Newcastle, for their part, did their damnedest to kill off their title challenge by leaving their right flank cruelly exposed. Manager Kenny Dalglish played Warren Barton in front of a flat back four which left Robbie Elliott trailing in the wake of the darting Juninho. Acres of space opened up where the full-back should have been but Middlesbrough could not bring themselves to capitalise on it.
The villain of the piece was Mikkel Beck, who was so wasteful in front of goal that it looked like Middlesbrough's Premiership life was threatened by suicide. The killer instinct was shown only by Les Ferdinand. In the eighth minute the ball broke to Lee Clark as a result of Ferdinand's forceful challenge. Clark quickly returned the ball to him and his low, hard shot bounced in off the post for his 18th goal of the season.
Newcastle could have added another in the 15th minute. Middlesbrough, a little lightweight in midfield with Emerson missing through suspension, allowed Ferdinand to burst clear. Then Ben Roberts, who seconds earlier had dallied nervously under a bouncing ball as Alan Shearer charged towards him, this time approached at speed. Ferdinand tumbled over his leg but, as the referee Steve Dunn made abundantly clear, the ball was heading away from goal and a caution sufficed. Yet this was still Shearer territory, but with the blustery breeze at his back, his curling kick drifted over the bar.
Then Boro courageously rallied. In the 27th minute Juninho's right-wing cross perfectly found Beck free in the area but he blasted horribly high and in the 34th minute, when Alan Moore again opened up the visitors, the Dane lacked the guile to lift his shot over Shaka Hislop's prone body.
After half-time Fabrizio Ravanelli, whose only previous contribution had been to outwit Philippe Albert and put Middlesbrough ahead on corners, thought he had levelled the score. Steve Vickers launched a 50-yard pass over Albert to Beck whose half-volley, from the spot where Ferdinand had scored, was tipped over by Hislop. As Craig Hignett swung in the corner, Ravanelli tripped over Albert but even as his shot trickled in off the post it was ruled out.
Middlesbrough's rally continued in the 52nd minute when Moore popped the ball down the right wing only for Ravanelli to greedily run it out of play. Ten minutes later Juninho scampered into a yawning space and Phil Stamp crossed. The ball momentarily eluded Hislop but Clayton Blackmore could only back-heel on to the post.
But pity poor Beck. Even when he did manage to beat Hislop in the 73rd minute the ball would not go in, Darren Peacock sliding in to hook away. And pity poor Middlesbrough. In the 83rd minute, Nigel Pearson launched himself at Juninho's free-kick but his header left the bar shaking and Middlesbrough's Premiership lifeline slipping.Reuse content