5 Best Middlesbrough Performances of the Season
It was a case of so near yet so far for Middlesbrough this season in the Championship as they appeared destined to finish in the automatic promotion places only to narrowly miss out and lose 2-0 in the playoff final to Norwich City.
However, Boro fans will no doubt look back on their first full season under manager Aitor Karanka as a thoroughly positive one. Here, we take a look at the best five performances Middlesbrough enjoyed during the 2014/15 campaign.
Middlesbrough 4-0 Brentford (Football League Championship, Riverside Stadium, 20th September, 2014)
We begin with the merciless rout against Mark Warburton's Brentford. At the time it appeared to be a game true to the form book. Brentford were a side that had just been promoted from League One and were still finding their feet. Middlesbrough were the experienced Championship club that had a settled playing squad and management team.
A low key first half saw Middlesbrough enter into the half time interval with a 1-0 lead thanks to Grant Leadbitter's opening goal. It only took 5 minutes into the second half for pacey winger Albert Adomah to double their lead before strikers Patrick Bamford and Kike added to the scoreline to complete what would be one of Middlesbrough's most convincing wins of the season. The result proved to be even more impressive as Warburton guided Brentford to the playoffs on the last day of the season.
Liverpool 2-2 (14-13 on pens) Middlesbrough (Capital One Cup 3rd Round, Anfield, 23rd September, 2014)
Having previously defeated Oldham 3-0 and Preston 3-1 in the first and second rounds of the Capital One Cup respectively, Middlesbrough were drawn a plum tie against Champions League side Liverpool away in the 3rd Round. The odds were stacked against Middlesbrough with some bookmakers offering odds as high as 12/1 on a Middlesbrough victory despite Liverpool being expected to field a weakened side due to their European commitments.
Nobody could have predicted the madness that would ensue over the course of the game. Liverpool youth player Jordan Rossiter opened the scoring for Liverpool after just 10 minutes before Middlesbrough wide man Adam Reach levelled the tie on the hour mark. The scores remained level as the game went into extra time. Liverpool then appeared to seal the win when Suso restored the Reds lead in the 109th minute. However, Bamford clearly had not read the script and he secured an unlikely equaliser in the third minute of stoppage time in extra time to take the game to penalties.
The penalty shootout then followed the chaotic pattern the previous 120 minutes of football had delivered. Bamford went from hero to villain as he missed Middlesbrough's first penalty with Liverpool scoring all of their first four penalties. The drama then took another twist when the talented Raheem Sterling missed Liverpool's fifth penalty and Jelle Vossen converted Middlesbrough's fifth penalty to take it to sudden death. Nine penalties on each side were then scored before Suso scored from the spot for the second time in the shootout only for Adomah to miss his second attempt. Liverpool had won the game and progressed to the next round but Middlesbrough left Anfield with their heads held high and a place in the Capital One Cup record books.
Middlesbrough 2-0 Derby (Football League Championship, Riverside Stadium, 13th December, 2014)
The build up to this match was extraordinary. Derby had suffered a gut-wrenching defeat to QPR in the 2013/14 Championship playoff final and they were considered by many to be the firm favourites for promotion for this season. Middlesbrough were being tipped by many pundits to be Derby's main contenders for the Championship title. It was felt that whichever side could take the points in this game would gain a huge advantage in the title race.
Middlesbrough only needed 6 minutes to take the lead when Bamford broke the deadlock. Leadbitter added a penalty just after the hour mark to round off a commanding 2-0 win in what has widely been labelled by Boro fans as the most impressive league performance of the season. The defeat for Derby ultimately contributed to them just missing out on a playoff spot and also allowed Middlesbrough to stretch their unbeaten run in the league at the time to seven games.
Manchester City 0-2 Middlesbrough (FA Cup 4th Round, Etihad Stadium, 24th January, 2015)
The 2014/15 season was a season that will go down in British football memory as the season that rekindled the nation's love affair with the FA Cup. The world's most famous cup competition saw a number of high profile shock score lines including Cambridge holding Manchester United to a 0-0 draw, Bradford City beating Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge, and Middlesbrough going to the Etihad Stadium and taking the scalp of Premier League title holders Manchester City.
Even more impressive for Middlesbrough was the fact that when such giant-killing feats occur usually, the stronger side fields a slightly weakened team. Middlesbrough had battled bravely earlier in the season in the Capital One Cup against a weakened Liverpool side but could still not manage a victory so the prospect of an upset in this match seemed almost impossible.
In true FA Cup shock fashion, the impossible became possible. A Manchester City line up that included some star names such as Sergio Aguero, David Silva, and Vincent Kompany could not break down the sturdy Middlesbrough back line in the first half. Karanka's side then unleashed a flawless display of counter attacking football in the second half that saw Bamford give Middlesbrough a stunning lead just after the break with Garcia Martinez sealing City's fate in the last minute to make it 2-0. It was Middlesbrough's sixth clean sheet in seven games at the time and the result would go down as one of the biggest upsets in the history of the FA Cup.
The match undoubtedly proved a winner with the bookmakers. Combined with the other shocks of the round, the bookmakers enjoyed a bumper weekend of takings as a number of favourites were knocked out and online sports betting accumulators across the country failed to produce any winnings. William Hill (and some of their other UK competitors) had priced Manchester City as the 2/7 favourites and one bookmaker even notoriously offered enhanced odds of 15/1 on a City win as part of a promotion to entice new punters. The bookmakers were certainly the last ones laughing come full time.
Norwich City 0-1 Middlesbrough (Football League Championship, Carrow Road, 17th April, 2015)
The best performances of a season are often dominated by the thrilling and attacking displays that kept fans on the edge of their seats as a side entertained the supporters from start to finish. This final submission on the list is one that might be considered more for the purists.
In a season when they only conceded 37 goals in just 46 games, Karanka's Middlesbrough had earned a reputation for being hard to break down. They managed 18 clean sheets across the whole season in the league alone and this hard-fought win against fellow promotion-chasing rivals Norwich was the pinnacle of that defensive supremacy.
The gritty 1-0 win might not have been full of high tempo and fluid attacking play but it was all about an organised, cohesive, and resilient unit battling until the very last minute to secure a win that went a long way to helping the side secure their place in the play offs. Unfortunately, Karanka's side could not replicate the defensive brilliance from this game in the playoff final against Alex Neil's side but it will certainly be a game that a lot of Boro fans will remember fondly and sums up a season that so very nearly delivered a dream of promotion back to the Premier League.