Coleman fumes after Styles' decision gifts Boro a point

Middlesbrough 1 - Fulham 1
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The Independent Football

Controversy is stalking referee Rob Styles as he prepares to take charge of the FA Cup final.

Controversy is stalking referee Rob Styles as he prepares to take charge of the FA Cup final.

Aided by an assistant's advice, Styles awarded a crucial 90th-minute penalty that earned Middlesbrough a fortuitous point last night.

But all the TV evidence suggested that the reckless challenge by Fulham's Edwin van der Sar on Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink occurred outside the area.

The decision could yet have serious repercussions for Fulham, whose Premiership future would surely have been assured if Brian McBride's 82nd-minute goal had given them three points they deserved.

Their frustration surfaced at the final whistle when the players confronted Styles, while their manager Chris Coleman was held back by his coaches. "I shouldn't have walked onto the pitch at the end," Coleman said, "but thankfully I was held back and never got the chance to say what I wanted to say to the ref and his assistant.

"Perhaps it's a good thing because I might have said something I would have regretted later.

"We've looked at the incident on TV four or five times and it was a foul outside the box."

Iain Dowie, the Crystal Palace manager, was equally incensed when Styles turned down three penalties in their game on Saturday, so if the Cardiff collision between Arsenal and Manchester United is as intense and abrasive as widely anticipated, Styles is certainly preparing for it in the right way.

Nothing that happened earlier in the game hinted at such a lively climax. Indeed, Graeme Souness made his exit with 20 minutes to go and was swiftly followed by a river of Middlesbrough supporters who had also seen enough.

Unlike them, the Newcastle United manager will have been reasonably pleased by what he witnessed.

McBride squandered two excellent chances and Collins John hoisted another shot over the bar, while Middlesbrough failed to make any headway until the closing minutes.

At least the penalty reprieved them from further abuse from supporters who were eyeing a Champions' League place only a few weeks ago. Now the Uefa Cup may be out of reach.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Jones; Cooper (Kennedy, 85), Ehiogu, Southgate, Queudrue; Parlour, Boateng, Zenden, Downing; Nemeth, Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Knight, Doriva, Davies, Wheater.

Fulham (4-4-2): Van der Sar; Volz, Knight, Goma, Rosenior; Radzinski, Clark, Pembridge, Boa Morte; McBride, John (Malbranque, 82). Substitutes not used: Crossley, Bocanegra, Jensen, Rehman.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire)