Middlesbrough needed luck - they could and probably should have had their goalkeeper sent off early in the second half. But in an open and often enthralling match they were the more incisive and, in Nick Barmby and Juninho, had the outstanding individuals. Barmby capped a display of intelligence and skill with the winner, while the Brazilian was at the centre of all Middlesbrough's most fluent football, helping ensure his side won for the first time since his arrival from Sao Paulo last month.
There were fine performances throughout the home ranks: Jamie Pollock forced the pace from midfield, well supported by Phil Stant. In the fashionable position of wing-back, Neil Cox scored one goal and laid on the other, and Boro's defence, even when Liverpool exerted some sustained late pressure, showed the coolness that has resulted in their conceding fewer goals than any other Premiership team.
For Liverpool, Stan Collymore looked no nearer working out a role for himself up front, and, although his colleagues in midfield had decent spells of possession, they did not turn it to advantage. Middlesbrough moved forward with greater speed and purpose, and the space behind the Liverpool defenders was often under threat. Roy Evans, their manager, acknowledged: "We've got to be more aware of our defensive duties."
Less than two minutes had gone when Boro went ahead. Juninho fed Jan Fjortoft, who slipped the ball to Barmby, and from his pull-back from the byline Cox could hardly miss.
Only the agility of David James prevented a second Middlesbrough goal in the 10th minute when Barmby found another gap and hit a smart shot on the turn from Cox's through-ball. Juninho continued to out-think his opponents, and might have had a clear run on goal after 26 minutes when Phil Babb fouled him and was booked. There was less excuse for the mis- timed header Juninho directed into James's arms two minutes from half- time.
Middlesbrough's big let-off came 10 minutes into the second half when Gary Walsh, their goalkeeper, handled a shot by John Barnes outside his area and faced being sent off. But Dermot Gallagher, the referee, issued only a yellow card and Walsh made the most of his escape with a good, low save from the free-kick by Neil Ruddock.
When Liverpool equalised in the 63rd minute, through Ruddock heading in Jason McAteer's cross, it looked as if Boro might struggle. But they responded almost instantly with a lovely volleyed goal from Barmby, when the ball was inadvertently directed to him by Ruddock after Cox had broken down the right. McManaman had a wonderful chance to salvage a point but, with only Walsh to beat, pulled his shot wide.Reuse content