Buses from London transported 4,000 West Ham United fans to Teesside last night, but it was Middlesbrough goals that came along in London bus fashion. Boom boom.
Boro fans have not seen a goal here since 10 January but two appeared from nowhere in the first twenty minutes and the goals, from Stewart Downing and Tuncay Sanli, meant that Boro made it to their fourth consecutive FA Cup quarter-final. They go to Everton on Sunday week.
The desperate hope of manager Gareth Southgate will be that confidence taken will be injected into suffering Premier League form. Boro host Liverpool on Saturday having not scored in the league for five matches.
Southgate praised his side's "energy and enthusiasm" and said the win "keeps people's dreams alive – and football is about dreams." Recently here it has felt more like a sleepwalk. The low attendance – 15,602 – reflected declining local faith.
Anxious fans make for anxious players, as Downing for one has admitted, but the talisman of a young team showed no nerves in stepping up to curl a beautiful fifth-minute free-kick over the wall and into the top corner beyond the outstretched, blameless hands of Robert Green. It was Downing's first goal of the season here. Boosted by that, Boro then were given some much-needed luck.
Tuncay is another to lose his way, but selected ahead of the dropped Afonso Alves, the Turk seized on an ungainly 19th-minute clearance by James Tomkins and volleyed with optimism. The shot was not wholly convincing but it clipped Tomkins which took the ball away from Green.
Despite the consolation of 70 minutes remaining, West Ham were already toast. Scott Parker and Czech debutant Radoslav Kovac tried to generate some attacks but Brad Jones made a single save before the interval and after it the visitors could not create any sort of momentum.
Gianfranco Zola made early substitutions but only David Di Michele made any sort of impact and before the end those bussed-up fans were singing: "We should have watched on the telly."
Zola agreed. "I'm very disappointed for our supporters," he said. "It was certainly not our best performance."
Middlesbrough (4-4-2) Jones; Hoyte, Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz; O'Neil, Bates, Arca (Walker, 88), Downing; Tuncay (Johnson, 82), Aliadière (Emnes, 68). Substitutes not used: Turnbull, Taylor, McMahon, Alves.
West Ham United (4-4-2) Green; Neill, Tomkins, Upson, Ilunga; Behrami, Kovac (Tristan, 69), Parker, Noble (Collison, 57); Cole, Sears (Di Michele, 57). Substitutes not used: Lastuvka, Lopez, Nsereko, Spector.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).Reuse content