By dodging discarded season tickets to take Middlesbrough into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and Uefa Cup, Steve McClaren has earned the right to sympathise with a rival manager without appearing to patronise. "The mark of a good manager is how he comes through the bad times," offered Sven Goran Eriksson's assistant following a comprehensive yet one-goal defeat of Manchester City yesterday. For Stuart Pearce, that torturous process has just begun.
Pearce has enjoyed relative success throughout his City tenure to the extent that he, not McClaren, has been touted as a more suitable England manager. How this refreshingly honest coach handles the post-FA Cup deflation that has engulfed his club, however, is likely to shape his managerial reputation more than anything he has achieved so far. Pearce was livid with arguably the worst performance of his reign yesterday and his post-match analysis, while even more entertaining than his touchline antics, could have serious repercussions for those subject to his anger.
"We showed no moral courage whatsoever," he began, "and if I was a supporter of this club I would be disgusted with a performance like that. I am disgusted, and I will take responsibility for it, but I've told the 10 players, but not the goalkeeper, that they can go home to their wives and kids and know that they did not step up to the plate today. Not one of them showed leadership or earned their wages and if it happens again, people will be leaving this club."
Both teams were without key players and it was a slippery surface, yet ready-made excuses provided no justification for City's drudgery. At least Boro could point to midweek exertions in Europe and the loss of their left-back, Franck Queudrue, only eight minutes into their 50th game of the season as contributory factors to a performance that ended more impressively than it began and could have yielded a 5-0 victory but for several fine saves by David James and some missed chances.
The only enthusiasm from the home side came from Pearce, who became so desperate to enliven a performance ruined by careless distribution that he even began to retrieve the ball for his opponents with haste. Aside from a half-hearted penalty appeal for George Boateng's tackle on Darius Vassell, correctly ignored by referee Mike Riley, the first half had almost passed without incident when Boro stunned the crowd, and perhaps themselves, by fashioning a clinical and ultimately decisive breakthrough. The impressive Stewart Downing crossed from the left behind the City centre-halves and Lee Cattermole, whose midfield runs went un-checked all game, stole in to send a glancing header beyond James. Having been reduced to tears by the 4-0 humiliation at home to Aston Villa, the 18-year-old - one of seven players on display to graduate through the Boro Youth Academy - kissed the badge as he celebrated his first senior goal for his boyhood club. For once, it was truly heartfelt.
"This was the youngest team we could have put out and Lee epitomised their performance today," McClaren said. "I hope I have seen the future of the club today and it looks very strong indeed."
Goal: Cattermole (42) 0-1.
Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Mills, Dunne, Richards, Thatcher; Sinclair (Croft, 66), Ireland (Musampa, 59), Sibierski (Flood, 71), Riera; Vassell, Samaras. Substitutes not used: Sommeil, Wright-Phillips.
Middlesbrough (4-5-1): Jones; Parnaby, Ehiogu, Riggott, Queudrue (Taylor, 8); Morrison (Davies, 88), Cattermole, Boateng, Rochemback, Downing; Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Knight (gk), Viduka, Mendieta.
Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).
Man of the match: James.Reuse content