Mendieta proves talk of Boro crisis is premature

Middlesbrough 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
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The Independent Football

The meeting of the Premiership's two least-proficient attacks at least produced something other than proof of their respective shortcomings, although for a long time a contest of too few clear chances seemed to have nil-nil written into its destiny.

In the end, the efforts of the visiting team to withstand wave after wave of Middlesbrough pressure collapsed under the strain. Gaizka Mendieta struck first, opening his scoring account in the Premiership with a brilliant, dipping shot from 25 yards after 72 minutes, the substitute Juninho adding a second 11 minutes later.

And that would have been the end of the story had fractious tempers on the field, which resulted in a red card for Wolves' Alex Rae in the closing minutes, not spilled over into an incident in the tunnel after the final whistle, which drew contrasting reactions from the rival managers.

Dave Jones, of Wolves, admitted he had been "right in the middle of it" as players clashed. Wary of landing himself in trouble, Jones chose his words carefully but was clearly angry: "The referee will report what he saw, but you don't get a reaction like that from the players unless something has happened to provoke it," he said. "There were players at fault on both sides, and here I'm talking about what happened on the field, but certain people need to take a close look at themselves and how they behave."

Rae was sent off after committing the second of two yellow-card offences, both fouls on Danny Mills. Jones accepted that Rae "deserved to go", but he had a right to be upset by the conduct of Mills and in the referee, Steve Dunn's, failure to deal with it adequately.

Mills had already upset the visiting bench with his card-waving gesture to Mr Dunn that preceded Rae's first booking for a late tackle. He further enraged them with his conduct before and after the opening goal.

It followed a clash between Mills and Lee Naylor that resulted in a free-kick to Boro. Mills and Naylor were still in dispute, with the Wolves captain, Paul Ince, apparently trying to mediate, when Juninho rolled the free-kick for Mendieta to score. Mills was cautioned in the aftermath, having celebrated the goal by aiming provocative gestures at Naylor, but there was evidently a feeling among the players that he had been let off lightly.

Jones said he plans to submit his own version of events to the FA. However, he will not be able to call on corroborating evidence from his opposite number, Steve McClaren, who said: "I don't want to sound like Arsène Wenger, but I did not see what happened before the first goal and I was in my room having a drink of water before anything took place in the tunnel.

"To me it was just a typical Premiership game. When you get players like Paul Ince on one side and Danny Mills on the other you are going to get total commitment. I was very pleased with Danny Mills today. He gave us a spark."

Wolves' spirit visibly drained after they fell behind, a sense of injustice rankling. The home side had the bit between their teeth and scored a second time, nine minutes from the end, when a low cross from Zenden on the left was driven home gleefully by Juninho, who relieved the frustration of being a perennial substitute by milking the crowd's applause for all its worth.

Middlesbrough 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0
Mendieta 73, Juninho 83

Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 31,620