Boksic makes mark early to bruise Coventry

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The Independent Online

Whatever the size of his pay packet - and last night Bryan Robson claimed even he does not know - there is already no reason to doubt the the quality of Middlesbrough's latest expensive foreign import. Lured to Teesside by wages reported in some quarters to be worth £63,000 a week, Alen Boksic announced himself to the Premiership by scoring twice and creating his side's other goal as Coventry suffered an instant reminder of the tough road ahead.

Whatever the size of his pay packet - and last night Bryan Robson claimed even he does not know - there is already no reason to doubt the the quality of Middlesbrough's latest expensive foreign import. Lured to Teesside by wages reported in some quarters to be worth £63,000 a week, Alen Boksic announced himself to the Premiership by scoring twice and creating his side's other goal as Coventry suffered an instant reminder of the tough road ahead.

Having provided the cross from which another Middlesbrough debutant, Joseph Job, opened the scoring, the 30-year-old former Lazio striker - a snip in transfer fee terms at just £2m - struck two goals in the space of four minutes in the second half to destroy Coventry, who lost the otherwise impressive David Thompson to a second yellow card in a combative match of seven other bookings.

"People put figures on everything," Robson said afterwards. "In fact, no one knows what he is earning apart from our chief executive and the lad himself. All I'm interested in is how he performs on the field and I hope it is money well spent."

Boksic's performance quite overshadowed that of Craig Bellamy, the striker Coventry have recruited at three times the Boksic fee from Norwich to replace Robbie Keane. He and Thompson, signed from Liverpool, added up to £9m worth of talent on the domestic market. Middlesbrough, who paid £3m to Lens for Job, also welcomed Christian Karembeu, £2.5m from Real Madrid, as well as Noel Whelan, another £2m buy, who was given a run against his recent team-mates when Boksic eventually tired.

They took the lead after after 20 minutes and were deserving, really, of a second goal that was ruled out, which would have given Boksic a hat-trick had it stood.

Job headed home on a counter-attack that had begun with Middlesbrough taking a quick free-kick deep in their own half when John Eustace tripped Karembeu. The ball went wide on the left to Boksic, whose cross was so good that the Cameroon forward, with no marker, could not miss.

This preceded a cleverly worked free-kick on the left from which Boksic appeared to have doubled the lead. A decoy move by Karembeu allowed Keith O'Neill to take the ball behind the Coventry defence and lift another perfect cross on to the head of Boksic at the far post. Television replays were required to discover why it did not stand.

Coventry made good use of the reprieve. Tripped by O'Neill near the right corner-flag, Thompson wasted no time in taking the free-kick himself, delivering a precise, flat cross which Eustace read perfectly, nipping in between static defenders to nod past Mark Schwarzer and level the scores before half-time.

But then Boksic, with two goals in four minutes either side of the hour mark, in effect wrapped up the points for Middlesbrough, for whomPaul Ince was outstanding in midfield.

Each time, however, the provider was not Ince but Gary Pallister, who threaded another quick free-kick, after 58 minutes, to the feet of the Croat, who saw his first attempt parried by Magnus Hedman but retained his balance to slide the rebound into the net. Pallister struck the vital pass again when, in the 62nd minute,Boksic strode past his marker and lifted the ball over theadvancing goalkeeper.

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