Boro 2 – 0 Wigan

Middlesbrough Wigan Athletic
Hugill 38′ (pen)
On target
On target

Hugill brace Penalises Latic’s

Redcar Red reports on the victory over Wigan…

Travel sick Wigan arrived at the Riverside buoyed by the hope that toothless Boro as Rotherham found out may be an easy ride and a way to end a streak of away defeats. At the back Tony Pulis had a headache with Ryan Shotton out mid to long term and Paddy McNair failing to impress in the RB role. Ironically that may have eased another selection conundrum with Danny Batth having earned all the plaudits last time out and with the other Dani now free from suspension. Would TP go with three at the back and play Fry and Friend out wide or will he pick two from four for a CB pairing? Wigan had a fair few missing in action with Captain Morsy suspended along with Dunkley both out and Will definitely wouldn’t be on fire this weekend after suffering an injury whilst away with Saville and McNair on International duty.

It was predicted that Wigan would probably come with an ultra-cautious approach after taking a few hammerings of late and who could blame them after a better than anticipated start to the season raised false hopes. Their Championship shine has tarnished somewhat of late and with new owners on board this week there was heightened awareness that too many defeats could start a chain of events that the Latic’s players and coaches alike may not enjoy. Their new owner’s moniker International Entertainment Corporation (IEC) would tend to indicate that drab and dreary negativity is not what they have in mind.

Wigan had let in eight goals in their last three games whilst Boro are chasing records having only conceded eight goals all season. The sharp end for Boro however has been the problem and somewhat blunt all season but more so recently with our Virgin Strikers failing to score at the Riverside since mid-September. Many Boro fans were wondering if TP might start with some adventurous youth to remedy that malaise or if he would stick with the much tried and by now very testing usual suspects in the desperate hope that the law of averages would intervene soon.

As it was TP went with Hugill up front supported by Braithwaite and Downing while Dael Fry continued at RB. Danny Batth retained his spot alongside Flint with Ayala having to be content with a place on the bench. Just before the game commenced there was an impeccably observed minutes silence from all four sides of the Riverside but the most poignant moment perhaps was when the game had actually kicked off and the veterans and flag bearers were still making their way off the sidelines towards the NW corner. The fans in the North and North West ignored the game, remained standing applauding the heroes until they reached the NW tunnel.

The game itself had got off to a fairly inauspicious start with both sides seemingly content to hold on to what they had which didn’t bode well for those who were about to sit through 90 minutes of magnolia football. The game did settle down after ten minutes or so as Boro started to enjoy some penetration down the flanks, putting in a few crosses in towards Hugill who managed to get his head to a most of them but none seriously troubled Walton in the Wigan goal.

Downing was now enjoying success down the right hand side with Dael getting up supporting and putting crosses in and George wearing the seemingly now obligatory Boro Captains mask doing the same down the left flank. Our Captain Marvel seems to be suffering the after effects of a forearm smash at Stoke but Ben Gibson’s former fashion accessory was discarded into Randolph’s net after just fifteen minutes.

A ball played over the top to Braithwaite saw the Danish International bring the ball down with aplomb, dart forward one on one with the keeper with the defender breathing over his shoulder but he hit his shot into the side netting in what should have been a goal but at least the intent was there as Boro now started to apply some serious pressure.

Probing balls and crosses started to pepper the Wigan 18 yard box and Hugill again had a chance just after the 20 minute mark but his header went wide across the face of the goal. Jordan’s next encounter was a clash with former Darlo player Dan Burns who caught the Boro striker full in the mouth leaving him on his backside but for good reason this time as he seemed to be spitting blood literally. Despite Boro having most of the possession now our play didn’t seemed very joined up and was more of a hopeful variety than cleverly worked moves. Indeed Wigan still had a few opportunities themselves that thankfully Dael Fry was alert to after George had marshalled a ball to safety but it somehow ricocheted off the turf and his heel to allow Windass to fire in a low cross but Dael nipped in clearing the danger with a perfectly timed tackle literally nicking the ball from the Strikers toes inside the six yard box.

Play then swung up the other end and a Boro corner saw chaos in the Wigan box as it somehow stayed out despite the best efforts of Fry and Batth. Boro should have been two up by now and the warning signs were there as Wigan’s best chance saw a glancing header invitingly sail across the face of the Boro goal with nobody in a blue shirt alert enough to knock it in. A few minutes later Friend went down the left flank beating two defenders in his gangly unconvincingly but effective stride with the luck of the ball running for him, cutting inside only to be upended by Kipre and Ref England blew for a Penalty. Downing and Hugill were engaged in a conversation with the West Ham loanee winning the opportunity to open his Championship account for Boro with the spot kick. He blasted the ball straight down the middle as Walton despairingly dived to his right to put Boro one nil up and ease nerves.

