Middlesbrough lost a place in today's fourth-round draw and almost certainly their most prized asset in one calamitous afternoon. Having gone into their tie against League Two stragglers Burton without David Wheater, who is on the verge of joining Bolton, the 1997 finalists were stunned by two late goals from Shaun Harrad, the winner coming in the last minute of stoppage time.
Harrad, who arrived at the Pirelli Stadium on a free transfer from Notts County when Burton were still a Conference club under the managership of Nigel Clough, has himself been the subject of transfer speculation, with Northampton and cash-rich Crawley both seeking to prise him from east Staffordshire. If this was his final game for Burton it could scarcely have been scripted better, the 26-year-old striker equalising in the 82nd minute before his 13th goal of the season shattered Boro.
Paul Peschisolido, Clough's successor, was perhaps unduly harsh when he suggested that Harrad, a penalty-box predator starved of service and seemingly short of sharpness after flu, had made scant impact before his goals. "Shaun didn't play especially well apart from his goals," the Burton managersaid. "He didn't do an awful lot. But what a way to answer me [after leaving him out of the starting line-up since late November]."
Peschisolido added that in the first half his side "showed Middlesbrough way too much respect. Itold the lads: 'You're not playing Barcelona.' "
The dapper Canadian is, of course, married to Karren Brady, the vice-chairman of West Ham, which naturally answered the question of who he would like Burton to play in the next round. They also have a score to settle with Manchester United, having held them at home before losing 5-0 in a replay in the third round five years ago, although supporters would doubtless settle for a money-spinning trip to neighbouring Derby if they progress against Crawley tomorrow.
Tony Mowbray, the Middlesbrough manager, bemoaned another damaging late goal. "It's the third time in six matches we've conceded in the last minute," he said. "It happened at Doncaster and Leeds and it's something that keeps hitting us. The bigger disappointment was that we didn't take our chances. If we'd done that, we wouldn't have been in this position."
Pressed on Wheater's imminent departure from the Riverside, Mowbray added: "Things are happening and that's why he's not here. I'd said we'd play the strongest team available, but by today he wasn't." Bolton, looking for a central defender to replace the widely coveted Gary Cahill, are favourites to seal a £2.5m deal.
Which plum Burton might pull out looked like so much fanciful speculation when Middlesbrough's dominance was finally rewarded by a goal shortly before the hour. Russell Penn fouled Leroy Lita and then preventedMiddlesbrough from taking the free-kick quickly. After a scuffle between several players, and complaints to the fourth official from Mowbray and his No 2, Mark Venus, Gary O'Neil liftedthe ball over the defensive wall and into Burton's net from 25 yards.
Middlesbrough, the bookies' pre-season favourites for promotion to the Premier League, showed why they are fighting against relegation to the third tier. They were bereft of a cutting edge, with Kris Boyd again unableto live up to his fox-in-the-box reputation, and their inability to make a 45-place League disparity between the sides tell gave Burton confidence.
With eight minutes remaining, Harrad's spectacular scissors-kick pulled Burton level. Even then, Middlesbrough looked the likelier winners, until Tony McMahon fouled Harrad in the third minute of time added on. When Scott Malone's free-kick broke to him off Matthew Bates, the criminally unmarked Harrad dispatched the loose ball to put Burton into the last 32 for the first time .
Referee: Steve Tanner
Man of the match: Harrad
Match rating: 8/10