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Thought long and hard about renewing the season tickets over the summer - leaving before 8 am for the long haul upto Middlesboro with little expectation of a win and I wondered why I did.
Forward wind nine hours - the Boro centre-back with the dodgy haircut falls on his ar*e and Viduka calmly lobs the keeper to give us a win we didn't really deserve, we dance around like lunatics in celebration, the journey home doesn't seem so far and you know why renewed after all.
Same team as Tuesday, though not too confident seeing Danny Mills warming up for Boro (was convinced he'd score or injure one of ours) and thought I saw a glint in Mendieta's eye as he spotted Harte and thought back to better days at the Mestalla. However, a few minutes in and a mirage appears, despite several chances to pump it forward to the fat-boy, Kelly and centre-backs are content to keep possession. Eventually they find Pennant who wriggles past a tackle and pokes it through a gap in the defence to Sakho who passes it into the corner. Pass and move it's an easy game when you do that, shame it's been a couple of years since we've moved like that.
As the first half moves on it's clear we're not really at the races though and though Robbo is only forced to make one fabulous save, we indebted to a couple of great blocks from Camara and some wayward shouting from Juninho to keep us ahead. Even Danny Mills appears at the far post to head over to a chorus of boos from the Leeds end. Later Kelly goes down injured and we wonder if Mills will swop shirts if Kells goes off and come and play for us, as you do when you've lent a player to the other side on Sunday morning. We didn't create many chances in the first half, though the new width in the team is very apparent and Johnson and Morris are quick to look for the lively Pennant when they get the ball. However, as half-time arrives we know we'd need to improve to hold on as Juninho and Greening are getting far too much space and Mendieta will remember how slow Harte is once he stops diving for penalties.
Unfortunately the second half started in much the same vain and we held our breath as a couple of shots flew across our goal but somehow didn't end up in the back of the net. However, we were still getting pulled apart in the middle and the goal Boro deserved duly arrived, as Nemeth stumbled past a challenge on the edge of the box and this time managed to put it inside the far post. Time to regroup to earn the draw then - sadly not, as within a couple of minutes Juninho picked up a half-cleared free-kick to volley past Robinson.
Strangely at this point, I was still confident of a draw, largely based on the fact that it's always a draw at the Riverside, rather than the evidence in front of me where we were beginning to be overrun. Mendiatta missed an absolute sitter at the far post after our defence had been pulled apart and Johnson nearly got us in more trouble as he dribbled backwards into our box - maybe he was still pissed. Then strange occurrence number 2, as Lennon waited on the touchline, we wondered who was coming off, the lumbering Viduka or the tiring Sakho - strangely it was neither and Harte trotted off as we went 3 at the back, with Lennon in "the hole". Almost immediately hit picked the ball out wide, performed a step-over that left a boro defender on his bum and put in a dangerous cross.
Then a bit of luck, from a Pennant corner, Camara was left totally unmarked and was allowed to virtually let the ball bounce off his head to equalise. Middlesboro went back on the attack and after a few minutes pressure, Reid was quick to bring Lucas on for Sakho to restore the four at the back and give us some solidity. We looked likely to hang on for a draw, until the sort of moment that only happens a couple of times a season. I'd been thinking all day that Davies at CB for boro was a weakness and just wanted Viduka to get him one on one to prove it. In the end it was better than that, Davies looked to have a hopeful punt from Pennant well covered and inexplicably fell over, Dooks kept calm lobbed it over the keeper. After a couple of minutes waiting to see if Neale Barry could give them enough free-kicks to equalise we were relieved to celebrate a surprise victory.
Mills - Played OK - probably better than Kelly - though marred it with one dreadful lunging tackle on Lennon (about half his size) which he got away with
Marvellous Mendieta to the Boro born but his debut ends in nightmare of penance and Pennant - Sean Ingle
Copy from Football Unlimited of 01/09/2003.
As Middlesbrough's players sloped off, heads bowed as if in penance, something strange happened: their notoriously tetchy fans rose as one to give them a standing ovation.
They deserved it too, despite blundering away a late lead and slipping to second bottom of the Premiership. For this was a Boro side hitherto unseen this season, offering thunderous commitment and dreamy invention in equal measure.
Only the killer instinct was lacking, leaving their manager Steve McClaren tutting in irritated disbelief. "We could have had five or six, couldn't we?" he admitted. "But it wasn't to be. Now we've got to lick our wounds and start again."
Copy from Football Unlimited of 31/08/2003.
Leeds United edged home for their first victory of the season in a thrilling match in which many players caught the eye with blinding performances. Middlesbrough, still looking for their first win, were unlucky not to share the points, but credit Leeds for their persistence and determination.
Interest centred around two Middlesbrough players: Danny Mills, on a year's loan from Leeds and making his debut against his former team-mates, and Gaizka Mendieta, also on a year's loan from Lazio. The Spain midfielder played in the midweek goalless draw away to Leicester City and this was his first home game. Middlesbrough were heartened before the kick-off by the news that Chelsea midfielder Boudewijn Zenden had also agreed to join on a year's loan.
Leeds fielded the side that lined up for their goalless draw with Southampton last Tuesday night. The teams started briskly. Mills and Mendieta combined to set Joseph Desiré Job on a run but he was harshly judged to be offside. Then, after a free-kick by Ian Harte, Mark Viduka knocked the ball back to Alan Smith, but his shot went tamely wide.