CHRISTMAS for Middlesbrough fans usually ends with jokes involving the words ‘turkey’ and ‘stuffed’.
So as Barry Robson’s thunderbolt almost broke the net of Hull City’s goal with just three minutes to go, the Riverside erupted as if Boro had won promotion.
A bumper crowd of almost 28,000 lifted off the roof after a scrappy and disjointed game came to life at the death.
In truth, the Teessiders did little to deserve all three points and former Boro maestro Nicky Barmby was bitterly disappointed to see his team leave empty handed.
But four wins on the trot which temporarily lifted the club into the automatic promotion places, is no fluke according to Boro boss Tony Mowbray.
“Whoever you play, you have to be in the game in the Championship,” he said. “If you are below par any week, an opponent’s work rate and ethics will beat you.
“Every week we have to turn up, and with great credit to this group we mostly turn up at home and away.
“It would be nice to sit in the dugout and be three or four up sometime and enjoy the last half hour of a game.
“Yet, of course, the nature of the league shows that rarely happens. Every weekend there are four or five draws.
“That just shows how tight a league it is. It’s great for us that we have managed to win four on the bounce now.
“Within those wins we have had three 1-0 wins at home in a row where we were drawing at the beginning of the season. The tight, fine margins are falling our way at the moment.”
There was little to get fans excited about before Robson fired home, with the main talking point being two penalty appeals that were turned down by referee Neil Swarbrick.
The first shout was by Boro as a Bailey cross seemed to hit the arm of left-back Andy Dawson with 25 minutes gone.
And only seven minutes later, Hull’s players surrounded the referee after Matthew Bates chased down Matty Fryatt while he was through on goal and tangled with the striker before clearing the ball.
The away team were incensed by no spot-kick being awarded, with Barmby saying after the game that Bates had clearly clipped the heals of Fryatt.
“We all live and die by those tight decisions that referees give week-in, week-out,” said Mowbray about the referee’s calls.
“We all sit at home every week and watch the TV and every week there is controversy. Was it a penalty? Was it a dive?
“Also I watched at half-time Dawson blatantly handball, blocking a cross with his arm, but nothing was given.
“If I’d have lost 1-0 I would have been talking more vehemently about a handball that wasn’t given.”
The goal that won it was a Christmas cracker from Robson. Scott McDonald had found his fellow ex-Celtic colleague on the right wing with a crossfield pass and the midfield terrier dropped his shoulder to cut in on his left foot.
Everyone, seemingly including keeper Peter Gulasci, anticipated a cross, but Robson whipped it towards the near post and past the keeper.
Middlesbrough: Steele, Hoyte, Rhys Williams, Bates, Bennett, Robson, Bailey, Arca (Zemmama 72), Haroun, McDonald, Ogbeche (Thomson 72). Subs Not Used: McManus, Martin, McMahon. Booked: McDonald. Goals: Robson 87.
Hull: Gulacsi, Rosenior, Hobbs, Chester, Dawson, McKenna, Evans, Stewart (Brady 69), Koren, Fryatt, Mclean (Garcia 79). Subs Not Used: Basso, McShane, Dudgeon. Booked: Dawson, Evans, Rosenior.
Att: 27, 794 Ref: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire).