Football: Robson marvels at start

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The Independent Online
Middlesbrough. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Hendrie 28, 35

Burnley. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Attendance: 23,343

YOU get some funny results on the opening day of the season, but to the ecstatic approval of a packed Ayresome Park yesterday, this was not one of them. Bryan Robson's first match as Middlesbrough's player-manager was a small triumph for the man whose powers of inspiration remain formidable.

Two first-half goals byJohn Hendrie secured the three points, but there was much more to it than that. Boro supporters used to seeing intelligent, passing football could feel reassured by what Robson's men produced.

For Burnley, newly promoted from the Second Division, the signs were not wholly discouraging. They played some tidy football when they were allowed to and with a bit of penetration up front could have made Robson's big day more of a test. But for the most part they were on the retreat.

The expectant atmosphere was extreme even by usual pre- season standards. Events up the coast at Newcastle indicated that if you take a sleeping giant and add an England legend then success will be yours. But money comes into it too, and Robson has rather less than Kevin Keegan.

Boro, with five men making their debut, settled surprisingly quickly, but it was a while before they did anything to get the crowd even more excited. Robson took on his familiar role in midfield, always looking to play the probing pass but concerned chiefly with establishing patterns and shapes.

This made for some worthy but rather dull football for nearly half an hour, during which the headed flick-ons of Paul Wilkinson represented Boro's best hope of a goal. As Burnley absorbed the pressure and started going forward themselves it looked as if Boro would have to dig a bit deeper to break through. But then, after 28 minutes, they had a huge slice of luck.

The goal began with Robson, whose quick, lofted pass forward gave Hendrie something to chase. Marlon Beresford, the Burnley goalkeeper, dashed out of his area and, as Hendrie challenged, volleyed the ball clear. At least that was the idea: all that happened was that it cannoned off Beresford's team-mate Mark Winstanley and fell straight at Hendrie's feet. He duly rolled it into the empty net.

A new Boro suddenly took shape - urgent, incisive, the knowledge of what it means to score a goal reawakened in them. And within six minutes they had a second goal, the lively Hendrie dodging the tackles of Winstanley and Steve Davis before hitting a fierce left-foot shot from 10 yards which Beresford could only half stop as it went in.

Everything was going according to plan. How about a goal from Robson to make it really special? It nearly came two minutes before half-time, and what a typical effort it would have been. Alan Moore, Boro's young Irishman who had a fine game on the left wing, chipped the ball round the back of the Burnley defence and Robson, his homing instincts as sharp as ever, arrived to thump a header against the post.

Boro should have increased their lead in the second half - Hendrie missed a good chance to complete his hat-trick and Wilkinson, clean through, was denied by Beresford's legs. These might have been more important if Burnley had remembered about shooting as well as passing. Alan Harper was positively Robsonian in his attempts to keep his team-mates motivated, but to no avail.

The day evidently took a lot out of the man himself. His influence waned, and afterwards he declined to speak to the press, his assistant Viv Anderson explaining that Robson, tired and emotionally drained, was still relaxing in the bath - and no doubt singing too.

(Photograph omitted)

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