Football: Arsenal spoil their old boy's reunion

Middlesbrough 1 Arsenal 2

Paul Merson knows a thing or two about comebacks. After overcoming his addictions and rebuilding his marriage, he was sold by the club he served loyally for 13 years. After overcoming his addiction to Arsenal, he is now rebuilding his career at Middlesbrough to the extent that he has been in the last three England squads.

But not even Merson could overcome the setback Middlesbrough suffered in the first half against his old club. They conceded a goal after just 68 seconds - 23 seconds slower than the one that dashed their hopes against Chelsea in last year's FA Cup final - and by the 17th minute Dennis Bergkamp and Nicolas Anelka were amusing themselves playing head-tennis in Middlesbrough's penalty area, so inadequate was the opposition.

Patrick Vieira was bestriding the midfield like a colossus and Arsenal's travelling support was in full ironic voice singing "Boring, boring Arsenal".

"It was very difficult to enjoy the first half," Merson admitted. "We were getting hammered. It was embarrassing. We were making schoolboy errors all around the pitch. At half time I would have settled for six."

Just before the interval, a chill wind brought a flurry of sleet and an acrid Teesside stench to the nose to complement the vile words on the lips of the Middlesbrough supporters, aimed at their manager, Bryan Robson, who, peculiarly, had rested three established players and thrown youngsters into the trenches against the Gunners.

"It was almost too much for the young players to cope with," Merson said. "We were playing against big, big boys and I felt sorry for the poor young lads. But when you've been on a pitch with Bergkamp, Vieira and Marc Overmars, you come off it a better player."

A charmingly modest man, Merson should have added his own name to the list. For, in the second half, the comeback kid so nearly engineered the most remarkable about-turn of his career.

Running past Tony Adams on to Robbie Mustoe's long pass, he eluded the desperate slide of goalkeeper Alex Manninger and, from an awkward angle, carefully placed the ball between two defenders into the net.

"When I saw it was him with the ball on the right I expected him to punish us, unfortunately," said Arsene Wenger, the man who sold Merson to Boro. "He was Middlesbrough's best player and you can see he's a different class."

Five minutes after his goal, a Merson drag-back, nutmeg and Bergkampesque pass allowed Andy Townsend to score - only for the linesman to disagree. "Andy says he wasn't offside, but I'm not going to do a Gordon Strachan," said Merson with a childish snigger.

There was still time to tee himself up for a 30-yard volley that had Manninger flying, and set up Mikkel Beck for an 87th-minute miss that was so feeble it had the crowd crying.

Merson, though, was all smiles on the final whistle. A pat on the back for Steve Bould, a tap on the head for Adams: a hug for Vieira, an embrace for Bergkamp: high-fives for Ray Parlour, applause for the Middlesbrough end and his shirt for the Arsenal fans.

"It was a mark of appreciation for the last 13 years," he explained. "And to say goodbye."

Just to prove that he was thoroughly addicted to Middlesbrough's push for promotion, he finished by saying: "The biggest disappointment for me was Nottingham Forest winning."

Goals: Overmars (2) 0-1; Parlour (19) 0-2; Merson (62) 1-2.

Middlesbrough (4-3-1-2): Schwarzer; Maddison, Festa, Vickers, Harrison; Ormerod (Hignett, 64), Townsend, Mustoe; Merson; Moreno (Beck, 76), Campbell (Baker, 29). Substitutes not used: Kinder, Summerbell.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Manninger; Dixon (Grimandi, 88), Bould, Adams, Winterburn; Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars; Bergkamp, Anelka. Substitutes not used: Wreh, Boa Morte, Hughes, Lukic (gk).

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).

Bookings: Middlesbrough Baker, Festa.

Man of the match: Merson.

Attendance: 28,264.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
Orson Welles made Citizen Kane at 25, and battled with Hollywood film studios thereafter
people
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Sport
footballAnd Liverpool are happy despite drawing European champions
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, UI, JMX, FIX)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Client-Side web developer (JQuery, Javascript, U...

Structured Finance

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - An excellent new instruction w...

SQL Server Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Server Developer SQL, PHP, C#, Real Time,...

C#.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: C#.NET Developer C#, Win Forms, WPF, WCF, MVVM...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone