In politics, it is the economy that counts, stupid. So, in football, it is the scoreline.
Twice, in an overwhelming first-half display, Middlesbrough got the ball legitimately and fully over the line, and they went in for the break believing they had already won their first game of the season yesterday. But the scoreline had them ahead by only the slimmest of margins - the referee, Alan Wiley, not accepting that Franck Queudrue's header had entered the goal after slapping the underside of the bar and going a foot over the line.
Everton came out for the second half refusing to believe they were, as the scoreline suggested, second best. They battered Boro backwards and ended with four forwards on the pitch but no goals in the net - Szilard Nemeth nodding a typically towering Duncan Ferguson header off the line in the 88th minute.
At the end, the managers, Middlesbrough's Steve McClaren and Everton's David Moyes, all but squared up to one another after Boudewijn Zenden had charged down Thomas Gravesen's attempt to return the ball to Middlesbrough, who had kicked it out of play so that Wayne Rooney could receive treatment that he apparently did not want.
The scoreline, then, on the final whistle, recorded that Middlesbrough had taken their points tally to four, easing the pressure on McClaren.
"You need a second goal," he said. "We thought we had it and without it you are always going to be nervous. The most important thing was to get that first win and we got it through character, tremendous attitude, terrific will to win and great defending."
To halt his side's slide, McClaren made the unpopular decision to drop the Teesside icon Juninho. Before too many in the crowd could utter "plot'' and "lost'', Middlesbrough were ahead. Joseph-Desiré Job's neat pirouette on the edge of his own area freed the ball from an Everton corner. Danny Mills advanced before leaving the ball to George Boateng, who delayed an age but picked out the perfect pass to meet Malcolm Christie's defence-breaking run. Christie, too, waited before crossing, but this allowed Job to reach Everton's six-yard box and obliquely deflect the ball past Nigel Martyn.
Suddenly, Middlesbrough were a team, pressing Everton back and running down every loose ball. When, in the 16th minute, Mills stung Martyn's hand with a fierce drive, Moyes rushed from the dug-out to demand the tide be turned. The only response was a booking for Rooney for a childish trip.
Middlesbrough pressed unstoppably forward without scoring further. In the 35th minute they won a corner, which Zenden took and Queudrue headed over the line without being given a goal.
"We were fortunate not to be out of the game at half-time," Moyes said. "We had massive supremacy in the second half but needed a goal."
Goal: Job 6 (1-0).
Middlesbrough (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer 7; Mills 6, Cooper 8, Southgate 7, Queudrue 8; Greening 4 (Ricketts, 75), Doriva 7, Boateng 7, Zenden 6; Job 7 (Riggott, 80); Christie 7 (Nemeth, 85). Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Juninho.
Everton (4-4-2): Martyn 5; Hibbert 7, Stubbs 6, Yobo 5, Naysmith 4; Watson 5 (Carsley, 7, 45), Gravesen 8, Linderoth 5 (Ferguson 7, 69), Kilbane 4 (McFadden, 78); Radzinski 7, Rooney 7. Substitutes not used: Turner (gk), Pistone.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffs) 4.
Bookings: Middlesbrough: Mills, Greening. Everton: Watson, Rooney, Kilbane.
Man of the match: Queudrue.
Attendance: 28,113.Reuse content