Boro’s play-off hopes are hanging by a thread. 3 defeats in 5 games have led to Chris Wilder’s side facing a must-win clash with Cardiff City tonight at the Riverside that the manager has called “season defining”.
This isn’t one of those speculative must-win games that are plastered on games between form sides in December. This is it.
If Boro can’t win their game in hand tonight, they will be 4 or 5 points behind Sheffield United in 6th with two games remaining, with Blackburn and Millwall also in the mix.
Even winning tonight doesn’t guarantee anything else besides extending the race and putting pressure on those other sides, with Sheffield United able to restore their lead on Friday against QPR before the rest of the fixtures at the weekend, but Boro MUST WIN or the season is officially done.
In a perhaps charmed coincidence, tonight’s rescheduled match with Cardiff falls on the 16th anniversary of the immortal comeback against Steaua Bucharest.
Just like that night at the Riverside, as Massimo Maccarone drove “a stake through the heart of Dracula’s boys”, Middlesbrough Football Club needs everyone to stand up and be counted. It’s time for heroes to emerge.
We need Isaiah Jones to spin the Cardiff defenders out of their boots and send them back to Wales with a crippling sensation of vertigo.
We need a stalwart performance from Dael Fry, Paddy McNair and Anfernee Dijksteel at the back or for Sol Bamba to stamp another exclamation mark in his extraordinary comeback story with a top-drawer showing against his old club.
We need Luke Daniels to hold firm between the sticks, Tav and Riley McGree to stretch the Cardiff midfield with crisp passing and for Jonny Howson to continue his submersion into the Fountain of Youth.
Marc Bola needs to have faith in his attacking abilities and drive the Bluebirds back towards their own goal. We need some local lad, dreams come true antics from Josh Coburn.
WE need SOMEONE, ANYONE to score a fucking goal or two.
Most of all, we need every single person tonight to rise to the challenge and that includes all of the supporters within the Riverside as well.
We can’t sit there and hope Boro pull something out the bag or act like the opportunity to make the play-offs are already gone. We can’t afford for the lads to play the game out in front of a flat atmosphere and groans like they have against Hull and Huddersfield.
There’s no replays, re-dos or “we’ll get ’em next time” at fulltime tonight. The Boro support, home and away, has been very good this season especially since Wilder took over. There’s been some special afternoons and nights at the Riverside in the past 6 months and in that time we’ve become just as good at patting ourselves on the back for it.
Of course it’s a two way street and flat performances dampen atmospheres, with the games against Hull and Huddersfield being two of the poorest showings of the season, but we’ve also seen how a defiant Riverside can supercharge this team and shock them into life.
Boro have been able to navigate tricky fixtures against Swansea, Forest, Bournemouth and Coventry to the backdrop of a raucous Red Army entrenched on home soil. They blew away Derby on a day that could have left us with major egg on our faces as the stadium bounced and swayed in unison.
They fired back against Reading and West Brom on a wave of noise that crashed into the opposition and left them overwhelmed. They outboxed Spurs in the Cup in front of a packed house and while Josh Coburn delivered the knockout shot, it was the constant body blows that were created by a red-hot atmosphere that had the Premier League side on the ropes.
That’s the impact we can have and the lads are going to need it. Despite being “on the beach” with their season mathematically done and dusted, Cardiff will come to make things as difficult as possible tonight.
They’ve got players who’ll be trying to make their case for regular minutes next season and ex-Boro boys Jordan Hugill and Aden Flint who will have a point to prove on their old stomping ground.
They must be met by an immovable object – the Boys in Red, possessed by the Spirit of Teesside, with a Red Army at their back who will drag them through with consistent support and proper Boro passion. As we’ve seen this season and know from the glorious night against Steaua, when this club is united, it can’t be stopped. Teesside vs. The World and the world starts one goal behind.
I know it’s all well and good me saying this right now, for a midweek fixture when everyone will have had a long day at work/college/school but this is what we live for. This is it. All or nothing, do or die and everyone has to stand up and be counted.
I’ll be coming off a 12 hour shift where I’m expected to speak at length in front of people. I’m already sick of the sound of my own voice but another 90 minutes of singing, shouting and swearing at officials won’t hurt.
It’s a time for heroes, after all.
Photo Credits: Tom Banks (@banks_photo), Teesside Live/The Gazette, Middlesbrough Football Club