Downing catches Eriksson's eye with key strike

Egaleo 0 Middlesbrough 1
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The Independent Football

Stewart Downing came off the bench to strike the decisive goal as Middlesbrough began their Uefa Cup Group E campaign in winning fashion against the Greek side Egaleo in Athens last night.

Downing, the left-winger who was so impressive against Blackburn at the weekend, supplied his side's killer touch 12 minutes from time, racing on to Ray Parlour's squared pass to slot home a neat, low shot beyond the Egaleo goalkeeper.

The 20-year-old had only been introduced seven minutes prior to his 78th-minute decider. He sent the 250 or so Boro fans who made the trip to the Greek capital into raptures, and Middlesbrough to a valuable away victory in their group, in this, the first year of the Uefa Cup's emulating of the more glamorous Champions' League.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was a surprise absentee from the Middlesbrough starting line-up. The in-form Dutchman was rested by McClaren with fit-again Mark Viduka named alongside Szilard Nemeth in attack. Hasselbaink, who hit a hat-trick in last weekend's 4-0 victory over Blackburn, stayed on the bench.

Gaizka Mendieta was also dropped to the bench with 18-year-old James Morrison taking his place on the right wing. George Boateng, recently laid low with a stomach bug, was replaced in midfield by Doriva but was named a substitute, while defender Colin Cooper also came into the side at the expense of Stuart Parnaby.

The Egaleo coach, Stéphane Demol, opted to switch his front pair, bringing in Nikolaos Nikolopoulos and Dimosthenis Manousakis in the only changes from the side which fought out a goalless draw at league-leading Panathinaikos last weekend.

The 11,700-capacity Rizoupoli stadium was not more than a third full when the match got under way after a five-minute delay but Egaleo's fans made their presence felt with loud drums and constant chanting.

It was Egaleo who threatened first after 10 minutes when Gareth Southgate had committed a foul on the edge of his own penalty area. Georgios Fotakis stepped up to take the kick right-footed and the Greek Under-21 player blasted a low effort which Mark Schwarzer pushed wide.

It took Boro 20 minutes to register their first meaningful attempt, with Dutch winger Boudewijn Zenden sending a 20-yard effort tamely wide of the left-hand post.

The best chance of the half arrived just two minutes before the interval, and once again it came the way of the hosts. The impressive Ioannis Chloros surged down the right flank and squared a fine ball across the face of the Boro 18-yard area for the on-rushing Giorgios Barkoglou to try his luck, only for the left-winger's powerful right-footed shot to whizz wide of Schwarzer's left-hand post.

Boro began the second 45 minutes with more purpose and Doriva fired in a shot just two minutes into the half, but Mahamadou Sidibe in the Egaleo goal was relieved to see the drive fly past his left post.

A couple of minutes later Boro responded with Zenden sprinting on to a crossfield ball from Nemeth - but the angle was too tight and the Dutchman hit the sidenetting. He soon made way for Downing, who soon made hay for Boro.

The home side seemed shell-shocked after the goal, and it was Boro who now looked to have a hold on the game as the contest entered the final 10 minutes.

Chants of "There's only one Steve Gibson" rang around the ground as Boro closed in on victory, the fans clearly enjoying their ongoing maiden European adventure.

The England manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, believes Downing has a good chance of breaking into the senior England team. "It's quite possible - he's doing well for the Under-21s and for Middlesbrough, he said yesterday. "We haven't had that natural left-midfielder for a long time, like a Beckham on the right."

Of course, McClaren is Eriksson's right-hand man, so Downing has a valuable ally in his quest to become's England's left-hand solution. Last night's cameo will have done him no harm at all.

Egaleo (4-4-2): Sidibe; Papoutsis, Alexopoulos, Psomas, Edusei; Fotakis, Skopeletis, Barkoglou, Chloros; Nikolopoulos, Manousakis. Substitutes: Kljajevic, Christou, Liapakis, Tsatsos, Makris, Chatsis, Tsagavelis.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; McMahon, Riggott, Southgate, Cooper; Zenden, Parlour, Doriva, Morrison; Nemeth, Viduka. Substitutes: Nash, Boateng, Mendieta, Downing, Hasselbaink, Wilson.

Referee: A Hanacsek (Hungary).

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