Football: Boro in debt to soloist Juninho

Middlesbrough 1 Chelsea 0
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The Independent Online
Never mind Fabrizio Ravanelli or George Carman QC, Middlesbrough have all they need to win them two cups and maintain their precious Premiership place in Juninho.

His winner on Saturday was his third goal in Middlesbrough's best run of the season - four consecutive league wins - and it lifted them out of the bottom three for the first time in three months. "Juninho's hit top form at a crucial time for us," said his manager, Bryan Robson.

In truth, Boro could have done with Ravanelli - in Italy receiving treatment on a hamstring injury - to convert the numerous chances fashioned by Juninho.

Chelsea, strangely lacklustre, could not cope with the tiny Brazilian whichever formation they played in. They started with three centre-backs, but Juninho's telling control, devastating acceleration and immaculate passing left them in tatters.

At the interval they reorganised, sending on Mark Hughes to add some bite to a toothless attack led by Gianluca Vialli. "Mark had a little groin problem and we rested him so Gianluca could show everyone what he is capable of," Ruud Gullit said, pointedly.

But the reorganisation left a flat back four no less at the mercy of Juninho's wiles. In the 53rd minute, he danced between Dennis Wise and Roberto Di Matteo, slipped the ball to Mikkel Beck and then threw himself at the cross to head the winner.

"We are defending well and with Juninho we have that bit of quality which can win games," said Robson.

After tonight's match against Nottingham Forest, Juninho will rest for Middlesbrough's third fixture in five fateful days, allowing George Carman to try to win the points in Wednesday's appeal against the punishment for failing to fulfill a fixture with Blackburn in December.

Goal: Juninho (53) 1-0.

Middlesbrough (4-3-2-1): Schwarzer; Cox, Pearson, Festa, Fleming; Stamp (Moore, 25; Vickers, 55), Emerson, Blackmore; Juninho, Hignett; Beck. Substitutes not used: Whyte, Summebell, Roberts (gk).

Chelsea (3-5-2): Grodas; Sinclair, Clarke, Johnsen (M Hughes, h-t); Petrescu (Parker, 76), Wise, Burley, Di Matteo (P Hughes, 76), Minto; Zola, Vialli. Substitutes not used: Myers, Colgan (gk).

Referee: M Riley (Leeds).

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Festa. Chelsea: Di Matteo, M Hughes.

Man of the match: Juninho.

Attendance: 29,811.

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