Boro wish upon a star

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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough 1

Hignett 15 pen

Queen's Park Rangers 0

Attendance: 29,293

MIDDLESBROUGH extended their current winning sequence to seven matches, five of them in the Premiership and the last five without a goal conceded - but this was one occasion when the statistics were more impressive than the performance.

Bryan Robson's team came up with a rousing finale for a full house at the Riverside Stadium, during which Nick Barmby had a goal ruled out for offside and the centre-back Nigel Pearson headed against the woodwork. On the whole, though, this was not Middlesbrough at their best.

Rangers, once they started to believe in themselves, found they were good enough to have returned to London with a point and should have done so, as Daniele Dichio knows only too well. The 6ft 3in striker, who has not squandered many chances lately, was guilty of a nightmare-inducing miss, heading over the top of an unguarded goal after Trevor Sinclair's 66th-minute chip had beaten Gary Walsh and hit the bar. Rangers, and in particular the threatening Sinclair, deserved that to have gone in.

Relief, then, for Middlesbrough, who played like the supporting cast waiting for the star to arrive. But as yet, the performer in question is tied up in red tape: Juninho, their pounds 4.75m Brazilian, cannot play until a work permit is granted. Robson hopes to unveil him on his return to Old Trafford next Saturday, but this is by no means certain.

A 14th-minute penalty, put away by Craig Hignett after Steve Yates had pulled back Barmby under the referee's nose, gave Middlesbrough the edge. They missed another at the start of the second half, although there was some justice here, in that Karl Ready looked to have been punished for only the faintest nudge on Barmby. Jan Fjortoft took the kick, for reasons of which even Viv Anderson, Robson's assistant, was unaware, and promptly hit it off the bar.

"We accept that we did not play well," Anderson said. "But sometimes you grind out a result." He acknowledged just as readily that the opposition had good reason to feel unlucky. "They created as many problems for us as anyone has this season," he said.

How much this is worth in consolation is a debatable point, but Rangers, for whom Ian Holloway and Simon Barker made impressive movements in midfield, once again confirmed that they are a team who deserve the highest respect.