Bryan Robson was yesterday keen to alert fans and players to the consequences of losing against Aston Villa. With visits to Manchester United and Blackburn to complete by Thursday, anything but three points would have triggered almost certain relegation. The warning was heeded and victory secured in the most dramatic of fashions. Middlesbrough surrendered a 2-0 half- time lead before Fabrizio Ravanelli converted a penalty deep into injury time.
Boro oozed passion and skill in the first half as Ravanelli, often criticised for his whingeing, put his energies into a forceful forward display.
It was the Italian's imperious finish that opened Middlesbrough's account after 20 minutes. His precision lob over Mark Bosnich sent waves of relief through the crowd. Mikkel Beck conjoured a near carbon copy shortly after. Exposing Villa's wing-back, Alan Wright, he rounded Bosnich to score from a tight angle.
Brian Little's men turned the game after half-time, with the brand of passing and power they hope will grace Europe next season. Yorke, Taylor and Townsend tormented Boro's midfield as Emerson and Musto surrendered supremacy. Yorke should have scored twice before Ugo Ehiogu clinched a deserved breakthrough.
When Villa equalised through Savo Milosevic, it was no surprise and the home side looked doomed. Not so. Steve Staunton was booked and then sent off within a minute for swearing at the referee Paul Alcock, and the game turned.
Deep into injury time, Craig Hignett was pulled down by the substitute Gareth Farrelly, and the moment came for Ravanelli to earn his pounds 40,000 a week.
"That took bottle," said Robson. "Everyone knew how important scoring that was to us and he didn't shirk his responsibility. The win leaves it in our hands and we all believe we can stay up." Nigel Pearson and Gianluca Festa are both doubtful for Monday's clash with Manchester United at Old Trafford.Reuse content