WHEN Reuben Butler scored the only goal of Middlesbrough’s 1-0 win over Sheffield United in September 1919, he achieved the notable feat of having scored in each of his first three games for the club. Almost a century later, and no one has emulated his achievement.
When Kike plays in today’s lunchtime kick-off at Elland Road, he will be hoping to create some Teesside footballing history. Last weekend, he scored on his senior debut against Birmingham. On Tuesday, he came off the bench to claim the final goal of Boro’s Capital One Cup win over Oldham Athletic.
Today, he will attempt to complete the hat-trick, and given the millions that have been invested in a succession of high-profile strikers in the last couple of decades, it is remarkable that a 24-year-old plucked from the relative obscurity of the Spanish Second Division stands on the brink of achieving something that a host of more celebrated centre-forwards were unable to.
Within Spain, however, Middlesbrough’s capture of Kike was regarded as something of a coup from the moment it was completed, and having beaten off competition from within La Liga to sign the striker, Aitor Karanka has not been too surprised by the quality of his subsequent displays.
“I was always sure that Kike could handle the Championship,” said the Boro head coach, who championed the pursuit of his compatriot from the moment Real Murcia failed to win promotion at the end of last season. “I watched him a lot and had no doubt about his performances or attitude.
“He felt all our confidence (in him) from the moment he arrived, and that was important. It wasn’t just me, it was also the crowd’s confidence. They were singing his name after the first ten or 15 minutes.
“For him, I think it has been amazing to come here. It was difficult for him to leave Murcia because he spent five or six years there – he loves Murcia and their crowd loves him.
“It was difficult for him to leave and come here, but everything I told him to convince him to come here, he has found out it was true.”
The point about the Middlesbrough support is a pertinent one, as the Riverside crowd has been waiting to hail a new goalscoring hero since the days of Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka a decade ago.
There was a tangible sense of excitement as soon as Kike picked up the ball last weekend, with the volume going even higher when the Spaniard found the back of the net midway through the second half. Had he rounded off an inspired quick free-kick routine with a second goal, the Riverside roof might well have lifted.
Like the supporters, the rest of the Boro squad have also been impressed with Kike’s impact and level of ability, with his performances on the training ground creating an instant buzz.
“He’s been absolutely great in training,” said skipper Jonathan Woodgate. “I’ve always liked training against good strikers because I like to be challenged and have a bit of a fight and a battle on the training ground.
“I’ve played against lots of different centre-forwards in training, but I like to be working against one that roughs you up and gives you a bit back, and Kike already looks like he’s going to be like that. You have to be able to do that in this league because it is rough.”
Admittedly, Kike’s Boro career amounts to just one-and-a-half games, so it is important not to get too carried away by his displays so far. It should also be noted that Boro are unlikely to face too many sides as limited as both Birmingham and Oldham this season.
Nevertheless, Kike’s ability to handle the rough and tumble of English football is a hugely positive sign, as is the finishing ability that was apparent in both of his successful strikes.
His debut goal against Birmingham was a classic poacher’s affair, as he reacted quickest in the area after Lee Tomlin’s initial shot was blocked, while his finish at Oldham owed much to the deft footwork that created the space for him to bend a low finish into the corner.
“It was an unbelievable finish by Kike on Tuesday night,” said Woodgate. “His touch and composure was superb. He’s got two in two, and he’s going to score some goals for us, which is great.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but you can already see that he’s going to be a good player for the club.”