Football: Ricard makes good for makeshift Boro

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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough 2

Gordon 66, Ricard 83

Coventry City 0

Attendance: 34,293

COVENTRY'S post-Dublin resurgence was halted by a Middlesbrough side shorn of its midfield heart by suspension but still boasting the League's joint leading scorer in Hamilton Ricard and the well-travelled Brian Deane.

A whistle blower might be Middlesbrough's biggest fan - the former MI5 agent David Shayler was released from his Parisian prison this week wearing their blue and white away strip - but whistle blowers of a football variety cost Middlesbrough Paul Gascoigne, Robbie Mustoe and Phil Stamp, all suspended from midfield. And the referee Gary Willard's nit picking prevented their inexperienced replacements from finding any cohesion until the second half.

There was only one moment of quality amid the first half free-kicks and flurry of cards - four yellows in five minutes at its peak. In the 27th minute, Gianluca Festa delicately lobbed Coventry's defence. Deane controlled it on his chest, and held off Shaw but his volley was well caught by Magnus Hedman plunging to his left.

Hedman's goal was threatened once more before half-time when Mikkel Beck grazed Andy Townsend's free-kick inches wide. At the other end, Mark Schwarzer had to be alert only to deal with Colin Cooper's ingenious array of back- passes.

One player stood head and shoulders above the others in the second half, his bald head shining beneath the floodlights. Deane won three important flick-ons that Middlesbrough were not quick enough to reach the second ball. The first would have fallen to Mark Summerbell inside the six yard box had not Gary McAllister's presence prevented it; the second Shaw bravely headed clear with Ricard lurking; the third proved lucky, as Marc Edworthy punted it for the corner from which the first goal came. Townsend miss- hit the kick but Whelan on the near post could only weakly clear it to Dean Gordon who from 30 yards returned low and true into the bottom corner.

"It was a bad corner," Townsend admitted, "but Dean does that every day in training, although he does put two or three on the railway track as well."

As Coventry pressed to reply and Whelan to make amends, Schwarzer denied them and Ricard finished them off seven minutes from the final whistle. He powerfully converted Robbie Stockdale's delightful through ball for his ninth League goal of the season.