Boro find cold comfort as Dons are denied

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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough 0 Wimbledon 0

Bryan Robson wore the home No 9 shirt the day Manchester United established their record run of eight Premier League wins at Old Trafford. Joe Kinnear was the manager in the visiting team's dug-out that November afternoon in 1993.

On Saturday the Middlesbrough side managed by Robson denied the Dons of '96 a place alongside his old club in the record books. But it was Kinnear, and not the Boro boss, who left the Riverside Stadium with a smile on his face.

Manchester United's historical mark may have been a win too far for the Crazy Gang but their manager, whose office when he coached Nepal's national team looked out on the slopes of Mount Everest, still found himself commenting on the fortunes of the clubs at the Premiership's peak on Saturday tea- time. "I've got an eye on the other end too," he said. "But we're two points behind the leaders, Arsenal, and they come to our place next week. It's a great position to be in."

That much is an understatement. Wimbledon were still Southern Leaguers when it took Jack Charlton's Boro two matches and a David Armstrong penalty to beat them, and Dickie Guy, in the third round of the FA Cup 19 years ago. Yet they have been top-flighters for a decade now, were in the top six two years ago and were FA Cup winners in 1988.

Middlesbrough last finished in the top six in 1951. Their last cup success, excepting the Anglo-Scottish tin-pot 21 years ago, dates back to 1898 when, according to contemporary reports, "a gay brass band" welcomed the Victorian Boro boys back from Crystal Palace with the Amateur Cup.

Middlesbrough perhaps should have won on Saturday, when Mikkel Beck and Phil Stamp struck the woodwork in either half. With unrest behind the scenes, however, with Nick Barmby on the transfer list and problems at both ends (a first clean sheet in six games was tarnished by a fourth blank in five Premiership outings), they remain as imbalanced as Wimbledon are stable.

The cutting edge provided in recent weeks by Marcus Gayle and Efan Ekoku may have been blunted at the Riverside but, as Wimbledon's manager pointed out: "We've still got the work ethic. We're not in awe of anyone but we've got to prove we can live with the best."

Middlesbrough are well short of that category - even if, according to Joe Kinnear, Bryan Robson had "Jairzinho," rather than Juninho, in his side on Saturday.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Walsh; Cox, Pearson (Whyte, 34), Vickers, Fleming; Stamp, Juninho, Emerson, Mustoe; Beck, Ravanelli. Substitutes not used: Barmby, Moore, Whelan, Roberts (gk).

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Sullivan; Cunningham, Blackwell, Perry, Thatcher (Kimble, 81); Ardley, Jones, Earle (Fear, 48), Leonhardsen; Gayle, Ekoku. Substitutes not used: Holdsworth, Harford, Heald (gk).

Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Whyte. Wimbledon: Cunningham, Ekoku, Jones, Fear, Kimble.

Man of the match: Stamp.

Attendance: 29,758.

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