Middlesbrough 0 Aston Villa 4: Gibson the model chairman faces fans' fury on McClaren

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The Independent Online

Boardroom votes of confidence are usually up there with fake sheikhs and fan phone-ins in any manager's Room 101.

But the manner in which Steve McClaren received his backing on Saturday night gave him a straw to cling on to as he plots a route out of the unholy mess he finds himself in. Not for Middlesbrough's chairman, Steve Gibson, any bland platitudes towards his manager issued through the club website from the comfort of his office.

After one Premiership victory in 11 games - as that was against Sunderland it does not really count - Middlesbrough's supporters were baying for blood as Luke Moore's first career hat-trick left the hosts precariously placed.

One fan had charged 60 yards - a far more productive run than managed by any Middlesbrough player - to hurl his season ticket at McClaren after Moore lifted his third goal over Mark Schwarzer with 25 minutes still to play. Thousands more left early, while those who remained launched tongue in cheek chants of "McClaren for England" amid calls for his head that were anything but ironic.

Mark Viduka, who should be ashamed of his performance, was embroiled in a heated exchange with supporters after blowing one a kiss as he made for his car after the game. Gibson might have thought twice and waited for the disgruntled mob to disperse. Instead, he met them head on and held court.

McClaren will no doubt welcome the gesture as he wrestles with the worst run of his managerial career. Having recently handed him a four-year contract, Gibson insisted his manager was going nowhere, while the pitch-invading fan would be allowed to keep his seat. That could be more of a punishment than confiscation.

"I understand that kind of passion," Gibson said. "Under Steve, we've won a major competition for the first time in our history and got into Europe two years running. You have to look in the longer term. We've had a couple of bad months but there are reasons for that."

David O'Leary has plenty of time for McClaren, and no doubt reflected the thoughts of his opposite number: "At times like this, you really hope you have a good chairman who doesn't get carried away with it all. Middlesbrough have one of the best.

"They're in a predicament and he backs the manager with a new four-year contract. I don't think that's done too much. He's a bright, unassuming type."

"We're suffering at the moment," admitted McClaren, who appeared to be trying to fill the void left by Graeme Souness when it comes to deflecting blame from an under-performing team. "In three or four weeks when everyone is fit we'll have the players to get us out of this trouble."

McClaren clearly has not got abdication of responsibility down to the fine art managed by Souness, though, and he added: "The buck stops with me.

"I understand the anger of the fans. I don't like losing in the manner we did. We're not defending well. We've conceded more goals than anyone in the Premiership and every time Villa came forward they looked like scoring."

The tears of the teenage midfielder Lee Cattermole showed that at least one Middlesbrough player took pride in his performance. But Boro were outclassed as the visitors scored two goals in each half, Moore breaking the deadlock with a left-foot volley before Kevin Phillips killed the contest with a deft header.

Two goals in two minutes reflected the gulf between the sides, Moore beating Emanuel Pogatetz, who gave new meaning to the term hapless, at the second attempt to Gareth Barry's near-post cross, before accepting a Steven Davis pass to complete the rout.

The match ball went to his souvenir-collecting mum at the end of a memorable week which also saw an equaliser against Chelsea.

"This is the highlight of my career. You get out of this game what you put in, and I put a lot in," he said.

Goals: Moore (18) 0-1; Phillips (24) 0-2; Moore (62) 0-3; Moore (64) 0-4.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2) Schwarzer; Parnaby, Southgate, Pogatetz, Taylor; Mendieta (Davies, 69), Doriva, Cattermole, Downing; Viduka (Yakubu, 46), Hasselbaink (Maccarone, 46). Substitutes not used: Knight (gk), Johnson.

Aston Villa (4-4-2) Sorensen; Hughes, Delaney, Mellberg (Ridgewell, 78), Samuel (Hendrie, 81); Milner, Davis, McCann, Barry; Moore (Angel, 84), Phillips. Substitutes not used: Taylor, Gardner (gk).

Referee: L Mason (Lancashire).

Booked: Middlesbrough Mendieta, Doriva, Maccarone; Aston Villa Barry.

Man of the match: Moore.

Attendance: 27,299.