Football: Substitute Moreno upstages Geller's balls

Middlesbrough 4 Reading 0
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The Independent Online
Simon Turnbull

Middlesbrough 4

Reading 0

It happens to be a load of balls, apparently. According to that celebrated bender Uri Geller, Middlesbrough's ascent to the First Division's peak can be directly attributed to magic crystal balls he clandestinely deposited in a crack in the Riverside Stadium walls on a visit to Teesside two months ago.

"These are tiny pieces of stone over one million years old," he said, "which I energise with my thoughts." It conveniently escaped Mr Geller's considerable mind that Reading, the team submerged at the Riverside on Saturday, have not exactly been transformed by his supposed psychic powers.

It was the energising effect of the boy from Bolivia that transformed Boro on this occasion. The pace of the elusive Jaime Moreno, a substitute for Phil Stamp, gave Bryan Robson's side the attacking space they needed to break down a defence which had succeeded in frustrating them for 70 minutes.

The gaps opened, and Craig Hignett and Mikkel Beck duly exploited them. The dynamic midfielder and the Danish striker claimed two goals each as Middlesbrough claimed a deserved victory against their future Coca-Cola Cup quarter-final opponents.

Boro are in unbeaten in 10 matches now. They also have 45 points, six more than their eventual haul last season, after the deduction for non- attendance at Blackburn.

Middlesbrough, clearly, are intent on being back in the Premiership by the time any of the restructuring proposals outlined last week by the Football League chairman, David Sheepshanks, might be implemented - as the Sheepshanks Redemption, presumably. Whether they make it back to the big league with the team that triumphed on Saturday remains to be seen.

Robson has resolved to fight to keep Emerson, who seemingly wants to move from Teesside to Tenerife. The Brazilian midfielder refused to elaborate on the matter when he got the sack on Saturday - the sack, that is, containing 506 Christmas cards urging him to stay at Middlesbrough.

Then there is the continuing saga of Robson's search for Fabrizio Ravanelli's replacement. Moreno's sharpness on Saturday suggested the Middlesbrough manager has not so much bought as borrowed time for further deliberation; the Bolivian is on loan from Washington DC United.

The latest name to be linked with Boro is that of Eric Cantona, Robson's former Old Trafford team-mate. "There's nothing in it at all," Keith Lamb, Middlesbrough's chief executive, insisted. Another load of balls, he might have said.

Goals: Hignett (77) 1-0; Beck (79) 2-0; Beck (84) 3-0; Merson (90) 4- 0.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Fleming, Pearson (Baker, h/t), Festa, Whyte; Stamp (Moreno, 70), Emerson, Townsend (Summerbell, 88), Hignett; Merson, Beck.

Reading (4-4-2): Hammond; Booty, McPherson, Davies, Swales; Williams, Parkinson, Hodges, Lambert (Caskey, 77); Morley, Asaba. Substitutes not used: Thorpe, Lovell.

Referee: C Foy (St Helens)

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Beck, Hignett, Festa. Reading: Parkinson.

Man of the match: Hignett.

Attendance: 29,876.