IT wasn’t a bad night to be a Teessider.
Middlesbrough reached the summit of the Championship – and did it with a bit of style.
A bumper crowd of 28,000 – boosted by a cheap ticket deal – and a national TV audience watched on as Boro beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 to go top.
Crystal Palace could reclaim the lead in the league if they beat Peterborough today. But that’s another matter.
This was Boro’s night in a bouncing Riverside, where “we are top of the league” echoed around the stadium and along the Tees.
“It was great to have such a big crowd there for us”, said Boro boss Tony Mowbray, who saw his team record their seventh win in eight games and go unbeaten in nine.
“A big thank you to all the supporters and the chairman for allowing us to get it like that.
“That’s how I remember it.
“We had 11 years in the Premier League with the stadium full.
“I think the supporters hopefully enjoyed the game, seeing their team go top of the table and scoring three goals. I think it was an entertaining game.”
The introduction of Boro-supporting members of the Yorkshire Regiment and Army cadets before the game had the fans on their feet before a ball was even kicked, with chants of “Teessider” and “hero” filling the night air.
The servicemen’s team has looked battle weary as the players got set for their third game in six games, so Mowbray made five changes to the team that drew with Nottingham Forest on Tuesday.
The decision to start Scott McDonald, Emmanuel Ledesma, Ishmael Miller and Marvin Emnes together showed the confidence Mowbray has in his men.
The manager admitted he had wanted to put on a show for the returning fans and was “delighted” with how his players reacted.
Yet with that many strikers on the pitch, it was unprolific defender Justin Hoyte who opened the scoring with just his fourth career goal, which also made him Boro’s 18th different goalscorer of the season.
Ledesma’s perfect pass meant the right-back could strike through the ball first timeand watch it rifle into the top corner of Chris Kirkland’s net.
Boro were playing some neat, passing football on turf made slick by cold November rain.
But after the ever-impressive Grant Leadbitter stung the palms of Kirkland with a vicious free-kick, it was Jason Steele who was the busier keeper as the half came to a close.
Saves from Jay Bothroyd and Michail Antonio kept Boro ahead before loanee Josh McEachran almost scored a goal worthy of any of his Chelsea team-mates.
The teenager danced through the Wednesday defence with the ball stuck to his feet. But after gliding past four men his prodded shot was saved at close range by Kirkland.
Antonio tested Steele from the edge of the box then Miguel Llera should have scored from the resulting corner with an apparent tap-in.
Half-time saw Mowbray forced into a change at the back as Jonathan Woodgate (calf) was replaced by Seb Hines.
And the new-look defence soon leaked a goal as Gary Madine levelled the scores just four minutes after the re-start.
The Gateshead-born striker turned sharply to beat Steele after Michail Antonio chested the ball down in Boro’s box.
The home side looked shaken by the goal as Wednesday were in the ascendency, but kept on harrying the visitors.
And it was that chasing that led to their second as Ledesma picked up a loose ball and slotted it through to McDonald.
The Aussie was crowded out in the box but managed to squirm the ball past Kirkland and towards goal.
It left Miller with the simplest of tap-ins for his second goal for the club – with questions being asked again of the linesmen. Boro looked comfortable after recapturing the lead.
And after George Friend almost scored with a deflected shot, Lukas Jutkiewicz made sure of the points.
The substitute met Leadbitter’s corner at the near post after stealing a yard from his marker and powerfully guiding the ball past Kirkland.
It was what Boro deserved for a confident performance that was almost marred by another Madine goal, who again looked offside when the ball fell to him in the Boro box.
But he couldn’t get the ball past Steele this time.