Football: Bad day for Ravanelli and Robson

Simon Turnbull sees Middlesbrough misfire against Inter and lose a striker
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The Independent Online
If Fabrizio Ravanelli had not been famously grey already, he would have needed the Grecian 2000 by the end of his first, goalless match in the surreal setting of his new home ground. While the Tees dockers busied about their Sunday afternoon shift, re-fitting the North Sea Producer, a giant tanker which dwarfed the Riverside Stadium's north stand, the highest paid worker in Middlesbrough had that Monday morning feeling a day early.

Most worryingly for Middlesbrough, and their manager Bryan Robson, was the fact that their pounds 7m investment spent all but the first 10 minutes of his home baptism without his intended work-partner. Nick Barmby's premature departure on a stretcher left the White Feather far from tickled to forage for scraps of possession in not-so-splendid isolation. It also left Robson fretting about his England forward, who was taken to hospital for an X- ray.

"It's not as bad as we feared," Robson later reported. "Nick's got a badly bruised calf." Barmby and Juninho, who returned from the Olympics without a medal but with knee ligament damage, are both likely to miss Middlesbrough's Premiership opener against Liverpool at the Riverside on Saturday.

It was a painful irony that the man who left Barmby sprawled on the half-way line was Paul Ince, one of his Euro 96 colleagues. The hard-man of the San Siro, who returns to Old Trafford tomorrow night, was absolved from blame by his boss, Inter's Croydon-born coach Roy Hodgson, who felt Barmby had been at fault. Robson diplomatically dismissed the incident as "just an accident."

Unfortunately for the 20,285 crowd, the collision set the tone of a fractious game which ended with Robson substituting John Hendrie, who had only been on the field for five minutes, after the Scot had become involved in a spat with the Inter left-back, Alessandro Pistone. Emerson threw a punch at Aron Winter in the same melee and the Brazilian, a pounds 4m signing from Porto, made a more striking first impression all-round than Ravanelli.

The strength and distributive skill he brought to Middlesbrough's anchor role fulfilled all claims that Robson has indeed bought a dynamic midfielder made in his own image. "Emma looks an outstanding player," Robson acknowledged, "but it's a long old season over here and he's got to keep proving it."

Though ponderous in defence and less than convincing creatively, Robson's side came closer to scoring in each half. In the first, Steve Vickers headed against the foot of a post after Ravanelli nodded a Craig Hignett free-kick invitingly towards the central defender.

Six minutes into the second, Ravanelli crashed a free-kick into the right corner of the net with a left-foot shot from 25 yards. Before he could pull his shirt over his head in celebration, however, Jeff Winter disallowed the Italian's effort for pushing in the wall by Alan Moore. The referee, a financial consultant from Stockton, will be the least popular man on Teesside this morning. His pedantry wiped out what would have been the fitting highlight of a benefit match for Willie Maddren.

At least the former Middlesbrough defender and manager left some pounds 170,000 the richer as he continued his brave battle against motor neurone disease.

Middlesbrough (5-3-2): Miller; Cox (Morris, 70), Vickers, Pearson (Whelan, 13), Whyte, Fleming; Mustoe (Kavanagh, 72), Emerson, Moore (Hendrie, 84); Barmby (Hignett, 10), Ravanelli.

Internazionale (4-4-2): Pagliuca (Mazzantini, h-t); Angloma, Festa, Paganin, Pistone; Sforza, Ince (Seno, h-t), Carbone (Berti 75), Winter; Ganz, Zamorano.

Referee: J Winter (Stockton).

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