Football: Hignett gets the message

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SOME managers throw crockery to get across their half-time message, others turn the air blue with invective. Bryan Robson, the manager of First Division Middlesbrough, appears to have found a new ploy. Parade a new striker during the interval, it will concentrate the players' minds wonderfully.

Drawing 0-0 with Bradford City in front of over 30,000 fans at the Riverside Stadium, Boro introduced the 22-year-old Stockport County striker, Alun Armstrong, who had just signed for them for pounds 1.6m. Thus stimulated, Boro went out and scored four minutes into the second half through Craig Hignett, his ninth of the season, and grimly held on to their lead.

The three points took them back to the top, but it was not an impressive sight. "Sometimes you have to grind out results. You can't always win 4-0 or 5-0," Robson said. "It was not the most fluent of performances but we got the points and that gives us a cushion at the top of the table."

Robson's signings are not over yet with Inter Milan's Marco Branca due next week. "It will be difficult to get into the side with competition for places." Armstrong said. But, he added, "I want to be in the Premier League."

The Queen's Park Rangers boss, Ray Harford, was expecting a vociferous reception at West Bromwich Albion, the club he walked out on in December, and he was not disappointed. As soon as he stepped off the team bus, shouts of "Judas" greeted him from more than 1,000 Albion fans but after 24 minutes he was heartened when the former West Ham striker, Iain Dowie, in his second game for Rangers scored his first league goal since March 1995. Lee Hughes equalised with a header .

Portsmouth lost 3-1 at Crewe Alexandra, a defeat that leaves them nine points from safety. "Self-inflicted wounds," the Pompey manager, Alan Ball, moaned. "Nothing weird and wonderful about it. We were beaten because we gave away three schoolboy goals."

In the Second Division, Gillingham followed last Sunday's 2-0 win at leaders Watford with an identical scoreline at second-placed Bristol City.

There was a mighty upset in the fourth round of the Tennents Scottish Cup when the holders, Kilmarnock, fourth in the Premier, were dumped out by Ayr United, who are fighting relegation from the First Division. It was goalless at Somerset Park until seven minutes from time when a Jim Dick header and an Ian Ferguson lob gave Ayr a 2-0 win. And finally, Second Division Inverness Caledonian Thistle drew 1-1 at Premier side Dundee United.