Football: Boro's cabinet is bare

Middlesbrough 3 Southampton 2
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The Independent Online
THERE WAS no telegram from Her Majesty and, more to the point, no silverware on show for the special occasion. There have been better 100th birthday parties than the one which marked Middlesbrough's century as a League club.

A hundred red and white balloons were released before kick-off at the Riverside on Saturday and at half-time a handful of Boro boys of yesteryear waved to the crowd from the centre-circle.

It is an achievement of sorts that in 100 years of endeavour as a professional football club Middlesbrough have yet to win a first-class prize. The trophy cabinet at Ayresome Park was not entirely redundant, but, as Jim Platt, one of the old boys on show, would sheepishly testify, the winning of the Anglo-Scottish Cup was not something to shout about. He was too embarrassed to join a lap of honour at Craven Cottage in 1975. "We had won it by drawing 0-0 at Fulham," the former Northern Ireland goalkeeper recalled. "I went straight to the dressing-room."

The team that Jack Charlton built had their moments. They fleetingly led the old First Division in the autumn of 1976. Bryan Robson's Boro would have topped the Premiership three weeks ago had they beaten Leicester. For all the millions that have been lavished on them, though, they continue to look less likely trophy winners than Big Jack's Boro were.

In five years as manager, Robson has spent some pounds 60m on players, just as Kevin Keegan did at Newcastle. Keegan, of course, built a team that challenged Manchester United for the title. Robson seems to be permanently in the construction process.

Ninth place last season and a current top-half position point to signs of stability, if nothing else. But Middlesbrough continue to resemble a collection of loose parts, prone to collapse at the back and in the middle. For an hour at the Riverside on Saturday it was Southampton who looked more like the finished article of a team.

They took the lead on the quarter-hour when Mark Schwarzer was caught in no-man's land, 10 yards outside his penalty area, and Hassan Kachloul, the brightest creative spark on either side, swept the ball into an unguarded net. Then followed a little piece of Teesside football history: a Gary Pallister goal, a thumping right-foot drive from 30 yards. It was the veteran defender's first goal for Middlesbrough for 10 years and 11 months. He was a 23-year-old stripling when he scored the winner against West Ham at Ayresome Park on 8 October 1988.

If that was a bolt from the blue, Boro and Pallister were on the suffering end of a lightning break 10 minutes into the second half. It finished with a clinical strike by Marian Pahars, but the course of the contest turned decisively after 65 minutes, when one of the Saints went marching off. In stopping Paul Ince's goal-bound header with his right fist, Luis Boa Morte not only conceded a penalty which Paul Gascoigne duly converted but left his team one man short in the final 25 minutes. Boro made their numerical advantage count in the 77th minute when Brian Deane met Christian Ziege's left-wing cross with a diving header.

"It was a disappointing performance," Robson conceded. "The one good thing was that we kept going." Much the same can be said about the opening century of League football in Middlesbrough.

Goals: Kachloul (15) 0-1; Pallister (18) 1-1; Pahars (55) 1-2; Gascoigne (pen 68) 2-2; Deane (77) 3-2.

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer; Vickers (Gavin, 64), Pallister, Cooper; Stamp (Stockdale, 64), Gascoigne, Ince, Mustoe, Ziege; Deane, Ricard (Armstrong, 64). Substitutes not used: Townsend, Roberts (gk).

Southampton (4-5-1): Jones; Dodd, Lundekvam, Richards, Benali; Ripley (Oakley, 27), Soltvedt, Hughes, Kachloul (Bridge, 71), Boa Morte; Pahars (Beattie, 71). Substitutes not used: Davies, Moss (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley). Bookings: Middlesbrough: Ricard, Cooper, Deane. Sending off: Southampton: Boa Morte.

Man of the match: Kachloul.

Attendance: 32,165.