Nuneaton Borough 1 Middlesbrough 1: Murphy keeps Nuneaton fantasy alive

Wayward striker makes amends with injury-time penalty to peg back Middlesbrough
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The Independent Football

Sometimes the FA Cup - that veritable Jekyll and Hyde - is not as cool as to deny a bunch of part-timers what is rightfully theirs, and Nuneaton's late equaliser against Premiership opposition was all this heroic performance deserved.

All afternoon the Conference North dreamers had acted well above their station, forcing the play, and all afternoon Middles-brough had acted pathetically below theirs, but until Gez Murphy's 90th-minute penalty, Steve McClaren's Premiership millionaires had looked like getting away with it.

In contrast, all they will be getting now is a replay they could really do without, and they should honestly be grateful that it is not any bleaker than that.

The FA Cup gods had certainly kept their end of the bargain. The snow that had fallen over Warwickshire all morning had merely helped to further muddy a pitch you could well imagine being a quagmire in a mid-August heatwave.

There was a sizeable amount of local confidence too, born no doubt of the fact that Nuneaton were unbeaten at home for over a year. Admittedly they had not played anyone in the Premiership (or the Championship, or League One or League Two), but regardless it served to give the Battle of the Boros the air of a contest that might at least be worthy of the billing.

McClaren obviously didn't think so, the Middlesbrough manager dipping deep into his reserves to field his 11, but how he must have regretted that when Murphy bore down on his goalkeeper, Brad Jones, in the third minute.

This was the sort of chance the striker, and the whole of Nuneaton for that matter, had been fantasising about all week. Played in by Brian Quailey, Murphy took one touch before steadying himself and unleashing his left foot of destiny from the six-yard box. Alas, all it was destined for was Jones's gloves as he pawed it away.

No matter, if nothing else Middlesbrough's aura had already been lowered and when, three minutes later, David Staff enjoyed an uninterrupted shot into Jones's hands, belief was everywhere at the Manor.

Until the 15th minute, that is, when their towering centre-half Terry Angus cruelly brought down Yakubu five yards out of the area, directly in front of goal. Immediately the danger was evident, and the collective intake of breath that followed the real-isation soon turned into a sigh when Gaizka Mendieta's wonderfully flighted free-kick found the corner of the net. Was that their fairytale over?

Not without a fight it wasn't; Darren Acton gallantly kept out James Morrison in the 25th minute, Murphy did everything but equalise when Jones tipped over his lob and again, in the 38th minute, it was only the fine reactions of the Premiership goalkeeper that kept Nuneaton hats in hand when turning away Stuart Whittaker's audacious effort in the 35th minute. Five minutes later Mark Noon's paint- scraper only fed the pervading feeling that all was not lost.

Indeed, in the 54th minute all their prayers seemed answered and all their dominance rewarded when Gareth Southgate seemingly brought down Noon, but Mike Dean's finger was not pointing at the penalty spot but at the piece of turf where he said the former England defender had taken the ball.

Another escape for Middlesbrough then, although they surely couldn't go on riding their luck. In particular, Whittaker wasn't taking a defeat as read, continually causing havoc with some vicious crosses, and though Acton had been called on to repel a powerful Mark Viduka header, it was a piledriver from the left foot of Michael Love which clipped the crossbar that was more representative. It really had been as close as that.

When Southgate's hand rose to deflect a Michael Frew centre, Dean's awarding of a penalty could not really be argued with. Up stepped Murphy to atone for his earlier blunders in the best manner imaginable, and now the Riverside awaits. Nuneaton's dream lives on.

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