Middlesbrough settle for replay

Wimbledon 0 Middlesbrough 0
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The Independent Football

If last Sunday was what the FA Cup is all about, then this particular match certainly helped tarnish the old competition's image and it may have been Manchester United's fault.

United, who won in such thrilling fashion on the weekend, loomed large over this contest, for they are the opposition who will travel to face the winner of this tie. Yet as if scared of facing Alex Ferguson's men, who scored three goals in six minutes on Sunday, neither team here ever seemed ready to risk all.

Perhaps the thought of a narrow defeat here rather than a thrashing in 10 days' time was the motivation for both, but, whatever the cause of this sorry display, they will contest the replay, and go through all this again, next Tuesday. As Wimbledon's manager Terry Burton admitted later: "Yes, the thought of United did add pressure. We had the better of the first half but you need to score when that's happening."

Steve McClaren for his part was relieved to have survived the first half and began to look forward to the replay and the possibility of meeting his former team in the next round. "There's no better incentive than United next," he said.

Then again, a replay was almost inevitable as soon as these teams were drawn together. Their previous three meetings in the Cup ­ including last season ­ had all needed extra games to settle matters and once Kevin Cooper hit the post, after 28 minutes, that impression merely gained momentum.

Late on, Gianluca Festa's 86th-minute shot against the bar evened up Cooper's near-miss and Hamilton Ricard headed the follow-up over the top, but a goal would have been undeserved at that late stage.

Deprived once again of the services of Alen Boksic, through injury, as well as the Argentinian Carlos Marinelli, the Middlesbrough manager, Steve McClaren, turned to Noel Whelan and Hamilton Ricard, the latter without a goal all season, to try and turn the scant service from midfield into goals.

But it was the hosts who went closest first of all, as David Connolly hustled Gianluca Festa into giving away the ball, but, by the time the Irishman had cued up his shot, Gareth Southgate was there to block.

Wimbledon too were without some first-team players, notably goalkeeper Kelvin Davis and the Swedish international Hakan Mild. Yet after Connolly's initial effort, Boro reacted and Whelan saw his shot deflected over.

The introduction by McClaren of Phil Stamp at half-time, in place of Jason Gavin, gave Boro the shape and urgency they had sorely lacked before the interval. McClaren reshuffled to a 4-4-2 system that seemed to release his team from the shackles of the five-man defensive midfield arrangement the manager started with, and Jonathan Greening was soon looping a cross to Whelan at the far post only for the striker to stumble at the crucial moment.

At the other end, Kevin Cooper went close, his low shot skidding past the post.

Wimbledon (4-4-2): Feuer; Hawkins, Cunningham, Andersen, Holloway; K Cooper (McAnuff, 79), Francis, Hughes, Ardley; Connolly, Shipperley (Agyemang, 84). Substitutes not used: Heald (gk), Willmott, Morgan.

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Crossley; Festa, Southgate, Gavin (Stamp, h-t); Queudrue, Ince, Greening, Mustoe, Stockdale; Ricard (Nemeth, 86), Whelan (Windass, 64). Substitutes not used: Beresford (gk), C Cooper.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).