Middlesbrough 1, West Ham Utd 2: Parker strike casts shadow over Boro's bright fortnight

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The Independent Football

Alan Curbishley has asked Scott Park to be more offensive and that is certainly how Middlesbrough found the West Ham midfielder yesterday. A mere ten seconds of normal time remained when Parker collected the ball in the Boro area.

Parker had the sizeable figure of David Wheater in front of him but he danced around Wheater with ease and then buried a composed shot beyond Mark Schwarzer into the far corner. It was some moment for Parker to score his first West Ham goal.

Parker's club's 1500 followers burst into a chorus of Jingle Bells. You could understand their cheer: this was the Hammers' first win on Teesside since 1990, their first in the top-flight here since 1982.

That historic drought, however, contrasts with West Ham's away form this season. Parker's late winner means that Curbishley's team have amassed 16 points on the road. After those back-to-back home defeats to Everton, this victory was as welcome as any of the previous four, as was evident from a gleeful Curbishley.

"Absolutely fantastic," he said. "It's well-documented the injuries we've got and we had two more fitness tests this morning - George McCartney and Matthew Upson. Fantastic, Two great goals. Delighted. We knew Middlesbrough were on a decent run but we've bounced back."

Curbishley's opposite number, Gareth Southgate, had the opposite view. On the balance of play a draw would have been a fair result, which is why Southgate described defeat as "a kick in the nuts."

After successive, uplifting wins over Arsenal and Derby County, Southgate felt Boro failed "to hit those heights. We were second to too many things today, not as sharp and a bit nave at the end in our defending. It's bitterly disappointing."

The start did not hint at that end. Buoyed by those victories, Boro began with flow and conviction with Tuncay Sanli, scorer of the winners in both previous matches, having a great first fifteen minutes. After that, though, he and Boro faded.

There was no lack of effort and with Julio Arca back and dictating play, home belief was that a breakthrough was inevitable. So it proved, yet it was the 40th minute before Boro produced a shot on target.

Thankfully for them it came from three yards out, Wheater stabbing the ball in after Jeremie Aliadiere knocked down a Stewart Downing free-kick. Boro under Southgate are becoming known for their willingness to pass and move but this was a training ground set-piece.

The aim now was to hold out until half-time but that was beyond Middlesbrough. When, four minutes later, Henri Camara muscled his way onto a long punt from the West Ham defence, Camara's touch back teed up Dean Ashton. The big striker was twenty yards out and two defenders were facing him but his snapshot was so powerful it went through them and into the bottom corner with Schwarzer beaten comfortably. "The turning point," Curbishley called it.

It was Ashton's fifth goal of the season and the optimism it gave West Ham was clear. In the second half, with Nolberto Solano prominent, they got forward in numbers and it took a great save from Schwarzer to deny Solano in the 53rd minute.

The game was open after that and, as Southgate said, "even". Plenty of action followed but there was no further goalkeeper intervention and it stayed that way when Parker entered the Boro area with 89:50 on the scoreboard above the net.

"I've asked him to be more offensive than he was at Newcastle," Curbishley said of Parker. "Let's hope it's the start of something."