Middlesbrough 0 VfB Stuttgart 1 <i>(agg 2-2; Boro win on away goals)</i>: McClaren's relief as Boro survive the storm

Click to follow
The Independent Football

Knock-out football and a side as mercurial as Middlesbrough are uneasy bedfellows, and so it proved. However, they happily remain, as their supporters will tell anyone who cares to listen, a small town in Europe.

Those followers were put through all manner of agonies as their side maintained the quest for silverware on two fronts, however unconvincingly.

Steve McClaren had promised a cat and mouse evening of European football, but it was rather more robust than the Middlesbrough manager envisaged.

To continue the analogy, his side were rarely in feline mode as they deservedly succumbed to a seventh home defeat of the season, edging through to a last 16 Uefa Cup meeting with Roma, with the first leg at the Riverside on 9 March, courtesy of two away goals.

"We're not playing well at the moment," admitted Boro's captain, Gareth Southgate, who put in a sterling show at the back. "But we're digging out results, and over the two games we deserved to go through and our season is still well alive."

A vastly improved second-half showing at least stretched the visitors, who failed to capitalise on their first-half dominance and a goal from Christian Tiffert's angled 13th-minute drive as Boro were guilty of defending too deep.

Middlesbrough carved out their clearest openings of the contest in an impressive spell immediately after a no doubt frank half-time team-talk from a chastened McClaren, whose side looked for lengthy periods strangely lethargic despite the prize on offer.

The former Liverpool defender Markus Babbel was forced to hack the ball off the line to deny Gaizka Mendieta and, shortly afterwards, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink should have done better when firing straight at goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand as the hosts finally put the Germans on the back foot with the filthy weather conditions in their favour.

"I never expected an easy night," insisted McClaren. "We just had to get the job done. You could see what a good side Stuttgart are and it's an excellent win over two legs.

"We were caught in between going for the goal and defending and they took advantage, but we played 10 yards higher up in the second half and it worked perfectly."

Middlesbrough struggled with their opponents and the raging gale in their face in equal measure as any preconceptions of a smooth passage soon evaporated.

VfB Stuttgart were a different proposition from the lame first-leg opponents, and could have twice gone ahead through Danijel Ljuboja, their impressive lone forward, before Tiffert deservedly gave them the lead, brushing past Stuart Parnaby to finish stylishly with the outside of his right boot from a dozen yards.

"We were torn to pieces in the first 15 minutes. They surprised us because I thought it would be a bit cagey," admitted McClaren, who feels his side are better equipped to improve on their progression to the last 16 almost 12 months ago. "We should have scored a couple of times on the break," he said. "You do what you have to do to win the tie - it might not be pretty. We got the result."

There were mixed emotions for Armin Veh, the Stuttgart manager. "I'm disappointed to go out but I can't say I'm disappointed with the display," he said.

"We ran out of steam after our effort of the first half. We couldn't continue at that pace for the full 90 minutes. We lost this tie in the first half at Stuttgart."

Middlesbrough (4-5-1): Schwarzer; Davies, Riggott, Southgate, Queudrue; Parnaby, Mendieta (Ehiogu, 86), Boateng, Cattermole, Downing (Taylor, 90); Hasselbaink (Yakubu, 86). Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Maccarone, McMahon, Viduka.

VfB Stuttgart (4-5-1): Hildebrand; Hinkel, Babbel, Delpierre, Magnin (Hitzlsperger, 80); Gronkjaer (Gomez, 64), Soldo, Meissner (Barreto, 75), Gentner, Tiffert; Ljuboja. Substitutes not used: Heinen (gk), Gerber, Carevic, Beck.

Referee: E Braamhaar (Netherlands).