For Middlesbrough, the big sleep could finally be over come 29 February. On Monday one of their supporters was found guilty of being drunk at a sports ground after falling asleep during the course of Arsenal's 4-0 victory at the Riverside in August. Last night every Middlesbrough fan could start dreaming of silverware - whether they nodded off before or after their beloved Boro finished off Arsenal in the return leg of their Carling Cup semi-final.
When it comes to the business of putting precious metal in the trophy cabinet, Middlesbrough have become the Rip van Winkle of English football, their most recent acquisition of national distinction dating back to the second of their Amateur Cup successes in 1898, when Teesside was in the grip of a smallpox epidemic. This morning the area will wake up in the throes of what used to be Wembley fever but which could now be described as the Millennium (Stadium) bug, Middlesbrough's 2-1 second-leg win having earned them a chance to emerge from their 106-year coma against Bolton in Cardiff later this month.
Juninho's first-leg winner might have proved to be the decisive factor after Edu equalised Boudewijn Zenden's opening goal in the second half last night. For good measure, though, an own goal five minutes from time, by Jose Antonio Reyes of all people, ensured that the League Cup remains missing from Arsenal's trophy haul under Arsène Wenger. In the best tradition of cup losers, at least the Gunners can concentrate on the League - the Champions' League - not to mention the Premiership and the FA Cup too.
Not that Wenger left Teesside a happy man. "I didn't think we deserved to lose," he said. "I think the referee missed a penalty and should we have scored that, we would have won the game." It did seem astonishing when Dermot Gallagher signalled for an Arsenal corner rather than a penalty when Reyes was knocked over by the diving Mark Schwarzer while chasing a through ball from Edu in the opening minute of the second half, with the score 0-0 on the night and 1-0 to Middlesbrough on aggregate.
As it was, Arsène and Arsenal were left to rue their failure to turn their overall superiority into more than a consolation goal. With Reyes handed a starting role up front, alongside David Bentley, the Gunners were in attacking mode from the off. Gael Clichy steered a header wide, as did Edu, who also fired a left-foot shot across the face of the home goal.
It took Middlesbrough 17 minutes to show their own attacking teeth and they proved to be woefully blunt, Massimo Maccarone shooting wide of the target with only Graham Stack to beat from 12 yards. Not that it was any great surprise. Middlesbrough's £8.15m record signing has scored just once in open play since October, and that shot would have missed had it not spun off Nikos Dabizas.
In the 28th minute, the Italian spurned another clear chance. His point-blank shot was saved by Stack after Franck Queudrue had hooked a Zenden free-kick into the Arsenal goalmouth.
When Martin Keown conceded possession to Maccarone 22 yards from goal in the final minute of the first-half, after turning his back and losing control of a through ball from Gaizka Mendieta, he might as well have allowed him to shoot. Instead, the veteran defender hauled down the Middlesbrough striker and the 13th red card of his long career left Arsenal chasing their 1-0 aggregate deficit with 10 men.
They might have retrieved it had Reyes won his penalty appeal in the 46th minute or had Schwarzer not saved a Kolo Touré header at point-blank range seven minutes later.
It looked all over for the Gunners when Zenden clipped a first-time shot past Stack in the 69th minute, courtesy of an invitation ball from Mendieta.
Edu restored hope with a close-range header eight minutes later but then, with five minutes remaining, Reyes, in attempting to stop Stuart Parnaby from shooting, merely succeeded in whipping the ball past his own goalkeeper. The wonder boy was off the mark - with an own goal - and Middlesbrough were on their way to Cardiff.
"We want to make sure that it's a great day for the fans," the Boro manager, Steve McClaren, said, "and that we come back home with the trophy."
Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Mills, Riggott, Ehiogu, Queudrue; Mendieta, Greening (Parnaby, 64), Doriva, Zenden; Juninho, Maccarone (Job, 70). Substitutes not used: Jones (gk), Ricketts, Downing.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Stack; Touré, Cygan, Keown, Cole; Parlour, Edu, Vieira, Clichy (Owusu-Abeyie, 81); Reyes, Bentley. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Hoyte, Skulason, Smith.
Referee: D Gallagher (Oxfordshire).Reuse content