Middlesbrough 2 Everton 1: Viduka's sharpness severs Everton's unblemished record

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The Independent Online

They were over the mooning but not quite over the moon. Having been confronted with the sight of Joey Barton's backside at Goodison Park a fortnight ago, the Evertonians who made the trip to Teesside saw their team's proud unbeaten start to the season disappear into the misty Middlesbrough horizon.

Eight games into their promising Premiership campaign, all was going well for David Moyes and his men - until Tim Howard clumsily felled Yakubu and the big Nigerian gave Middlesbrough a 27th-minute lead from the penalty spot. Everton's shortcomings were exposed thereafter, with Howard being obliged to save a second Yakubu penalty and Mark Viduka applying the finishing touch to a rapier Middlesbrough attack.

A Tim Cahill strike 13 minutes from time gave the visitors hope until the final whistle confirmed the relief of a hard-earned, deserved victory for Boro and their novice manager. After getting the better of Jose Mourinho back in August, Gareth Southgate was grateful to get win number two on the board.

"I'm just delighted for the lads because they've had to take a lot [of criticism]," Southgate said. "I thought they really responded well to what was required. We spoke before the game about having to not just match Everton's commitment but to outfight them as well. We played in the way I want my team to play, with drive and commitment throughout the team."

Boro also had to play on the back foot as Everton dictated the bulk of the opening quarter, settling swiftly into a neat passing game. On two occasions, it took the muscular intervention of Robert Huth to thwart Andy Johnson, as ubiquitous a figure as Cahill, a remarkably indefatigable influence after his long-haul trip back from midweek international duty in Sydney.

The force was with Everton until the run of the ball went against them. Phil Neville's attempted clearance out on the right was charged down by George Boateng and the ball diverted into the heart of the Everton penalty area. In the race to get to it, Howard's lunging feet-first challenge brought down Yakubu. It was a clear penalty and Yakubu converted it.

Still, it could have been worse for the visitors, had Viduka been sharp enough to punish some goalmouth dallying by Nuno Valente, had Yakubu not snatched at a clear shooting chance, or had Howard not saved a Neville deflection. Half-time arrived with Everton clinging to the ropes in desperation.

The second blow ought to have come in the 68th minute, but when Joleon Lescott was punished for a handling offence Yakubu's penalty kick lacked the pace or direction required to beat the diving Howard. As it was, Everton were sliced open by a razor-sharp move three minutes later, Yakubu and Jason Euell combining superbly to set up Viduka for a rifling finish.

Cahill halved the deficit in the 77th minute, whisking the ball off the feet of Johnson and smashing a right-foot drive past Mark Schwarzer. For all of the late pressure, though, and for all of the eight minutes of overtime, Everton could not get a second goal.

"We didn't deserve to lose," said Moyes. Cahill, with all of his air miles, never dropped off the pace but the Socceroo who missed the marathon trip was responsible for depriving Everton of their unblemished record. A winning goal to celebrate the birth of his baby son, Viduka had reason to be over the moon.

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