Hasselbaink highlights Boro's intent

Middlesbrough 2 - Crystal Palace 1
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The Independent Football

At the corresponding stage of last season, following an unfortunate 3-2 reverse at home to Leeds United, Middlesbrough were bottom of the Premiership. On Saturday they climbed into the top six by completing consecutive League victories for the first time in 11 months courtesy of a barely merited win over Crystal Palace.

At the corresponding stage of last season, following an unfortunate 3-2 reverse at home to Leeds United, Middlesbrough were bottom of the Premiership. On Saturday they climbed into the top six by completing consecutive League victories for the first time in 11 months courtesy of a barely merited win over Crystal Palace.

Considering one of their opening games was against Arsenal, a fixture nobody expects much from these days, it is easy to understand why Steve McClaren, the Middlesbrough manager, is delighted by his side's start, even though it was a far from convincing performance and Palace become the third team in four games to take the lead against them.

"We knew it was going to be a demanding beginning with Newcastle and Arsenal up first," said McClaren. "So I'm very happy to have seven points from the four games. This was our third game in six days and I think you could see that. We weren't especially fluent and it was hard work, but then that's what you'd expect against Palace - I knew it was going to be that sort of a game."

McClaren credited the comeback to the additional strength in depth of his squad since adding Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Mark Viduka and Ray Parlour in the summer.

"We brought in these players to create competition for places. Now I have a bench that can change games if required. I felt our wide players needed a rest and I was able to change things round," he said.

Fatigue could only partly justify the surprisingly poor performances from Bolo Zenden and Gaizka Mendieta, the men in question. Boro rely on them for creative influence and if they are as wasteful with possession as they were on Saturday, even strikers of Hasselbaink and Viduka's class might struggle to provide the goals Boro will need if they are to contend for a Champions' League spot.

A double substitution on the hour saw Stewart Downing, the England U-21 international, and Szilard Nemeth replace them shortly after Andy Johnson had been fouled by Chris Riggott and converted the resulting penalty. It was Downing's free-kick minutes later that Tony Popovic could only turn into his own net and from that moment it was only a question of whether Palace could hold out.

Hasselbaink provided the resounding answer 10 minutes from time and Palace were left with a single point from their opening four games. It marks their worst-ever start to a Premiership season, and since the previous three have all ended in relegation Ian Dowie, their manager, knows results must improve soon, even though defeat here was harsh.

"It's a higher level than we're used to." he said, "and when you make mistakes you get punished. We're trying to help our young players get better and this is the hard way to learn for them."

Goals: Johnson pen (58) 0-1; Popovic og (62) 1-1; Hasselbaink (80) 2-1

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Parnaby, Riggott, Southgate, Queudrue; Mendieta (Nemeth, 60), Parlour, Boateng, Zenden (Downing, 60); Hasselbaink, Viduka. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Ehiogu, Job.

Crystal Palace (4-2-3-1): Speroni; Boyce, Hudson, Popovic, Granville; Hall, Riihilahti (Derry, 81); Routledge (Kaviedes, 84), Hughes, Kolkka; Johnson. Substitutes not used: Kiraly (gk), Borrowdale, Soares.

Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).

Booked: Middlesbrough: Riggott. Crystal Palace: Hughes.

Man of the match: Viduka.

Attendance: 31,560.

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