Boateng sends Tottenham packing as Boro eye Europe

Middlesbrough 1 - Tottenham Hotspur 0
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The Independent Football

A shower of hailstones rained down on Middlesbrough's parade as Steve McClaren's men took a lap of honour after their final home game of the season at the Riverside yesterday. It could have been a warning from above.

A shower of hailstones rained down on Middlesbrough's parade as Steve McClaren's men took a lap of honour after their final home game of the season at the Riverside yesterday. It could have been a warning from above.

Middlesbrough might have all but seen off Tottenham in the race for seventh place in the Premiership but Manchester City remain between the Teessiders and the last qualifying spot for the Uefa Cup. Boro finish their season at the City of Manchester Stadium next Sunday and City's win away to Aston Villa means the sky blue Mancunians will be fighting for the European slot themselves.

The reality of the situation started to dawn as the final home match celebrations subsided and the result came through from Villa Park. Middlesbrough have a three-point cushion in seventh place but need a point to hold off City, who would claim it with a win - provided Spurs fail to beat Blackburn by three more goals than Stuart Pearce's side can manage.

Still, George Boateng's thumping drive has put the McClaren model in pole position. "We're delighted to be in the driving seat," the Middlesbrough manager said. "Our destiny is in our own hands. You could see the determination in our players to get the job done today. We've got experienced players who have played in bigger games and that came through today. It bodes well for next Sunday."

It hardly boded well that McClaren lost his footing when he entered the press room and toppled off his chair through a television backdrop. At least he has a foot in Europe, though. Martin Jol has been left praying for a mathematical miracle after his young team continued their poor run of results on the road. Without a win away from White Hart Lane since their Boxing Day trip to Norwich, their domestic agoraphobia appears to have scuppered their European ambitions.

"Yes, we might still have a chance," the Tottenham manager said, "but you have to be a wizard to work it out. We weren't on top of our game today, to say the least."

Indeed, it was Middlesbrough who were on top from the start. With just three minutes on the clock, Szilard Nemeth curled a right-foot shot off the top of the Tottenham crossbar from 20 yards. It was a close call for Spurs and eight minutes later they were playing catch-up.

Boudewijn Zenden did the initial damage, with a darting run on the left and an angled invitation pass to Nemeth. The Slovakian's less-than-assured first touch appeared to have squandered the opportunity, but Nemeth rolled the ball back to Boateng, whose right-foot drive took a deflection off Ledley King on its way past Radek Cerny from the edge of the penalty area.

Tottenham had their moments at the other end, Sean Davis hoofing a half-decent chance into the crowd. With Boateng and Zenden taking a grip in central midfield, though, Jol's side were on the back foot for much of the first half and were fortunate not have been a second goal down at the interval with Stewart Downing steering a left-foot drive across the face of goal.

Middlesbrough struggled to maintain their momentum after the break, but they still managed to hold Tottenham in check - almost comfortably so. Just before the hour mark, Jol sent on Robbie Keane for the ineffectual Jermain Defoe. The switch nearly paid an instant dividend, but when Keane fired a close-range shot on the turn Mark Schwarzer gathered it in his midriff.

It proved to be the last scare for Middlesbrough. They only went out of the Uefa Cup two months ago. Next Sunday they could well be back in it.

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