It is an enigma which continues to vex Middlesbrough's supporters, the club's manager and the players who watch one of their most vibrant team-mates frequently fail to find his best form on the first team stage. Why does Massimo Maccarone's rich potential remain unfulfilled?
At Watford, the previous weekend, the Italy forward was granted a rare start and went on to waste his opportunity in spectacular style. It was a familiar story of failure for the former Empoli player who, following four largely unproductive seasons on Teesside, is still attempting to justify his claims for regular football at the Riverside Stadium.
Subsequently dropped ahead of the visit of West Ham United, Maccarone sprung off the bench to do what he does best and change the face of an otherwise forgettable fixture. As an energising and effective late substitute the 27-year-old is peerless and his smart 74th-minute finish provided a touch of class on an afternoon utterly bereft of any discernable quality or craft.
"In a lot of ways Massimo reminds me of [the former Middlesbrough forward] Szilard Nemeth because he, too, had a habit of coming off the bench to change the game," said the midfielder George Boateng. "You will have to ask him what his secret is.
"As a team we are very happy to have Massimo here. People have been suggesting he doesn't have a future at the club but his future is in his own hands. Over the four years he has been here he has become a really good friend and with finishes like that he is more than capable of earning himself a new contract."
Had it not been for Maccarone's decisive finish, reacting first to Lee Cattermole's touch after the Hammers had failed to clear a corner, then one of the most pedestrian fixtures in Premiership history would have passed without incident.
Due in large part to the deeply unpopular decision of the Middlesbrough manager, Gareth Southgate, to employ a stifling 4-5-1 formation, neither team was able to raise their performance above the level of mind-numbing mediocrity and the 10,000 Teessiders who stayed away were surely among the wisest folk in England.
"It wasn't a game of a lot of chances," agreed that master of understatement, the West Ham goalkeeper Robert Green. "But the one real chance was finished really well. It wasn't a great game by any stretch of the imagination but at half-time we felt there was something in it for us."
What gave Green such cause for optimism is an enigma on a par with the great Maccarone mystery.
Goal: Maccarone (74) 1-0.
Middlesbrough (4-5-1): Schwarzer; Davies, Woodgate, Pogatetz, Taylor; Morrison, Cattermole, Boateng, Rochemback (Maccarone, 69,), Downing (Huth, 90); Yakubu. Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Mendieta, Euell.
West Ham United (4-4-2): Green; Spector, Collins, Gabbidon, Konchesky; Benayoun (Cole, 83), Mullins, Reo-Coker, Etherington; Harewood (Tevez, 62), Sheringham. Substitutes not used: Carroll (gk), McCartney, Mascherano.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Booked: Middlesbrough Maccarone; West Ham Collins, Spector, Benayoun.
Man of the match: Maccarone.
Attendance: 25, 898.Reuse content