Boro give economics lesson

Middlesbrough 6 Ravanelli 21, 50, Hignett 26, Cox 44, Beck 56, Stamp 79 Chester City 0 Attendance: 18,684
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The Independent Online
There was a time when Kevin Ratcliffe met Bryan Robson on equal terms in the FA Cup. But not yesterday. Ratcliffe, Everton's Wembley captain when Robson lifted the FA Cup for Manchester United in 1985, watched in helpless frustration from the visitors' bench at the Riverside as the harsh reality of latter-day football economics emerged ahead of romance as the deciding factor in an uneven third round tie.

Having seen his Chester City team hit for six by Robson's Middlesbrough, the former Wales defender was left to lament that the pounds 20,000 he has spent on transfers as manager of the third division club equates to half the weekly wage packet picked up by Fabrizio Ravanelli, who scored twice on an FA Cup debut that proved mere shooting practice.

Money would not be so tight for Ratcliffe if his team could rely on the loyalty of the boisterous 2,500 following they enjoyed yesterday, some 1,000 more than the average gate at the Deva Stadium. The absence of five first-team regulars undermined Chester's cause and it was clear by the 25th minute, when Middlesbrough went 2-0 up, that there was going to be no repeat of the third round upset inspired on north-east soil by Ian Rush at Newcastle 17 years ago.

Ravanelli's first FA Cup goal, after 19 minutes, ended a barren run of seven games for Boro's Italian import. In the absence of a referee's assistant from Russia, he stooped to render any debate irrelevant after a Steve Vickers header hit the bar and dropped directly on to the goal-line.

Six minutes later Craig Hignett burst, unchallenged, into the Chester box and rifled a right-foot shot past Ronnie Sinclair. Only then did Ratcliffe's men spark to life but the two half chances which fell to Stuart Rimmer came to nought and Cox, Robson's first pounds 1m acquisition, headed Boro's third a minute before the break.

Ravanelli started and finished the sweeping move that yielded his second goal, five minutes into the second half, and Mikkel Beck made it 5-0 with a close-range shot before Chester rallied again. Andy Milner and Matt Woods were denied by first-class saves, but Gary Walsh was merely a bystander as Kevin Noteman blasted Chester's best opportunity - a 59th minute penalty - over his bar.

Hignett chose to dispute the award and was dismissed for the foul and abusive language he used. "He should know better," Robson said. "It will cost him a three-match ban and we could do without that." It will also cost the midfielder a club fine.

Phil Stamp's 80th-minute header was the final agony for Chester, whose manager was left with the sole consolation of a bumper gate. "It's a bonus for us," Ratcliffe said. "It will keep the club going." Robson, having spent pounds 25m on a team which currently stands third from bottom of the Premiership, needs more than money to prevent his, and Middlesbrough's, new year being an unhappy one.