Sunday, 12 April 2009

There is hope

A dead cat bounce or the start of the greatest of escapes? Yesterday's 3-1 victory over Hull City may yet prove to be too little, too late but at least, for the first time in too long, there was a semblance of fight and spirit from the home side.

With Gary O'Neil suspended, Tuncay was finally given the opportunity to reprise his Euro 2008 role in the heart of midfield. Gareth Southgate kept faith with goal-shy Afonso Alves while recalling Marlon King. King's recall was no surprise after he left Hull in acrimonious circumstances in January.

It was King and Alves who combined to help Boro make the perfect start. Pouncing on a loose ball after Tuncay hustled Ian Ashbee, King released Alves. Matt Duke could only parry Alves' shot into the path of Tuncay, the Turk opening the scoring with a simple finish and risking the ire of Sue Watson and Phil Dowd by celebrating with the crowd.

The lead didn't last long as old frailties showed again. Hull's corner was only partially cleared and Nick Barmby returned the ball into the box for Manucho to power a header past the helpless Brad Jones. With the back four still prone to jittery moments, Jones was called upon to deny Craig Fagan with a sprawling block.

Nevertheless, it was Boro who took a lead into half time. TV replays suggest the linesman was just correct to award a corner, which Tony McMahon swung in and Matthew Bates swept in at the near post.

As so often this season, Boro sat perilously deep in the second half, paralysed by fear of conceding an equaliser. For all Hull's pressure, there was little penetration, the closest to a second goal coming when Jones flapped unconvincingly at a cross and David Wheater had to clear from the line.

There were still opportunities on the break. There was a trademark run from the left flank from Alves, ending with a trademark shot smashed into the centre half's legs. Stewart Downing might have done better from an acute angle.

When the relief of a third goal came (for the first time in a league game since Manchester City were clobbered 8-1 last May), it was the returning George Boateng who made a crucial error, dallying on a pass from Duke with Aliadiere in close attendance. King picked up the loose ball to slot past the exposed Hull goalkeeper, much to the chagrin of Phil Brown. His sour post-match comments didn't reflect well on the Hull boss, although its hard to be too critical of anyone questioning King's character.

It was a messy game, typical of those involving struggling teams at this stage of the season. There were moments of tentative defending and the midfield still does not entirely convince. Whether Tuncay can save Boro's season from a deeper position is not clear but he at least injected a sense of urgency into a frequently insipid midfield. There is still a very long way to go to survival. For now, there is at least still hope.

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