Middlesbrough 2 Portsmouth 0: Riggott rejoices in recall and Boro can breathe again

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The Independent Football

No matter what or where or for whom, this was always going to be a big weekend in the career of Chris Riggott. On loan at Stoke City, the 27-year-old central defender was on the golf course on Thursday thinking about today's crucial match against Leicester to see if Stoke could seal their return to the top flight when the call came from Gareth Southgate: Riggott was required back at Boro to cover for defensive injuries. When Riggott rose to put Boro ahead yesterday, his first league goal for the club since 2004, that decision by Southgate looked inspired.

Courtesy of Riggott, Boro were on their way to a victory that ensures another season in the Premier League. Tuncay Sanli scored a second to banish the possibility of relegation – still alive for the Teessiders at three o'clock – and the watching scouts from Cardiff City will have noted that both Boro goals derived from corners at which Ports-mouth's marking was vague in theory and practice.

A fortnight from meeting Cardiff in the FA Cup final, Harry Redknapp had seen his team lose for the third game in a row and one point has now been taken from a possible 12. With a re-invigorated Fulham at Fratton Park next Sunday, that record could worsen and Birmingham City and Reading will be interested in the personnel Redknapp fields then and their level of performance.

Here, after a sprightly first 20 minutes in which Milan Baros might have scored twice, it tailed off into mediocrity. Pompey were not awful – except at corners – but they were bland. Nor were Boro terrific, but they were tenacious enough to win for the first time since March. "I'm very disappointed," were Redknapp's first words. "We started brightly but we didn't pick up at two set plays. People know their jobs but they didn't do them, but we didn't create much up front either – 4-4-2 doesn't suit us away. But I wanted to give some players games."

Redknapp added that injured players such as Nwankwo Kanu, Sulley Muntari and John Utaka should be fit for Fulham and, if so, will play. "We will only get stick if I put a reserve team out and I wouldn't do that, it's disrespectful."

Southgate's tone was one of relief. Recalling Riggott had been "difficult" he said and he alluded to other harsh decisions this season, saying he felt "compromised" at times.

Such language could make for an interesting summer, probably more stimulating than this affair. Once David Wheater had blocked Baros's first effort on five minutes, and Baros then squandered a second chance, the match was all about Boro's desire and competence. Rarely did they flow but Boro's commitment could not be questioned.

Julio Arca and Fabio Rochemback were competitive in midfield, but Rochemback in particular was erratic. Only Stewart Downing possessed the sort of menace to destabilise the visitors and before Riggott's 39th-minute opener all that had been scratched out were two half-chances for Afonso Alves.

Yet when the corner that changed the game came in, it was from Rochemback. Sylvain Distin appeared to be the man allocated to mark Riggott but, unchallenged, Riggott rose to beat David James's stand-in, Jamie Ashdown, from six yards.

The simplicity of the goal peeved Redknapp, and the fact that the second – eight minutes after the interval – was similar, hardly cheered him up. Downing was the delivery man this time, Glen Johnson the culprit defender. Tuncay was allowed to place a near-post header past Ashdown. And Boro were safe.