Apprentice sorcery

Middlesbrough 2 Vickers 57, Fjortoft 78 Coventry City 1 Isaias 47 Attendance: 27,882
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AN EXCITING recovery in the second half by Middlesbrough, with goals from Steve Vickers and Jan Aage Fjortoft, ensured that Bryan Robson, once Ron Atkinson's pupil, emerged master.

Before the kick-off, a minute's silence was held in memory of Harold Shepherdson, the former England and Middlesbrough trainer, who died last week. But what he would have thought of his club's first-half performance is probably not printable. Middlesbrough were worse than inadequate. Even Nick Barmby looked ordinary on occasions.

Coventry's approach work, by contrast, was attractive. But the craft of Isaias, Salako and Ndlovu was not enough to put the ball in the net. To be fair to the Midlands team, losing Dion Dublin (who hurt his left leg) after 12 minutes, didn't exactly help.

From the fans' point of view, Dublin was also missed. Withouthim, who would entertain another near full house at the Riverside Stadium? On the evidence of the first half, no one. Barmby buzzed but couldn't sting, striking the side netting and later lifting the ball into John Filan's arms. Neither side created clear chances, and jeers not applause accompanied them as they went off at half time.

Thankfully, after the interval we had some goals, and a vigorous contest ensued. Coventry were given the lead within minutes of the resumption thanks to a crisp shot by the skilful Isaias.

Ten minutes later, however, Boro upped the tempo to draw level, Barmby crossing accurately to the far post where Vickers leapt to head past Filan. Now Bryan Robson's side attacked relentlessly, and once again Barmby was crucial. Creating havoc in Coventry's defence, he fed Craig Hignett who in turn supplied Fjortoft, the Norwegian's strike giving Boro a deserved 2-1 lead after 78 minutes.

Peter Ndlovu continued to probe, trying to earn Coventry what could have been a fourth successive draw. Boro's defence, though, coped admirably, and unable to reproduce the slickness that led to Isaias's goal Coventry left pointless.