Football: Local boy makes bad at Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough 0 Sunderland 1
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Middlesbrough 0 Sunderland 1

It was a good day for Teessiders in the Premiership, but not for Teesside. Taking his cue from Gary Pallister, a Billingham lad and a Boro old boy, Darren Williams used his head and settled the score in the local dispute at the lower end of the table.

Unfortunately for Middlesbrough, he did so in the No 23 strip of Sunderland. After the woe at Wembley, Old Trafford and Hillsborough, the disappointment was much closer to home. Teesside, on Saturday night, was Tearsside.

At least, most of it was. "I'll have to put up the barricades," Sunderland's goalscorer mused after the game, before heading for home... five minutes from the Riverside.

"I'd better lock the car in the garage, too," Williams added. A sponsored car bearing the teenager's name and the Sunderland club crest would have been as welcome a sight on the streets of Middlesbrough on Saturday night as a threesome reel by Messrs Pallister, Cole and Ferguson - with assistance from Mr James perhaps - on the steps of the Liver Building.

The irony might not be appreciated by his neighbours but Williams - who turned down an offer from his home town club to start his career with York City - would not have been on the field if Bryan Robson had announced his team selection in advance.

"I did pick him to mark Juninho," Peter Reid admitted, confirming the presumptive ploy which threatened to leave him with an egg-splattered face when Middlesbrough lined up with their boyish Brazilian on the bench.

Rather than sit alongside him, as Leicester's specialist Kamarker might have done, Williams made a mark of his own, heading in Chris Waddle's perfectly-clipped free-kick in the final minute of the first-half.

It proved sufficient to secure Sunderland's first win in Middlesbrough since a centre-forward named Brian Clough scored the only goal in a Second Division match at Ayresome Park in 1962, 15 years before Williams was born.

Middlesbrough had their chances. Mikkel Beck hit the woodwork in the first-half, missed a second-half sitter and was also thwarted by Lionel Perez, not least when the dashing Frenchman rushed out of his area and sent the Danish striker sprawling to the ground in the 76th minute.

Perez stayed on the field and the home supporters left cursing the apparent injustice, in much the same way as Chesterfield's followers had on departure from Old Trafford six days previously. Their greatest concern, though, must be that Middlesbrough have the drained look of a team whose marathon season has hit football's equivalent of the wall.

Middlesbrough have games in hand, after tomorrow's FA Cup semi-final replay, but only one of their remaining five is at the Riverside. Sunderland are far from safe, though a win against Southampton at Roker tomorrow night would go a long way towards booking top-flight fare for their new home next season.

Goal: Williams (45) 0-1.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Roberts; Cox, Pearson, Vickers, Whyte; Stamp, Mustoe, Emerson, Moore (Hignett, 25; Juninho, 53); Beck, Ravanelli. Substitutes not used: Kinder, Blackmore, Walsh (gk).

Sunderland: (4-5-1): Perez; Hall, Ord, Howey, Gray; Johnston (Rae, 74), Williams, Bracewell, Ball, Waddle (Russell, 88); Stewart. Substitutes not used: Quinn, Eriksson, Woods (gk).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Moore, Ravanelli. Sunderland: Gray, Williams, Perez.

Man of the match: Waddle. Attendance: 30,106.