Solano and Crouch give Boro a slap in the face

Middlesbrough 1 Aston Villa 2
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At least Nolberto Solano had the best part of an hour on the pitch at the Riverside Stadium yesterday. In October, he stormed out of the ground before kick-off when his name failed to appear even among the substitutes on Sir Bobby Robson's Newcastle team-sheet for the Tees-Tyne derby. Six months on, the Peruvian was ushered from the field by Graham Barber after slapping his right hand into the face of George Boateng in a touchline spat not a million miles removed from the red-card theatricals of the Stade Louis II in Monte Carlo last Tuesday night.

At least Nolberto Solano had the best part of an hour on the pitch at the Riverside Stadium yesterday. In October, he stormed out of the ground before kick-off when his name failed to appear even among the substitutes on Sir Bobby Robson's Newcastle team-sheet for the Tees-Tyne derby. Six months on, the Peruvian was ushered from the field by Graham Barber after slapping his right hand into the face of George Boateng in a touchline spat not a million miles removed from the red-card theatricals of the Stade Louis II in Monte Carlo last Tuesday night.

Unlike Claude Makelele, Boateng did not delay his collapse, though the Dutchman performed a passable Dying Swan impression as he crashed to Teesside terra firma. "I think Boateng has got a great future in films," David O'Leary said afterwards, with irony as heavy as his Dublin accent. "I would put it on the same level as the Makelele incident. It's a tough man conning a referee into getting a fellow professional sent off. It looks fantastic on TV." To be fair to Boateng, the former Villan was clearly caught by Solano after nudging the diminutive winger, whose premature departure was watched from the main stand by his former manager, Sir Bobby. It left O'Leary's side a man short for the final 32 minutes, but they did more than hang on for a draw. The goalkeeping heroics of Thomas Sorensen kept them on level terms and then Peter Crouch pounced to claim an 89th-minute winner that keeps Villa in the hunt for the Premiership's fourth Champions' League spot. They are up to fifth now, one point behind Liverpool. "We've got three more games," O'Leary said, "and if we get nine points you just never know."

Villa were in purposeful mood from the start with Solano at the hub of their creative endeavour. Darius Vassell, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Ulises de la Cruz all peppered the home goal before Middlesbrough managed to show any attacking teeth of their own, prompted by Gaizka Mendieta.

It took a fine save by Sorensen and an excellent block by Olof Mellberg to stop Massimo Maccarone and Joseph-Desiré Job from converting invitation balls dispatched from the right by the scheming Spaniard, whose goal in the Mastella Stadium ultimately sealed the fate of O'Leary's Leeds in their Champions' League semi-final with Valencia three years ago. Sorensen also tipped over a Boateng drive before Mendieta, drifting in-field from the right with no apparent intent, wrong-footed the Villa defence with a brilliant flicked pass outside to Job, who curled a left-foot drive past Sorensen. It gave Middlesbrough a 41st- minute lead, although they were unable to hold the advantage until the break. In the final minute of the half, Hitzlsperger floated a free-kick from deep on the right and Gareth Barry rose unmarked at the edge of the penalty area to plant an equalising header past Schwarzer.

It was no less than Villa deserved, though they were left fighting a desperate rearguard action when Solano made his premature departure in the 58th minute. Another excellent Sorensen save kept out a Maccarone lob and Ronny Johnsen also cleared an Ugo Ehiogu header off the line. When the diving Sorensen denied Boudewijn Zenden with 11 minutes left, the travelling Villa fans were celebrating a vital point saved. But then, with a minute remaining, they were hailing a victory against the odds. It came via a Sorensen clearance. De la Cruz cut in from the right and fired a shot that Schwarzer was unable to hold. Crouch, a late replacement for Juan Pablo Angel, swept in the loose ball from close range. Unlike the Solano slap, it was a counter-punch with real clout.

Middlesbrough 1
Job 41

Aston Villa 2
Barry 4, Crouch 89

Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 31,322

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