Football: Juninho inspires revival

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Middlesbrough 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1

Ziege 34, Deane 67 Vega 7

Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 33,129

AFTER CUP calamities against First and Second Division teams, Middlesbrough found Premiership opposition more to their liking, and this victory over Spurs lifts much of the pressure from their manager, Bryan Robson.

Defeats by Wrexham and Tranmere had left Boro floundering with one win in seven games and Robson facing a home League crowd for the first time since they had chanted: "You don't know what you're doing" at him during last month's goalless draw with Wimbledon. And things had to get worse before they got any better for Robson as Middlesbrough were outplayed and a goal behind before a spirited revival led by Juninho won them the game.

"It has been a strange week to say the least," said Robson's assistant, Viv Anderson. "But this game was no more important than any other and we've got three points. The lads proved how much they want to play for Bryan Robson and this club. We started nervously but then battled away and got back into it."

Those nerves were evident in the opening period as Boro were incapable of stringing a meaningful move together, of timing a tackle or even of taking a throw-in to a team-mate.

Spurs were the fluid side and had twice looked dangerous even before the sixth minute, when David Ginola won a controversial free-kick on the edge of the area. He took it himself and found Ramon Vega free on the back post just a couple of yards out. Vega's downward header was powerful and Mark Schwarzer parried it well. It was only a rehearsal; two minutes later, when Steve Vickers was fortunate to concede only a corner from his clumsy challenge on Chris Armstrong, came the real thing. Ginola crossed, Vega was free at the back and this time he beat Schwarzer.

Middlesbrough were in danger of falling apart and Hamilton Ricard was on the brink of losing his rag as Sol Campbell stood rock-like beside him. Yet, as Steve Carr thrust, Chris Perry probed and Ginola conducted, Juninho just about held Middlesbrough together. As doughty and persistent as anyone in a crisis, he was rattling advertising hoardings with his long shots. Then in the 35th minute he exchanged short passes with Christian Ziege on the edge of the Spurs area. The German's sureness of foot took him past Vega and with the goal gaping he buried his chance.

"It was probably a bad time to play them after two defeats and I think the equaliser fired them up," George Graham said. "After it they were the better team."

In the 43rd minute, Brian Deane set Robbie Stockdale away down the right. He reached the byline and crossed precisely to Ziege, unmarked three yards out on the back post. But whereas minutes before the German had been unerring, this time he screwed his right-foot tap-in wide.

Perhaps as punishment for indulging in histrionics when he should have been pursuing Stockdale, Ginola did not reappear for the second half. "Juninho started roaming and instigating the majority of their moves and we needed an extra midfielder, so it was a tactical switch as much as anything," Graham explained.

But without their conductor, Spurs' sleek football fell apart in front of Middlesbrough's more robust approach.

In the 66th minute, Ian Walker took a blow to the head from Ricard and required lengthy treatment. As soon as the game resumed, Ziege hung up a high cross, Walker flapped at it and the ball bounced kindly for Deane to smash home the winner.

"Ian Walker got attacked," Graham said. "His nose and face are all blown up. The last time I saw a challenge like that it was Nat Lofthouse in the Cup final."

In an extraordinary turnabout, Middlesbrough ended as the fluid team, with everything flowing through Juninho. In the 73rd minute he wriggled from the halfway line, slithering over Perry's outstretched leg only to be denied by Walker's dive. The save ensured a fraught last few minutes for Robson until the game culminated with Allan Nielsen being dismissed for aiming its last kick at the Brazilian.