A few minutes later a 40 yard Besic ball picked out Braithwaite who again took the ball down with ease, darted towards the by line, cut it back across Walton’s goal forcing the Keeper to push the ball up and out where it fell to Hugill who calmly chested it down to hit a right footed volley to put us two nil up and you could feel the pressure lift around the Riverside to the extent that the pressure change was probably the reason for the torrential downpour which was to come in the second half.

The half time whistle went to cheers and applause especially for Hugill who looked like the real deal, holding up play, battling and now scoring as well as coming close by getting into position on a few occasions.

No changes from either manager at half time and the second half got under way with an immediate Wigan attack putting us on the back foot. Worryingly this was to be the trend for the rest of the game. Most of us were hoping for a goal-fest and a boost to our GD but we sat back, defended deep and invited Latic pressure. A rare breakout saw Hugill chasing a Clayton ball, charging in towards the Wigan goalmouth but caught in two minds he took a first touch and the ball was swept away to safety by the second defender coming across to cover and the chance was gone.

There wasn’t much from a Boro perspective to comment on proceedings on the pitch at this stage. The heavens had opened up, Besic had a mazy run through to the edge of the Wigan box and seemed to have run out of ideas and just gave up allowing Kipre to stick a leg in to clear. He repeated a similar behavioural pattern a bit later when he was again on the edge of the box running towards the by line and again just seemed to give up once a challenge was imminent. It was a shame because Mo did have some sublime moments in the game not forgetting his brilliant ball up to Braithwaite for our second.

Aden Flint managed to get himself booked for kicking the ball away much to the annoyance of the Scouse Sean Dyche, Paul Cook who was apoplectic with rage as his side sought to get back in the game. Flint had been commanding in the air but had a few wobbles playing the ball on the ground including a pass back to Randolph in the first half putting him under pressure needlessly. I’m sure those weaknesses will not have gone unnoticed by the coaching staff and Dani Ayala.

Danny Batth then took one for the team as he blocked a free kick and somehow remained upright. It was noticeable during the game that Batth’s headed clearances seemed to have a degree of precision in finding a Boro player on quite a few occasions instead of just a random cleared header. He also seemed to have a velvet gauntlet in dealing with opponents instead of blatantly manhandling them, a complete contrast in style to both Ayala and Flint.

With just over twenty minutes remaining Hugill tried to block a clearance by closing down Kipre but came off worse as the two collided and although hobbled on was soon replaced by Britt. Callum McManaman of in your face (or rather TP’s face) Sunderland celebration fame came on for the Latics and livened up proceedings by starting to turn the screw. He made a difference for the Latics by putting in some dangerous balls and kept both Downing and Fry on their mettle as we sat back in the trenches of our own making.

Lewis Wing entered the fray with fifteen minutes remaining for Braithwaite who was less imposing than he had been in the first half but in all honesty it could equally have been Howson or Besic to make way. We were sitting too deep and although defending well we didn’t have an outlet and the lack of a bit of pace on the bench and the futility of Gestede and Assombalonga sat there crossed my mind. To me Tavernier would have been the ideal sub to stretch the opposition and give our under siege defence some relief.

Wing injected some additional fight and made a few decent tackles and supported Britt on a break receiving the ball on the edge of the box and got off a shot much to Britt’s annoyance who wanted a return ball for himself. Saville came on for Besic with six minutes of normal time left and had a daisy cutter shot himself which was the most work Walton had to do all second half. News was filtering through of other results where Norwich in particular were losing, then drawing, then winning, then drawing, then losing again as the North stand tempted fate by a “we are top of the League chant” and as the final result from Carrow Road filtered through after our game had ended it was indeed a premature chant.

We won two nil; it was an unconvincing start, a decent bit of pressure followed and two welcome goals and all in all a happy ending to the first half. The second half is best forgotten about and was worryingly similar to the Rotherham game. Despite winning it still didn’t feel like any corners have been turned and yet incredibly we are second in the division. MOM is a difficult one as there were no stand outs, Clayts was his usual influential self, Fry was excellent in saving our blushes twice early on and put in a solid display at RB, Friend was flying down the wing without the safety of his mask and Downing was taking on defenders. All OK but nothing great or outstanding so for his two goals and all round efforts it goes to Jordan Hugill and let’s hope it’s the start of things to come and his injury isn’t too serious.

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