Everton. . . . . . .2
WHEN things get tough at the end of a long season, the question often springs to mind: what is a good team like you doing in a spot like this?
It had to be asked of Middlesbrough as, carried along by the euphoria of their midweek win over Arsenal and the chill updraft created by the drop beneath them, they dominated for long periods with a mixture of direct, determined and sometimes delicate attacking play.
It seemed to have answered itself when, despite the lion's share of possession and chances, they had failed to put the wind up Neville Southall, and their centre-half, Alan Kernaghan, was sent off on the hour for tripping Tony Cottee when the striker was clear on goal.
Everton had soaked up the pressure and seized what opportunities they could. When their big one came along, it was gift-wrapped. From their first corner, Dave Watson stole in unchallenged on the far post to give them a 25th-minute lead.
But eight minutes after Kernaghan's dismissal, and not for the first time, 10 men showed they could succeed where 11 had failed. John Hendrie found space on the left and Paul Wilkinson rose to head the equaliser.
Middlesbrough's eagerness for a winner rather than their numerical handicap was their undoing. Andy Hinchcliffe's through ball caught them short at the back, and although Steve Pears blocked John Ebbrell's shot, the Yugoslavian substitute, Predrag Radosavljevic, dribbled round the prostrate goalkeeper to tap in the winner.
With Hendrie reaching the byline almost at will and a stream of high balls being pumped into the Everton area from midfield, the gangling Wilkinson and the nippy Craig Hignett received frequent service but Wilkinson wasted several chances and Southall twice saved well from Hendrie.
Everton also wasted opportunities, Cottee racing clear only to shoot straight at Pears, and Matt Jackson saw his volley headed off the line by Jimmy Phillips.
Howard Kendall, the Everton manager, was satisfied: 'A win over QPR on Monday should make us safe, but Boro' were very lively and there is still hope for them,' he said.
His Middlesbrough counterpart, Lennie Lawrence, said: 'I would not have thought we could play so well and still lose. If we get relegated, blame the first goal we gave away today.'
Middlesbrough: S Pears; C Fleming, J Phillips, A Kernaghan, N Mohan, A Peake, J Hendrie, G Kavanagh (D Whyte, 57 min), P Wilkinson, J Pollock, C Hignett (A Moore, 75 min). Sub not used: I Ironside (gk). Manager: L Lawrence.
Everton: N Southall; M Jackson, A Hinchcliffe, B Horne, D Watson, G Ablett, M Ward, P Beardsley, T Cottee, P Rideout (S Barlow, h/t, P Radosavljevic, 71 min), J Ebbrell. Sub not used: J Kearton (gk). Manager: H Kendall.
Referee: J Lloyd (Wrexham).
Goals: Watson (26 min, 0-1); Wilkinson (64 min, 1-1); Radosavljevic (80 min, 1-2).