Football: Blackmore steals the show: Guy Hodgson reports from Ayresome Park on how Bryan Robson found himself upstaged

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The Independent Online
THERE was no faulting the denoument of Middlesbrough's first home match under new management. The fans had come to see a former a Manchester United midfield player instil skill and hope, and that is what they got. Except it was Clayton Blackmore who excelled and not Bryan Robson, whose new charges beat Heart of Midlothian 3-1.

It was the Welsh international who embellished this dress rehearsal with his intelligent passing and running rather than his new player-manager, who was content to play a cameo of 45 minutes. Blackmore, Robson's first signing when he took charge at Boro, played a part in all three home goals and was the outstanding influence on a game that will have encouraged the revivalist mood on Teesside.

Playing wide on the right, he is not a winger who will rip rearguards with his pace and dribbling, but his passing dissected Hearts with the precision of a surgeon. After 16 minutes, he delivered a cross from the right that would not have been better directed to Paul Wilkinson's head had it been served on a silver tray. It was Blackmore, again, who dispossessed a Hearts defender after 70 minutes and then passed inside for John Hendrie.

The second Boro goal, however, was the piece de resistance. Advancing on the right edge of the Hearts area, he dinked a little chip forward that appeared to be going nowhere until his intended target, Neil Cox, arrived with the momentum of a juggernaut. The former Aston Villa full-back had subtlety as well as power and he flicked the ball over Henry Smith.

'Blackmore's best season with United was when he played at left- back,' Robson said. 'But Curtis Fleming is doing so well there it has given me the luxury of playing Clayton further forward. He has added a bit of class in every one our friendly games so far.'

That class did not rub off on Hearts, whose 89th-minute penalty by John Robertson merely camouflaged an inept and impotent performance. They struggled for most of last season and frankly, on this evidence, the forthcoming one holds little promise.

For Boro and Robson the opposite is true. They can barely wait for Saturday's season start.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Roberts; Cox, Vickers, Whyte, Fleming; Blackmore, Pollock, Robson, Moore; Wilkinson, Hendrie.

Heart of Midlothian (5-3-2): Smith; Frail, McLaren, Levein, Berry, Millar; A Johnston, Mackay, Leitch; Robertson, M Johnston.

Referee: J Winter (Middlesbrough).

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