If this was the phoney war then let the real battle commence. An open, often entertaining, prelude to Sunday's FA Cup semi-final offered a tantalising glimpse of what lies ahead or, in the case of the West Ham United manager, Alan Pardew, a stark reminder of the numerous attacking options available to his opposite number in six days' time.
Middlesbrough's much-changed team scored two goals and might have registered more were it not for the quick reactions and sound positional sense of the Hammers' veteran goalkeeper Shaka Hislop. The Teessiders' manager, Steve McClaren, was able to rest leading scorer Aiyegbeni Yakubu and withdraw Mark Viduka at half-time with Thursday's Uefa Cup semi-final first leg against Steaua Bucharest in mind. Still, his strike force swept aside West Ham with style.
Goals from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Massimo Maccarone either side of half-time ensured Middlesbrough are mathematically sure of Premiership football next season, not that they were in any danger. More pertinently, the win gave home fans the bragging rights in the build-up to this weekend's Villa Park rematch.
Pardew, however, is well aware McClaren's men will return from Romania, and their 23rd cup tie of the season, in the early hours of Friday morning requiring an immense effort to repeat this result. Of further comfort to the former Reading manager was the late rally which almost turned the match on its head. Had Teddy Sheringham and substitute Dean Ashton converted excellent chances in the final 13 minutes of an absorbing second half, then it would have been West Ham claiming the psychological high ground going into their biggest game for several years.
"Looking at Middlesbrough's squad, the players they left out of this match and the players they have to come back, then you would have to say they are favourites to win again on Sunday," said Pardew. "In terms of their investment and their experience of the Premiership they are further down the line than us.
"We cannot go into the FA Cup semi-final believing we are anything other than underdogs. However, I do know that Boro have one hell of a trip this week and that's going to be difficult for them. It's a tall order for them."
McClaren is not so sure. After his team's 55th game of the season, the number one contender to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson as England manager appeared remarkably confident and relaxed. "Ask me again on Sunday night whether Thursday's match will make a difference," he said.
"This is the biggest week in Middlesbrough's history and this is what we're in football for. As for this result? Sunday will be completely different and I don't believe we have gained any kind of psychological advantage." Secretly, McClaren will hope he is mistaken.
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Bates, Riggott, Wheater, Queudrue; Maccarone, Parlour, Doriva, Johnson (Taylor, 76); Hasselbaink (Kennedy, 72), Viduka (Christie, h-t). Substitutes not used: Knight, Parnaby.
West Ham United (4-3-3): Hislop; Scaloni (Fletcher, 66), Collins, Gabbidon, Konchesky; Newton, Mullins, Reo-Coker; Katan (Zamora, 66); Harewood (Ashton, 66), Sheringham. Substitutes not used: Walker, Reid.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).Reuse content