Schwarzer stands firm as Birmingham's defence unravels

Middlesbrough 5 Birmingham City 3
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The Independent Football

A drab 1-0 at best. Goal-shy Middlesbrough, having won the first trophy in their 128-year existence, would be content to rest on their laurels. Over-performing Birmingham, shorn of Robbie Savage by an unsurprising suspension, would fight doggedly to continue their unrealistic push for the Champions' League.

The hacks in the press room wished they were 30 miles up the road at St James' Park for the really entertaining scrap in the fourth-place race. But this turned out to be such a colourful game that at the end of the six-goal first half a vivid rainbow illuminated the normally steel-grey, smoky sky of Teesside.

"I've got the kits to take home," Gareth Southgate said in the tunnel afterwards. "I thought it was a Sunday League match. I don't know who's putting the nets up next week.

"It was just a crazy afternoon. At the start, you looked at the conditions and thought it was going to be difficult, but neither side will make that many mistakes again if they play for a lifetime."

Apart from Mikael Forssell. His only mistake was to get picked on the side playing against Mark Schwarzer. Forssell's dashing silver boots and his flashing blond head beat Schwarzer on more than the two occasions the scoresheet suggests. Twice the Australian goalkeeper required the woodwork's assistance to keep him out, and once his shot was superbly parried but fell for Clinton Morrison to stab home.

"It was an unbelievable game, very exciting for the crowd but unfortunately for a Birmingham player very disappointing," Forssell said. He took his season's tally to 14 - one behind Birmingham's top-flight record set by Tony Evans in 1981-82 - which backs up Ken Bates' assertion that the Finn, on a season's loan to Birmingham, is Chelsea's best striker.

"I'm enjoying my football and I have three years left at Chelsea. As things stand, I go back in the summer, and if they say they are ready to sell me then everything's open. But I don't want to sit on the bench."

Southgate was not sitting on the fence when it came to pin-pointing the match-winner: "Our goalkeeper has kept us in the game," he said. His manager, Steve McClaren, said "You won't see a better goalkeeping display this season", and Steve Bruce counted four first-half saves of "good, good quality".

Yet Bruce was also counting the mistakes. Matthew Upson got lost under a wind-blown bounce to allow Gaizka Mendieta to open the scoring. Then the Spaniard sped unchallenged to set up Massimo Maccarone for the second. Southgate had an embarrassing amount of space to sweep in the third, and only Maccarone's lovely loft for the fourth might be considered error-free.

"It sums up our weekend," Bruce said. "Stuck in traffic on Saturday for eight hours and then their fifth."

Unaccountably Upson tried to head a ball bouncing no higher than the grass roots to Maik Taylor. His forehead snagged on a divot and Szilard Nemeth waltzed the ball home.

"Just don't call my team boring," Bruce finished. No one on Teesside will make that mistake again.

Goals: Mendieta (5) 1-0; Maccarone (22) 2-0; Forssell (23) 2-1; Southgate (30) 3-1; Morrison (45) 3-2; Maccarone (45) 4-2; Forssell (60) 4-3; Nemeth (90) 5-3.

Middlesbrough (4-3-1-2): Schwarzer 9; Mills 6, Ehiogu 5, Southgate 6, Queudrue 4; Mendieta 7, Doriva 5, Greening 6; Juninho 6 (Ricketts 5, 75); Maccarone 7 (Nemeth 7, 75), Job 4 (Downing 6, 64). Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Parnaby.

Birmingham City (4-4-2): Maik Taylor 4; Martin Taylor 4, Cunningham 5, Upson 3, Grainger 5; Johnson 4 (John 5, 46), Hughes 5, Clemence 5, Lazaridis 7; Morrison 7, Forssell 8. Substitutes not used: Bennett (gk), Cissé, Carter, Barrowman.

Referee: U Rennie (South Yorkshire) 7.

Bookings: Middlesbrough: Greening, Queudrue.

Man of the match: Schwarzer.

Attendance: 30,244.