Coventry City 1 Middlesbrough 1: McSheffrey kicks sand in the faces of McClaren's beach boys

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The Independent Football

Fraught Saturday afternoons in Warwickshire are what Middlesbrough's FA Cup journey is all about for now. Did I say journey? Existence more like.

Thankful to escape from Nuneaton in the third round without further embarrassment, they should feel mightily relieved to have this second chance a week tomorrow.

Gareth Southgate may well feature in a future England manager sweepstake and he continued to sound like a gaffer-in-the-making in clutching at the sturdier straws from this latest flimsy display from the struggling Premiership side.

"It was exactly what we expected," he said. "We've had to roll our sleeves up and dig in, and we are still in it. At the moment, everything is a bit down and everything externally towards us is quite negative," Southgate added. "But every club goes through that. We have to make sure we keep the belief that we can do it."

What Steve McClaren needs, of course, are more Southgates; to clone a man prepared to play through the discomfort of an ankle injury which was suspected as being a stress fracture earlier this month.

The early loss of Ugo Ehiogu to a tight hamstring after he had been selected for the injured Chris Riggott made Boro even riper for the plucking. That they were not was down to Coventry City's failure to add the necessary quality of finish to a dominant, rousing display.

It will surprise no regular Middlesbrough watcher that some of their players, just back from a training break in Marbella, did not appear to be overjoyed with a battle on a bitingly cold day.

Micky Adams' men just loved it. Buoyed by the 6-1 slaughter of Derby County the previous weekend, they played with the carefree spirit of a side who knew no one would blame them for losing as long as they went down fighting.

More than that, they controlled the game for substantial periods, finding a quick response to the blow straight after half-time of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink snaffling his third goal in three appearances.

Within eight minutes Stern John had stoked up the Ricoh Arena's record crowd with an exquisite hooked equaliser, following which Gary McSheffrey gave Middlesbrough's right flank a severe half-hour examination.

Several times, he provided crosses that just begged a final touch. McSheffrey said: "We're gutted we didn't win. It's up there with our best performances. When we went a goal down, we could have crumbled but we raised the tempo and took the game to them.

"Our performances of late have showed we are a decent team, but we have to raise our expectations and levels. We don't want to be a bottom-half-of-the-Championship team. We are better than that."

McSheffrey would still prefer to play as a striker but is wondering whether his next switch might be of a patriotic nature, the England Under-21 international now being linked with both the Republic of Ireland - managed by his former Coventry team-mate Steve Staunton - while another ancestral bond opens a possible door to Scotland.

Middlesbrough will not relish facing him in the replay any more than they will a man who was suspended on Saturday - FA Cup specialist Dennis Wise.

Goals: Hasselbaink (46) 0-1; John (54) 1-1.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Fulop; Duffy, Williams, Shaw, Hall; Scowcroft, Doyle, Hutchison (Jorgensen, 86), McSheffrey (Impey, 89); John (Morrell, 88), Adebola. Substitutes not used: Ince (gk), Page.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Parnaby, Southgate, Ehiogu (Bates, 29), Pogatetz; Mendieta, Cattermole, Rochemback (Doriva, 72), Downing; Hasselbaink, Yakubu (Viduka, 65). Substitutes not used: Knight (gk), Johnson.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).

Booked: Middlesbrough Bates.

Man of the match: McSheffrey.

Attendance: 28,120.

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