There was probably a little shudder of trepidation when Sunderland's manager spotted Scott McDonald's name on the Middlesbrough team sheet last night. It was the Australian striker who denied Martin O'Neill the farewell present of the Scottish Premier League trophy on the final day of the 2004-2005 season. McDonald's two late goals for Motherwell at Fir Park deprived O'Neill's Celtic of the title, clinching it for Rangers instead.
Seven and a half years on, the man from Melbourne caused O'Neill to suffer again last night. McDonald's neat flick six minutes before half time decided the Wear-Tees Capital One Cup fourth round derby in favour of Tony Mowbray's Boro.
It was a merited victory for the Championship side against a disjoined Sunderland team who drew boos from the home fans as they took their stuttering Premier League form into the cup. "I thought we deserved that victory," McDonald said. "It's great to get one over our local rivals."
Having seen his side draw a blank at Stoke on Saturday – failing to register a single shot on target – O'Neill strove to give his starting XI an attacking make over, drafting in Louis Saha to support Steven Fletcher. It was only the French striker's second start for the Black Cats and the Frenchman had an early chance, courtesy of a delightful dinked through ball by Adam Johnson – only to be thwarted by Seb Hines' sliding challenge.
O'Neill's men opened brightly but soon faded as Middlesbrough got into a slick-passing groove. Faris Haroun, Boro's muscles from Brussels front man, might have pounced on a prompt from McDonald had the backtracking Stéphane Sessègnon not blocked the powerful Belgian's close-range drive.
The hosts did manage to break out midway through the first half, Sessègnon threading the ball through to Saha, who was again denied by a covering tackle by Hines. It was Boro who continued to hold sway, though.
They came tantalisingly close on the half-hour, McDonald landing a chip shot on the cross bar, but had their reward by the interval. With 39 minutes on the clock, Ismael Miller angled a right wing ball to the near post and McDonald flicked the ball past Keiren Westwood from the edge of the six-yard box. It was his fourth goal in five games since settling a dispute with Mowbray, the nature of which the Middlesbrough manager has declined to identify in public.
Not until the hour mark did Sunderland mount a threat, Sessègnon flashing a long-range drive narrowly wide of the right post. As the second half progressed Middlesbrough could afford to engage automatic pilot, controlling proceedings with little danger before claiming their place in the last eight.
Man of the match McDonald.
Match rating 6/10.
Referee Phil Dowd (Stoke-on-Trent).