Football: Frustrations spill over as Robson faces flak

Middlesbrough 0 Wimbledon 0
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The Independent Online
IT COULD be that 4.18pm on Saturday proves to be a watershed moment for Bryan Robson. After five-and-a-half years in charge at the Riverside, it is sink or swim time for the Middlesbrough manager.

Robson might have been spared the tidal wave of criticism that swept down upon him had he not decided that Juninho's number was up. But, in substituting the Brazilian with 27 minutes remaining, Robson opened the floodgates.

"You don't know what you're doing," the crowd chanted, rising to point fingers of blame in the direction of the the home bench. It was the first time in Boro's rollercoaster ride under Robson that the fans had turned against him in public.

There were boos, too, at the final whistle, even though the securing of a point was a victory of sorts for a Middlesbrough team who ought to have suffered something similar to their 5-1 hammering at Highbury the previous Saturday.

Judging by their last 180 minutes, it is just as well that Boro already have 23 points in their bag. Against the big guns of Arsenal and the pop- guns of Wimbledon, they have looked a team going nowhere - nowhere other than downwards, that is.

On Saturday they did not have the wherewithal to cope with Egil Olsen's three-pronged attacking formation. With Marcus Gayle, Carl Leaburn and Carl Cort strung wide across Wimbledon's front line, Boro were stretched apart at the back. It was their good fortune that the Dons were so dire in front of goal - Cort, Robbie Earle and Jason Euell failing to bury free headers in the first half and Cort missing from point-blank range in the second. But Boro's own shortcomings were too glaring to ignore.

On the few occasions they sparked fleetingly to life it was through the genius of Juninho, whose withdrawal in the 63rd minute did rather more than spoil a good walk by Graham Kelly, who had tramped for eight days and 184 miles for the pleasure of seeing him play.

Not that the subsequent flak left Robson feeling wounded. "It's my job as a manager to do what I feel is right," he said. "I just felt the way Wimbledon were making chances from midfield I had to put on a more defensive midfield player to try not to lose the game."

Another 90 minutes against Arsenal, who visit the Riverside in the Worthington Cup tomorrow night, is not exactly what Middlesbrough and their manager need right now.

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer; Festa, Vickers, Cooper; O'Neill, Ziege, Ince, Juninho (Mustoe, 63), Stamp; Ricard (Armstrong, 61), Deane. Substitutes not used: Beresford (gk), Fleming, Gascoigne.

Wimbledon (4-3-3): Sullivan; Cunningham, Hreidarsson, Thatcher, Kimble; Earle, Euell, Andersen; Cort, Gayle, Leaburn (Hughes, 86). Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Jupp, Blackwell, Badir.

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Mustoe. Wimbledon: Euell.

Man of the match: Euell.

Attendance: 31,400.