeated them in an entertaining match by four goals to three. After going a goal down inside three minutes, Boro found themselves 3-1 up just after half-time by playing with good spirit and good passing- especially in the final third. Up against it, Bolton then went all out with their long ball game and with typical determination managed to level the game with ten minutes left.
But not to be denied, Boro - with the sort of battling spirit that shows why they are still going strong in the UEFA Cup and the FA Cup - launched an injury time attack that saw Yakubu get the ball in space on the left wing. The Nigerian striker then curled in a tempting left-footed cross for the onrushing right wing-back Parnaby to side foot home. It was a fitting end to a compelling match.
While watching the game I thought that it was about time Boro got more recognition for their form and quality of the last couple of months. In the last two months they have defeated Champions-elect Chelsea by three goals to nil; stabilised their Premiership position with three other wins in the last five weeks; knocked Stuttgart followed by Serie A consecutive-win-record-breaking Roma out of the UEFA Cup; and have earned an FA quarter-final home replay.
Steve McClaren has showed good tactical ingenuity in certain games this season: like the 5-3-2 employed today against Bolton which meant they had three good defensive headers of the ball waiting for the inevitable Bolton aerial assault; and the five midfielders option that helped to overwhelm Man Utd by four goals to one last October.
Plus, McClaren should be getting a lot of credit for his willingness to blend a lot of the talented youngsters from the Boro academy into the first team. Downing, Davies, Cattermole, and Morrison all featured in today's 4-3 win; and there are other youngsters like Johnson, Bates, and McMahon who also look to have a bright future. This youth integration policy is going to gain Boro big rewards in the next few seasons, and the example they should try to follow is that of the excellent young Leeds side of some five years ago managed by David O'Leary.
Finally, the rotating strike force of Yakubu, Hasselbaink, and Viduka is on fire at the moment- with goals and assists flowing on a very regular basis. The fact that Boro have three on-form quality strikers to rotate - plus the fantastic George Boateng back-fit to stabilise the midfield - is the reason why they should continue to be confident of progress in the UEFA Cup and FA Cup this season.
Such progression will be deserved reward for McClaren and his team after bouncing back well from a rocky mid-season. I hope they do the business against Basle on Thursday.