O'Leary is left battered by Boro bruisers

Middlesbrough 3 - Aston Villa 0
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The Independent Football

Middlesbrough will have to wait until February to make their next mark on the European stage - in the Arnold Schwarzenegger Stadion, named after Graz's most famous son and one-time junior team flying right-winger with Grazer AK. In the meantime, Steve McClaren's men continue to flex their muscles at home, although it took three counter-punches to down an equally ambitious Aston Villa.

Villa spent the majority of the afternoon on the front foot but were thrice beaten on the break, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Joseph-Desiré Job and Michael Reiziger claiming the goals that added momentum to Middlesbrough's quest for Champions' League qualification. For Villa, beaten in the second city derby last Sunday, it was another dent to their own European ambitions and a frustrating, fruitless afternoon for David O'Leary, with the ink still drying on his extended contract.

Villa emerged victorious from the corresponding fixture last season, despite being reduced to 10 men when Nolberto Solano swung an arm in the direction of George Boateng and the Dutchman collapsed in a heap. O'Leary suggested Boateng might have a future in films, and the former Villan was back in the picture for Middlesbrough yesterday after missing the midweek defeat of Partizan Belgrade. Not that he featured greatly in the opening stages - unlike Solano.

With seven minutes on the clock, the Peruvian measured an inviting cross from wide on the right for Steve Davis - only for the youngster to misjudge the angle of his header. Solano also cushioned a header for Gavin McCann, who swept wide a left-foot drive from 20-yards. Villa were into their attacking stride early and came within a whisker of the lead in the 10th minute, Juan Pablo Angel flashing a header off the top of Mark Schwarzer's crossbar after Reiziger made a hash of attempting to clear a Gareth Barry corner.

It was a close call for Middlesbrough, but it appeared to be the absence of a defensive call at the other end that gave Boro their first chance three minutes later. Fortunately for Thomas Sorensen and Olof Mellberg, Szilard Nemeth failed to hit the target with his left-foot drive after the Villa goalkeeper and captain collided with one another while attempting to clear a long ball from Stewart Downing. Sorensen and Mellberg found themselves animatedly admonishing each other while play continued.

It was the first blot of the Villa copybook. The second came in the 20th minute, after Gareth Southgate had headed out a goal-bound shot by the increasingly influential Barry. Middlesbrough launched a swift counter-attack, Boateng sweeping the ball out to Hasselbaink, who cut inside before smacking a left-foot drive into the far corner of the net.

The goal came against the run of play, but it might have been followed by a second before half-time, Sorensen producing a fine one-handed save to keep out a Southgate header. Still, Villa recovered their composure at the interval and came out fizzing for the second half. But they lacked the sparkle they needed in front of goal, first Angel, then Barry missing clear chances from close range.

Middlesbrough did their attacking on the break. It was from one such counter that the second goal materialised, Downing racing away on the right and then slipping a pass to Job, who beat Sorensen with a curling side-footed finish.

Even then, Villa continued to press - Barry hitting the woodwork and Angel forcing a super save from Schwarzer - until late on Reiziger broke away and drove in a third.