RARELY WILL the Riverside watch such a one-sided first half. Rarely will it witness such a wretched five minutes in which two points are so wilfully surrendered.
"At half-time the boys couldn't have been anymore in control and it was just a matter of keeping it going," said the Middlesbrough manager, Bryan Robson. "I have got Premiership quality players at the back now with vast experience, and they should have done better."
Prior to the game, it was two consecutive clean sheets in the league, coinciding with the arrival of Pallister, that had hoisted Boro to the dizzy heights of sixth place.
Although Gary Pallister, playing his first home game for Middlesbrough since 1991, cannot escape criticism for allowing John Collins the room to strike the second from the edge of the area, most of Robson's venom was aimed at Steve Vickers for his "rash challenge" on Danny Cadamarteri 90 seconds after the interval. The substitute's wriggling run caught Vickers by surprise and he felled him just inside the penalty area.
Walter Smith, the Everton manager, took solace from the second half. "At Leicester we went 1-0 down and it was game over," he said. "We are in the throes of finding out about the team and it still has to settle down."
Olivier Dacourt, booked again as Everton maintained their record of three yellow cards to every point gained, will have to continue his adjustment from the stand as he is banned for the next game, at home to Blackburn.
Aside from that two-goal, five-minute spell which clawed Everton level with Hamilton Ricard's pair, they were out-played. Although Cadamarteri did provide some urgency, they lacked any width and had only two other noteworthy efforts.
Once Middlesbrough had regained their composure, it was they who did all the pressing and Paul Gascoigne all the orchestrating. His last 20 minutes gave the lie to those who question his match fitness as it was his most potent period of the 90. An almost imperceptible twitch dragged him between three opponents; a 30-yard surge bulldozed him into the penalty area. Two free-kicks flew just wide and any number of passes so nearly created winners.
"I'm not talking about Gazza anymore," said Robson when the inevitable question reared its ugly head. "He's proving it on the pitch".
Goals: Ricard (27) 1-0; (35) 2-0; Ball pen (47) 2-1; Collins (49) 2-2.
Middlesbrough (5-3-2): Schwarzer; Festa, Cooper, Pallister, Vickers, Gordon; Townsend, Mustoe, Gascoigne; Beck, Ricard. Substitutes not used: Stamp, Campbell, Blackmore, Stockdale, Berrisford (gk).
Everton (5-3-1-1) Myhre; Clelland, Watson, Unsworth, Materazzi, Ball; Hutchison (Cadamarteri, h-t), Collins, Dacourt; Barmby; Ferguson. Substitutes not used: Farrelly, Tiler, Jevons, Gerrard (gk).
Bookings: Middlesbrough: Vickers, Festa, Gascoigne. Everton: Ball, Dacourt, Hutchison.
Referee: D Gallagher (Manchester).
Man of the match: Ricard.
Attendance: 34,563.Reuse content