With the exception of his handball outside of the box, Sam Johnstone had very little to do last night. Some of that was to do with the lack of ambition Middlesbrough showed despite desperately needing a goal. However, his relatively quiet night was very much down to the protection he got in front of him.
This side’s character has been questioned at times this season. After all, there have been notable setbacks in the battle for automatic promotion but in the playoffs, their big game mentality has really shone through.
Although we had the upper hand after winning the first leg away from home, it can be very difficult when you know you only need a draw. That thought would have been in the back of the minds of a lot of the players, and it can inhibit you.
At times, you could see the players holding themselves back. We did sit deep on occasion but Boro failed to make any inroads. Despite that anxiety, however, you could see we would not lose control of the game. Players right across the pitch stood up to the challenge and did the jobs asked of them by Steve Bruce.
It was hard fought, but at no point did I feel we would buckle. We had a semblance of control that in such a crucial match is very hard to achieve. There was no soft centre, and that strength of character will only be a good thing heading into a one-off match at Wembley where a hard-nosed approach will be vital.
Having that willpower to come through adversity is not enough if you don’t have the experience and the mentality that goes with winning big games. Possessing the knowledge of how to win is just as important a trait.
In James Chester and Robert Snodgrass, we have two players who won a Championship playoff final with Bruce before. In Mile Jedinak and Conor Hourihane, we have players who have captained team’s to playoff triumphs, while someone like John Terry has been there and done it all.
Having both the character and the knowledge is a perfect mix, but we will have to see whether it is enough on May 26th.