Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

The Comeback Kids - a Tale of Three Prodigals

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

The Comeback Kids - a Tale of Three Prodigals

Article excerpt

Byline: Anthony Vickers The Big Picture

ROUGH, gruff and hard as nails - but even the most hard bitten of fans are suckers for a sentimental moment.

So the tense sub-plots from smarting supporters stung by the Boro boss's barbs, and the fall-out from relentless mounting emotional pressures of the relegation battle were all put on the back burner for the day.

Instead it was a series of big, beaming smiles and manly group hugs with some old muckers.

It was all figurative back-slapping, firm hand-shakes and rosy reminiscing that got us through what was for long spells a pretty mundane match.

First there was the return to first team action of Teesside's most popular Greek restaurateur and occasional statuesque shot-stopper, the Dimi-god Konstantopoulos. When the keeper's name was announced over the PA before kick-off there was a Riverside roar that threatened to take the roof off.

It was a spontaneous explosion of genuine, universal goodwill for last season's promotion winning clean sheet machine.

Dimi is a big man and as macho as they come but no doubt even he was moved by that lump-in-throat reception.

Not least because, for all his importance in the Riverside revival of recent years, it had looked very unlikely we would see the popular keeper in action again. Boro fans, at heart, are fundamentally fair and always want people to get the chance to say their farewells.

And, for all the industrial armour that supporters wear, sometimes they can be big softies.

People like Dimi. He's a nice bloke. Teesside has adopted the big hairy hero and taken him to their hearts. His greeting was like a big warm cuddle. He has been here - Boro and Hartlepool - long enough to qualify for a passport and so he is "one of our own."

Dimi was sidelined in the summer as the management decided they wanted to bring in two new keepers with top flight experience. Harsh? Maybe, but you have to let the manager build his own team.

When Dimi didn't play in the League Cup earlier in the year - and Boro got knocked out - it seemed we had seen the last of him. Then he didn't appear in the FA Cup third round against Sheffield Wednesday either.

That seemed to leave things unfinished. There had been no farewell. And that felt wrong. Everyone knows Dimi was key to the Karanka revolution. Everyone talks about the centrality of the clean sheet to Aitor's philosophy - well Dimi is that mantra made human.

In that first season when the boss was propping up ruptured foundations Dimi - brought on to the staff just to help out in training - found himself suddenly catapulted into action and he kept five clean sheets in 13 games as Boro turned the oiltanker season round.

The following season Boro laid down tactical barbed wire and ground their way to Wembley and Dimi kept 20 clean sheets in 45 games (although he may not watch back the highlights of the play-off final too often.) Then last season as Boro finally ended seven years of Championship purgatory with promotion Dimi was an absolute giant with 22 clean sheets in 46 games. That's incredible. He was one of the heroes of promotion.

So he deserved his curtain call at the Riverside. There are plenty who believe he deserves a Premier League outing too - especially now Brad Guzan has taken up residence by the exit door - and while that is unlikely, the opportunity for the fans to show their appreciation was nice. …

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