Nicky Maynard became the first player to score against high-flying Middlesbrough to hand City a much-needed three points at Ashton Gate.
Boro arrived in Bristol hot on the heels of leaders Cardiff and having gone four league games without conceding a goal.
City made four changes from the side dumped out of the Carling Cup in midweek with recalls for McCombe, Wilson, Hartley and Maynard whilst Johnson, Akinde, Ribeiro and Williams stepped aside as the Robins looked to correct bad defeats to Cardiff and Carlisle last week.
But it was ex-Robins striker Leroy Lita, on his third visit back to the Gate with his third different club, who had the game’s best early chance, skinning McCombe before stinging Dean Gerken’s gloves.
Maynard, with three goals in four games going into the game, and then volleyed over the top before Boro’s main threat Adam Johnson tested Gerken from distance.
Haynes was presented with a glorious chance midway through the first half. Profiting from a slip by Jon Grounds, Haynes fizzed his shot just past the post when running at last man David Wheater would’ve been the better option.
Boro’s began to control the game a bit more after that and were unlucky to see Wheater’s looping header from Johnson’s left-wing free kick land on the roof of the netting just before the break.
Akinde replaced Haynes not long after half-time, as City skipper Louis Carey was treated for a head wound, which was something I would know something about as I went arse over tit after too many ciders later that evening!
Then came the goal the game so dearly needed.
Paul Hartley launched a long, searching ball towards Maynard from deep inside the City half.
The in-form striker won a fifty-fifty challenge with Grounds before taking a touch and bending a sublime effort past Danny Coyne into the top corner on 63.
It was a clinical strike for the young forward who found the net with his first real strike on goal.
The visitors offered little in return as City shut the door firmly in their faces; standing up to everything the ex-Premiership side could throw at us.
So it came as a real surprise when referee Russell Booth pointed to the spot, harshly adjudging Carey to have handled Jeremie Aliadiere’s inocuous looking cross.
Adam Johnson stepped up and drilled the resulting penalty straight down the middle and past Gerken for the equaliser with only ten minutes left on the clock, riling the City fans with his celebrations in the process.
With the game seemingly drifting to a draw, a few mate’s and I left the East End for the nearest watering hole only to learn of the winning goal on Sky’s Gillette Soccer Saturday!
From what those friends of mine who remained in the ground and relayed to me afterwards, Maynard latched onto another fine Hartley pass before volleying past Coyne for the winner and his fifth goal in six games.
The result saw City enter the international break in the Play-Off positions with an impressive ten points from the five games.
CITY (3-5-2): Gerken; Carey, McCombe, Fontaine; Wilson, Skuse, Hartley, Elliott, McAllister; Haynes (Akinde 52), Maynard (Sproule 90). Subs not used: Orr, Johnson, Ribeiro, Blackman, Basso.
BORO (4-4-2): Coyne; McMahon, Wheater, Grounds, Taylor; Yeates, Williams, Arca, Johnson; Lita, Emnes (Aliadiere 71). Subs not used: Hoyte, Walker, Hines, Bennett, Franks, Steele.
Referee: Russell Booth (Mansfield)
Dean Gerken 6
Dealt with what he had to do with but his kicking is still a bit suspect. No chance with the penalty though otherwise, didn’t have a great deal to do.
Brian Wilson 6
Had his hands full with Johnson coming at him all game but his pace just about did the job against him if nothing else did. Struggled to get forward and provide width.
Jamie McAllister 6
Did a good job on the left side defensively and was a decent outlet but not getting further forward enough for my liking.
Liam Fontaine 7
Tidy game from Fonts. Went about his business quietly and was largely responsible for keeping Lita quiet again.
Jamie McCombe 6
Won his fair share in the air but was wanting when it was on the ground.
Louis Carey 7
Was the victim of a rubbish refereeing decision for the penalty but led from the front. McCombe and Fontaine need his leadership alongside them and City looked a more solid unit as a result.
Marvin Elliott 6
I wonder if his mind’s been distracted by the recent Premiership interest. Marv was quiet by his usual standards but it wasn’t detrimental to the team. Professional performance.
Cole Skuse 7
Protected the back three well and got through his fare share of work in midfield. Solid but unspectacular. Usual Skuse performance then!
Paul Hartley 7
Got the two assists but was generally sat a bit too deep. His passing was class though and he definitely looked like he profited from a rest in midweek.
Nicky Maynard 8
Lethal, clinical, deadly. Call it what you want. Maynard was in imperious goalscoring form here and he’s looking likely to bag 20+ for us this year. Keep up the good work Nicky!
Danny Haynes 5
Haynes was ok but I’m getting frustrated with him because I think he could use his pace a lot better than he does. Was a threat in the first half but subbed for Akinde for not long after the interval. Needs to work on his decision making as well as his finishing.
John Akinde 6
Did well when he came on in the second half. Showing signs he’s developing at this level and was a handful on occasions when he chose to run at the defence. Needs to improve in the air for a big man, but that will come with experience I’m sure.
Ivan Sproule 5
Stoppage time sub who was used more to waste time than effect the game. Had little time to make an impact.
Gary Johnson – 7/10
It was a big day for Johnson who would’ve been under scrutiny from the fans had we performed like we did against Cardiff and Carlisle but, credit where credit’s due, he made us difficult to break down and let the players do the rest.
Gareth Southgate – 6/10
Didn’t have an ideal lead up to the game, without several players due to a combination of injuries and transfers. Still, he made sure his players were as competitive as they could be and they were just beaten by a striker who is simply on fire at the moment.
Maynard The Difference
This was a crucial game for City on the back of two very poor performances last week.
So it was even more impressive to see the bottle and battling qualities, that were lacking last week, restored for the visit of a Boro side who hadn’t even shipped a goal in the league before their visit to the West Country.
Maynard’s lethal finishing was the real difference though and I think our hopes for this season hinge on him staying fit. His five goals in six now sees us sitting pretty in fifth place.