Football: Merson with the answers

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The Independent Online
How the promise - or is it threat? - of an expensive new striker concentrates the minds of those whose radar has lost the route to goal. Bryan Robson, the Middlesbrough manager, spent a few days in Turin last week trying to lure Michele Padovano, the Juventus striker, to the Riverside Stadium, where the ratio of chances converted to those created is not what it should be.

Yesterday, the Boro incumbents indicated that they'd got the message loud and clear, by beating fellow First Division promotion contenders Queen's Park Rangers 3-0 in front of over 30,000 Teesside faithful to move up to fourth.

Mikkel Beck and Paul Merson scored in the first half, Anthony Ormerod put the icing on the cake in the 90th minute.

"That was our best display of the season," Robson enthused. "We kept our shape and discipline. The overall performance was pleasing, my players had something to prove after their midweek performance against Portsmouth. Paul Merson showed touches of class. He will always create something."

The Rangers manager, Stewart Houston, barracked by travelling fans, agreed. "I told Danny Maddix to tight mark him but his mobility gave [Maddix] a lot of problems. He looked sharp and came out on top."

The win, however, has not diminished Robson's appetite for the pounds 1.6m- rated Padovano, who could sign on Monday. "We are very close. I want competition for places. We are a bit short up front, with only Chris Freestone to challenge our strikers."

Second-placed Nottingham Forest also performed in front of a huge crowd in the North-east - over 33,000 in the Stadium of Light saw Sunderland lead from the second minute thanks to Kevin Phillips. But John Olav Hjelde made Forest's point.

West Bromwich Albion moved up to third when Andy Hunt's disputed goal was enough to beat the Charlton challenge. The fuming Athletic manager, Alan Curbishley, protested afterwards to Steve Baines, the referee. "The Albion goal was definitely offside. The referee should have done something about it... I feel we were robbed." Athletic impressed Albion's manager, Ray Harford. "Charlton were probably the best team we have played this season. We always knew it was going to be difficult and it was. The result was more important than the performance."

Following his sacking by Fulham and brief sojourn at Swansea, Micky Adams' third managerial job of the season got off to a terrible start as he sat through Second Division Brentford's 4-1 home defeat against second-placed Bristol City.