Football: Kelly's 184-mile walk for sore draw

Middlesbrough 0 Wimbledon 0 Attendance: 31,400
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The Independent Online
IT WAS hardly worth watching, and certainly not worth walking 184 miles to see. For eight days, Graham Kelly had tramped the highways and byways from his Peterborough home to the Riverside home of Middlesbrough Football Club. The reason, he explained upon his arrival before kick-off yesterday, was to pay homage to Boro's boy from Brazil.

Having said in a radio interview he would walk to Teesside to watch Juninho if Middlesbrough managed to get him back from Atletico Madrid, the former FA chief executive kept his word.

Having been head of the FA at the time when Middlesbrough were docked the three points that cost them their Premiership place, Kelly was never banking on a red carpet. However, having raised pounds 20,000 for good causes en route, he was entitled to a slightly warmer reception than he received from a Boro fan who was awaiting him with a financial proposition. "I'll give you a fiver to walk straight back - go on, bugger off."

Sadly, Bryan Robson chose to keep Juninho on the pitch for only two-thirds of the match. "You don't know what you're doing," the Boro fans chanted as Robson withdrew the one player who had sparked his otherwise comatose side to life.

Asked afterwards whether the critical reaction concerned him, the Middlesbrough manager replied with an unequivocal "no". "It's my job to do what I think is right," Robson said. "Juninho's passing was poor, though I could have taken off six or seven players for that. I just thought the way the Wimbledon midfield players were getting chances I had to put on a more defensive midfield player to stop them scoring."

It was Robson's good fortune that the one thing missing from a wonderful Wimbledon performance was a scoring touch in front of goal. The point with which Middlesbrough emerged was certainly one more than they deserved. The league table may give the impression that Robson's side are reasonably secure in the top-flight but, like the long distance fan they gained yesterday, they have reason to be fearful of falling.

The vertigo-suffering Kelly accepted a lift over the Humber Bridge and Middlesbrough, after a 5-1 hiding at Highbury and another hapless showing yesterday, are suddenly glancing down at the bottom half of the Premiership.

They looked ill at ease with Wimbledon's three-pronged attack from start to finish yesterday. Indeed, they could have been five goals behind by the break, but Mark Schwarzer twice saved point-blank efforts from Marcus Gayle and three free headers - from Carl Cort, Robbie Earle and then Jason Euell - were either parried by Middlesbrough's goalkeeper or directed off-target. Middlesbrough were also rescued by a linesman when the marginally- offside Euell slid the ball into the home net three minutes before half- time.

Middlesbrough were not just overstretched at the back. They were thin on the ground in midfield and up front too. What little creativity they managed to muster invariably stemmed from Juninho. One jinking run through the middle was halted just short of the danger zone by Hermann Hreidarsson, while Neil Sullivan saved his team when the Brazilian split the Wimbledon defence with a sublimely measured through-ball to Hamilton Ricard.

There were cheers when Robson replaced Ricard with Alun Armstrong in the 61st minute but deafening boos a minute later when Juninho made way for Robbie Mustoe. It was a mercy for Middlesbrough that Wimbledon's finishing remained wayward, Cort blasting wide from three yards.