Juninho inspires revival

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The Independent Football

After Cup calamities against Second and First Division teams, Middlesbrough found Premiership opposition more to their liking and this win over Spurs lifts much of the pressure off their manager, Bryan Robson.

After Cup calamities against Second and First Division teams, Middlesbrough found Premiership opposition more to their liking and this win over Spurs lifts much of the pressure off their manager, Bryan Robson.

For Robson, last week must have felt as long as any in his five-and-a-half-year reign at the Riverside. The embarrassments inflicted by Wrexham and Tranmere were only part of a miserable seven-game run in which only one win had been recorded - and that on penalties against a weak Worthington Cup XI fielded by Arsenal - and yesterday he faced a home League crowd for the first time since a voluble minority had chanted "You don't know what you're doing" when he substituted Juninho after an hour in the goal-less draw with Wimbledon.

Yet letters in local papers have been largely supportive, and the most uncertain future must be that of Paul Gascoigne, missing yesterday due to a training injury, who is being beckoned to play out the dog days of his career on a foreign field, with Miami Fusion keen on this no-longer-sound machine .

Robson, with an injury list including an entire defence and Paul Ince, made one change - Neil Maddison for Phil Stamp - to the team traumatised by Tranmere. Spurs, themselves four games without a win and with a Cup calamity at Fulham, had Mauricio Taricco back from suspension and relegated Ruel Fox to the bench where he sat with Tim Sherwood. From the kick-off, Spurs were the more - indeed, the only - fluent side. Allan Nielsen crossed dangerously and Ramon Vega flicked on perilously before David Ginola won a controversial free kick on the edge of the area in the sixth minute. The Frenchman took the kick and found Vega free on the back post. His header was powerful and downward and Mark Schwarzer parried it well on the bounce.

It was only a rehearsal. Two minutes later, when Steve Vickers was lucky to concede only a corner from a clumsy challenge on Chris Armstrong, came the real thing. Ginola crossed, Vega was free at the back and this time he beat Schwarzer.

Middlesbrough, incapable of stringing a meaningful move together, timing a tackle or even taking a throw-in to a team-mate, were rattled. Hamilton Ricard was in danger of losing the whereabouts of his rag as Sol Campbell stood rock like beside him, the Colombian's cries of dismay easily audible in a stadium in which the visitors mockingly carolled "Silent Night".

And yet, as Steve Carr thrust, as Chris Perry probed, as Ginola conducted, there was always Juninho. Doughty and persistent as anyone in a crisis, he was rattling advertising hoardings with whole-hearted, though inaccurate, long shots. In the 35th minute he exchanged short passes with Christian Ziege on the edge of the Spurs area. The German's sureness of foot took him past Vega and, with the goal gaping, he buried the chance.

Middlesbrough revived, forced two corners and, in the 43rd minute, Brian Deane led Robbie Stockdale away down the right with Ginola, Stockdale's supposed marker, absent-mindedly conducting the Middlesbrough attack, waving his arms in theatrical horror at the break for which he was responsible. Stockdale reached the by-line and crossed precisely to Ziege, unmarked three yards out on the back post. But as unerring as the German had been minutes before he was now glaringly wasteful, implausibly screwing his right-foot tap-in wide.

Perhaps as punishment, Ginola did not reappear for the second half. In the 68th minute, Ziege hung up a deep cross which Ian Walker, recovering after treatment for a blow to the head, flapped at. The ball bounced kindly to Deane who smashed home the winner.

In an extraordinary turnabout, Middlesbrough ended as the only fluid team on the pitch, and everything was flowing through Juninho. In the 73rd minute he wriggled wonderfully from the half-way line, slithering miraculously over Perry's desperate leg only to be denied by Walker. A goal then would have prevented the anxious last minutes which culminated in Nielsen being dismissed for aiming the last kick of the game at the Brazilian.