IT may have been a bit of fun in the sun for Boro fans, but the importance of Saturday’s win could be seen on the face of the team’s biggest supporter.
Middlesbrough’s chairman Steve Gibson could not hide his joy after witnessing his side grab a last minute winner to leave the club all but safe from relegation.
His car was seen pulling away from Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane when it suddenly came to a halt as it passed Tony Mowbray leading his team to the coach.
The beaming owner hopped out from behind the driving wheel to enthusiastically shake the Boro boss’s hand, revealing the relevance of Marvin Emnes’s 89th minute strike in front of 2,600 traveling Teessiders.
In truth, it was harsh on United who had won the physical battle under a fierce spring sun without taking their chances.
But Mowbray was quick to claim his side was due a rub of the green and is keen to use that bit of luck to finish with a flourish and take momentum into next season.
They play 13th-placed Ipswich Town tomorrow night before hosting Barnsley, who lie 16th, just a spot above Boro.
“Things are looking OK for us,” said a happy Mowbray.
“We need to stop looking over our shoulder and see if we can catch those above us and take the positive elements of that into next season.
“If we had lost against Sheffield and you go in the dressing room and the gaps down to eight points, then we go to Ipswich and lose and it goes down to five points, it’s what they say in football is squeaky bum time.
“This victory is a fantastic result for the club and hopefully we can look above and see who we can catch, including Barnsley.”
He had brought Matthew Bates and Stephen McManus back in the side after injury lay-offs to add height to match a big United side.
Bates, who has played in defence all season, surprisingly started in midfield and Mowbray’s decision looked a master stroke as he latched on to a neat touch by Andrew Taylor to open the scoring after 18 minutes.
Boro’s Hartlepool-born midfielder dinked the ball into the box to find Boro’s captain steaming in to produce a calm finish on the half-volley. It got the disgruntled Blades fans instantly on edge, but their anger seemed to spur United on as they bombarded Boro’s box.
Everything was aimed at striker Darius Henderson who first headed wide from six yards out before forcing a point blank save from Paul Smith, who also tipped a long-range effort from Michael Doyle wide.
But it was midfielder Matthew Lowton who made the pressure count as he headed United back into the game on 28 minutes.
Bjorn Helge Riise had turned Stephen McManus inside out on the left wing to whiz the ball past Boro’s six-yard box for Lowton to nod in at the back post.
It was the least the home side deserved as their physical style seemed to have the upper hand over Boro’s efforts to get the ball down and play.
And they should have taken the lead minutes later when Henderson missed again – this time with a header from a yard out.
Four minutes into the restart, Smith did well to push a fierce Joe Mattock shot wide before McManus made a fantastic block to stop Riise scoring.
It seemed a draw would be a good result for Boro with an hour gone but the away side got back into the game.
Tony McMahon had a fierce shot from a tight angle saved before his corner was met perfectly on the volley by Rhys Williams, only to see Steve Simonsen produce a fantastic one-handed save.
Henderson was again the culprit as he headed over from a few yards out with the goal gaping.
And the home side’s players still looked in shock at that miss as they allowed substitute Julio Arca to run straight through the centre of the pitch with the clock running out.
As he reached the box, he laid the ball through perfectly for Emnes who composed himself before calmly firing low by Simonsen to win the game at the death.
It was the flying Dutchman’s second in two games and he milked his moment in front of Boro’s biggest away following of the season.
There may not be as many of those fans making the long trip to Ipswich tomorrow, but for the first time in a long time there’s a buzz about the Boro..