Brazilian bravura blinds Leicester

Leicester City 1 Marshall 47 Middlesbrough 3 Blackmore 9, Juninho 27, Beck 36 Attendance: 20,561
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The Independent Online
As dress rehearsals go, this one had enough to get the juices flowing in expectation of the Coca-Cola Cup final at Wembley come 6 April - but only if you're a Boro fan. At least Leicester now know what could be in store for them. Whether they can do anything about it is another matter.

Leicester's manager, Martin O'Neill, has somehow to find an answer to a problem that has confronted and confounded football managers for generations - how to stifle Brazilian brilliance. That, in the shape of Juninho and Emerson, was their undoing in a first half which glittered with superb football that flowed beyond a bewildered home side who could have been six down by half-time.

Three down in 35 minutes was bad enough. The first goal was, by comparison with what followed, mundane enough. Clayton Blackmore collected Emerson's touch, took a couple of strides and hammered a 20-yard shot low into Kevin Poole's net. The second and third came from a different world.

With 27 minutes gone, Emerson mopped up a Leicester attack and swept a 50-yard pass into Juninho's stride. His fellow countryman slid easily past the exposed and desperate Poole to stroke the ball home. Nine minutes later, Juninho again dismantled the hapless home defence and Mikkel Beck punched home the third. And then there were those Boro missed...

Juninho should have had a hat-trick by the half-time whistle, twice slicing his way close enough to see the whites of Poole's eyes before missing the target. And Fabrizio Ravanelli did his bit with the miss of the match just before half-time after the two Brazilians again had demoralised Leicester's by now tremulous defence.

That was that. Leicester scored within two minutes of the restart when Ian Marshall out-jumped a clutch of Boro defenders to head home Steve Claridge's cross. That was the only success the Leicester strikers could muster, but they battled constantly in vain efforts to restore some semblance of credibility to the Leicester challenge.

But despite Juninho electing to spend the second half relaxing wide on the right wing, rarely did Leicester threaten to pull the game out of the fire.

Garry Parker was a constant encouragement and spur to his side, but his promptings were lost on colleagues obviously suffering from too many tired legs after their midweek labours at Wimbledon. Their lack of a quality midfield scuffler had allowed the Brazilians, abetted by Craig Hignett, all the space in the world in that lethal first 45 minutes. Leicester managed to close it down in the second half but mainly because Boro had the points sewn up.

Seekers after omens will note that this was Boro's first win at Filbert Street since the 1937-38 season. But readers of tea leaves won't be much help to Martin O'Neill and his men come Wembley. Leg irons on Juninho and Emerson would be more in their line as they ponder how on earth a side containing such brilliance can be languishing at the bottom of the Premiership.