Football: Beck and Ricard the striking odd couple

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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough 4 Sheffield Wednesday 0

IT WAS a surprise striking partnership that sank Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday and shot Middlesbrough, momentarily, to the dizzy heights of third in the Premiership.

It was even a surprise for the manager Bryan Robson, who did not see fit to include either Hamilton Ricard or Mikkel Beck in his first starting 11 of the season, even though he was suffering a striker shortage. Indeed, Beck was bench-bound for the latter half of last season in the Nationwide, as Marco Branca arrived to score 10 in Boro's last 13 promotion winning games, and Ricard was rather risibly regarded at the Riverside due to his penchant for missing the unmissable from a couple of yards.

But, since the defection of Paul Merson, Ricard has become the Premiership's leading scorer, and Beck's form has caused him to be recalled into the Danish squad to play Wales after a year's absence.

And that, too, was a surprise to the people of his homeland. "Even Danish journalists who came over here last week asked why I'd been selected as I'd only scored one goal," admitted Beck after the game in which he tripled his tally and was denied a hat-trick by a questionable offside decision.

"Football is a game of coincidences and it is a coincidence whether it is Hamilton or I who scores because we move so much for each other. I don't see myself as a goal-scorer, but a playmaking attacker. I love setting up goals as well as scoring them. Now I have three goals and I have set up four of Hamilton's eight."

Beck looks rather lightweight to lead a Premiership line and he is not blessed with the quickest of feet, but against Wednesday's slothful defence he twice proved himself lethal from two yards. Ricard, a Colombian, looks rather like a traditional English centreforward: strong and powerful in the air but often clumsy on the floor. His first half overhead kick was evidence of this - spectacular and threatening from the edge of the area, forcing Kevin Pressman to dive to catch - it would not have been necessary had he controlled a routine cross on the six yard line, rather than ballooning it heavenwards off his thigh. Yet Ricard, too, proved lethal when required, casually rounding Pressman for the third.

For Wednesday, that goal was but one entry in a long catalogue of woes as it came courtesy of Emerson Thome's sloppy back pass. Shorn of strikers by injury - and, of course, suspension to Paolo Di Canio - they lost Petter Rudi on a stretcher in the 13th minute and Andy Hinchcliffe to a red card in the 90th.

Although the Wednesday manager Danny Wilson branded the sending off "pathetic", he conceded: "No complaints, we were comprehensively beaten.

"It's been an uneasy week for us. I don't condone what Paolo did, but now I hope the FA sees common sense and puts things in perspective. There's been too much written that's been over the top, about banning him sine die or kicking him out of England. Hopefully, we can get more people fit for our next game at Coventry in a fortnight."

Goals: Beck (27) 1-0; Beck (45) 2-0; Ricard (49) 3-0; Gascoigne (90) 4-0.

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer; Cooper, Pallister, Vickers; Festa, Mustoe, Gascoigne, Townsend, Gordon; Ricard (Campbell, 82), Beck. Substitutes not used: Stockdale, Kinder, Blackmore, Beresford (gk).

Sheffield Wednesday (4-5-1): Pressman; Cobain (Barrett, 71), Walker, Thome, Hinchcliffe; Alexandersson, Magilton (Sanetti, 71), Jonk, Atherton, Rudi (Oakes, 15); Humphreys. Substitutes not used: Newsome, Clarke (gk).

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Townsend; Sheffield Wednesday: Humphreys.

Sending off: Sheffield Wednesday: Hinchcliffe.

Referee: R Harris (Oxford).

Man of the match: Gordon.

Attendance: 34,163.

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