Middlesbrough and their manager, Steve McClaren, may have felt the weight of expectancy ahead of the club's first -ever European expedition, but that load will feel a lot lighter this morning following a comfortable win over Czech champions Banik Ostrava at the Riverside last night.
Second-half goals from their two most experienced continental campaigners, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and two from Mark Viduka, mean the Teessiders will travel to the Czech Republic the overwhelming favourites to proceed to the next round of the Uefa Cup. But while Hasselbaink and Viduka may have eased their progression, it was the Slovakian, Szilard Nemeth, who ensured a historic evening received a fitting result, by proving to be Boro's chief attacking instigator.
The last time Steve McClaren sampled a night of European football it was as Manchester United's assistant manager during a 2001 Champions' League quarter-final defeat to Bayern Munich.
Yet, while such contests with continental opposition have become routine at Old Trafford, it is a very different affair on Teesside. McClaren has already made sure of his place in history by securing the first piece of silverware in the club's history and it was that Carling Cup success, back in February, which made last night's first European night possible. It is a new era for Boro and had they not had the carrot of European competition to dangle in front of high-profile strike pair Hasselbaink and Viduka, as well as former Arsenal midfielder, Ray Parlour, all may have gone elsewhere in the summer, particularly as Boro do not enjoy the same high Premiership profile they became used to at Chelsea and Leeds.
This game was not only about prolonging an adventure, it was also important in maintaining an impressive start to the domestic campaign.
McClaren, then, will not have been pleased to see his defence making such a hesitant start against their Czech opponents. After Ostrava captain, Radek Latal, had forced Mark Schwarzer to tip a stinging volley over the bar, they stood flat-footed from the resulting corner and were fortunate Peter Drozd failed to judge the flight of the ball and missed a header at the far post.
Boro did not threaten the Ostrava goal until the 25th minute when a turn and shot by Nemeth was saved by Martin Raska. Minutes later, Stuart Parnaby also had a low shot saved by the keeper's toes.
Nemeth was again the provider for Boro's best chance of the half, slipping the ball through to Viduka but could not find a way past Raska with a chipped finish. The tide was slowly turning in Middlesbrough's favour, however, and, with 12 minutes gone after the interval, Hasselbaink gave them the lead from close range when George Boateng's shot had deflected into his path off Nemeth.
Bolo Zenden then had a shot saved at the near post before Nemeth again made a telling contribution, steering Parnaby's pass to Viduka, who slotted in Boro's second. And the Australian increased Boro's cushion for the second leg with a headed third from Zenden's cross.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Parnaby, Riggott, Southgate, Queudrue; Nemeth, Parlour, Boateng, Zenden; Viduka, Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Job, Downing, Doriva, Cooper, Morrison, McMahon.
Banik Ostrava (4-4-2) Raska; Pospech, Besta, Dvornik (Velkoborsky, 15), Drozd; Latal, Bystron, Zubek, Cizek; Matusovic (Papadopulos, 88), Licka. Substitutes not used: Konig (gk), Lukes, Zavadil, Hoffman, Zurek.
Referee: P Garibian (France).Reuse content