Aston Villa old boys Ugo Ehiogu and Benito Carbone put their former employers to the sword yesterday to drive Middlesbrough to a second successive victory in this battle of mid-table. The England defender powered home Carbone's corner on 64 minutes to restore his side's lead after Juan Pablo Angel had cancelled out the Italian's first-half opener. The Teessiders climb to the giddy heights of ninth, one place ahead of Villa.
"At times today, they had to really dig in because of the amount of pressure they were under against a very strong Villa side who have got some height and power and hit high balls into the box," said Middlesbrough's jubilant manager, Steve McClaren. "But we defended very well. I thought the goalkeeper and the two centre-backs were magnificent today."
Boro striker Alen Boksic failed a late fitness test on his groin, and Slovakian Szilard Nemeth missed out with an ankle problem, forcing McClaren to pair Noel Whelan and Carbone in attack. Allan Johnston was handed a rare start in place of the suspended Paul Ince, while Mark Schwarzer replaced Mark Crossley in goal after recovering from a virus.
McClaren's plans were further disrupted with 10 minutes gone when Whelan limped off with what looked like a hamstring injury and Dean Windass was sent on in his place, but, as the manager said: "When you consider we had Boksic out, Ince out and we lost Noel after 10 minutes, the people who have come in have done a magnificent job.
"At times today, we've had lads playing out there who maybe shouldn't be playing because they're carrying knocks, but it just shows the character that is emerging in that dressing room. They want to play in every game."
Villa's Graham Taylor named the same 11 who started the 1-1 draw with Newcastle on Tuesday, meaning another start for new striker Peter Crouch, who opened his Villa account against the Magpies.And it was Villa who dominated opening proceedings, Angel hitting a disappointingly tame shot at Schwarzer from Mark Delaney's cross in the eighth minute.
Neither side made any real impression in attack, but Villa were more inventive, and it took a good clearing header from another former claret-and-blue, Gareth Southgate, to prevent an Angel cross reaching the advancing troops in the middle, the Villa defender then bravely blocking Thomas Hitzlsperger's shot. But as the visitors continued to dominate, it was Boro who broke the deadlock on 39 minutes. Carbone made a nuisance of himself as he and Steve Staunton battled for Queudrue's bouncing cross, the Italian prevailing before thumping a right-foot shot past the helpless Peter Schmeichel for his first Boro goal.
As both sides depressingly resorted to long balls pumped forward, it was actually a fine cross from Staunton that gave Villa a great chance to get back on terms with 57 minutes gone – the perfect cross for the 6ft 5in Crouch, but his powerful header was well held by Schwarzer.
The visitors did win their reward on the hour, however, when Crouch flicked on Gareth Barry's long ball and Angel got across Ehiogu to deftly shoot past Schwarzer for a deserved equaliser.
But Boro were back in front within four minutes when, after Schmeichel had turned a Carbone header away, the Italian sent in a corner which Ehiogu fired into the back of the net.
Villa were left, not for the first time this season, chasing a game they had once controlled. "We didn't take our chances," said Taylor. "In the first half when the game was comfortable for us, there was a lack of appreciation by the Villa players that that was the time when we should have won the game. It's frustrating, it's disappointing, it's annoying."
Not for Ehiogu, Carbone and Middlesbrough, one suspects – McClaren's walking wounded are on a roll.
Middlesbrough 2 Carbone 39, Ehiogu 65
Aston Villa 1 Angel 60
Half-time: 1-0 Attendance: 26,003Reuse content