Football: Vickers exploits Liverpool flaws

Middlesbrough 2 Liverpool 1
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The Independent Online
The pressure on Bryan Robson was lifted last night when his struggling Premiership club pulled off a sensational Coca-Cola Cup win over Liverpool that puts Middlesbrough within sight of Wembley and Europe.

And it was a couple Englishmen who may have transformed their season, Craig Hignett and Steve Vickers getting the goals to beat the five-times winners.

Former Anfield apprentice Hignett stunned Roy Evans' patched-up side when he pounced on a terrible mistake by jittery David James. Then Vickers, who spent most his career on Merseyside with Tranmere, hammered in a Hignett corner in the 26th minute.

Steve McManaman threw the visitors a 64th-minute lifeline as Boro ran out of steam, but they held on to give the North-east a huge lift on a bewildering day.

Less than a month ago Robbie Fowler's four goals had helped thrash the Teessiders 5-1 at Anfield, but they knew they would never have a better chance for revenge as Evans' side were without John Barnes, Neil Ruddock and Jamie Redknapp, all hamstring victims, while Stan Collymore had flu.

Rob Jones made his first start since the FA Cup final and the visitors were soon reeling as Boro hustled and bustled, the pounds 16m trio of Juninho, Emerson and Fabrizio Ravanelli outplaying Liverpool at their own passing game.

Ravanelli latched on to a wild clearance by James in the eighth minute but his hurried lob from 30 yards drifted well wide of the exposed goal.

In the 13th minute Middlesbrough took the lead when James attempted another ridiculous clearance, kicking low and short towards Steve McManaman just five yards out of the penalty area.

Hignett was on to it in a flash, holding off the England man's attempts to claw possession back and striding on to bury his shot past the embarrassed James.

Liverpool were resorting to shirt-tugging and holding trying to contain the lively Boro attack and in the 26th minute Juninho shrugged off Dominic Matteo but had been slowed sufficiently to gain just a corner.

But there was no respite as the defender Vickers strode into a large area of slackly marked space to meet Hignett's cross from the right with a well- directed right-foot half-volley.

Boro completed one of their best 45 minutes well on top but they could not sustain the pace in the second half and Evans, sensing they were tiring, sent on Mark Kennedy for Stig Inge Bjornebye in the 62nd minute.

Within two minutes the gamble paid off as Liverpool stretched Boro on the break, Berger threading in a low cross from the left taken on the slide by a stretched McManaman for his eighth goal of the season.

Middlesbrough: Walsh; Cox, Whyte, Vickers, Emerson, Mustoe, Juninho (Stamp, 85), Ravanelli, Fleming, Blackmore, Hignett. Substitutes not used: Beck, Roberts (gk).

Liverpool: James; R Jones (Carragher, 75), Bjornebye (Kennedy, 62), Wright, Babb, McManaman, McAteer, Matteo, Fowler, Berger, Thomas. Substitutes not used: Warner (gk).

Referee: G Poll (Tring).

Coca-Cola Cup Semi-final draw

Stockport or Southampton v Middlesbrough

Ipswich or Leicester v Wimbledon

First-leg ties to be played Wednesday 19 and Sunday 23 February; second- leg ties Wednesday 12 and Sunday 16 March.