Barmby leads the line - Sport - The Independent

Barmby leads the line

Football: Notts County 1 (Rogers 52) Middlesbrough 2 (Pollo ck 46, Barmby 48) Attendance: 12,621

Ravaged by injuries and running out of steam in the Premiership, Middlesbrough looked prime candidates for a fall against Second Division promotion candidates Notts County. However, with their player-manager Bryan Robson leading from the front for only the second time this season, they overcame the threat with a thoroughly professional performance.

Middlesbrough's crisis was deep enough for Robson to return despite his sciatica. Seven first-team players are injured or suspended, but at least the former England captain had Nick Barmby and Phil Whelan back. With Jan Fjortoft still missing, Paul Wilkinson led the attack for the first time this season.

Juninho's introduction to the Cup came in the form of a crunching fourth- minute tackle by Shaun Murphy, one of three Notts County centre-backs, which left the Brazilian limping for several minutes. It was the last thing the Premiership side needed, but the little man from Sao Paolo does not bruise that easily. Soon his every touch was prompting black-and-white shirts to swarm all around him.

But there was no intent on County's part to put brawn ahead of brains, and the frenetic match Middlesbrough had feared did not quite happen. Beaten only once in their previous 11 matches, County were as keen to play constructive football as their opponents.

Nonetheless, it was Middlesbrough who looked most likely to build a lead. Juninho drove the ball disappointingly wide when he had a chance to shoot and then drew a save from Darren Ward with his second attempt. However, the best opportunity before half-time fell to Barmby.

Ward was at fault, taking the risk of leaving his area in a bid to halt the England forward, and failing. Barmby continued on but his attempt on the unguarded goal from a difficult angle drifted wide. With no goals at half-time an upset could not be discounted. However, within three minutes of the restart, Middlesbrough had established a 2-0 lead: Barmby making one goal and scoring the other.

Juninho had a say in the first, releasing Barmby with a pinpoint pass. Barmby's low cross squirted under Wilkinson's foot but reached an unmarked Jamie Pollock, who had time to steady himself before shooting wide of Ward. Wilkinson set up the second too, intentionally this time, Barmby sweeping the ball home diagonally from 15 yards.

It was a deflating time for the home side, who had caused no more than sporadic scares at the other end. Perversely, however, they now replied almost immediately to keep the tie alive, Paul Rogers striking sweetly from the edge of the area.

In desperation, Notts threw on Devon White. More aerial weaponry arrived with Tony Agana but this was not to be an underdog's day. Indeed, had Barmby or Robson made more of their late chances an anxious finale would have been avoided.

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