Football: Ferdinand buries Boro

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Middlesbrough . . . . .0

Queen's Park Rangers. .1

NO ringing bells at Ayresome Park for Middlesbrough's first match of 1993, more an anguished wringing of hands as they went down abjectly to a Les Ferdinand strike 18 minutes from time, his first away League goal.

The Boro manager Lennie Lawrence, whose team has now won only twice in 18 games since mid- September, admitted: 'We looked bereft of confidence. There was no togetherness. We now have serious problems.'

Although they hit the bar and post the general dearth of creativity against a QPR team who started without Ray Wilkins and Ian Holloway and finished minus Andy Sinton and Gary Penrice, strongly suggests a winter's relegation struggle ahead.

Rangers had lost Wilkins with a suspected cracked fibula during a morning kickabout at their hotel. 'It was a freak accident as he was turning,' Gerry Francis said later, 'but we won't know how serious it is until the X-ray tomorrow.'

In a capricious breeze there was little to appreciate in the first half- hour, but the game was redeemed by a sudden outbreak of excitement before the interval. Indeed, it was startling that each side emerged unscathed. For Boro, Nicky Mohan hit the underside of the bar and then Jamie Pollock's 20-yard volley was acrobatically tipped on to the post by Tony Roberts. At the other end Andy Impey cut one back for Bradley Allen - which the youngster fluffed - and Ferdinand blasted wide.

QPR, who had already lost Penrice, the recipient of a heavy tackle by Jon Gittens, were further reduced when Sinton failed to appear for the second half. With their attacking nucleus now sitting on the bench, Rangers opted for a policy of containment, relying twice on Roberts to keep out long-range efforts.

However, Boro's attempts to shuttle the ball forward was their undoing. In the 72nd minute, Ferdinand sped into space conceded by an advancing defence, found another gear as he latched on to Allen's shrewd ball inside, and drove low past Stephen Pears.

Middlesbrough: S Pears; C Fleming, J Phillips, N Mohan, J Gittens, J Pollock, C Hignett, A Peake, P Wilkinson, T Wright (W Falconer 64 min), J Hendrie. Subs not used: M Proctor, I Ironside (gk). Manager: L Lawrence.

Queen's Park Rangers: T Roberts; D Bardsley, R Brevett, C Wilson, D Peacock, A McDonald, A Impey, S Barker, L Ferdinand, G Penrice (B Allen 29 min), A Sinton (D Maddix ht). Sub not used: J Stejskal (gk). Manager: G Francis.

Referee: L Dilkes (Mossley).

Goals: Ferdinand 0-1 (72 mins).