Match report: Middlesbrough 3 Sheffield Wednesday 1
THERE was a message held high in the south-east corner of the Riverside Stadium saying thank you to Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson for offering cut-price tickets to watch this televised game.
And after the biggest crowd since the club's final days in the Premier League turned out to watch Boro go top, it could be Tony Mowbray's powers of resurrection the whole of Teesside will be saluting come May.
In front of 28,229 supporters Middlesbrough extended their unbeaten run to nine matches to climb above Crystal Palace at the top of the table courtesy of a comfortable 3-1 victory.
Palace could reclaim first place if they defeat Peterborough United, but the vibe around the Riverside was that this Middlesbrough team is in the promotion mix to stay.
After years of uncertainty and frustration, which even dates back to losing the UEFA Cup final in 2006, the feel-good factor is back in town. Not since the days of Basel and Steaua Bucharest had it been as good by the River Tees.
Even when the officials combined to allow Gary Madine's goal to cancel out Justin Hoyte's first half stunner there was a sense this was going to be the home team's night.
And when Ishmael Miller pounced to force Scott McDonald's shot over the line on the hour, which was followed by substitute Lukas Jutkiewicz's 76th-minute third, the cries of 'We are top of the league' were chanted by Boro fans for the first time since September last year.
With the number of empty red seats far fewer than normal, Mowbray was certainly not going to be the one to disappoint and set his team up with the intention to entertain.
He included four strikers in his starting line-up, with McDonald, Marvin Emnes and Emmanuel Ledesma providing the support behind lone striker Miller.
Of those, only McDonald, enjoying a renaissance after a difficult time with the club, started the goalless draw at Nottingham Forest a few days earlier.
Jonathan Woodgate, who had to make way at the break with a recurrence of his hamstring trouble, and Hoyte were also reintroduced to the defence at the expense of Seb Hines and Stuart Parnaby.
And after an emotional and touching tribute to the 250 soldiers from the Yorkshire Regiment - after whom the North Stand was renamed for the night - ahead of Remembrance Sunday it didn't take long for Middlesbrough to show their quality.
After Sheffield Wednesday had threatened with half chances from Miguel Llera, Michail Antonio and Jay Bothroyd, all inside the first ten minutes, Middlesbrough found their feet in style.
When Grant Leadbitter turned on halfway before rolling to Ledesma the passage of play took a couple of yellow shirts out of the equation. Ledesma then spotted Hoyte making a run unmarked in behind Wednesday full-back Daniel Jones.
Even then there was plenty for the Boro defender to do, yet he opted to strike the sweetest of shots with the outside of his right boot. From an angle, it curled into the far corner of goalkeeper Chris Kirkland's net from just inside the box.
It was the sort of finish any striker would have been proud of, let alone a player who had not found the net since Christmas 2009. If that was special, one of his team-mates almost hit one even better.
After goalkeeper Jason Steele had made a solid stop from Bothroyd's turn and volley, Middlesbrough attacked. When the move appeared to have broken down, Josh McEachran picked up play.
The on-loan Chelsea midfielder has slowly been improving in a Middlesbrough shirt and last night he was at the hub of everything - and his display was almost capped by a sensational goal.
McEachran was 40 yards out yet somehow twisted and turned his way beyond at least four Wednesday players before having a low shot from six yards thwarted by Kirkland.
Middlesbrough could have been further ahead, playing with a nice vibrancy going forward even if they failed to make the most of a few good positions.
By half-time, though, Wednesday had threatened enough to be level.
Shortly before the break Steele had to dive left to turn behind a curling shot from Antonio, while Llera somehow volleyed wide of the upright from a few yards out.
With Woodgate looking assured at the back, it was a blow to Middlesbrough when he had to be withdrawn before the restart after feeling a reaction to his nagging injury.
And within a few minutes the visitors had cancelled out the lead.
Madine was clearly in an offside position when he picked up the chested pass from Antonio, but play went on and the striker applied the cool finish.
The former Carlisle striker turned away expecting the flag from the assistant referee and when it never arrived Mowbray had bemused words with the fourth official, Nigel Miller.
But just when there were a few fears around that the Geordie striker had spoiled the party, Middlesbrough edged ahead once more on the hour.
This time Ledesma was the architect, sliding the pass behind the defence for McDonald to meet and chip delicately goalwards.
It was heading over the line, but Miller nipped in and made sure to grab his second for the club.
McDonald was rightly peeved, but the goal lifted Middlesbrough to new heights and the only question it seemed to ask was when the third would arrive.
It duly did 14 minutes from the end when substitute Jutkiewicz moved to the near post to head a Leadbitter corner over the line ten minutes after his introduction.
There was a sense the party is only just starting.