Crystal Palace rested their first-choice central defenders while Middlesbrough's attack was led by Mark Viduka and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, with support from Szilard Nemeth. That was the crucial difference in last night's Carling Cup fourth-round tie at the Riverside Stadium. A match which was a tight contest for long periods was decided by one four-minute spell in which the Premiership side's strikers tore apart their Championship opponents.
Palace, who played Tony Popovic and Mark Hudson in central defence in preference to Fitz Hall and Darren Ward, were leading when one moment of brilliance from Viduka turned the match six minutes into the second half. As the Palace defence retreated, the Australian striker unleashed a right-foot shot from 25 yards which flew past Julian Speroni.
Four minutes later Nemeth found space on the right and from a tight angle drove into the roof of the net. Hasselbaink might have added a third goal a minute later, but his rising shot from 15 yards hit a post.
Middlesbrough had played some flowing football in the first 45 minutes without ever posing a serious threat and it was after a period of Palace pressure early in the second half that the home side suddenly found their goal touch.
Middlesbrough are one of the few Premiership clubs with a genuine affection for this competition, which two seasons ago provided them with the only major trophy in their 129-year history, and the robustness of their challenges showed how seriously they took the match.
Andy Johnson, starting a Palace game for the first time for nearly three months following a knee injury, was on the receiving end of a succession of hefty tackles and was substituted at half-time, although Dowie said that he had not suffered serious injury.
Johnson played a key role as Palace took the lead after 30 minutes when he helped to free Jobi McAnuff on the right. As Jon Macken waited to get on the end of the winger's cross to the far post, Franck Queudrue sent the ball into his own net.
Palace responded with spirit to Middlesbrough's purple patch, and although their final ball regularly went astray it was a performance to give encouragement in their fight to regain a place among the élite.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Parnaby, Ehiogu, Southgate, Queudrue; Boateng, Doriva, Nemeth (Pogatetz, 57), Rochemback (Bates, 78); Hasselbaink (Maccarone, 61), Viduka. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Yakubu.
Crystal Palace (4-4-2): Speroni; Boyce, Hudson, Popovic, Borrowdale; Andrews, Watson, Leigertwood, McAnuff (Black, 74); Johnson (Morrison, 45), Macken (Freedman, 74). Substitutes not used: Kiraly (gk), Ward.
Referee: H Webb (Yorkshire).