After picking QPR’s pockets the previous week, the Teesside club proved artful dodgers once again to pilfer a scarcely-merited victory against a Huddersfield Town side who were clapped off by home patrons at the final whistle after a performance of substance – more especially in a wholly dominant first half.
But such is footballing life that you sometimes do not get what you deserve. Just ask Huddersfield’s new head coach David Wagner, who labelled the 2-0 loss as a “ridiculous” result, and most people got his drift.
Town raced out to the stirring strains of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries – Richard’s, not David’s – in homage to the home bow of their new head coach.
On it, the German witnessed a pumped-up, full-throttle performance in the opening 45 minutes that hit the right notes against a Boro side who were rattled, disorganised and in retreat – before wising up on the restart.
Ultimately, it proved a day for the diggers in atrocious weather with Boro’s battleship midfielder Adam Clayton – against his former charges – and Emilio Nsue notching milestone first goals for the visitors.
But in defeat, there was honour and promise for Town. Wagner preached a credo of speed and passion at his unveiling and on the back of Saturday’s vibrant display, those words carried weight.
While statistically speaking the result saw the hosts drop into the bottom three, a replication of Saturday’s level of performance – admittedly with a little more of a predatory edge – will ensure that Town do not have to fight raging relegation fires in the Spring.
Ex-Terrier Clayton certainly thinks so and those of a blue-and-white persuasion are also entitled to think that ahead of a December schedule where opportunity knocks with home games against Bristol City, Rotherham United and Preston.
Clayton, whose ninth-minute strike deflected in off good mate and ex-Boro team-mate Dean Whitehead – whom he dined with on Saturday night – said: “Huddersfield are a really good team now with some good players. I don’t think they will be in trouble for much longer if they keep playing like it.
“It was a very tough day at the office.
“We have not had a game like that this year and we have dominated most games we have played in. Huddersfield have a new manager and way of playing and it was tough for us to deal with. But we scored at the right times and dug in. We did that a few times last season like at Norwich.”
On his goal, he added: “It was a long time coming, so I’ll enjoy it.
“I have should have scored here last year after my second game.
“It’s nice to score, but I think I might have celebrated a bit more if it was someone else. I don’t think I did it too badly.”
Clayton’s strike was Boro’s sole effort on goal in a first half in which they had to negotiate not only an onslaught from the awful weather, but also from a Town side who did everything but score.
Despite suffering an early blow, Town were unyielding, with Nahki Wells going close to a leveller with a lovely free-kick which hit the bar two minutes later.
Boro had to man the barricades for the rest of the half, with Dimi Konstantopoulos racing out to block from Wells after the visitors were ripped open, with the Greek goalkeeper also denying Sean Scannell and Jamie Paterson with key saves.
Aitor Karanka’s men somehow made it through to the interval unscathed in order to regroup.
Boro visibly dropped deeper in the second period and while Town’s mindset and work ethic were still strong, they struggled for opportunities rather more, with the scrappy nature of play demonstrably suiting the visitors.
A half-chance for substitute Flo Bojaj did arrive, but it was Boro who took their opportunity with their only moment of quality on the day six minutes from time.
Cristhian Stuani’s chip was cleverly back-heeled by fellow replacement Adam Forshaw into the path of the onrushing Nsue, who coolly steered a low precision shot past Steer to seal victory.
A tough result, yes, but plenty to savour for Town fans, according to loan debutant Ben Chilwell, with the teenager impressing along with several others.
He said: “It was a weird one. To play against Middlesbrough, who are a top team, and to batter them in the first half especially meant the result was disappointing.
“But the gaffer said after the game that we have got to take positives. We battered one of the top teams in the league.
“When we play against other teams, we have got to take our chances and we need to work on that.
“Once we do that, the results will come. If we play like that week-in, week-out, we’ll be fine.
“In the first half, we just needed to take one of our chances and if we’d done that, we’d have gone on to win the game.”