Middlesbrough 1 Fulham 0: Alves' introduction gives Boro lift and prolongs Fulham slide

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The Independent Football

It was all very different in Afonso Alves' home town when England came calling on World Cup duty. Back then, in the summer of 1950, the idea of having a substitute waiting in the wings was about as alien as playing a First Division fixture on the Sea Of Tranquillity. Poor Walter Winterbottom was unable to bring on Stanley Matthews to change the course of football history as his side slumped to defeat against the United States in Belo Horizonte.

It remains to be seen whether Middlesbrough's latest signing is blessed with the dribbling wizardry of a Matthews. In the 33 minutes he spent on the pitch at the Riverside on Saturday, Alves had more touches of the ball with his head than with his feet, and they were few and fleeting. Still, the introduction of the boy from Belo Horizonte, midway through the second half, played an influential role in the game's outcome. As Roy Hodgson said at the end of another pointless day on the road for Fulham: "It was a wise move by Gareth [Southgate] to bring on the new boy when he did. It breathed new life into them."

Having squandered a number of chances (principally via Robert Huth) Boro were sitting on their 1-0 lead with an increasing degree of discomfort until their manager pitched Alves into the fray. The £12.7m club record signing had no chance to show the goal-poaching pedigree that yielded 45 goals in 39 games for Heerenveen, but the roar from the crowd, accompanied by the waving of 10,000 miniature Brazilian flags, provided the vital lift that Boro needed.

"I knew the sort of reception that Afonso would get and I knew if we did it at half-time we wouldn't get that added impetus," Southgate said. "I knew he would struggle physically because he's not ready yet. But I had to counter that with the lift it would give the crowd for 20 minutes and the fact that he might just pinch something on the break for us. Afonso will be an asset but we'll have to give him time."

Which is what Jérémie Aliadière has been given by Southgate, whose astute hand on the managerial reins has now guided Middlesbrough to 12th place. It has taken the young French striker five months to get into a goalscoring groove following his £2m move from the Arsenal bench but he has bagged two in Middlesbrough's last three games. The winner he struck in the 11th minute on Saturday was a fine finish: a nutmegging shot through the legs of Fulham's Finnish goalkeeper, Antti Niemi.

Goal: Aliadière (11) 1-0.

Middlesbrough (4-1-3-2): Schwarzer; Young, Huth, Wheater, Pogatetz; Rochemback; O'Neil, Arca, Downing; Dong-Gook (Alves, 57), Aliadière (Boateng, 76).Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Mido, Grounds.

Fulham (4-5-1): Niemi; Stalteri, Baird, Hangeland, Konchesky; Davies, Andreason, Bullard, Murphy, Kamara (Dempsey, h-t); Nevland (McBride, 64). Substitutes not used: Keller (gk), Volz, Bocanegra.

Referee: P Dowd (Stoke).

Booked: Middlesbrough Huth; Fulham Kamara, Nevland.

Man of the match: Huth.

Attendance: 26,885.