Boro leave Ayresome in style

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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough 2

Luton Town 1

Two goals by John Hendrie took Middlesbrough to within a point of certain promotion to the Premiership on an emotional day in their last home league match of the season at a packed Ayresome Park yesterday.

A point away to Tranmere in their final game next Sunday would clinch automatic promotion for Bryan Robson's team, who are now five points clear, but they would not need even that if Bolton fail to win at Stoke on Wednesday.

Before the game there was a lap of honour by former Middlesbrough players and managers, including Wilf Mannion and George Hardwick, along with the 82-year-old Ralph Birkett, their oldest surviving former player.

Bryan Robson, the player-manager, made his comeback after a three-week absence with a calf injury as his team sought revenge over a side that hammered them 5-1 in October.

Middlesbrough made the early running and should have gone ahead after 35 minutes when they were awarded a bitterly disputed penalty for a handling offence. But the 18-year-old Kelvin Davis was Luton's hero with a brilliant save from Neil Cox's spot-kick.

Shortly afterwards, Robson missed a great chance at the far post from a Derek Whyte pass, but Hendrie returned to scoring form with his 16th goal of the season in the 45th minute with a deflected shot. It was his first goal in more than three months.

Hendrie burst through 10 minutes into the second half, but shot wide from the edge of the penalty area, and after 63 minutes John Taylor silenced the crowd with an equaliser. Following a Robson foul on Dwight Marshall, Paul Telfer sent over a free-kick for Taylor to score from close range.

Middlesbrough picked themselves up and regained the lead after 72 minutes through Hendrie's second goal following a fine run by Whyte. Jan Age Fjrtoft and Hendrie missed further chances for Middlesbrough in the final minutes before the final whistle brought welcome relief to the fans.

Robson's assistant, Viv Anderson, paid tribute to the players after the victory, saying: "I thought we played extremely well in the first half. It was probably the best we have played at home for a few weeks. We missed a number of chances but still won, which was all important.

"I think we need one more point and will prepare for the Tranmere game as though we need that point. It was a sentimental farewell to Ayresome Park today but we are now looking forward to playing in our new stadium next season. Hopefully it will be in the Premiership.

"The crowd were superb today. We would like that support every week - it is what we are striving for."

Middlesbrough's new £16m ground is to be called Riverside Stadium. The name, chosen by a supporters' poll, was announced during yesterday's game.

Middlesbrough: Miller; Cox, Whyte, Vickers, Pearson, Blackmore, Robson, Pollock, Fjrtoft, Hendrie, Moore. Substitutes not used: Fuchs, Moreno, Pears.

Luton Town: Davis; Linton, Johnson, Waddock, Harvey, Peake, Telfer, Oakes (Thorpe, 80), Taylor, Preece, Marshall. Substitutes not used: Thomas, Margetson.

Referee: P Vanes (Warley).