Football: Ravanelli rants, raves and rallies

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The Independent Online
West Ham United 0 Middlesbrough 0

Middlesbrough, facing an FA Cup semi-final and a Coca-Cola Cup final replay in the next seven days, were obliged to get back to basics last night in their increasingly fraught pursuit of Premiership survival.

Their manager, Bryan Robson, described this game as being more important to the club than the forthcoming Cup matches, and his players responded with a workmanlike display which satisfied him.

For all that, given Coventry's sudden resurgence, a point leaves Middlesbrough - and indeed West Ham - with plenty to do before safety can be assured.

"We are going to have to raise ourselves week in, week out," said Robson, who confirmed that his side would have to play their last four Premiership games in the space of eight days. "I believe that 40 points should see us safe, but we are not being helped by the fixtures programme."

The visitors lost their keeper, Mark Schwarzer, with a suspected pulled calf muscle after 73 minutes, and although he is cup-tied, it was, as Robson admitted, "not a good sign."

Although Middlesbrough had made four changes from the side which had seen the Coca-Cola Cup slip at least temporarily out of reach four days earlier, their line-up did contain one unexpected name, that of Fabrizio Ravanelli.

The pounds 7m Italian had said 24 hours beforehand that he was too tired to play in this match, despite being told by a specialist that his Achilles tendon injury would not prevent him seeing out the season.

As it was, he hardly looked like the man who had scored at Wembley four days earlier, and not just because of the subsequent haircut which had shaven his habitual grey stubble clean away. Throughout the first half, the White Feather - now more of a Bald Eagle - ran through a world-class sequence of reproachful, despairing and openly contemptuous gestures as his team-mates failed to send the ball to areas he deemed appropriate.

Almost despite himself, however, he became involved in the more significant action. On the half hour, he volleyed Gianluca Festa's hanging cross into the net, only for the effort to be ruled offside. Four minutes later, he nearly had the ball in his own net when he deflected an angled shot from John Hartson a yard wide of a post.

In contrast to their opponents, West Ham came into this game with the benefit of a two-week break. Their manager, Harry Redknapp, pronounced himself well satisfied with the performances of his two debutants: Steve Lomas, the England Under-21 midfielder signed for pounds 1.6m from Manchester City, and the central defender Richard Hall, the pounds 1.9m transfer from Southampton who has returned after seven months out with a foot injury.

But Redknapp, too, accepted that the relegation struggle remained "very open."

West Ham United (4-4-2): Miklosko; Potts, Rieper, Hall, Bilic; Hughes, Lomas, Bishop, Lazaridis (Porfirio, 53); Hartson, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Rowland, Dowie, Mean, Sealey (gk).

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer (Roberts, 73); Festa, Vickers, Fleming; Blackmore, Emerson, Mustoe, Juninho, Kimber; Ravanelli, Moore ( Beck, 89). Substitutes not used: Whyte, Whelan, Hignett.

Referee: P Jones (Loughborough).

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