McClaren books his United date

Middlesbrough 2 Wimbledon 0
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The Independent Online

The pupil will indeed confront the master in the fourth round of the FA Cup, although, when Manchester United come to Teesside a week on Saturday, they will face a different Riverside than the listless arena which staged this fixture.

A match that pitches Sir Alex Ferguson against his former assistant, Steve McClaren, should draw rather more than the 9,700 that roused themselves to watch Middlesbrough gain a measure of revenge over the team that knocked them out of both cup competitions last season. By then, the Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan should have completed his transfer from Independiente, although McClaren sounded curiously downbeat afterwards, saying: "There are still many many people to deal with and many other clubs interested and I am as much in the dark as you are." Nevertheless, Boro, indebted to Noel Whelan and an own-goal for a laboured victory, are in need of his services.

Although McClaren confessed he was "dying to win this game" to meet Manchester United, apathy stalked the Riverside. Graham Fordy, the club's commercial manager, used the match programme to describe the game as "not one that could be described as an exciting fixture". Teesside agreed ­ the attendance was the lowest in the stadium's six-year history for an FA Cup tie. Bars and betting shops on the concourse were shuttered up and the atmosphere resembled a reserve match. The noise from Wimbledon's travelling support providing the only disruption.

Phil Stamp had already curled a shot on to the crossbar in the opening seconds when Szilard Nemeth sent Whelan clear through on goal. The Wimbledon back-four froze as if expecting an offside flag, allowing the striker to take two touches before slipping his shot through Ian Feuer's legs.

Middlesbrough might have settled the tie well before the interval but their shooting failed to match the approach play. The outstanding chance fell to Robbie Mustoe, a veteran of their run to the 1997 FA Cup final. Having wrested possession from Carlos Marinelli, Trond Andersen attempted the feeblest of back-passes that allowed Mustoe a free shot which, but for a splendid parry from Feuer, should have put Boro two up.

Despite surviving this volley of chances, Wimbledon actually played the more assured football, their long-ball game long since condemned to the annuals of history, but their passing was often too elaborate to be effective.

Wimbledon have not yet managed a goal in 2002 and yet David Connolly might easily have had a hat-trick. At Watford, he was regarded by many as a greater talent than Kevin Phillips, although the Sunderland striker would not have spurned the range of opportunities which fell Connolly's way last night. The second half was barely a dozen seconds old when Mark Crossley was struck by ­ as opposed to saving ­ a flashing header. McClaren, returning to his dug-out, was told he had missed "the save of the season" and a quarter of an hour before the end Connolly managed to fluff a sliding shot on the six-yard line.

In between, it was Wimbledon's old weapon, the long punt upfield, which sent him through on goal. As Crossley spread himself, Connolly chose to drive his shot low rather than chip the keeper, which proved a mistake. Nine minutes from time, however, Kenny Cunningham scored with aplomb but past his own goalkeeper as he tried to turn away Allan Johnston's low, flat cross which proved Middlesbrough's most creative move of the second half.

Mostly, they looked weary, listless and sometimes bankrupt of ideas. Ferguson would not have been particularly impressed by the video of the match and, if they receive transmissions of the FA Cup in Buenos Aires, neither would Forlan.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Crossley; Stockdale, Festa, Southgate, Queudrue; Stamp (Johnston, 71), Ince, Mustoe, Marinelli (Greening, 77); Whelan, Nemeth (Windass, 77). Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), C Cooper.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Feuer; Holloway, Andersen, Cunningham, Hawkins; Ardley, Francis, Hughes, K Cooper (McAnuff, 76); Shipperley (Agyemang, 73), Connolly. Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Jupp, Willmott.

Referee: S Bennett (Orpington).

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