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Meldrum's Verdict: Middlesbrough 3 AFC Bournemouth 3
TASTES of Middlesbrough’s iron, chemical and steel works, on which the town was built, surround the waters of the Tees river. Chimneys poke unceremoniously beyond the tops of the stands at the Riverside Stadium.
It is a town built on industry. Hard graft.
Perhaps Tony Mowbray, Middlesbrough Football Club’s greatest son, underestimated the industry of the team from the South Coast.
Never judge a book by its cover, the saying goes, and Cherries’ results on the road against Huddersfield and Watford could have created a similar smoke-screen in Mowbray’s eyes to the one that billows from nearby Teesside Power Station at Wilton.
Howe was brave here. He set up his blossoming side to cause real problems. It was probably not what Mowbray had been expecting.
Tokelo Rantie started for the first time. Brett Pitman and Lewis Grabban were alongside him in an attacking shape that saw Marc Pugh and Simon Francis retained in the wing-back roles they occupied at the end of Tuesday’s 1-0 win over Barnsley.
Howe’s decision-making, of course, was somewhat influenced by unforeseen circumstances. Ryan Fraser pulled up in the warm-up, while Charlie Daniels was, as expected, missing having been injured against the Tykes.
Against the division’s most experienced club, boasting a 27-year unbroken stay in the top two leagues of English football and with names such as Woodgate, Leadbitter and Whitehead in the starting ranks, Howe also opted for his wise man in all this Championship madness: Richard Hughes.
Hughes continues to be key to Howe’s ambitions. The Scot was superb here, oozing class and composure on the ball and marshalling those alongside him. An offensive set-up, yes, but there is never any danger of anyone getting carried away under Hughes’s midfield stewardship.
Eunan O’Kane, as he had been on Tuesday, showed strength beyond his small frame and no shortage of invention. Perhaps Cherries could have supplied Rantie with more to work with, though, as the South African’s promise of an explosive start to life at Dean Court rather petered out in the North East.
Rantie had, in many ways, already done his bit, however, when his endeavours earned Cherries a fourth-minute penalty.
He shook off Grant Leadbitter just beyond the halfway line, before swapping neat passes with Grabban. Rhys Williams then sent the striker sprawling just inside the 18-yard box and referee Graham Salisbury pointed to the spot.
Talk in the concourse toilets at half-time suggested Rantie had been felled outside of the penalty area, but replays showed otherwise.
Pitman stepped up and drilled the ball low and hard down the centre. 1-0 and eight minutes later it was 2-0.
This time, Grabban’s header back across the face of goal was clearly handled by Frazer Richardson. Pitman stepped up once again and shook the roof of the net with a powerful penalty.
The 340 from Dorset who had made the long trip north would have had high hopes when the team sheets arrived, but it wasn’t long before Mowbray’s men were back in it.
Moments after Steve Cook’s fearsome drive had narrowly cleared the crossbar, full debutant Kei Kamara made the score 2-1.
A cross from the left was only half cleared by Elliott Ward and even though Tommy Elphick’s crunching challenge on Albert Adomah as he shaped to shoot looked to have earned Cherries some respite, Kamara bundled the ball past Ryan Allsop after a frenetic goalmouth scramble.
That was all Boro needed to mount some serious pressure, but Cherries were equal to it and it took some luck from Mustapha Carayol to level the scores just after the half-hour.
Having cut inside on the right, Carayol’s speculative effort from distance cannoned off Cook and over Allsop’s head. The high hopes of the 340 evaporated in the industrial air.
Rantie was denied late in the first half by the last-ditch blocks of Jonathan Woodgate and George Friend and, as the second period got under way, a draw became a better result by the second.
Carayol’s far post effort missed the target, while Leadbitter’s free-kick was headed just past the post by Williams. It was all Boro.
A foray into the final third sparked wild shouts for a third penalty when substitute Wes Thomas had gone down under another challenge from Williams, but referee Salisbury resisted. Howe felt it had been the wrong decision.
Allsop was on his toes to deny the hugely impressive Jacob Butterfield, the midfielder having stung the hands of Allsop with a brutal effort from distance. Leadbitter’s drive then rolled past the post.
But Leadbitter made no mistake 15 minutes from time when he finished neatly at the near post having been played in beautifully by Kamara.
The goal owed much to the superb Butterfield, who robbed Pitman of possession on halfway before feeding Kamara.
Cherries had Ward to thank for them getting back on terms on 83 minutes, though.
The big centre-half showed great skill to wrong-foot Williams on the edge of the 18-yard box before surging towards goal and dinking a neat ball across the face of the six-yard box. Woodgate, desperate to clear, turned the ball into his own net.
Williams was sent off moments later having brought down Thomas with the striker bearing down on goal.
Star Man – Richard Hughes
A scholar of the game, this was Hughes’s first Championship start since December 2010 when he had turned out in another 3-3 draw, for Portsmouth at Leeds. This clash against a team boasting the experience of Middlesbrough was perfect for him.
Hughes kept it simple. But his cool nature as Boro mounted their first-half comeback helped prevent a complete turnaround by the break.
His passing rarely failed to find a black shirt, while his work-rate off the ball alongside Eunan O’Kane ensured Boro’s impressive Jacob Butterfield was unable to completely settle when looking to find front man Kei Kamara.
Cherries: Allsop 7, Elphick 7.5, Ward 7.5, Cook 7.5, Francis 7, O’Kane 7.5, Hughes 8* (MacDonald, 76), Pugh 7.5, Pitman 7.5, Grabban 7, Rantie 7 (Thomas, 60).
Unused subs: Harte, McQuoid, Fraser, Addison, Flahavan (g/k).
Booked: Pugh, Allsop, Cook.
Boro: Steele, Richardson, Woodgate, Williams, Friend, Leadbitter, Whitehead (Jutkiewicz, 90), Adomah (Varga, 90), Butterfield, Carayol (Gibson, 86), Kamara.
Unused subs: Hoyte, Halliday, Smallwood, Leutwiler (g/k).
Booked: Kamara, Leadbitter.
Sent off: Williams.
Attendance: 13,617 (inc 340 away fans)
Referee: Graham Salisbury (Lancashire).
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