Middlesbrough 1 Roma 0: Boro seize advantage against cup favourites

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The Independent Football

Thoughts of what might have been will today gnaw at Middlesbrough's sense of achievement. A wonderful victory this was, but their Roman conquest soon gave way to rueful inquest.

As laudable as an eighth win in 10 games is against perhaps the continent's form team, thoughts still linger of Gaizka Mendieta's reckless blast over the bar from a dozen yards.

A second goal with nine minutes remaining as the Spaniard, a former employee of Lazio, latched on to a pass from the substitute Mark Viduka would have put an entirely different complexion on next week's return in the Italian capital, in what will be Roma's 200th European tie.

"We should have had that second goal," admitted Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who won Middlesbrough's decisive 11th-minute penalty, converted by Yakubu. "Everyone was so focused and determined, we really wanted it today."

The Dutchman sought not to point the finger at his profligate team-mate, but, with rather more restraint than Mendieta deserves for the paucity of his finish, at the suspect playing surface, about which Roma had voiced strong concerns and which appeared to have been flown in straight from Stamford Bridge.

"I'd put it down to the pitch," Hasselbaink said. "Mendieta's control and touch is top-class. Now we know we've still got it all to do. It's far from over."

The Middlesbrough forward used his experience to make the most of a collision with Gianluca Curci, whose unwise dash from goal was never likely to end in anything other than anguish as Hasselbaink chased a Mendieta pass into the area.

"I saw the keeper coming and it was a narrow angle to shoot," the striker explained with a knowing smile. "I tried to dribble round him, but he touched me and I lost my balance."

Yakubu's weak penalty still had enough on it to send Curci the wrong way for the Nigerian's 19th goal of the season. It ensured Roma have won just once in their last 11 visits to these shores, although a single-goal deficit is far from a disaster, and they appeared content to settle for the scoreline with more than half an hour remaining.

Steve McClaren echoed Hasselbaink's sentiments over the lack of a second goal to bolster their case in what is likely to prove an intriguing denouement in Italy. "I was a little disappointed we didn't get it, and it could prove costly," the manager admitted.

"You have to take the opportunities. The tie's very evenly balanced, but the clean sheet gives you that extra goal."

Luciano Spalletti, the Roma manager, insisted his side would be rather more adventurous on home soil, with the emphasis on soil, rather than the Riverside mud. "We can still turn it round," he said.

"The pitch will be a lot better for the home game, and I think it will suit our style far better."

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Davies, Southgate, Riggott, Pogatetz; Mendieta, Boateng, Cattermole, Downing (Queudrue, 90); Yakubu (Viduka, 81), Hasselbaink. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Parlour, Doriva, Maccarone, McMahon.

Roma (4-2-3-1): Curci; Panucci, Mexes, Kuffour, Cufre; Kharja, Dacourt (Aquilani, 84); Tommasi (Alvarez, 73), Perrotta, Taddei (Okaka Chuka, 61); Mancini. Substitutes not used: Pipolo (gk), Bovo, Chivu, Rosi.

Referee: A Sars (France).