Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Boro Must Get Mean - It's Time to Dig in and Fight Tooth and Claw; Anthony Vickers the Big Picture

Newspaper article Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)

Boro Must Get Mean - It's Time to Dig in and Fight Tooth and Claw; Anthony Vickers the Big Picture

Article excerpt

Byline: Anthony Vickers

THE mood music on Teesside grew as dark and grey as the South London skies as Boro struck a bum note.

Boro are now in an operatic descent into a climactic finale.

The Fat Lady isn't singing yet.

She may not even be in the taxi.

But you have to suspect she is squeezing into the bodice and doing scales in her bedroom.

She may not have been doing the soundtrack at Selhurst Park, but the Fat Man was whistling a merry tune. He wasn't quite twerking with the mascot, but he wasn't far short.

Sam Allardyce was a relieved man. He knows he has slithered off the hook. A successful Palace coup launched by Boro would have pushed the Eagles right into the icy depths and there may well have been no way back.

Now they are out of the dropzone, level on points, and will have sensed a whiff of survival.

What Boro can smell is something else. Fear. And the putrid wisps of panic that are starting to waft across Teesside.

The audio track isn't great either. The team is creaking audibly while ever more anxious fans are wailing and gnashing their teeth and, in the distance, is the sound of hammering - nails into coffins, gallows being assembled - the grinding of axes and the sound of emergency klaxons going off from Ragworth to Redcar.

Any complacency has long gone. The safety cushion was ripped away on the weekend they lost at Spurs and the teams below them got a jump-start.

Now Boro are in a full scale, cut-throat battle to survive - and it has got off to a sickening start.

The survival stats were all based on Boro banking precious points from the five massive matches against teams in the bottom seven. Those will have to be hastily rewritten.

If Boro can't beat a side that has lost seven on the spin at home - and that shipped four against Sunderland - then they are in serious trouble.

An injury-enforced switch of system proved fatal as the wingbacks buckled, the defence was dragged out of shape by highspeed attacks down the flanks and battered by an aerial attack. And then Crystal Palace scored.

That wasn't in the 80 page dossier the players get handed before a game. That wasn't in the script.

Before the game it seemed the game was set out to be a tactical stand-off, a no-first-strike policy straight out of the Cold War.

The pre-match build-up felt like both bosses were outlining the desirability of a strategic stalemate: mutually assured destruction.

Both sides knew that open warfare opened the possibility of a cataclysmic defeat that would usher in a new dark age for either or both.

The poker-faced pre-match press statements stressed the need for a balance of power, for a result that could preserve the status quo. Neither could risk defeat. "We need to respect the point," said an ashen-faced and edgy Allardyce. …

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