Article by Peter Swallow
Recovered? In total honesty I haven’t. As a life-long Middlesbrough supporter this article might sound somewhat like an unabashed personal indulgence festival. I suppose they say praise should come from onlookers, but please forgive me; it’s not everyday your club beats the Premier League champions.
Yet that is exactly what happened this afternoon, as Middlesbrough; 2nd in the Championship, strode into the home of the Premier league champions and walked out with an FA Cup 5th round place confirmed, and eternal FA Cup glory guaranteed.
Once Patrick Bamford had slid ‘Boro’ into the lead the face of thematch changed. City, dominating possession, had looked nervy when asked to defend in the first half, yet had forced Middlesbrough keeper Tomás Mejías into some wonderful saves to keep the champions out.
Yet, by the time Kike had put the visitors 2-0 up it was the away side that had looked the more dangerous throughout the 2nd half, and once the final whistle had been blow, the feeling amongst Middlesbrough supporters was one of shock and hysteria, tinged with the knowledge that it could, and probably should have been more.
Meanwhile, perennial cup seducers Bradford City had given Chelsea a two-goal head start and still managed to win 4-2 at Stamford Bridge. Phenomenal and incredible in equal measure, and a huge deal of credit should go to Phil Parkinson for orchestrating such a miraculous result.
What both results highlighted is that the magic of the FA Cup is still alive and well, something that was in serious doubt given the lack of surprises in the 3rd round.
A small side note, it’s once again been a harrowing day for the TV matchmakers. How neither Manchester City vs Middlesbrough or Chelsea vs Bradford were selected for broadcasting is an abhorrent decision, but that’s a story for another day.
Getting back on track, the overarching feeling of the opening segment of the FA Cup 4th round is that this year’s tournament is one of the most winnable in recent memory.
Southampton, Swansea, Manchester City and Chelsea have all been eliminated today, while Manchester United and Sunderland have replays on their hands against Cambridge United and Fulham respectively.
The glut of Premier League clubs that have been eliminated at this stage is startling, and while Liverpool and Arsenal fans will be prematurely rubbing their hands at the prospect of FA Cup progression, the bigger story perhaps lies with those who’ve shown no ambition in the cup once again.
Little surprise then, that I turn to Newcastle United in this regard. Unlucky in regards to a disallowed goal against Leicester City in the 3rd round but the reality is that, had they shown enough ambition to overcome bottom of the table Leicester, then they’d be considered as one of the favourites even at this early juncture. A mind-boggling, and for fans of Newcastle United and other similar minded clubs, equally infuriating thought.
The final word in this article however, belongs to Middlesbrough. The transformation in the space of 14 months has been nothing short of astronomical and is something perhaps only truly understandable when viewed from up close. From Championship strugglers to genuine promotion contenders and vanquishers of Manchester City, Yep, it’s been a superb season so far.
Credit of course, belongs to Aitor Karanka. José Mourinho’s former Lieutenant has demonstrated a tactical flexibility unrivalled for a manager with his experience, and while Mourinho’s influence cannot be understated, Karanka has learned an awful lot since his move to England.
The over-used line regarding his past relationship with the Chelseaboss however, is unfair, particularly on a manager with his own distinct style. Similar? Yes, imitator? No.
Saturday too, was a day for Steve Gibson, the long-standing Middlesbrough chairman who saved the club from liquidation had shown considerable bravery in appointing Aitor Karanka, while putting his hand back in his pocket after some recent ego denting experiences takes considerable courage too. For all you outsiders, keep an eye on the North East, as it could be a very special year on Teesside.