Football: Beck to the fore

Middlesbrough 4

Hignett 77, 90, Beck 79, 84

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Options Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto were of little concern on Teesside terra firma yesterday. Middlesbrough were simply over the moon to pull clear at the top of the First Division. They have no intention of sticking around to discover whether the out-of-this-world restructuring proposals mooted by the Football League's chairmen will take effect.

This coming week happens to mark the anniversary of Middlesbrough's attempt to improvise the Premier League rules, by failing to show at Ewood Park. The subsequent deduction of three points ultimately cost Boro relegation and one of their season-ticket holders is taking the Premier League to the small claims court, claiming he has been unjustly deprived of first-class football. Middlesbrough, though, are busy gathering enough points to guarantee their instant return to where they and their followers believe they rightfully belong.

The three points Bryan Robson's side collected yesterday took their running total for the season to 45. In doing so, they moved three points clear of Nottingham Forest, who play at Wolves today, and extended their unbeaten run to 10 matches. The manner in which Robson's Boro boys gained their win was significant too. They did not exactly pull up any trees against the men from Elm Park, but they dug deep for a hard-earned victory on their cut-up home turf.

It took 77 minutes for Craig Hignett to break through, with a blasting right-foot drive from 20 yards. Some 506 Boro fans have sent Christmas cards to Emerson urging the Brazilian not to join Tenerife, but they would have greater cause to suffer from parrot-sickness if the inestimable Hignett were to move on. The one-time Anfield apprentice burst through the middle to complete the scoring in the final minute and his midfield dynamism kept Boro driving from the first whistle to the last.

Mikkel Beck scored two of his own, his second goal courtesy of Jaime Moreno, whose 70th-minute introduction provided attacking momentum when they needed it most. Having shot Washington DC United to the Major League Soccer title in the United States, the on-loan Bolivian is clearly well equipped to help Boro back into English football's major league.

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