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Middlesbrough grateful to man who came in from the cold
ON a weekend that witnessed plummeting temperatures and the first snowfall of the winter, it was fitting that Middlesbrough were indebted to a player who has only just come in from the cold.
A series of disagreements with Tony Mowbray and the rest of Boro's senior coaching staff meant Scott McDonald was frozen out and not even considered for duty in the opening two months of the season.
Surplus to requirements, with his sky-high wage sapping much-needed resources from Mowbray's budget, the Australian was an expensive outcast, a dysfunctional throwback to an era of financial excess.
Not any more. His relationship with his manager repaired after a series of clear-the-air talks, McDonald has now scored three goals in four matches, with Saturday's second-half double against Bolton helping make it four wins on the bounce for an in-form Boro.
The past is forgotten; the present an unanticipated success. And if he maintains the standards set in his 68-minute appearance against the Trotters, there is every chance McDonald will play an integral role in Middlesbrough's future despite this summer's disputes.
“That's all in the past now, isn't it,” said the striker, who scored with a close-range rebound and a deft glanced header. “We just have to get on with things, and if I can contribute like this more often then hopefully it's going to help us get to where we want to be.
“There's a lot of the season to go, and hopefully that's food for the thought for the gaffer, albeit that the rest of our strikers have been playing well and have been in the goals too. It's a positive thing that everyone's scoring and people are coming off the bench and doing a fantastic job. Maybe we've lacked a bit of depth in the last two years, but this year we've got that.”
McDonald replaced Marvin Emnes midway through the first half, and with the Dutchman having joined Lukas Jutkiewicz on the injury list after damaging his hamstring, there is every chance of the 29-year-old remaining in the starting line-up for Tuesday's Capital One Cup trip to Sunderland and Saturday's Championship game at Charlton.
His goalscoring instincts have not been blunted by his prolonged spell of inactivity at the start of the campaign, and for all that the equally-impressive Ishmael Miller produced a more rounded display against Bolton, it was McDonald who claimed the goals that made the difference.
His first strike, which cancelled out a first-half effort from Chung-Yong Lee, was predatory perfection, with the former Celtic forward reacting quickest in the six-yard box after Bolton goalkeeper Alex Bogdan parried Miller's low strike.
His winner oozed class, with McDonald stealing ahead of his marker to glance fellow substitute Emmanuel Ledesma's cross into the bottom corner.
“It would not surprise me if Scott finished up our top scorer this season,” said Mowbray, who is understood to have made the first move in order to repair the divisions with his side's most experienced centre-forward. “The lad has an instinct for goals. He has spent his life in and around the six-yard box.
“At the moment, you would have to say that if we are going to score goals, he would be the most likely to notch one. He is a crucial player for us, whether that is starting games or coming off the bench.
“He has a smile on his face because he is playing again. He has a chance of scoring goals for our team and for the first two months of the season, that was not the case. He was not in our squad and was not coming into work with a smile on his face.
“We have resolved any issues we might have had and I am delighted that we have because he is making an impact on our team.”
McDonald arrived at the mid-point of a first half that Boro dominated, but which ended with the hosts a goal in arrears.
Miller somehow contrived to head wide from inside the six-yard box early on, while Bogdan produced a fine save to deny Emnes, but Boro were undone in unfortunate circumstances three minutes before the break.
In attempting to clear Chris Eagles' lay off, Faris Haroun only succeeded in deflecting the ball into the path of Lee, who slotted beyond Jason Steele.
Boro would have been two behind at the break had Lee not wasted an equally inviting opportunity three minutes later, curling over the crossbar after Andre Bikey's hesitancy led to him being dispossessed in his own half, but McDonald levelled from close range in the 66th minute. Haroun wasted a decent opportunity for a winner, dragging his shot wide after good work from Ledesma, but McDonald made no mistake with five minutes left, glancing home a header.
The win was no more than Boro deserved after an enterprising display that was far removed from some of the more hesitant performances produced at the start of the season.
Josh McEachran and Grant Leadbitter controlled things at the heart of midfield, while Miller was a constant threat up front and Ledesma made a considerable impact from the substitutes' bench.
“I think there's goals in the side at the moment,” said McDonald. “The manager has done really well with what he's been able to bring in, finance wise, and there's so much creativity helping you get on the end of things.
“Every time I play now, I'm confident I can get on the end of something. You need consistency in this league, and four wins from four is great.”