THE people of Teesside returned to the Riverside last night. It was a good job their football team remembered to turn up as well.
A crowd of 28,229 sang, danced, jumped up and down and then sang again as their team went top of the Championship, at least for a few hours.
It wasn’t a perfect performance by any means from Tony Mowbray’s side, but they surely did enough to convince a few thousand to come back soon.
You never know, those who stay away may miss a title-winning season under a man who has breathed life back into a football club that was on its knees.
Mowbray wanted to make a statement last night and he started with a front three of Scott McDonald, Marvin Emnes and Ishmael Miller. This was not a night for caution.
And it took just 12 minutes from the home side to take a lead.
It began with great play from Josh McEachran who, despite being under pressure in midfield, turned into space and played a ball to the feet of Emmanuel Ledesma, who had spotted the run of Justin Hoyte. The right-back collected a perfect pass from his team-mate who had threaded a ball through Wednesday’s defence.
And, with everyone expecting him to cross, Hoyte produced a quite marvellous swerving shot with the outside of his boot that left Chris Kirkland grasping for thin air.
“We are top of the League,” chanted the Boro fans. It’s been a while since that song has rung out on Teesside.
But as if a warning was needed that there was work still to be done, Jason Steele was called into action on 24 minutes when Jay Bothroyd shot from outside the box.
And then on half-an-hour McEachran, on loan from Chelsea, produced a moment of brilliance.
He took on four yellow shirts on a run that took him deep into the Wednesday penalty box, beating every single one with fancy footwork that was more Messi than Middlesbrough, only to run out of space to get off a proper shot.
Such was the confidence coursing through the veins of Boro’s players that Grant Leadbitter thought nothing of shooting from 30-plus yards, although his 35th-minute effort was on the ambitious side.
But it was the men from South Yorkshire who were to finish the half strongest.
Five minutes before the break, Antonio’s curled shot from distance was palmed away by Steele.
From the resultant corner, taken by Bothroyd, Anthony Gardner flicked on to the back post where Llera managed to get a shot across goal that slipped two inches at most wide of the opposite post.
There was a blow for Middlesbrough at half-time when captain Jonathan Woodgate didn’t reappear after the break, Seb Hines coming on as the defender’s replacement.
But the big setback was to come three minutes into the half when the new-look Boro defence couldn’t get themselves organised as Antonio chested the ball into Gary Madine’s path, and the striker came up with a neat finish from 10 yards.
However, nothing was going to ruin Boro’s Friday night – and they soon retained their lead.
It was on the hour when, after many, many passes, Ledesma slipped a lovely ball through the Wednesday defence to McDonald, who poked his shot under Kirkland, but rather greedily Ishmael Miller stole the goal as the ball was about to cross the line.
Miller was silly because he didn’t need to do that and, in fact, could easily have been flagged for offside.
Ledesma saw a shot deflected wide on 69 minutes and with 15 minutes to go the result was sealed.
Leadbitter’s excellent corner was met powerfully by substitute Lukas Jutkiewicz, whose header from close range gave Kirkland no chance.
Last night’s attendance was affected by the well-publicised price cut in tickets. However, nothing gets the punters in like good football and winning results.
Middlesbrough can boast both traits right now.
MIDDLESBROUGH: Steele, Friend, Bikey, Woodgate (Hines 46), Hoyte, Emnes (Haroun 73), McEachran, Leadbitter, Ledesma, Miller (Jutkiewicz 66), McDonald. Subs (not used): Leutwiler, Zemmama, Bailey, Parnaby.
Goals: Hoyte 13, Miller 60, Jutkiewicz 76.
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY: Kirkland, Buxton, Llera, Gardner, Jones, Bothroyd (Jermaine Johnson 73), Barkley (McCabe 83), Semedo, Corry (O’Grady 82), Antonio, Madine. Subs (not used): Davies, Taylor, Rodri, Mattock.
Goal: Madine 48.
Referee: Carl Boyeson (E Yorkshire).