Football: Parkinson's solo run puts paid to Middlesbrough

Tranmere Rovers 2 Middlesbrough 1
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The Independent Online
TO SUFFER one upset may be unfortunate, but two in four days reeks of something more. Middlesbrough's season effectively ended last night when Tranmere Rovers of the First Division knocked the Premiership team out of the Worthington Cup by an identical scoreline to that inflicted on them by Wrexham in the FA Cup on Saturday. For the Teessiders, lightning did strike twice.

The implications for Middlesbrough of that phenomenon could be profound, because Bryan Robson's position as manager will not have been strengthened by such disappointments. He still has the confidence of his chairman and close friend Steve Gibson and, while last night he was defiant, on reflection he might be less willing to endure the criticism sure to be heading his way.

"I can't fault the lads for effort," Robson said, "but things that you sometimes need in cup ties didn't go our way." The future? "There's plenty to play for," he replied. "We're four or five points behind sixth place and it's important to finish as high as possible."

Tranmere, who beat another Premiership side, West Ham, in the FA Cup at the weekend, are as high as their overdraft after reaching their second League Cup semi-final in five years with a performance that might have owed a little to luck but far more to their enormous stamina and reserves of spirit. David Kelly and Andy Parkinson put them 2-0 ahead and after Christian Ziege had pulled a goal back 11 minutes from time they withstood wave after wave of Boro attacks.

"This shows the players just how good they are," John Aldridge, their manager said. "They are beginning to believe in themselves now."

While across the Mersey there was eager anticipation about Sir Paul McCartney's re-appearance at the Cavern it can safely be assumed that the feeling was not reciprocated by the Middlesbrough players who were also making a comeback to the area. Having been the giants felled in north Wales on Saturday, another chance to play the role just 30 miles away was the last thing they needed.

Nevertheless, the Premiership team began as if they were still recounting their manager's Saturday tongue-lashing and within five minutes they had the ball in the net twice. Sadly for them, the efforts were disallowed for a handball and offside.

Tranmere were being hustled out of their stride but a hint of what was to come arrived in the 10th minute when Alan Morgan burst through from midfield and then was just over with a delicate chip.

Boro were the better team during the first half hour and they almost claimed a goal their play deserved when Brian Deane's cross was met at the far post by Juninho. The Brazilian probably should have scored but his shot was blocked sufficiently to allow Reuben Hazell to scramble back and clear close to his line.

The importance of that let-off was underlined in the 39th minute when Tranmere, whose main attacking option hitherto had been the prodigious throw-ins of Dave Challinor, suddenly took the lead. Parkinson, raiding on the right, whipped over a low cross and Kelly side-footed in at the near post.

Juninho hit the bar with a volley and Tranmere survived another scare after 58 minutes when Joe Murphy had to dive at Hamilton Ricard's feet. The Boro players claimed a penalty, which was rightly denied, but the cost proved to be an injury to the home goalkeeper and he was replaced by John Achterberg on the hour.

Some cost. Within 11 minutes Achterberg was instrumental in Tranmere's decisive goal, catching a Middlesbrough corner and then throwing precisely towards the halfway line. Parkinson initially had a yard on his pursuers but he still had to elude two of them before placing the ball past Mark Schwarzer and into the corner. "As good as George Best in his prime," Aldridge commented.

Tranmere Rovers (4-4-2): Murphy (Achterberg, 60); Morgan, Challinor, Hazell, G Jones; Mahon (Allen, 83), Roberts, Henry, Taylor (Koumas, 90); Parkinson, Kelly. Substitutes not used: Frail, Hume.

Middlesbrough (4-3-1-2): Schwarzer; Stockdale (Campbell, 74), Vickers, Festa, O'Neill; Stamp, Mustoe Ziege; Juninho; Ricard, Deane. Substitutes not used: Gavin, Maddison, Armstrong, Beresford (gk).

Referee: D Elleray (Harrow).