Morrison adds the sparkle as Boro finish top of class

Middlesbrough 3 - Partizan Belgrade 0
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The Independent Football

There is talk at the Riverside of a groove in the carpet leading to Steve McClaren's office, thanks to the increasingly frequent visits of Szilard Nemeth and Joseph-Desire Job.

The Middlesbrough manager has been forced to fend off impassioned protests from his reserve strike force, who have found themselves largely surplus to requirements since the summer arrival of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Mark Viduka.

Yet it appears the shunned duo's self-confidence is well founded. They backed their words with deeds by both scoring to confirm Middlesbrough's place in the next phase of the Uefa Cup as winners of Group E, in the process making sure they avoid the competition's big guns in the last 32 as the young substitute James Morrison rounded off the scoring from the edge of the penalty area in injury time.

The swathes of empty seats suggested Middlesbrough's supporters saw the fixture as anything but important, preferring to follow their side's fortunes on television from the warmth of their homes.

McClaren ran the risk of history repeating itself by dropping Hasselbaink and Viduka to the bench, a ploy that had badly backfired in last month's defeat by Villarreal.

However, Nemeth and Job repaid the faith shown in them by combining twice inside the opening quarter of the contest to give Middlesbrough a commanding two-goal lead.

Only 10 minutes had elapsed when the deadlock was broken, and as so often the case this season, the move stemmed from Stewart Downing down Middlesbrough's left. The midfielder released Job in space midway into the Partizan half, before a neat through ball from the Cameroon international put Nemeth in the clear.

The Slovakian's strike was far from convincing, but the goalkeeper, Ivica Kralj, allowed a low shot to squirm beneath him and roll apologetically into the net.

Middlesbrough's stand-in strike partnership combined again 12 minutes later to all but put the game beyond Partizan's grasp. Franck Queudrue, available for European competition despite his domestic ban, won possession inside the opposition half with a crunching challenge, before feeding an unmarked Nemeth in the box.

Nemeth could easily have attempted a shot on goal himself, but unselfishly squared the ball for the equally unmolested Job, who doubled the lead with a shot which crept inside Kralj's right-hand post, despite another again far from perfect contact.

The Partizan goalkeeper then atoned for his part in the opening goal with a fine point-blank effort to deny Job, his last act before giving way to the substitute Djordje Pantic, though he appeared to be uninjured when he departed.

The second-half was a predictable non-event as both sides went through the motions, Partizan's lack of motivation to find a way back into the game mitigated by them having, like their hosts, already qualified.

Mark Schwarzer, who might have been charged admission in the first half due to his severe underemployment, was at least called into action on the hour, as he pulled off an acrobatic save to keep out a header form Albert Nadj on a rare foray by the Serbians, as the hosts elected to sit on their advantage and ensure they avoid the likes of Valencia, Dynamo Kiev, Ajax and the other clubs who have dropped out of the Champions' League, when the draw is made for the next stage on Friday.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Reiziger, Cooper, Southgate, Queudrue; Parlour (Morrison, 64), Doriva, Zenden, Downing; Nemeth, Job. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), McMahon, Davies, Wilson, Hasselbaink, Viduka.

Partizan Belgrade (4-4-2): Kralj (Pantic, 40); Rnic, Djordjevic, Mirkovic, Emeghara; Brnovic, Ciric (Vukcevic, 46), Tomic, Ilic (Grubjesic, 71); Boya, Nadj. Substitutes not used: Bajic, Radovic, Petrovic, Babovic.

Referee: G Gilewski (Poland).